The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) notes the recent 8th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, the largest nuclear accident since Chernobyl. NFLA sends its deepest sympathies to all those who died in Japan on the 11th March 2011, and the thousands of people whose lives have been dislocated due to the long-term evacuation of the area around the stricken reactor.
The disaster still causes huge ongoing problems in North East Japan, and it is far from resolved.
Core issues include:
- Remote controlled robots are only just beginning to reach the core of the damaged reactors to ascertain what happened to the nuclear fuel within them.
- There remains a huge radioactive storage and waste issue. Thousands of water tanks with radioactivity contaminated water remain on site, with pressure from government agencies to dump its materials in the Pacific Ocean, despite much local opposition. Large amounts (millions of cubic metres) of contaminated soil also remains in the area, with no clear decision on where it will be stored for the long-term.
- According to NHK World Japan, over 50,000 of the people who had to be evacuated from the affected area close to the Fukushima Daiichi plant remain in temporary accommodation. Despite pressure to return to ‘cleaned up’ towns there remains real reluctance to do so. (1)
- The costs of restoration of the site and long-term clean up and recovery are immense. The Japan Centre for Economic Research calculates the cost could range from $315 billion (£241 billion) to $728 billion (£556.5 billion), almost four times higher than previous Japanese Government estimates made in 2016. (2)
This nuclear disaster has clearly been a factor in making new nuclear uneconomic, to a point that could be prohibitive, as the recent decisions by Toshiba and Hitachi to halt developments at Moorside, Wylfa and Oldbury have shown.
It is also a warning of the inherent risks with nuclear power. In the UK, much of the current concern remains with a number of aging nuclear reactors, particularly Hunterston B. At present, Reactors 3 and 4 at Hunterston B have been offline for almost a year now. But it should also be noted that reactors at Dungeness B are also offline for ‘maintenance’. Reactor 1 at Heysham A and Reactor 2 at Hartlepool are also ‘offline’. Despite this large amount of nuclear energy capacity ‘offline’ the electricity grid is still working effectively, primarily due to the large increases in renewable energy across the UK. (3)
At last week’s Hunterston SSG, attended by a NFLA representative, and in related news covered in a BBC News Online article, EDF confirmed over 370 keyway route cracks have now been found on the graphite bricks of Reactor 3, around 10% of the bricks in the reactor core. The BBC article noted that EDF would be looking on presenting a safety case to the Office for Nuclear Regulation seeking a new operational limit of 700 cracks in Reactor 3. The Hunterston B reactor is over 40 years old and is one of the oldest operating nuclear reactors in Europe. (4)
NFLA notes a joint response to the BBC article from Dr Ian Fairlie and Dr David Toke arguing that there a number of ‘incorrect statements’ within the article. (5)
- The BBC article claims that early decommissioning could cause serious energy supply problems. This is not the case: the reality is that Scotland has, if anything, an oversupply of electricity. Both Hunterston and Torness could be closed without any problem to Scotland’s electricity supplies. See https://www.ianfairlie.org/news/why-hunterston-b-nuclear-power-station-should-not-be-restarted/
- The BBC article stated it would probably mean more power coming from fossil fuels such as gas. Again this is incorrect: most likely it would come from a growing renewable energy mix.
- The BBC article claims that Hunterston “supports around 700 posts”. This is incorrect. According to ONS data, AGR stations like Hunterston B in fact provide about 350 direct jobs on average.
- The BBC article states that “Concerns have also been raised about the consequences for local jobs if Hunterston closed early.” NFLA are acutely aware of this issue and in a report launched at the Scottish Parliament have considered the jobs issue in detail at Hunterston. The report argues that ‘accelerated decommissioning’ of the site can assist in maintaining jobs, as well as focusing on the ‘Just Transition’ programme led by the Scottish Government to assist movements of workers into other highly skilled work areas. (6)
NFLA are following these issues up closely with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and will meet again with them once the ONR have received the safety case for Reactor 3 and 4 and are making their decision over allowing (or not) the reactors to restart. NFLA are aware of Dr Fairlie’s analysis that a major accident at the Hunterston site, while a low probability to occur, could require the evacuation of much of the central populated belt of Scotland, including Glasgow and Edinburgh.
NFLA Scotland Convener, Cllr Feargal Dalton said:
“In remembering the 8th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, NFLA is fully aware of the real sensitivities and safety issues that remain with the ageing civil reactor fleet left in Scotland and England. NFLA would be very concerned if a new safety case permitting up to 700 keyway route cracks was allowed and the Hunterston B reactor reopened. Hunterston B is due to close anyhow in 2023, so work should be going on now to look at alternative job pathways. If it is deemed unsafe to restart the reactor, as increasing evidence suggests, then it should be closed down.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) NHK World TV bulletin, 11th March 2019.
(2) The Asahi Shimbun, 10th March 2019
(3) EDF Energy nuclear power station daily status, 11th March 2019
(4) BBC News Online, 8th March 2019
(5) Joint statement on the BBC News article in reference (4) by Dr Ian Fairlie and Dr David Toke, 8th March 2019
(6) NFLA Policy Briefing 184, 9th January 2019, Hunterston B – A Just Transition and local energy supply.