Hinkley 'close to cracking up'

Shock report by safety watchdogs

By Chris Roe, Western Daily Press, 5 July 2006

CONCERNS over cracks in reactor cores at Somerset's Hinkley B nuclear power station have been voiced by the Government's own atomic watchdog.

Wear and tear on the reactors' graphite blocks, which help to control the speed of nuclear reactions, is highlighted in previously unseen documents.

A report in April by Health and Safety Executive inspectors, released today for the first time, said there was "an increased likelihood of increased risk should we agree to continued operation".

Anti-nuclear campaigners, including Greenpeace and West-based Stop Hinkley, say the documents are a powerful reason for shutting down the power station on the Bristol Channel.

But yesterday its operators, British Energy, insisted the plant was completely safe and that it would not be allowed to operate otherwise. The firm also claimed that the documents, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, are only one side of a much wider correspondence.

It is the latest shot in an ongoing battle over whether graphite cores in nuclear power stations, including Hinkley and Oldbury, in Gloucestershire, are still safe enough for continued use.

Today the campaigners have revealed a series of documents from the Nuclear Safety Directorate, part of the Health and Safety Executive, looking at the question of graphite blocks at Hinkley.

This includes the April report that mentions "an increased likelihood of increased risk" if the plant continues to operate.

Greenpeace enlisted nuclear engineer John Large to analyse the documents. "The nuclear safety case for these reactors centres around the core remaining structurally sound during operation," said Mr Large.

"Yet these documents show that there are considerable uncertainties about the core's ability to fulfil its crucial safety role to the extent, in my view, that reactor safety may be at a cliff edge to a very serious accident and release of radioactivity.

"In view of the increased risk presented by the continued operation of these nuclear plants, the reactors should be immediately shut down."

His shutdown call was shared by Stephen Tindale, Greenpeace's executive director, and Jim Duffy, of Stop Hinkley.

British Energy yesterday said the campaigners had not uncovered anything new. Spokesman Martin Pearce said: "What they don't have is the British Energy side of that process."

He added: "The important point in terms of reassuring the public is that we are running two reactors, signed off by the regulator as being approved.

"If the regulator were concerned in terms of safety they could switch us off today."



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Hinkley B shut down due to problems with a control rod!

On Saturday 15th July one of the twin reactors at Hinkley B was forced to shut down due to problems with a control rod. As predicted by John Large, control rods may start jamming due to defective channels due to the graphite bricks cracking and becoming displaced. This could be a highly significant development if cracks have caused the jamming. Were it to happen during an emergency it could be highly problematic. A BE spokesman said the outage was expected to be short term.


Read the report by John Large, the independent nuclear engineer who reviewed the FoI papers for Greenpeace.