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Britons Face Power Shortages As Two Nuclear Plants Cut Production

Two nuclear power plants in central England that have been shut down since the summer for safety reasons will resume operations shortly, but at reduced output to limit the risk of cracks in its boilers.

After a routine inspection in August found cracks in one boiler tower at Haysham 1 on England’s west coast, officials ordered the twin reactors there and at Hartlepool on the country’s east coast to shut down. When they’re restarted, they’ll run only at 75 to 80 percent capacity to prevent further cracks, according to the British utility that operates them, EDF Energy.

The two plants have met about 4 percent of Britain’s winter energy demand, but now the National Grid will have to resort to restarting older power plants whose operations have been suspended. Even so, power shortages in the coming winter and even next year are believed to be more likely because Britain has been retiring coal-fired power plants faster than it has been building less-polluting replacements.

Related: New Nuclear Fuel Rod Could Increase Output Of Existing Plants

In September, EDF said that once it finished more thorough safety checks on the reactors, their operations would be restarted gradually between late October and late December. On Oct. 17, however, EDF revised that scenario.

The utility said the cracked reactor at Heysham 1, which was supposed to have resumed operations in late November, probably wouldn’t restart until late December, although the undamaged Heysham reactor will start sooner than originally planned, on Nov. 22, not Nov. 30. It said restarting the two Hartlepool reactors also has been delayed slightly from the end of October to Nov. 9.

EDF said it is planning to do maintenance work at all the reactors during 2015 and 2016 to enable them to return to full power by the winter of 2016-17.

No work to restart any of the reactors can begin until EDF gets the approval from Britain’s independent governing body for nuclear energy, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). A utility spokeswoman told the BBC, “EDF Energy has identified and proposed a return to service strategy and is in discussion with the ONR regarding the acceptability of our approach.”

Meanwhile, EDF will isolate the boilers that suffered the crack at Heysham 1 even as their reactor goes back online. “This reactor will initially return to service at the end of this year at 75 percent power, with work done on the isolated boilers during 2015 to raise power further,” the EDF spokeswoman said.

Related: CEO Of EDF Replaced By President Hollande Amid Nuclear Rethink

The ONR said in a statement that the cracks at Heysham 1 are in the “boiler spine,” which “supports the weight of an entire boiler, and its failure could lead to water entering the reactor vessel.”

“The potential worst consequences of water entering the reactor vessel is an over-pressurization of the reactor, which could result in lifting of the reactor pressure-relief valves,” the ONR statement said. “If this was to occur coincidentally with fuel damage, then there could be a direct path to the environment and a release of radiation.”

It stressed, though, that the chances of a release are “extremely low.”

By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com

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