EDF has shut down four nuclear reactors, which means it has taken two power stations off line. The issue is not a nuclear problem; it relates to a defect discovered in one of the boilers related to the reactors. Although this problem has been found in only one boiler, all four reactors at Heysham-1 and Hartlepool, which share the design, have been shut down as a precautionary measure while further examination takes place. The outage is expected to last up to eight weeks.
For the moment the reduction in output is not a problem as electricity demand is always low in summer and there is currently plenty of wind. The reduction in output is not a significant proportion, although it would be critical if it occurred during peak winter demand. Energy bosses and OFGEM have all warned that the safety margin to prevent winter blackouts is vanishingly small. This is because many UK power stations of all types are coming to the end of their useful lives and being decommissioned. Renewables are not yet big enough to take up the slack and new nuclear power stations are still at least 10 years from coming into service, especially as legal disputes mean construction of the next new nuclear power stations is yet to start.
There’s no doubt that the UK has a serious problem with its energy policy and this is only one aspect. Reliance on imported fuels, especially from volatile areas like the Middle East and from Russia, is another factor threatening our energy security. The answer is increased renewables, and, even more important, we need to curb demand.
It’s in the hands of politicians, but generally they look five years ahead to the next election. Building a nuclear power station takes decades!