Cracks found at
nuclear stations

Associated Press , 5 July 2006

Unexplained cracks in the reactor cores of Britain's atomic power stations have been uncovered by nuclear inspectors, it has been reported.

The safety assessments, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show the Nuclear Safety Directorate (NSD) has issued warnings over the state of the reactor cores at Hinkley Point B in Somerset and other UK nuclear plants.

The Guardian reported that NSD also criticised British Energy, which runs 13 advanced gas-cooled nuclear reactors including Hinkley.

It is understood the documents state that British Energy is unaware of the full extent of the damage to the reactor cores, cannot explain why the cracking has occurred and is unable to monitor the deterioration.

The NSD says it does not believe there is any immediate risk to the public but believes it poses questions over the future of other nuclear plants of the same design.

But the most recent safety checks of Hinkley, completed in April, found that continued operation was likely to increase the risk of an accident, the NSD found.

An inspector reported: "While I do not believe that a large release (of radiation) is a likely scenario, some lesser event ... is, I believe, inevitable at some stage if a vigilant precautionary approach is not adopted.

"There is an increased likelihood of increased risk should we agree to continued operation."

The papers, which were obtained by Greenpeace via Stop Hinkley, a local nuclear watchdog group, indicate the NSD requires more stringent inspections of the plants, which would require the closure of reactors for weeks.

In 2004, British Energy warned that its Hinkley Point B, Hunterston B, Heysham 2 and Torness plants might not be able to extend their 30-year lives because of cracked bricks.

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