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UK nuclear electricity reactor design on hold ahead of selection this week

29 Feb 2012 18:06:40 | edem

One of two firms in the running to build more than 3GW of new nuclear capacity in the UK "is not presently addressing" unresolved design issues, according to the country's nuclear power watchdog. The pause could affect the timing of some of the UK's new nuclear build.

Horizon Nuclear Power, a joint venture between German utilities E.ON and RWE, was planning to bring the first of its new reactors on line at the Wylfa site in north Wales by 2020, but a spokesman said on Wednesday this deadline will not be met.

"It won't be 2020; it will be sometime after that. We wouldn't set a date until we make our final investment decision," he said. The decision is expected in 2015 (see EDEM 18 November 2011).

Areva and Westinghouse must clear the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE's) generic design assessment (GDA) programme before their reactors can be considered for construction (see EDEM 28 June 2010).

Design pause

The two designs in the running - Areva's 1.6GW European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) and Westinghouse's 1.1GW AP1000 - were awarded interim acceptance in the final quarter of 2011.

But HSE said in its update covering the period last week: "Focus will now shift towards issues that need to be resolved before we will be in a position to consider granting a final DAC [design assessment confirmation] this work targets the EPR as Westinghouse is not presently addressing the GDA Issues for the AP1000."

According to the document, the company will not proceed unless it secures a UK customer, at which point "a re-mobilisation phase" will be required.

The pause in US-based Westinghouse's progress means its rival, French nuclear group Areva, could emerge as frontrunner to secure the new-build contract from developer Horizon Nuclear Power.

Westinghouse UK chief executive Mike Tynan told ICIS Heren that the company had "very sound reasons for not proceeding with the GDA", which "were discussed with potential customers and regulators at the time".

Tynan could not comment on the likelihood of Westinghouse being selected by Horizon Nuclear Power for the Wylfa project.

Policy delay

Experts said the joint-venture may be waiting for more details of the UK government's electricity market reform process, and its proposed contract for difference (CfD), before pressing on.

The CfD will govern the economic viability of new nuclear power by defining the contract structure into which low-carbon producers will sell generation volume (see EDEM 14 June 2011).

Should the CfD prove uneconomic to Horizon Nuclear Power's plans, "they would still be able to walk away having lost nothing," Greenwich University professor of energy policy Stephen Thomas said.

The UK will lose 19GW of power generation capacity through to 2020, compared to just 6GW in the past decade.

With nuclear running exclusively as baseload generation, the new build programme will help to prevent the baseload-peaks spread on the UK power market from tightening over the long term (see EDEM 23 February 2012).

Partner selection

A Horizon Nuclear Power spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that the group was on the cusp of selecting its partner. A decision could be announced this week, he said.

"Westinghouse says it will not do anything until it has customers in Europe," Thomas said. "If Horizon was to go with the AP1000, they would have to give a wink to Westinghouse."

Last week Areva signed a deal with EDF Energy and UK firm Rolls-Royce, which strengthened ties between France and the UK in the nuclear field (see EDEM 17 February 2012). JS

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