Repairs to coal plant are hit by nuclear backlog

REPAIRS at British Energy's coal-fired Eggborough power station will be delayed until next year after the company said maintenance of its ageing nuclear power reactors is taking longer than expected.

The nuclear power group, which recently agreed to a 12.5bn marriage with French giant EDF, said maintenance of a unit at Eggborough in North Yorkshire will now happen in the first quarter of next year rather than November.

"Work on the reactors is progressing well but is slightly behind schedule," the group said.

Two nuclear power reactors at Hartlepool in the North West and Heysham 1 in the North East are unlikely to restart until early next year – although four others may return before the end of the year.

Eight of British Energy's 16 nuclear reactors are currently closed, with Heysham 1 and Hartlepool out for boiler repairs since last autumn.

"We continue to target the return to service of all four reactors in the third quarter of this financial year 2008/9, however... it is now likely that two reactors will not return to service until early 2009," the company said.

Delays to reactor repairs could pose the risk of energy shortages over winter. Wholesale electricity prices have soared in the UK in the past few weeks, hitting a record of 150 per megawatt hour over concerns at restricted supplies over winter without a big increase in nuclear output.

"Margins are a little better due to Eggborough," said one power trader after yesterday's statement. "The rest of the winter are a little worse."

Another trader said: "The biggest problem we have got is the step change at the start of November on the peak demand, when we have the clock change and it impacts the lighting load."

British Energy said four reactors are due online before the end of the year. Dungeness B 22 and Hinkley Point B4 are due to return to service in December, and Heysham 2, reactor 7, is due next month. Dungeness B 21 is being returned to service.

Recent figures showed output from the 1,960MW Eggborough plant was upped to compensate for British Energy's overall drop in output.

British Energy recently said total output in the six months to September 28 dropped by 26 per cent, in line with management expectations. During the six months 3.5 terawatt hours (TWh) came from Eggborough, as output was upped 21 per cent against the facility's 2.9 TWh output in the same period last year.

The group said total output during the six months was 22.7 TWh, of which 19.2 TWh was nuclear generated.

That compared with 30.7 TWh in the same period last year, of which 27.8 TWh came from nuclear, meaning nuclear output dropped 31 per cent.

British Energy said boiler repairs at the nuclear reactors have included installing thermal shields, water cooling systems and advanced instruments. Almost two million man hours of work have been done.

Power play

Eggborough can supply enough electricity to power around two million homes.

The 1,960MW coal-fired plant was built between 1962 and 1970, and started generating electricity in 1967.

British Energy acquired the coal-fired station early in 2000 to complement its eight nuclear power plants.

The station's output is influenced by factors such as market prices, energy supply contracts and the operation of its nuclear reactors. Coal used at the station is mined both in the UK and abroad, and the plant can also burn biomass with coal. Eggborough comprises four 500 megawatt coal-fired units.

Engineers have fitted flue gas desulphurisation (FGD) equipment at two of its four units to comply with emissions legislation. This FGD technology reduces emissions of sulphur dioxide by around 90 per cent.