Together with GDF Suez SA and Iberdrola SA, SSE was the third partner in the NuGeneration consortium planning to build new reactors on a green field site owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) adjacent to Sellafield. The option to develop the 190 hectare site, up to 3.6 GW capacity, was secured from the NDA by the consortium in October 2009, and the site confirmed as suitable for new-build by Government in its National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation (EN-6). The consortium is reported as paying the NDA an ‘up-front’ payment for the land in 2009 of £19.5M with a further £50.5M to be made over the next 6 years.
Following the consortium’s planning application to local authority Copeland Borough Council on the 8th September 2011 to sink a number of exploratory boreholes on the site, SSE announced its decision to quit the consortium in a press release issued today 23rd September 2011. Its 25% stake in the consortium will be taken up by the two remaining partners. The decision to quit was made on consideration of ‘cost, development issues, timetable and operational efficacy of nuclear power stations which all require the greatest possible scrutiny before a commitment to invest can be made’.
In its press release, the company’s Generation & Supply Director Alistair Phillips-Davies said that SSE had always made it clear that its core investment in generation should be in renewable energy and that it had concluded that, for the time being, SSE resources were better deployed on business activities and technologies were SSE had the greatest knowledge and experience.
The selection by NuGeneration’s two remaining partners on the reactor type (EPR or Westinghouse) to be deployed is expected to be made by the end of 2013 and a final decision to invest made in 2015, with reactors operating by 2023.
The site identified in NuGeneration’s planning application is described as consisting predominantly of improved pasture fields and a small number of arable fields lying to the north-west of the Sellafield licensed site. The area proposed for development forms part of a tract of land previously investigated by British Nuclear Fuels plc (BNFL) in 1992 for the potential construction of a Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR). Those investigations and subsequent responses to Freedom of Information requests by Greenpeace have revealed a number of issues in terms of the site’s suitability for power station construction. These include a problematic geology – the depth of bedrock – which would add significantly to construction costs, and difficulties in extracting coolant water from the Irish Sea because of high levels plutonium-contamination on the local sea-bed.
The consortium’s planning application envisages the sinking of 5 deep investigative boreholes (up to 150m), 5 shallow boreholes (up to 50m), 30 boreholes (up to 50m) for intrusive ground sampling and up to 42 further boreholes (up to 65m) for groundwater pressure measurement. Additionally, 8 pumping wells will be sunk to 50m together with a number of pressure meter tests and standard penetration tests to a similar depth. Whilst the duration of the work is expected to extend over 2012, some boreholes are likely to be retained for use during power station operation.
The Irish Sea coastal area which forms the south-western border of the overall site available to NuGeneration is known to be liable to flooding and, from the planning application map, has been excluded by the consortium from the area selected for borehole investigation which peaks at some 50-60m AOD to the north-east.