Nuclear operator urges extended life for reactors and debate on a future role for nuclear power

British Energy has said that it wants a debate on the inclusion of nuclear power as a major source of UK fuel, as it is the “only realistic alternative to fossil fuels”, and that there is “no reason” for the life of existing plants not to be extended further.

A spokesperson for the company, which generates about 20% of the UK’s electricity, told edie the company’s view of the future role of nuclear power on 8 March. However, he denied newspaper reports that British Energy was secretly drawing up plans to build a chain of nuclear power plants to replace its seven advanced gas-cooled reactors.

There are no secret plans,” he said. “All we have done is say that there ought to be a debate on the possible options and those options should include nuclear. The price gap between gas and nuclear is closing, and we suggest a debate on whether the future should be gas or nuclear power.” The spokesperson also said that nuclear power “is the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels”.

The spokesperson also urged a rethink on the scheduled closing dates of the reactors, the first of which, Hinckley Point B, is due to close around 2011. “There is no reason to think that the lives of the reactors cannot be extended again,” he said.

British Energy said it is “clearly best placed to develop new nuclear generation plans, but only where such investment would enhance shareholder returns”, and added that in the current UK electricity market, “investment in new nuclear plant could not be justified, but things can change, and British Energy, as a nuclear operator, will continue to look at longer term options”.

Environmental groups are predictably up in arms over the story, which appeared in The Sunday Telegraph. “We think the plan is ridiculous and dangerous,” said Helen Wallace, Senior Scientist at Greenpeace. “The consequences will be more nuclear waste, more nuclear accidents and a high and unjustifiable cost.”

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