Today is the 60th anniversary of the Windscale fire, one of the first and most significant nuclear reactor accidents in the history of nuclear power. Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) mark it with the publication of a detailed Policy Briefing outlining concerns with the safety of today’s operating nuclear reactors in England and Scotland as they continue to age beyond 40 years old. (1)
As a media release, from the local group Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment (CORE), notes of the fire at the Windscale (now Sellafield) site on the 10th October 1957:
“The fire within Windscale’s military pile No 1 released a cocktail of radioactivity that for several days drifted to Ireland and eastwards across the UK into Holland, Germany and southern Scandinavia. The true health toll in terms of fatal and non-fatal cancers contracted by those exposed to the plume is unlikely ever to be known. Focusing largely on the levels of radioactive Iodine-131(thyroid) and Polonium-210 (lung) contained in the plume, health studies published since the Fire have projected a range of ‘hypothetical’ figures that suggest between 10-100 fatal cancers and over 250 non-fatal cancers. One 1983 study projected 1000 fatal cancers from Polonium-210 alone.”
As NFLA has often noted, this incident has been followed by three serious other nuclear disasters – at Three Mile Island in the United States in 1980, at Chernobyl in Ukraine in 1986 and at Fukushima in Japan in 2011. There have been many other lower-level incidents and near misses as well.
A report commissioned by the NFLA Scotland Forum analyses ongoing concerns that exist with the remaining operational nuclear reactors run by EDF at Hunterston and Torness in Scotland and Hinkley Point, Hartlepool, Dungeness, Heysham and Sizewell in England. The report by the NFLA Policy Advisor Pete Roche outlines wider concerns that the age of some of these reactors – two are now over 40 years old and all are being projected to operate for between 42 – 47 years – puts them at risk due to components not running as efficiently, and concerns over cracks in the graphite around the reactor core.
The NFLA report focuses on concerns over ‘keyway route cracking’ as was covered in recent BBC programmes on the Hunterston and Hinkley Point B reactors. The briefing also outlines some concerns over regulatory approval of lifetime extensions for such sites, which allows for no public consultation or the allowing of evidence from independent experts to raise their concern.
NFLA note that the UN Espoo Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in a Transboundary Context has said that all ageing nuclear power stations in Europe should have an environmental impact assessment (EIA) before a licence renewal or the approval of a 10-year periodic safety review. An EIA would have to compare the potential impact of extending the life of an old reactor with supplying energy from alternative sources such as renewable energy, as well as involve the public in the decision making process. NFLA calls on the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation to implement such an assessment of each currently operational reactor in England and Scotland and involve the public in such a discussion.
The NFLA report concludes that:
EDF Energy’s announcement about extending the life of its AGR stations means that some of them could be open for as long as 47 years compared to the original design life of around 30 years. Given the problems of cracking in the graphite bricks in the core of the reactors and particularly the Keyway Route Cracks, and the difficulty of detecting where and when these cracks have occurred or will occur, this is of public concern.
Whilst the nuclear regulator strictly regulates the state of the graphite bricks in AGRs, there remains concerns from independent experts that lifetime extensions are becoming a more problematical process. NFLA encourages a more in-depth debate between the regulator and such experts.
What is most worrying is that the local communities are being asked to take a risk with these graphite bricks when they have not been asked for their opinion. NFLA recommend local authorities around nuclear sites should call for full environmental impact assessments (EIA) being carried out before a licence renewal or the approval of a 10-year periodic safety review is made.
The NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor will be speaking on this matter at the Forum’s upcoming seminar in Glasgow City Chambers on the 26th October. (2)
NFLA Scotland Forum Convener Councillor Feargal Dalton said:
“The Windscale fire 60 years ago was the first indication of the inherent risk and dangers from the nuclear power programme. Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima show we have still not learned those lessons. The NFLA report on risks with aging nuclear reactors in Scotland and England shows that real and existing concerns over a new accident remain prevalent and possible. NFLA calls on the regulatory agencies to open up decision making around lifetime extensions to operating nuclear plants. I look forward to hearing more about this at the upcoming NFLA Scotland seminar.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 164, Concerns over Nuclear Plant Life Extensions, 9th October 2017 is attached with this media release and will be placed on the homepage of the NFLA website – http://www.nuclearpolicy.info
(2) CORE press release, 10th October, http://corecumbria.co.uk/news/loss-by-sellafield-of-memorial-plaque-mars-windscale-fire-60th-anniversary-commemorations/
(3) NFLA Scotland Forum autumn seminar, 26th October 2017, Committee Room 8, Glasgow City Chambers, 12.30pm – 2.30pm
- Jane Tallents and David Mackenzie, Nukewatch Scotland, “Nuclear weapon road convoys and public information – what should we be told about them?”
- Tor Justad, Highlands Against Nuclear Reactors, “What are the risks of Dounreay transports by road, rail, sea and air?”
- Pete Roche, NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor, “Should we be concerned about aging nuclear reactors and is Scottish radioactive waste policy moving in the right direction?”
- Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, “Why does Scotland’s lead in renewables need to be backed up with support for decentralised energy?”
To register email Cathy Birrell, NFLA Scotland Secretary, Glasgow City Council – firstname.lastname@example.org