Slow death for nuclear plant?

Somerset County Gazette, 19th October 2006, By Chris Alder

HINKLEY Point B nuclear power station is to shut down after cracks in one of the reactors were found to be worse than first thought.

Jubilant anti-nuclear campaigners have claimed the move could signal the end of Hinkley Point.

As reported in the County Gazette two weeks ago, bosses at the station, owned by British Energy, brought forward a three-yearly statutory inspection of one of the plant's nuclear reactors as a prudent measure following the discovery of cracks in an identical reactor at Hunterston plant, Ayrshire.

The cracks were first discovered in boiler tubes last month, but an in-depth inspection has found more serious damage.

Now, British Energy has said it has begun preparations to shut down the second Hinkley B reactor after decided to bring forward an inspection.

Anti-nuclear campaigners have claimed it is unlikely repairs can be carried out on both Hinkley Point B units as well as the Scottish plant at the same time, and that Hinkley could remain closed for several months.

The shut down comes less than six weeks after cracking in the graphite bricks, which comprise the reactor core, were revealed.

Hinkley B's advanced gas cooled reactors provide some 3% of Britain's electricity alone. British Energy, whose shares plummeted 24% at the news, has previously said it anticipates the plant, built in the 1960s, will close in 2011.

Hinkley A station has already been closed, and is currently part-way through decommissioning.

Jim Duffy, head of the action group Stop Hinkley, said: "I think this could be the start of a slow death for Hinkley Point.

"In a best-case scenario, it is likely to be closed for three or four months.

"Stop Hinkley has been demanding the permanent closure of these ageing, crumbling reactors for some time.

"Although British Energy maintains the closure is temporary, Hinkley's shutdown does leave Somerset, and a large chunk of the South West, without any form of power generation.

"It's good news that there would be no more nuclear power produced in the West Country, but it does mean there will be no electricity produced on a major scale here for the next ten to 15 years.

"The Government needs to be looking at this now, and getting wind turbines up and running so that we have got enough electricity to cook our breakfast in the mornings."

Martin Pearce, from British Energy, said: "We cannot say exactly when the reactor will be shut down, only that its output is being lowered.

"We also do not know for how long it will be closed, because it will depend on the extent of the damage and when the reactor can be repaired."

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