A Scottish nuclear power station that had been forced to reduce output in recent years due to cracks in its core will begin the decommissioning process by 2022.
Hunterston B in North Ayrshire previously had an estimated decommissioning date of 2023, with “a plus/minus two years proviso”.
EDF Energy said the plant would move into the defuelling phase no later than Jan 7 2022 – subject to an inspection next spring and regulatory approval for the final six months.
Construction work started on the site in 1968 before it opened and began generating energy in 1976.
Matt Sykes, EDF managing director, said Hunterston B had far exceeded its original remit.
“Our focus is on continuing to safely deliver the last period of power generation and then transition the station into decommissioning,” he said.
The decision would give staff clarity and there would be no immediate job losses because of the phase to defuelling, an EDF spokeswoman said.
There are about 520 full-time EDF Energy employees work at Hunterston B and more than 250 full time contract partners.
It comes as the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) gave EDF permission for Reactor 3 to return to service for a limited period of operation.
Cracks were discovered in the core of the reactor in 2018 with electricity generation expected to fall by 40pc at the time.
Reactor 4 was subsequently returned to service for several months in August 2019 having been one of two remaining reactors at the plant taken out of service the previous year.
The permission is for up to 16.425 terawatt days, or about six months’ operation, while the regulatory body is also assessing the safety of Reactor 4 with a decision to be published at a later date.
Donald Urquhart, ONR deputy chief inspector, said: “We applied stringent national and international standards when making our decision, have scrutinised the nature of the cracking observed in Reactor 3 and are satisfied that it will not prevent the reactor from operating safely or impede its ability to be shutdown if required during this period of operation.
“As the independent nuclear regulator, our sole priority is the safety of site workers, local residents and the wider public who rely on ONR to regulate such safety matters. We will only allow nuclear facilities to operate if we are satisfied that they are safe to do so.”