22/05/2012 02:33 BST | Updated 22/05/2012 06:14 BST

Electricity Giant EDF In Talks To Extend Life Of Nuclear Power Stations

Electricity giant EDF is in talks with the nuclear regulator about extending the life of its power stations.

The firm, which runs eight nuclear power stations in the UK, is working with the Office for Nuclear Regulation regarding the "the extension of the operational lifetime of their existing fleet of nuclear power reactors", the ONR said.

The reactors are due to start decommissioning in 2016, with seven of the eight ceasing generation by 2023, according to the EDF website. The company is due to make a final investment decision on the UK's first two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point, Somerset, at the end of 2012.

Faced with this and other concerns, the Government unveiled plans in the Queen's Speech earlier this month for an overhaul of the electricity market to drive massive investment in low carbon power and bridge the looming energy gap.

EDF told the Guardian that it remained committed to building new nuclear reactors, with a spokesman saying: "Extending the lives of our nuclear power stations makes absolute sense in terms of filling a short-term energy need while the country rightly continues towards aggressive decarbonisation targets."

He added: "Life extension helps with the very short-term risk but doesn't change the need or urgency of the new nuclear programme in the longer term.

"The fundamental need for new capacity remains: the inability of old coal to meet tighter emissions limits being the foremost factor."

EDF runs nuclear reactors at Dungeness in Kent, Hartlepool in the North East, Sizewell in Suffolk, Hinkley Point in Somerset, two at Heysham in Lancashire and two in Scotland, at Torness, near Dunbar in East Lothian and Hunterston, near Largs in Ayreshire.

Only Sizewell is currently due to continue in use after 2023 according to the firm's website.

Whether reactors continue to operate is a commercial decision for the companies which run them, but they have to meet the safety standards set by the ONR. The cost of meeting these standards can rise as the infrastructure gets older. The ONR said it is usual for safety to be reviewed every 10 years.

"ONR staff are engaged with EdF Energy Nuclear Generation Ltd on their 'Lifetime Management Programme' for the extension of the operational lifetime of their existing fleet of nuclear power reactors," a spokeswoman for the regulator said.

"This has included reviews of the plants to establish where improvements could be made in monitoring plant and material performance and identifying where further work is necessary on the impact of ageing.

"ONR is content for the plants to continue to operate subject to satisfactory PSRs (Periodic Safety Reviews) being carried out; and the results from routine maintenance, inspection and testing continue to support the agreed plant safety case."

The Government's plans for a nuclear-power renaissance were thrown into disarray in March when two of the "big six" energy giants pulled out of a venture to build new reactors.

Greenpeace's executive director John Sauven warned of a "looming energy ominshambles", telling The Guardian: "The energy bill could be a huge opportunity to get energy bills and carbon emissions under control, and to bring security to our power supplies. But ministers seem hell-bent on scuppering all of these aims by encouraging a big increase in our dependence on burning expensive gas to generate electricity."

The decision by RWE npower and E.ON not to go ahead with developing nuclear power plants at Wylfa in north Wales and Oldbury-on-Severn, Gloucestershire, threatened the creation of thousands of jobs and undermined UK energy policy, it was warned at the time.

The two German-owned companies said they were looking for a new owner for their venture Horizon Nuclear Power in the light of financial constraints.