This is entry number 31 of a blog on the implementation of the Planning Act 2008. Click here for a link to the whole blog.

An earlier blog entry looked at the nationally significant infrastructure project (NSIP) category of ‘generating stations’, which includes all power stations with over 50 megawatts capacity. As nuclear power stations tend to be more than a gigawatt capacity, they will certainly come within the new regime. Today’s entry looks at how the programme for new nuclear power stations fits into the new authorisation regime under the Planning Act 2008.

There are currently operational nuclear power stations at nine sites in the UK , supplying about 15% of the UK’s electricity. Six sites are in England:

  • Dungeness, Kent – British Energy
  • Hartlepool, Durham – British Energy
  • Heysham (1 & 2), Lancashire – British Energy
  • Hinkley Point, Somerset – British Energy
  • Oldbury, Gloucestershire – BNFL Magnox
  • Sizewell, Suffolk – British Energy

one in Wales

  • Wylfa, Anglesey – BNFL Magnox

and two in Scotland

  • Hunterston, Ayrshire – British Energy
  • Torness, East Lothian – British Energy

British Energy is owned by EDF Energy, although Centrica bought a 20% stake in August. Heysham 2, Sizewell and Torness are expected to operate until the 2020s, but the others are all likely to close by 2018 – indeed Oldbury and Wylfa will only last until next year. There will therefore be a shortfall in UK electricity production unless new production comes on stream from somewhere by then.

Although nuclear power is a low carbon producer of electricity, environmental organisations such as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth are still opposed to it. Nevertheless UK Government policy is that a mix of energy is the way forward to a low carbon future, and that nuclear power will play its part.

The Nuclear Power National Policy Statement (NPS) expected this autumn will set out government policy on nuclear power that will form the basis against which applications for new and expanded power stations will be measured. This blog will of course let you know as soon as it is published. It is one of only two (the other being the Airports NPS) declared as being ‘locationally specific’, i.e. it will name locations as suitable for containing nuclear power stations. This is interesting because it will mean that when an application comes to be made, it will not be possible to object to its location, as that will be in the NPS and NPSs cannot be questioned during the consideration of applications.

In advance of the NPS, however, earlier this year the government has been actively laying the foundation for a new generation of nuclear power stations. First, it consulted on what the criteria should be for a site to be considered suitable for a new nuclear power station. Secondly, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority auctioned off three sites – the existing sites at Oldbury and Wylfa and a former site at Bradwell in Essex. This raised more money than expected, but was not quite the bonanza of the 3G mobile phone licence auction in 2000. A consortium of RWE and E.On won the auction for the first two, and EDF won the third. Finally, the government invited nominations for sites to house new nuclear power stations. All the existing sites in England and Wales were nominated (the Planning Act 2008 does not extend to Scotland for power stations, and the Scottish Government has announced it will not build any new nuclear power stations). Four additional sites were nominated, at Bradwell in Essex and Braystones, Kirksanton and Sellafield, all in Cumbria. The last of these is of course the country’s nuclear waste processing site, but the other two Cumbrian sites are new.

The nomination of sites does not necessarily mean that they meet the government’s siting criteria, nor that the sites will be those listed as suitable or potentially suitable in the draft NPS, nor that applications for power stations there will automatically be granted.

Nevertheless it will be interesting to see how the NPS avoids being a foregone conclusion given the tension between the consultation that has gone on already and the consultation that is required on draft NPSs under the Planning Act 2008. It will probably focus on what the power stations should look like as well as where they should be. I understand that the NPS and associated documentation will run into thousands of pages, so get ready to order up the cold towels on NPS publication day.