INDUSTRY leaders and unions have welcomed the decision to give a five-year extension to the life of Hartlepool power station, which has safeguarded about 700 jobs in the region.

The move by EDF Energy ensures the plant, which brings in an estimated £30m a year to the local economy, will continue operating until at least 2019, after its reactors passed a technical and economic evaluation.

The Hartlepool and Heysham, Lancashire, plants have suffered output problems in recent years, but EDF Energy said both sites are likely to benefit from £50m upgrades.

Hartlepool power station employs 535 full-time staff, as well as 150 contract workers, and provides work to businesses in the local supply chain.

It has been producing energy for the National Grid since 1984.

The announcement comes a day after the Government approved reforms which are expected to encourage investment in low-carbon power generation.

Nuclear remains an important part of the UK energy mix and, during its working life, the Hartlepool plant has saved about 140 million tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

Paul Newman, Hartlepool’s station director, said: “This is great news for all of us at Hartlepool and for everyone in the local community.

“It means that we will continue to safely provide two per cent of the UK electricity output through low-carbon generation for many years to come.

“We can continue to provide highly-skilled jobs and bring major investment to the area.

“It also shows that EDF Energy recognises the professionalism and commitment of our staff in operating the plant safely for the past 27 years and into the future.”

Tim Davison, senior trade union representative for Unite and National Joint Council chairman, said power workers were delighted with the news.

Mr Davison said: “The announcement of the life extension at Hartlepool and Heysham is excellent for all of the staff involved, both on and off the sites, who have worked so hard to achieve this result.

“It is good for the environment in providing low carbon energy and good for the UK economy in delivering security of supply in the energy market.

“By providing the longerterm security of employment of our highly-skilled workforce which these life extensions bring, it will put us in good stead to retain, recruit and develop the staff and skills required to operate the existing fleet and to meet the requirements of the new nuclear build programme.”

Hartlepool is on a list of eight sites where new nuclear power stations could be built.

However, the first wave of plants will be at Hinkley Point, in Somerset, and Sizewell, in Suffolk.

Two reactors are planned at each of those sites from 2018 and there are no plans for Hartlepool to be involved in any new build until at least 2020.