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Report casts fresh doubt on UK new nuclear electricity timeline

01 May 2012 18:32:43 | edem

A new study carried out on behalf of UK lawmakers has cast fresh doubt on the timeline for nuclear electricity new-build in the country.

And the report added that, if investment in the power generation sector does not markedly increase over coming years, there may be a need to reverse planned nuclear power station closures to avoid a generation capacity shortfall.

According to the study, undertaken by the UK's National Audit Office (NAO) and published on Tuesday by the parliamentary Energy and Climate Change Committee, the 2019 completion date for the first plant - already a revision from the original 2018 date - could be under threat.

"Construction will have to progress in line with demanding timetables if the first new nuclear reactor is to be completed by 2019," the report said.

The report addressed substantial delays that have hit two new nuclear power stations under construction in France and Finland, which are several years behind schedule, and, according to the NAO, €5.1bn, or 77%, over budget.

EDF Energy, which is building two of the UK's three planned nuclear power stations in conjunction with minority partner Centrica, previously planned for the first of its plants, the 3.2GW Hinkley Point C station, to be online by 2018 (see EDEM 28 October 2011).

The company's chief executive, Vincent De Rivaz, last week reiterated the firm's intention to make a final investment decision before the end of the year, saying that progress was dependant on the outcome of the UK's electricity market reform programme, part of which will govern the sale of nuclear power generation volumes (see EDEM 12 July 2011).

"Let me be clear we are getting on with the job," De Rivaz said. "Our determination needs to be matched by visible momentum from government. It's critical that the government makes progress with its electricity market reform."

De Rivaz refused to be drawn on a target date for completion of Hinkley Point C.

Viability

The NAO report addressed the future viability of new nuclear generation capacity in the UK in the wake of the decision by RWE npower and E.ON UK to withdraw from Horizon Nuclear Power, through which the companies were intending to build 6GW of capacity by 2025 (see EDEM 29 March 2012).

NuGeneration, a consortium of GDF Suez and Iberdrola, plans to construct a 3.6GW station in West Cumbria. It reaffirmed its commitment to the site's development after the Horizon withdrawal.

The UK plans to switch off all but one of its existing atomic power plants over the next 11 years, leaving the country with one operational station and three facilities in the pipeline, counting all confirmed projects.

According to the report, if investment in nuclear and other technologies does not increase over coming years, the planned station closures may need to be reversed.

However, on a more positive note for the industry, the report stated that nuclear power remains the cheapest projected form of power generation with a levelised cost of £74.10/MWh.

The National Audit Office is the body charged with scrutinising public spending on behalf of the UK parliament.

The Energy and Climate Change Committee is due to meet with the bosses from RWE npower and E.ON UK along with energy minister Charles Hendry on 15 May to discuss the UK's nuclear new-build programme. TF

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