By Roland JACKSON
London (AFP) Feb 16, 2016
EDF Energy, the British arm of French giant EDF, will extend the life of four of its UK nuclear power stations by up to seven years, it said Tuesday.
The announcement, revealed alongside annual results from its parent firm, comes with EDF yet to make a final decision over the construction of a vast new nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point in southwest England.
"EDF Energy has announced new scheduled closure dates for four nuclear power stations," it said in a statement.
The four stations are Heysham 1 and Heysham 2 in northwest England, Hartlepool in the northeast and Torness in Scotland.
Heysham 1 and Hartlepool were due to be decommissioned in 2019 but will continue to operate for another five years. Power generation at Heysham 2 and Torness will be extended by seven years to 2030.
EDF added it had made the decision to extend operations following "extensive technical and safety reviews of the plants" that it has shared with the British industry regulator.
Together, the four power plants supply electricity to about one quarter of homes in Britain, according to EDF, employing a total of 2,000 permanent staff and 1,000 contractors.
"Our continuing investment, our expertise and the professional relationship we have with the safety regulator means we can safely prolong the operating life of our nuclear power stations," said EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz.
"Their excellent output shows that reliability is improving whilst their safety and environmental performance is higher than ever," he added.
"In today's extremely tough market conditions, we think (British) government policy (in favour of nuclear power) will be maintained and reinforced, giving us confidence to invest in our nuclear plants," said the chief executive.
- Hinkley decision approaching -
EDF said that it hoped to begin building Hinkley Point C -- Britain's first new nuclear power plant in decades -- "very soon".
"I think the investment decision is approaching," parent company CEO Jean-Bernard Levy said.
In a separate statement, EDF said the "final steps are well in hand to enable the full construction phase to be launched very soon."
In October, EDF signed a deal with China General Nuclear Power Corporation to build Hinkley Point C, with construction costs totalling £18 billion ($25.8 billion, 23.6 million euros).
EDF added it was committed to being Britain's leading investor in low carbon electricity.
The group meanwhile announced it was slashing its dividend after unveiling sharply lower annual net profits of 1.19 billion euros compared with 3.70 billion euros in 2014 on asset write-downs in Britain, Belgium, Italy and Poland.
But it judged operational performance "good" with sales rising 2.2 percent to 75 billion euros, an assessment which helped to lift its share price six percent in early trading in Paris to 10.90 euros.
Europe's biggest electricity producer also forecast that lower energy prices this year would dent earnings.
Shares in the utility have lost around a quarter of their value this year and hit a low a month ago after the French nuclear waste agency said costs for a deep geological storage project could be substantially higher than EDF's own estimates, which the firm disputed.
EDF, in which the French state maintains an 84.5-percent stake, cut its dividend for 2015 to 1.10 euro per share from 1.25 in 2014.
Levy said that would see the company save an estimated 1.8 billion euros in cash on its dividend payout.
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