Hunterston B nuclear power station retires after 46 years in service

The Hunterston B nuclear power station will shut down for ever at noon on Friday after 46 years of service, reducing the UK’s nuclear capacity by one-eighth and prompting calls from the industry for greater government backing for the sector.

The plant, on the west coast of Scotland, provided one gigawatt of the UK’s 7.9GW nuclear capacity, enough to power to 1.7m homes.

But Hunterston B has lasted 20 years beyond its initial planned shutdown date and is one of several nuclear power plants being taken out of commission within several years of each other. The rapid pace of the decommissioning schedule has raised concerns about maintaining electricity generation.

About 20% of Britain’s supply is provided by nuclear power from 15 reactors, which help provide a constant baseload to make up for shortfalls when electricity generation from renewables drops on windless days or when the sun is not shining.

Almost half of the country’s nuclear capacity is scheduled for retirement by 2025 with the closure of Hunterston B, Hinkley Point B, Hartlepool 1 and Heysham 1.

While more renewable energy will have been brought online by then and other fuel sources such as gas can fill in the gaps, the remaining 3.6GW of nuclear capacity would only be able to meet 6% of peak demand forecast for this winter.

At its peak between 1995 and 1999, nuclear capacity hit nearly 13GW, about a quarter of the UK’s electricity needs.

EDF is due to finish its 3.2GW plant Hinkley Point C, Britain’s first new nuclear power station in 20 years, by 2027. The first of its two reactors is scheduled to come online a year before that.

The Nuclear Industry Association, which represents companies across the civil nuclear supply chain, estimates that the national capacity could reach 14.25GW by 2035, depending on whether £1.7bn in funding for the proposed Sizewell C plant is confirmed and the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey can attract investors.

Development is likely to hinge upon government plans for a new financial framework, known as a regulated asset base (RAB) model, which would lock in higher returns for institutions funding nuclear plants and transfer risk to taxpayers.

The NIA’s projection for the growth of nuclear also depends on the scale of the rollout of Rolls-Royce’s small modular reactors (SMRs), which have received £210m of government funds and £280m from private capital.

Workers at Hunterston B’s control room in 2013.
Workers at Hunterston B’s control room in 2013. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

The association criticised a decision by the Scottish government to bar new nuclear projects in Scotland, saying the gap left by Hunterston B would have to be filled in part with imported gas sourced from volatile global markets. This would drive up consumer bills, hamper emissions reduction plans and threaten Scotland’s energy security, it added.

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Tom Greatrex, the chief executive of the NIA, said: “Hunterston B has shown the best of what nuclear can provide for Scotland – clean, reliable power to keep the lights on and save our planet, and long-term, skilled jobs on which people can build a life and a family.

“The dedicated staff who have helped keep Scottish homes warm and light for 46 years deserve our gratitude. As the current energy crisis demonstrates, without nuclear the cost of the electricity we rely on is higher, causes pollution and leaves us reliant on burning imported fossil fuels. That’s why we need new nuclear – to get to net zero and provide the reliable, secure and clean power to live our lives.”


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