The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) are concerned with the decision of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to approve EDF’s Periodic Safety Reviews for the Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B nuclear reactors.
In order to comply with a nuclear site licence, a periodic safety review has to be carried out every ten years by a nuclear site operator to justify continued safe operations. As part of this requirement the site licence company is expected to make regular reviews and reassessments of safety at the site, and make improvements where necessary. ONR then assesses this review to ensure it has been rigorous in underpinning any further period of the plant operations.
A key concern for the NFLA and other groups has been around EDF’s revised graphite core safety case for both sites and the increased levels of cracks found in the graphite bricks around the reactor pressure vessel. For example, the independent nuclear engineering consultant John Large has said that if the cracks get any worse it could jeopardise the reactor’s stability in the event of a significant disaster – such as a small earthquake – and make it impossible to lower control rods to shut the reactor down. He said: “These keyways are beginning to fracture… that means the locking together – the way that force can be transferred from one brick to another – is lost, so it becomes a very loose stack of bricks.” (1)
In a local BBC ‘Inside Out’ documentary Allan Jeffrey of the group Stop Hinkley added: “This weakness in the graphite core could end up distorting the channels the fuel and the boron control rods use. In cases of emergency there are sudden changes in temperature and pressure which could all end up starting to deform these channels. If you can’t get the control rod down then you can’t control the temperature inside the reactor and you’re heading for accidents – possibly even meltdowns.” (2)
A report also undertaken in an independent capacity by the NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor for the Scottish Green Party notes that it is probably illegal under the international Espoo Convention to approve the safety assessment without a full environmental impact assessment. As such the Scottish public are being denied a say in the decision to keep the oldest nuclear power station in Scotland running. (3)
NFLA share these concerns and it would like to have seen full public discussion of this matter provided by EDF and the ONR. It would also like to see both EDF and the ONR respond directly to the comments made by the likes of John Large and the NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor and to have held a full open and transparent consultation on this critical matter. Local communities around Hunterston and Hinkley Point deserve such safety critical issues being considered in a wider capacity.
NFLA notes the comments made by Dr Richard Savage, the Chief Nuclear Inspector that the ONR’s confirmation is subject to the operations of both reactors being supported by a detailed understanding of the condition of the core at each reactor. EDF must also undertake regular inspections and assessment of the graphite cores to demonstrate that it remains within the limits and conditions defined in the safety case. NFLA calls on ONR to closely monitor these assessments as it fears allowing for a doubling in the amount of cracked graphite bricks could potentially lead to nuclear fuel overheating, potentially resulting in a radiological release, a real nightmare scenario. (4)
NFLA Steering Committee Chair Councillor Ernie Galsworthy said:
I am disappointed the ONR has approved Periodic Safety Reviews for Hinkley Point and Hunterston without any public consultation or an environmental impact assessment being undertaken as outlined by the Espoo Convention. Though I am not surprised the UK Government has not questioned this decision, I am surprised that the Scottish Government has not called for a full public consultation on this matter. Both of these reactors are aging and in our view getting well past their sell by date, but as such now will potentially be generating electricity for quite some time to come.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 0161 234 3244.
Notes for editors:
(1) BBC Online News, 31st October 2016 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-37789654
(3) Scottish Green Party report on Plant Life Time Extensions at Hunterston B, January 2017 https://greens.scot/sites/default/files/Nuclear%20lifetime%20extensions%20-%20Pete%20Roche.pdf
(4) NR 24th Feb 2017 http://news.onr.org.uk/2017/02/hinkley-point-b-and-hunterston-b/