A safety case for defueling a former nuclear power station in Kent is eight months late and the task of defueling could take up a decade to complete – the two latest set-backs in the decades-long folly that is the Dungeness plant and Nuclear Free Local Authorities have real concerns that these disastrous delays could have big financial implications for British taxpayers.
Located on the Kent coast, Dungeness B was the first plant to be ordered with Advanced Gas Cooled reactors. Although hailed as a ‘breakthrough’, Canadian physicist Walt Paterson, who chronicled the calamities of Britain’s early nuclear power programme in his book ‘Going Critical’, described Dungeness as a ‘breakdown’. From the very beginning, the plant was plagued by misfortune.
Ordered in 1965, with an expected five-year construction timeline, the plant was only fully operational two decades later. By then, the original contractor, Atomic Power Construction consortium, had long fallen into administration; costs had raised to over four times the original budget, according to the New Economics Foundation; and the prototype design proved itself so deficient that its intended power output had been reduced by 20%. Patterson’s verdict on the project: ‘the most conspicuous and long-running cock-up in a virtually endless catalogue of cock-ups’.
After an inspection by the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR) in September 2018 found operational components in Dungeness B ‘corroded to an unacceptable condition’, the plant closed and despite several false starts it never reopened. On 7 June 2021, operator EDF Energy announced that Dungeness B would move into the defueling phase with immediate effect, citing ‘station-specific risks within some key components’.
Now the NFLA has heard that a safety case for defueling has still not been submitted to the ONR eight months on, and that the Dungeness B plant may take up a decade to defuel as, according to a source in the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, it is ‘fairly unique in that it was a prototype, therefore, has a number of unique challenges in terms of defueling – that’s why it will take longer’.
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor David Blackburn said in response to the news:
“The disaster that is Dungeness just keeps on giving. Further delays in defueling mean more costs will be borne by the British taxpayer and there seems no incentive for the operator EDF Energy to rush as, once they declared the plant closed for electricity production, all the costs of the station have been borne by the Nuclear Liabilities Fund.
“Defueling costs for Britain’s AGR reactors were recently estimated by EDF to run between £3.1 billion and £8.0 billion depending on various factors. The delays at Dungeness could lead to additional calls on the Fund amounting to an extra £0.5 billion to £1.0 billion. The fund is going to be inadequate and will require taxpayers to bail it out at a time when many Britons are struggling to pay inflated energy bills”.
For more information please contact Richard Outram, Secretary, NFLA
Email Richard.email@example.com / Mobile 07583 097793