The news from the ‘Sunday Herald’ that new cracks have been found in the graphite blocks around the Hunterston B nuclear reactor is of real concern to the Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Forum. NFLA calls for exacting safety checks to ensure that public safety is not put at risk by the operation of the 42 year old nuclear reactor.
The article in the Sunday Herald notes the UK nuclear safety regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), is discussing with the plant operator EDF over the extent of the cracks and their impact on the wider integrity of the nuclear reactor. (1)
As a detailed NFLA briefing has previously noted, the integrity of the graphite blocks that make up the reactor core is vital to nuclear safety. They ensure that the reactor can be both cooled and safely shut down in an emergency. After over 40 years of operation, the intense radiation used in the process is inevitably having an effect on the graphite blocks, with cracks seen on the blocks of a number of existing nuclear reactor sites, particularly Hunterston B, but also Hinkley Point B and reactors at Hartlepool and Heysham. (2)
Any failure of the blocks could potentially lead to nuclear fuel overheating, the reactor melting down and a significant radioactive leak as part of a major nuclear accident.
Both the ONR and EDF have confirmed to the Sunday Herald that new cracks have been found, but would not go into any further detail.
NFLA Scotland shares the concerns of independent radiation safety experts and of the local community that the ‘wear and tear’ on the Hunterston reactor may be reaching critical safety levels. It calls on the ONR to carefully consider the state of the reactor in cooperation with EDF, and report in detail to the Site Stakeholder Group and the wider public of its findings.
Whilst no new nuclear reactors are expected for at least another 7 – 10 years (in England and Wales only), NFLA remains concerned that many of the existing nuclear sites are getting close to their final operation. Real plans should be being made in all existing nuclear site areas to consider what the impacts of a reactor closedown will mean on the local community and to urgently look at ways to retain such specialised staff for the ‘care and maintenance’ and safe decommissioning of each site. NFLA are very concerned of the serious radiation safety, public health and emergency planning impacts that could occur if these safety critical issues are not sensibly dealt with.
It is clear that the energy footprint in Scotland is rapidly changing in favour of a wide range of renewables, and NFLA encourages the Scottish Government and other agencies to assist a transition of such communities to take advantage of such opportunities. At its recent meeting last week in Glasgow, councillors discussed the real possibilities of hydrogen green gas and geothermal energy to be a new part of this renewable energy mix. (3) Scotland is a global leader in the promotion of renewables and these opportunities should be encouraged in North Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway and in the Highlands to ensure communities hosting nuclear facilities are adequately catered for as part of this dynamic energy and economic transition.
NFLA Scotland Forum Convener, Councillor Feargal Dalton said:
“NFLA has been concerned for some time about the issue of increased cracks being found in the graphite bricks that surround the nuclear reactors of our aging nuclear programme. That more cracks have been found in the Hunterston reactor is confirmation that these sites are coming close to the conclusion of their plant life. The ONR needs to work with EDF to ensure that they are absolutely satisfied with the integrity of the reactor before it permits any resumption of its electricity generation. These issues are symptomatic of the real truth in Scottish and UK energy policy, that nuclear power, like coal generation before it, is coming to an end. Scotland’s embracing of renewable energy has been very welcome in the past decade and it should be rapidly scaled up to assist all parts of Scotland in being involved in this new energy revolution. Renewable energy can benefit all of Scotland and is both the way forward for low carbon transition and in tackling the huge challenges of climate change.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244 or Pete Roche, NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor on 0131 444 1445.
Notes for editors:
(1) Sunday Herald, 22nd April 2018
(2) NFLA Policy Briefing 164 on Nuclear Plant Life Extensions, 9th October 2017
(3) The presentations from the NFLA Scotland seminar on the potential of new forms of renewable energy will be placed shortly on the NFLA website