BRITISH ENERGY is drawing up a multi million pound plan to extend the life of its nuclear power stations past 2020.
A senior nuclear industry insider this week told NCE that the power plant operator wants to extend the life of all seven of its Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors (AGRs).
It has already reached agreement with the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) to extend the life of Dungeness B until 2018. This was due to close in 2008.
Without such extensions all but two of Britain's 12 nuclear power plants will shut down permanently by 2018.
This would leave the nation facing the prospect of a major power capacity shortage.
Nuclear currently provides around 22% of Britain's energy capacity. By 2018 this would fall to 7% at most if existing power plants were to shut down as they reached the end of their design lives.
It is hoped that extending the life of some of Britain's existing nuclear plants will buy time for the government to make a decision on whether to build more nuclear power stations or to develop other energy sources.
British Energy and BNFL operate all the UK's nuclear plants.
BNFL operates the older Magnox plants, all of which have already had their 30 year design lives extended once.
These are due to close by 2010 because it is uneconomic to maintain them further.
British Energy operates seven more modern AGRs and Britain's only Pressurised Water Reactor.
The crunch time is a three year period between 2011 and 2014, when four AGR plants are due to close - leaving just four operational.
This will cut Britain's nuclear output to 40% of current levels.
British Energy is expected to start detailed negotiations on extending the lives of existing AGR plants in 2009.
Before then the company will assess how much work will be needed to ensure the AGR plants can operate safely beyond their original design lives.
We are looking where appropriate to extend the lives of our plants, ' said a British Energy spokesman.
British Energy then needs to calculate whether the costs of running and maintaining ageing plant will outweigh the increased revenue from five to 10 years extra operation.
'If truth be told we were always looking for the fleet of nuclear plants to continue, ' said former ICE energy board chairman David Anderson. 'And if the price of energy continues to rise it is going to become increasingly economic.' Two years ago wholesale energy prices were as low as £14/MW hour. Recently prices have reached £50 to £60.
Anderson said that the cost of gaining the necessary approval to extend plant life is high, but likely to provide value for money.
'You have to do a lot of finite element analysis work, taking into account the plant's safety record and risk of explosion or incident.
'You need a full team applied to it for up to a year and must have a very detailed debate with the inspectorate over plant safety.
'It is a major piece of work and costs millions in its own right.
But if you can extend the life with the plants making money, it is money very well spent.' Anderson added that the decision on viability has to be made on a plant by plant basis.