24 June 2002 – UK nuclear power generator BNFL is bringing forward by three years the planned dates for cessation of generation at Calder Hall and Chapelcross, the Company’s oldest magnox power stations that have been in operation since the late 1950s.
The Calder Hall reactors, originally due to start closing in 2006, will now shut down in March 2003 and those at Chapelcross, originally due to start closing in 2008, will complete a progressive shut down by no later than March 2005.
BNFL has been driven to this decision by the continuing low prices in the wholesale electricity market. Both stations have small generating capacity by today’s standards giving rise to relatively high fixed overheads and their operating costs – particularly for the fuel cycle – have increased significantly recently. The income that the power stations can generate no longer covers the costs of operation.
“This is a tough but necessary commercial decision,” said BNFL’s Chief Executive Norman Askew. “I have always said that we would continue to run these pioneering workhorses of the nuclear industry while they remain safe and economic. They are still safe but the electricity prices have fallen significantly and to a level that makes them uneconomic. We do not see this fall in price recovering in the next few years and thus we can no longer justify running the plant.”
Both power stations will continue to operate while staff tackle the considerable amount of work needed to plan and prepare for the defuelling and subsequent decommissioning of the reactors. “We can’t start decommissioning immediately” explains Askew “because we have to prepare ourselves and get formal consent for our plans from our independent safety watchdogs. In the mean time, we need to earn some valuable income rather than leave the reactors idle. At Chapelcross, we also need to complete work under contract for the Ministry of Defence, which is the reason that this station will operate longer than Calder Hall”.
Care for the power stations’ staff is Askew’s other priority. “We have nearly 800 people working at the two sites and we will help them all through this period of uncertainty so that they can make sound plans for their personal futures. There will be jobs to do at the power station for years to come but, inevitably, staff numbers will fall.
“There will be good opportunities for different jobs at Sellafield and other BNFL sites,” said Askew “but for those who leave, we will do all we can to ensure fair treatment and to support them on their way.”
BNFL’s announcement follows an economic review of the operation of its whole magnox reactor fleet. The review concluded that continued operation of the larger magnox stations has a sound economic basis but that Calder Hall and Chapelcross, with their relatively low output but high overheads, had become loss-making. All other magnox reactors will operate to their existing planned lifetimes, subject to them continuing to remain safe and economic.