Probe into nuclear station fire

By Jeff Weaver, Thornbury Gazette, 5th June 2007

BOSSES at Oldbury nuclear power station have launched a top level inquiry into last week's blaze which has once again put the "dinosaur" atom plant out of action.

British Nuclear Group (BNG) chief engineer Gordon Malcolm is heading a panel of inquiry to probe the cause of the fire which forced the emergency shutdown of the station's 40-year-old number two reactor.

People out and about near the Severnside plant reported a loud bang and an alarming release of steam on the morning of Wednesday, May 30, as the fire tripped automatic mechanisms and the reactor was deactivated as a precautionary measure.

Station chiefs have stressed that the blaze was in a transformer on the conventional side of the plant and was not a nuclear incident. No one was hurt and there was no release of radioactivity.

Even so, a separate probe into the fire - which was put out by automatic suppression systems - is also being carried out by government safety watchdogs from Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).

Meanwhile, the plant - due to close and begin decommissioning in December next year - will now be out of action until later his summer while work goes ahead to replace the damaged equipment.

The reactor had already been "down" for two years because of concerns over the condition of its graphite core and was in the process of being reactivated when last week's crisis forced the latest shut down.

BNG chiefs now plan to press ahead with re-starting the reactor despite claims by anti nuclear lobbyists that the 1960s plant is "clapped out" and should be closed down immediately and for good.

Stroud Green Party spokesman Philip Booth said they welcomed the inquiry.

"Let us hope they see sense and close this 39-year-old dinosaur once and for all," he said. "Equipment should not catch fire on restart. Both the operators and the regulators must share the blame. What else have they missed?"

He said the strong suspicion was that the blaze was related to the reactor's two-year shutdown and there was a fear that the emergency shut off may have further damaged the reactor.

"The Green Party and others had warned that restarting the reactor carried unacceptable risks," said Mr Booth. "This incident is further evidence that Oldbury must be closed permanently."

Station spokesman Saranne Postans said the inquiry panel would be reporting to the company's chief executive.

"It will be looking at all the technical aspects to establish why this happened and will be making recommendations not only for Oldbury but for all the sites which have this piece of equipment.

"It is early days but the indications at the moment are that this was just one of those things which could happen at any time at any site and which was not related to the shutdown period. We do not need to go back to the NII for consent to resume generating electricity. However, they obviously have an interest and will carry out their own investigation of terms of safety."

She said they were not yet in position to predict when the reactor would re-start but it could be within two months.

The station is still awaiting the go-ahead from nuclear inspectors to restart its number one reactor which has also undergone graphite safety checks.

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