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UPDATE 2-EDF to close UK Hinkley Point B nuclear power plant by July 2022

(Updates with plants current status)

LONDON, Nov 19 (Reuters) - France’s EDF will begin decommissioning Britain’s Hinkley Point B nuclear power plant by no later than July 15 2022, the company said on Thursday.

The plant in Somerset, southwest England, which began operation in 1976, is capable of generating enough electricity to power around 1.8 million homes.

Hinkley Point B was expected to run until March 2023 but has suffered with aging issues, such as cracks in the graphite reactor cores.

EDF said the condition of the reactor cores was to be expected at this point of the plant’s life.

“We feel it is now the right thing to do to give clarity to our staff, partners and community about the future life of the station,” Matt Sykes, managing director of EDF Generation, said in a statement.

The plant is currently offline for inspections with its two reactors scheduled to return to service next year pending approval from Britain’s Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF said.

EDF said this year it would start decommissioning its Hunterston B nuclear power plant in Scotland by January 2022 at the latest, also earlier than previously expected.

Half of Britain’s eight operating nuclear power stations are due to move into decommissioning by March 2024, removing around 4 gigawatts of capacity.

A new plant being build by EDF and with backing from China’s CGN at the Somerset site, Hinkley Point C, is expected to start generation in 2025.

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