E.On UK has entered into a transmission connection agreement with National Grid for up to 1600MWe of new capacity at Oldbury, in the UK.

The site named in the agreement is Oldbury-on-Severn, in an area where E.On does not currently own any suitable development land. E.On said the site in question is adjacent to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s (NDA’s) Oldbury nuclear power station, which has two 225MWe Magnox units that are due to cease operation at the end of this year.

E.On spokesperson Emily Highmore told NEI that the agreement allows the company to keep its options open but no decision had been made on whether to build a nuclear plant at Oldbury. “We haven’t decided what sites we’re going to nominate as preferred options at this point,” she said, but confirmed that the company was looking into building at least two new nuclear plants in the UK and that “a number of potential sites,” including Oldbury, were under consideration.

While the agreement does not specify whether or not the connection agreement at Oldbury is for a nuclear plant, the size and expected completion date of April 2020 is consistent with a new nuclear unit. “We’ve always said that it makes sense to build new nuclear plants where there has been or where there currently is nuclear power,” Highmore said.

E.ON owns several coal-fired and combined cycle gas plants in the UK and has a multi-billion pound investment programme covering a number of new projects, including ‘cleaner’ coal, gas, and renewables as well as new nuclear. Last month, announcing plans to build one of the largest biomass plants in the country, Paul Golby, CEO of E.On UK, said: “Schemes such as this, together with cleaner coal, gas and new nuclear, will help us to keep the UK’s lights on, while also reducing carbon emissions and ensuring energy is as affordable as possible for our customers.”

Earlier this year, E.On signed letters of intent with Areva and Siemens for deployment of the EPR design in the UK, but Highmore stressed that E.On is also considering the Westinghouse AP1000.

E.On’s agreement with the National Grid comes as several media reports indicate that a takeover of British Energy by EDF is imminent. Should the deal go ahead, it would severely limit the number of potential sites for new nuclear build available to EDF’s competitors. The NDA owns a number of sites that it could make available to encourage competition in the sector, but doing so would conflict with the NDA’s mission of cleaning up the country’s nuclear legacy.

Another option is to build on non-nuclear sites. According the report, Siting New Nuclear Power Stations: Availability and Options for Government, by Ian Jackson, author of Nukenomics: The commercialisation of Britain’s nuclear industry, although existing nuclear sites would be the most appropriate, sites on which large scale, conventional generators are currently installed such as RWE npower’s Didcot A are also potential candidates for new nuclear plants.

Key new nuclear sites for sale

In a related story the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has announced the sale of land adjacent to three of its Magnox reactor sites. The sites are at Wylfa, Oldbury and Bradwell, all of which are considered to be good locations for new nuclear reactors.

The announcement came two days after the publication of the transmission connection agreement between E.On UK and National Grid. E.On confirmed that the site is adjacent to the NDA’s Oldbury nuclear plant and that E.On is not currently the owner of the land. Meanwhile, EDF is understood to be locked in negotiations with British Energy over a possible takeover. British Energy, which owns and operates the country’s AGRs and only PWR, has already obtained transmission connection agreements at four sites, one of which is on development land it owns at Bradwell.

Bill Hamilton, head of communications at the NDA, told MPS’ sister publication Nuclear Engineering International that the NDA’s land had been historically acquired prior to its existence. Some of the land had been earmarked for nuclear reactor development before the country’s previous nuclear build programme was cancelled in the 1990s. Hamilton said there is “no difference at all” between the land now being made available by the NDA and the land owned by British Energy in terms of the processes an eventual buyer would need to go through before building a nuclear plant.

The NDA said the three sites constitute an initial tranche of land sales and that it would be making announcements on other sites “in due course.” A separate statement will be made on its land near the Sellafield site. “We’ve got a lot of land around Sellafield,” said Hamilton, but added that it was being considered in the context of the recently launched regeneration initiative dubbed the ‘West Cumbria Masterplan’. “When the masterplan matures and there are concrete proposals for new energy – which will be nuclear and non-nuclear – then we will probably move forward with some kind of competitive process on the land at Sellafield,” Hamilton said.

The NDA made the decision to commence the land sale process following a one-month market engagement exercise earlier this year to determine the level of interest in certain assets. Hamilton said the NDA received 38 responses detailing a range of proposals, including nuclear, non-nuclear, “and non-energy proposals as well.”

Hamilton denied that making sites available for new nuclear plants – which would lead to the production of more nuclear waste – conflicted with the NDA’s mission. “It’s part of our mission to maximise the return on our assets,” he said. In the NDA Strategy document published in March 2006, the preface by the then NDA chairman, Sir Anthony Cleaver, states that the NDA was set up “to provide the first ever UK-wide strategic focus on decommissioning and cleaning up nuclear sites. Our business, therefore, is environmental restoration.” The Strategy also referred to new nuclear build being “an issue clearly outside our remit.”

However, Hamilton pointed out: “We’ve got a remit to deal with legacy waste and that’s what we’re dealing with.” He added: “We have taken legal advice and it’s crystal clear that what we are doing is maximising assets and any funds that we get back from the sale of this land we will use to carry forward our own mission, which is decommissioning and cleanup.”