IS NUKE PLANT SAFE?
Front page splash (Glos edition),
Fresh concerns about Gloucestershire's Oldbury nuclear power station are being revealed today. A new investigation raises questions over the state of its reactor's graphite core. But atomic bosses say the plant, right, on the banks of the River Severn, is completely safe.
EXPERT CHALLENGES WEST NUCLEAR PLANT OVER REACTOR SAFETY
Disturbing claims about the safety of a West nuclear power station are made in a hard-hitting investigation tonight. The Oldbury plant in Gloucestershire has a problem that is worse than at any other reactor in the country, it is alleged. The claims - hotly denied by bosses - are made in the opening instalment of a new series of the BBC West programmes, Inside Out. This evening's programme claims to have obtained a series of documents that raise fresh concerns about the continued operation of the ageing installation. Oldbury started generating power in 1967 and, when in use, provides enough electricity to serve a city one and-a-half times the size of Bristol. Making use of the new Freedom of Information Act, Inside Out's researchers obtained letters relating to the state of the reactor's graphite core. They show that, over time, the graphite blocks have lost more than a third of their weight, prompting fresh worries about their strength. The papers also reveal that the graphite problem at Oldbury is worse than at any other reactor in the country. The inspectors say this is a key issue, and go on: "We perceive there to be an increased risk of a challenge to the safety of the core." And they accuse the management of not knowing enough about the science behind the problem. Independent nuclear expert John Large tells the programme: "These documents represent a compromise on nuclear safety. Some of these plants are now 30 to 40 years old. Clearly they were designed for a much shorter life than what BNFL is eking them out to be. They were designed for a 30-year life. Now they are eking them out to 40-plus years. That's where the compromise is." But chiefs at the power station on the banks of the River Severn say they carry out regular testing to ensure safety is not being compromised. Joe Lamonby, manager of the Oldbury station, says: "We've got no evidence that any of the graphite is shifting. We're talking about a structure here of 50,000 bricks, about 2,000 tonnes. "We regularly inspect it. We've got no evidence of any cracks in the reactor." But anti-nuclear campaigner Jim Duffy is not swayed by this. He insists: "I'm terrified basically. We think this is an experiment. They're going into completely unknown territory with uncertain values. I can't say how anxious I am about this reactor going on till 2008." Oldbury is due to stop generating in that year and the final site clearance is set to be completed more than a century later in 2118. It has already emerged that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate wanted more checks on the reactor's graphite core.
Inspectors gave the all-clear earlier this year but anti-nuclear campaigners want Oldbury closed permanently ahead of 2008, claiming the depleted graphite could make the reactors "unstable".
WDP Editorial, 5 September 2005
...... fresh fears have been expressed today about the safety of one of the West's nuclear power stations. Bosses are quick to dismiss concerns about Oldbury power station's graphite core as unfounded and say the site is completely safe to run.
Once again, however, we need to be absolutely certain about this. Any doubt would be totally unacceptable.