The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) is concerned and seeks answers to reports of a number of safety incidents and a radioactive transport incident relating to the Hunterston B nuclear reactor site in North Ayrshire.
‘The Ferret’ investigative journalism news site reported yesterday of an Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) report outlining that the Hunterston B site had breached radiation safety rules and suffered five other problems with its safety systems. (1)
The ONR report noted that EDF Energy at Hunterston had “failed to adequately account for” radioactive materials last October. It also noted that one of the nuclear plant’s cooling systems – needed to prevent overheating when a reactor is shut down – developed a fault because of confusion over valves. Other less pressing, but notable, safety issues in the report related to the reactors cooling systems, a fuelling machine and the graphite core.
In the report ONR comment that EDF Energy has shown “a lack of sensitivity to industrial safety events”. It also said the company’s emergency arrangements for coping with a nuclear accident also needed improvement.
In addition, ONR required EDF to re-run an emergency exercise held on 17th October 2019. This was meant to test responses to a nuclear accident “under security lockdown conditions” with the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC). ONR commented that: “The exercise was challenging and showed that there is a need to enhance the operability of the EDF corporate emergency arrangements in conjunction with the CNC response procedures.”
For NFLA these are important matters, as at present North Ayrshire Council is finalising the offsite emergency plan for the site, which is going to be discussed at the full Council meeting of the 25th March. NFLA is shortly planning to write to councillors raising its concerns over issues around the size of the emergency planning zones around the site, the lack of pro-active public information to those up to 30kms from the site (who would now be in an extended Outline Planning Zone) and calling for an increase in the amount of residents who are given pre-distributed stable iodine tablets.
This report from the ONR adds to such concerns, and it comes at a time when both operating reactors at Hunterston B are closed. EDF still has to produce detailed reports to the ONR that it can demonstrate it is safe to operate these reactors despite an alarming level of keyway root cracks and concerns over the increased amount of graphite debris found within the reactor. The two reactors are now over 42 years old, and are showing increased signs of ‘wear and tear’. NFLA has called for these reactors to be closed down and to start a ‘just transition’ process to move workers into decommissioning work and alternative jobs. (2)
A further report in today’s ‘Ferret’ website adds an additional safety issue to this list. (3) A new investigation has been launched into how radioactive waste ended up in a transport container at the Hunterston site, in breach of environmental rules. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has disclosed that unauthorised radioactive “debris” was found in a supposedly empty fuel flask that had been returned to Hunterston from the Sellafield site. Sellafield Ltd has described the waste as a “mis-consignment”, while EDF Energy at Hunterston said it was a “non-compliance” issue. Both companies are now investigating where the waste came from, as is SEPA. NFLA has had a long and consistent concern with the transportation of radioactive waste, and it calls for a full, open, urgent and transparent investigation of this incident. It would also like to know the amount and level of radioactivity that was found in the empty fuel flask and if any workers or the public have been put at risk.
Given such a wide range of issues involving the site, and the current closure of the reactors, it suggests morale at the Hunterston site could be low and it increases alarm for NFLA that a more serious safety incident could take place. NFLA call on the regulatory authorities to increase their focus on the site.
NFLA Scotland Convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton said:
“I applaud the Ferret investigative journalism website for uncovering a number of concerning safety incidents at the Hunterston nuclear reactor site. Taken in their totality, they suggest the site is struggling at a time when it is under intense scrutiny due to the aging nature of the reactors. It is worrying to say the least that the site operators are not able to account for radioactive materials or why an empty transport flask contained radioactive graphite debris. EDF need to review their safety procedures as a result of these incidents, and I call on the ONR and SEPA to thoroughly investigate how ‘empty’ flasks are containing radioactive material. These incidents confirm in our view that these aging reactors would be better being closed and the workers transferred into the long-term process of decommissioning Hunterston B.”
NFLA English Forum Chair, Councillor David Blackburn added:
“I am concerned that neither Sellafield Ltd nor EDF know why an empty transport flask travelling between the sites could contain radioactive materials. The question has to be asked if such incidents are also occurring at other UK nuclear reactor sites and it reiterates NFLA concerns over the transportation of radioactive waste around the country. I call on SEPA to look carefully into this incident. I also call on ONR to look at the incident, given the recent changes made to the Carriage of Dangerous Goods Regulations. Public safety needs to be guaranteed.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) The Ferret, March 9th 2020
(2) NFLA Policy Briefing 184, Closure of Hunterston B – a Just Transition and Local Energy Supply, 9th January 2019
(3) The Ferret, March 10th 2020