Western Daily Press, 12 December 2007

Nuclear firm British Energy has sparked jubilation and outrage by extending the life of Somerset 's Hinkley B power station for at least five years.

Unions yesterday joined the company in celebrating the news as being good for jobs at the plant, which is one of the county's biggest employers.

But anti-nuclear campaigners said they still had concerns about the Bristol Channel site, which had been due to close in 2011 but would now continue until at least 2016.

It has been a turbulent time for Hinkley B. It was off-line for nine months until May while cracks in boiler tubes and graphite problems were fixed at a cost of millions of pounds.

In the summer the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) said it would not carry out its next major safety review in 2017, effectively giving the power station a clean bill of health for another decade.

British Energy will now keep the plant open for at least five years, and said it may extend that further in the future.

Station director Nigel Cann said: "This is great news for all of us at Hinkley Point B and for everyone in the Somerset community. The decision means we can continue to provide highly skilled jobs and bring major investment to the area.

"It also shows that British Energy recognises the professionalism and commitment of our staff in safely supplying low carbon electricity for more than 30 years."

Hinkley B employs about 535 full- time staff as well as 150 contracted workers and brings in an estimated £30 million a year to the local economy. It has produced 215 Terrawatt hours (TWh) of electricity since first linking to the National Grid in 1976.

British Energy claims it has so far saved about 140 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, the equivalent of the entire population of Bristol reducing its carbon emissions to zero.

But Jim Duffy, of campaign group Stop Hinkley, said a five-year extension indicated British Energy had the jitters over long-term safety at the plant, which he believed was very fragile.

He said: "They've been saying all the while they wanted to get a 10-year extension to Hinkley Point and to actually say they're going ahead with a five-year extension, in a sense, means they are jittery and nervous about this reactor.

"When the NII gave them the 10-year licence there were a lot of caveats about what British Energy would have to do. We do not think they will have been able to do all of that work and from their point of view they seem to be going for the middle ground with an extra five years.

"We still think there are a lot of things to be concerned about. We believe they could do more to make it safer."

But station director Nigel Cann said: "If there were any jitters whatsoever about safety the plant would not be running at all.

"Because of the issues we've had in the past year we wanted to extend the life of the plant in two stages. We felt five years was an appropriate step given the information we've got in terms of both the plant and the market. There is still a capacity to extend its operation further."

Last month, British Energy said the plant, near Bridgwater, was one of its favoured sites for a new nuclear reactor to be built in the next decade, likely to be called Hinkley C.

The National Grid has agreed to create extra capacity on the electricity network for up to 10GW of power generated by new reactors from 2016.

Hinkley B was due to be decommissioned in 2011 and it is costing the energy giant millions to extend its lifespan. Hinkley A, which opened in 1965, stopped generating power in 2000 and is still being decommissioned.

Tom Armstrong, a representative of trade union Prospect, said Hinkley staff were delighted with yesterday's news.

"This life extension is a major bonus for the station," he said. "It's the result of a tremendous amount of hard work by everyone involved, both on and off site, to secure a further five years of safe, reliable generation - an achievement of which we are all very proud."

But Stop Hinkley's Mr Duffy disputed the job-saving argument.He said: "There will be as many jobs retained if it is decommissioned, there are still as many people working at Hinkley A as there were when it was in operation seven years ago."



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Page Updated 12-Dec-2007