OLDBURY SET TO BE SWITCHED ON IN THE SUMMER

Western Daily Press, 06 April 2007

Hinkley Point B could also get green light within weeks though only for one of its two reactors.

The West's two remaining nuclear power stations could be back online by the summer, it emerged yesterday.

One of the two reactors at British Nuclear Group's Magnox power station at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire is expected to be generating power as early as June. It has been closed since maintenance in June 2005 raised concerns over the safety of its graphite core.

At Hinkley B in Somerset , British Energy's two reactors were shut in September last year after cracks were discovered in boiler tubes. Sources now say approval to restart one of its reactors could come in the next few weeks from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).

The news will be a blow to anti- nuclear campaigners who say safety problems at both ageing reactor sites mean they should not be restarted.

British Energy said in February that it believed the safety issues at Hinkley would be resolved in March - but later it said this was an estimate.

The similar Hunterston B power station in Scotland has also been shut since October because of the same concern about boiler tubes. The company has already said that plant would not restart until April.

It is not clear whether the extended shutdown will have any effect on the firm's annual output - a key measure of its performance for the City.

Officially, however, an NII spokesperson said no date for a decision had been set. "This will take as long as it takes," he said. British Energy also said no dates had been set.

Even when both reactors are working, Hinkley is expected to operate at 70 per cent of capacity until more work is carried out next year.

Hinkley B is due to be decommissioned in 2011 although British Energy will decide in the next year whether to apply for a second extension to its life.

The power station employs about 650 people and can produce enough electricity for a million homes.

Meanwhile, prospects look strong for a successful start-up of at least one reactor at Hinkley's older nuclear neighbour at Oldbury.

A safety review by British Nuclear Group was completed last year - and evidence in favour of a re-start was submitted to the NII in December. An inspectorate spokesperson said: "We are now coming towards the end of our evaluation of that evidence."

Opened in 1966 by then Secretary of State for Industry Tony Benn, it was due to close 10 years ago but had its generating life extended. It employs 400 people. Even if re-opened, Oldbury has "less than two years left before the end of generation", the NII said.

Shares in British Energy dipped 2.25p or 0.46 per cent to 488p.

BY JOHN FOX-CLINCH DEPUTY BUSINESS EDITOR

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