BE sees interest in new UK nuclear plants

17 August 2007

While British Energy reported poor financial results due to prolonged outages at its existing nuclear plants, it also reported that it has been inundated with offers to participate in building new ones.


The company said it was "well placed to play an important role in any new build as we have skills, experience and sites that are good candidates for any new construction."


BE's chief executive Bill Coley said that he had been approached by more than ten international and domestic companies interested in participating in the construction of new nuclear power plants in the UK. He said that BE is likely to team up with more than one alliance to build new plants, rather than taking on a single partner. He added, "We could easily decide on two different partnerships depending on the strength of the different partners." Coley said that he hoped to announce BE's new nuclear development partners by the end of March 2008.


Coley reported that British Energy had "commenced preliminary work on the suitability of the sites we own for development." The company's existing plant sites have land adjacent to develop new plants and are considered to be the prime sites for potential new reactors. He said, "We're trying to determine the priority and suitability of sites and hopefully we'll arrive at a list by which we would pursue new nuclear on the sites."


However, Coley hinted that constructing new nuclear units in southern England would be preferable. He said, "If you look at the need for new capacity at the southern end of the UK or towards the London area you have a greater load centre and a need for capacity first. But at this point I would not rule out any site nor am I ready to say there is a preferred site." Coley also noted that "public opinion is another consideration, and we have very supportive communities in each of the areas around our existing sites in the South."

Four reactor vendors - Areva, Westinghouse, General Electric and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) - have submitted details of potential reactor designs to the UK government for evaluation. BE has said that it supports and has had "initial discussions" with all four reactor vendors.


Announcements of progress in the development of new plants came as BE reported a drop in profits during the first quarter of its financial year, ended 1 July 2007, primarily due to prolonged outages at its Hinkley Point and Hunterston plants. The company reported net profits of GBP91 million ($180 million) during the three-month period, compared with GBP146 million ($289 million) in the same period in 2006.


Total electricity output for the three-month period was 13.8 TWh, compared with 17.0 TWh during the same period in 2006, partly due to boiler issues at Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B. BE said that the four units at Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B, which were taken out of service in 2006 to repair boiler cracks, have been returned to service but are currently operating at about 60% capacity. Further work to balance boiler temperature differentials over the next year will increase capacity to a "reliable" 70%, the company said. However, BE said it would not invest in increasing the units' capacity factors to over 70% unless a decision is made to extend the operating lives of the reactors beyond 2011. Such a decision is due by March 2008. Coley noted, "We have not yet identified a single factor as to why we cannot extend their life."


"We continue to work hard to deliver reliable output from Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B, while seeking to maintain the performance seen across the fleet for the rest of the year," Coley said.


Further information


British Energy


WNA's Nuclear Power in the United Kingdom information paper

WNN: Stage set for UK reactor evaluation
WNN: British Energy's new plant partnership plans