Joint statement to the media from NFLA Scotland, Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF Scotland, CND Scotland and the Nuclear Consulting Group
The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Forum have joined with the groups Friends of the Earth Scotland, WWF Scotland, CND Scotland and the Nuclear Consulting Group to raise serious concerns over the decision of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) to allow EDF Energy to restart Reactor 3 at the Hunterston B nuclear reactor site in North Ayrshire. Reactor 3 has been closed for over two years and is awash with hundreds of keyway root cracks in what is the oldest reactor site still in operation in the UK.
Twin media releases were issued by the ONR and EDF Energy on the 27th August.
The ONR said that (1), despite the number of keyway route cracks for Reactor 3 being in the range of between 350 and 700 (i.e. over the previous operational allowance for the reactor of 350 cracks), it can be restarted. In their assessment, which has been focussed on whether cracking observed in the graphite bricks that form the reactor core of Reactor 3 could compromise its fundamental nuclear safety requirements, it noted that there is:
- unimpeded insertion of control rods and unimpeded movement of fuel;
- ensuring that gas flow will be maintained to ensure cooling of the fuel and core; and
- that appropriate moderation (slowing neutrons to sustain the nuclear chain reaction) and thermal inertia (reducing the speed of temperature changes) are maintained.
“Through assessment of EDF NGL’s safety justification, which takes into account the expected ageing of the graphite core, our inspectors are satisfied that there are sufficient safety margins and defence in depth measures in place to ensure public and worker safety throughout the further period of operation.”
It has taken over two years for the ONR to make this assessment, and it may have cost EDF Energy as much as £200 million to undertake the required research. All of this just to reopen two aging reactors for a period of just six and perhaps a maximum of 12 months of operation.
EDF Energy have welcomed the ONR decision and states in a media release that they will seek another 6 months of generation in 2021 of Reactor 3 and Reactor 4, before closing the reactors for decommissioning in January 2022, just a year before they are due to close based on the current operational guidance. (2)
Core queries we have of the ONR include:
- What will have changed in the operational safety case that means it is okay to operate Reactor 3 now but not after 6 months?
- Given that reactor 4 is reported to have fewer cracks what issues are there with this reactor that mean it cannot be given the all clear now, at least for a 6 month period? Are there other issues, like graphite erosion and distortion which are preventing it from restarting?
- What does this mean for Hunterston’s twin reactors at Hinkley Point B, which is reported to have fewer cracks but seems to have fallen into the same pattern of an ever lengthening shutdown; and what has been learnt of relevance to the other Advanced Gas Reactors?
In our collective view, it is extraordinary that Reactor 3 is being allowed to restart when it has been closed for over two years because of appropriate safety concerns. Reactor 4 is known to be in an equivalent state of aging and is likely also to be allowed to restart. It is important to note that the majority of the Scottish population live downwind of Hunterston B and the consequences of an accident will be catastrophic.
In terms of the energy generation issues by closing Hunterston B, it needs to be noted that EDF Energy has recently been asked by the National Grid to reduce output at Sizewell B in Suffolk due to a lack of energy demand, providing it with £50 million in order to do this. With the reducing cost and increasing levels of renewable energy coming on stream there is absolutely no need to restart Hunterston B. Restarting for 6 or 12 months is creating an unnecessary risk to the people of Scotland.
If accelerated decommissioning of the site was to take place, many jobs can be diverted into such activity for some time to come. In addition, whilst there is fuel in the reactor, it is a criticality risk and has to be almost fully staffed until it is defueled in 2025.
We also call on the Scottish Government to make its views known on this matter publicly as well.
This statement has been agreed by:
- Councillor Feargal Dalton, Convener, Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) Scotland Forum
- Pete Roche, NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor
- Richard Dixon, Director, Friends of the Earth Scotland
- Lang Banks, Director, World Wildlife Fund Scotland
- Dr Lynn Jamieson, Chair of Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
- Dr Ian Fairlie, Vice President of CND UK
- Dr Paul Dorfman, Chair, Nuclear Consulting Group
- Professor Steve Thomas, Professor of Energy Policy, Greenwich University and member of the Nuclear Consulting Group
- Dr David Toke, Reader in Energy Politics, Aberdeen University, Chair of 100% Renewable UK and member of the Nuclear Consulting Group
Ends – for more information from any of the co-signatories please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) ONR Media Release, 27th August 2020
(2) EDF Energy Media Release, 27th August 2020