Nuclear station could get reprieve

Somerset County Gazette September 22nd by Chris Alder

Hinkley B's life may be extended, say power chiefs

NUCLEAR power bosses confirmed this week that there was a possibility Hinkley B nuclear power station could get a stay of execution. But they moved quickly to dispell claims that lives could be at risk if the life of the plant was to be extended. And they dismissed claims of a possible Chernobyl-style catastrophe engulfing large parts of West Somerset, Bridgwater and even Taunton as 'scaremongering'.

Jim Duffy, of West Quantoxhead, who is a leading member of Stop Hinkley, a group campaigning for the plant to be closed down, claimed this week graphite bricks which form the core of the 2,000 tonne reactor are crumbling, *[1] causing movement in the nuclear core itself. He said: "This could lead to a nuclear fuel fire which could burn for several days releasing tons of CO2 containing deadly isotopes into the atmosphere.

"Like Chernobyl, no secondary containment was built into Hinkley. Depending on the direction of the wind, people in a wide area covering West Somerset, Bridgwater and Taunton, and possibly further afield, could be breathing in isotopes before they even heard of the leak happening. "They would not be falling over in the streets, but many could develop cancer in the ensuing years."

Mr Duffy's wife, Karalina Matskevich, was living in Minsk, just 200 miles from Chernobyl, when a fireball blew off the reactor's heavy steel and concrete lid in [1986]. The accident killed more than thirty people immediately, and 135,000 had to be evacuated as a result of the high radiation levels in the surrounding area.

He said: "The implications of a fuel fire at Hinkley are plain. Tens of thousands of people would have to be evacuated quickly. Roads, including the M5, could be quickly choked and there would be widespread panic."

Between 1981 and 1985, the five years preceding the Chernobyl accident, the average thyroid cancer rate was four to six incidents per million in Ukrainian children aged 0-15, but between 1986 and 1997 the rate rose to 45 incidents per million. Figures from the Ukraine Radiological Insitute suggest that more than 2,500 deaths were caused by the Chernobyl accident overall.

People living within a 3.5 km radius of Hinkley are provided with potassium iodate tablets, which help prevent thyroid cancer in the event of an explosion. Campaigners have called for a wider distribution.

John MacNamara, a spokesman for Hinkley B owners British Energy, confirmed that the company was looking at extending the lives of some of its older stations, but insisted that no decision would be made without the agreement of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, part of the Health & Safety Executive, and in any case not until around 2008. He emphasised: "we are not allowed to operate any power station if there's any question mark over safety."

While he admitted that British Energy had drawn attention to the problem of graphite bricks cracking at Hinkley B, expert advice suggested that it would not affect the life cycle of the plant.* [2}

"We are constantly monitoring the situation," he said. "If station is not fully safe, it does not get permission to operate. The NII can shut us down in minutes if it wants to."

Hinkley B, built in the 1960's is due to close in 2011. Hinkley A station is currently partway through decommissioning .

* [1] Jim said " potentially causing movement..."

* [2] Note the quiet admission that Hinkley B's reactor core actually has cracks in it, first squeezed out of British Energy in an ITV West documentary on Oldbury's damaged core on 6th September 2005.

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