July 5, 2006
New document reveals hidden fears about Hinkley Point power station
nuclear inspectors have raised serious questions over the safety
of Hinkley Point B power station, near Burnham-On-Sea, according
to national reports in the national press on Wednesday (July 5th).
assessments obtained under Freedom of Information legislation
show the Nuclear Safety Directorate (NSD) has issued warnings
over the deterioration of reactor cores at Hinkley Point B and
several other British nuclear plants.
directorate also criticises British Energy, which operates 13
advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors including Hinkley. According
to the papers, the company does not know the extent of the damage
to the reactor cores, cannot monitor their deterioration and does
not fully understand why cracking has occurred. They reveal that
in June last year, the NSD said it was faced with "significant
regulatory issues ... for all operating AGR reactors."
NSD's most recent safety assessment of Hinkley, completed in April,
warns that its continued operation is likely to increase the risk
of an accident. While the NSD says it does not believe that there
is any immediate radiation danger to the public, it says there
is a possibility of serious faults developing that would force
the long term or permanent closure of other nuclear plants of
the same design.
I do not believe that a large release [of radiation] is a likely
scenario, some lesser event ... is, I believe, inevitable at some
stage if a vigilant precautionary approach is not adopted. There
is an an increased likelihood of increased risk should we agree
to continued operation," says the inspector.
documents show the NSD wants more frequent and more probing inspections
of the reactor cores at all Britain's AGR plants. These inspections
require the reactors to be shut down for weeks.
premature closing of any nuclear power plant could throw Britain's
electricity supplies into chaos.
of Hinkley Point would be likely to lead to closure of at least
three other nuclear stations built at the same time, which are
also known to be suffering from cracks in their cores.
in the graphite brick cores of ageing reactors have been observed
for some time but until now there has been little public knowledge
of the extent of the problem. British Energy warned in 2004 that
its Hinkley Point B, Hunterston B, Heysham 2 and Torness plants
might not be able to be extend their 30-year lives because of
cracked bricks, but it gave few details of the extent of the problem.
British Energy said it had provided new evidence to the NSD. "If
the health and safety executive [the government body that oversees
the NSD] were not confident in the safety of the reactor cores
we would not allow the reactors to operate. The assessment report
was part of the ongoing regulatory process... The Nuclear Safety
Directorate is monitoring closely British Energy's work on graphite
and, where necessary, is influencing the scope and extent of the
reactor core inspections that the company carries out.
Energy has also been working on methods to monitor the cores whilst
the reactors are in service. This will provide added re-assurance
on the condition of the cores."
of this article appeared in The Guardian on Wednesday