The Department of Energy and Climate Chance (DECC) always intended 2009 to be a year when policy gave way to practical developments in the nuclear industry. Recent activity in the nuclear industry has certainly seemed to indicate that pure aims and goals are giving way to real progress.

EDF sells 20% stake in British energy to Centrica

On 11 May, EDF sold a 20% stake in its recently acquired nuclear operator British Energy to Centrica, the UK gas group, for £2.3bn. The deal represented a smaller stake than originally intended due to Centrica shareholders' concern that it could be overpaying. The deal effectively valued British Energy at almost 6% less than the £12.5bn EDF paid in December 2008.

The deal marks Centrica's entry into the nuclear market as it seeks to reduce its exposure to fluctuating prices in the wholesale energy markets. The deal was financed by the transfer to EDF of Centrica's 51% interest in Belgian firm SPE (valued at £1.2bn) with the remainder paid in cash.

Neil Woodford, head of investment at Invesco Perpetual, said the move was a major step forward for Centrica and stated:

'The partnership with EDF also promises to be a driving force in revitalising the UK nuclear industry; a vital project if the UK is to meet its long-term climate change obligations and energy security needs.'

Centrica and EDF intend to build four new nuclear plants on existing sites as part of Government plans for nuclear expansion. EDF has also invited bidders to express a formal interest in purchasing land near either of its Dungeness or Heysham nuclear station. EDF is looking for 'credible' and experienced nuclear operators to purchase one of the sites with a view to new nuclear plants being built there.

Auction of nuclear sites raises £387m

On 29 April, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) announced the successful sale of land adjacent to three existing nuclear sites at Bradwell in Wessex, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Wylfa in Anglesey. The Government hopes these sales will form an integral role in encouraging the private sector to build a new generation of nuclear power stations as well as helping to fund the decommissioning of former nuclear sites.

A consortium of E.ON and RWE Npower has won the opportunity to construct a new plant on 438 acres of land at Wylfa in Anglesey and another on 119 acres at Oldbury in Gloucestershire. The EDF group won the auction of land at Bradwell. However, it has already announced plans to sell this on to concentrate on other projects.

Richard Waite, the acting chief executive of the NDA, welcomed the online auction which raised more than many had predicted:

'The sale of these three sites is worth up to £387m which the NDA will use to help fund the cost of decommissioning and further its core mission.'

Scotland's largest ever nuclear waste site approved

A store and treatment plant costing more than £300m has been given the go ahead to be built on land next to the Dounreay nuclear power complex in Caithness. Work is due to start next year on the treatment plant with construction of the store set to begin in 2011.

Solid and liquid intermediate-level radioactive waste will be processed in brand new D3900 treatment plants, where it will be mixed with cement and set inside drums and crates. The site is set to be ready to receive waste in 2014.

Tony Trayner, head of construction at Dounreay Site Restoration Limited, said the facilities were crucial to the clean-up of Dounreay. He stated:

'An essential element of any decommissioning project is being able to deal with the radioactive waste that it generates and these new facilities will give us that capacity through to the end of our programme.'

Nuclear power station operator fined

On 6 February, Magnox Electric Limited (now known as Magnox North Limited and Magnox South Limited) were found guilty of three offences for disposing of radioactive waste otherwise than in accordance with an authorisation under the Radioactive Substances Act 1993. They were fined £250,000 and ordered to pay costs of £150,000.

Between March 1990 and February 2004, small amounts of liquid radioactive waste leaked from a slump within the decontamination bay at the site. Although Magnox reported the leak to the Environment Agency as soon as they discovered it and there was no risk to the public and only minimal environmental damage, Magnox was found guilty of failing to maintain the slump and failing to carry out routine inspections.