Western Morning News, 19 May 2008

The Westcountry's nuclear power station is still operating well below capacity because of cracked pipes - more than 17 months after the problem was revealed.

It emerged in December 2006 that Hinkley Point B in Somerset needed urgent repairs to boiler pipes. Although the plant's running capacity was reduced to about 60 per cent, British Energy said at the time it expected the plant to be back to 100 per cent capacity by March 2008.

But confirmation that the faults will continue to drastically impinge on the output of the station until the plant is expected to close in 2016 could have implications for the promised future expansion of nuclear energy in the region, warn campaigners.

An anti-nuclear group said the ongoing reduction of electricity output cast further doubt on the future of the nuclear industry, again raising safety concerns - but British Energy said it ran a safe operation under a tough regulatory regime and any new reactor would be more efficient and reliable.

British Energy confirmed in December 2006 that two reactors at Hinkley Point B were out of action after cracks were found in boiler pipes. In fact, the station was not "switched on" again until April 2007. Since then, it has been running at between 60 and 70 per cent capacity and is unlikely to ever return to normal capacity.

British Energy spokesman Sue Fletcher told the WMN that the aim to be back at full capacity by this spring was based on an estimate. When ongoing inspections revealed it would not be safe to run the plant at 100 per cent capacity again, a decision was taken to downgrade the power output - probably indefinitely.

Mrs Fletcher said: "The whole principle was we shut the unit down when we identified problems with the boiler tubes - but before they became a safety issue. There was never a risk to safety."

She denied that the problems at Hinkley, which supplies electricity for more than one million people, would reduce public or shareholder confidence in the plan to build a new plant at the same site.

"Technology has moved on and there are more efficient designs."

Jim Duffy, from the Stop Hinkley campaign group, said: "We are very concerned about this plant which seems to have a host of different problems. There have been problems with the boiler system which they still haven't resolved.

"They are doing the right thing by not trying to go up to 100 per cent, but it is an old reactor and these age-related problems have developed much more quickly than anybody expected."



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Comment from Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley co-ordinator: I don't recognise the opinions attributed to Stop Hinkley in the first part of the article. In the interview I believe I simply cast doubt on the longevity of Hinkley B, not the whole industry. That said, I suggested new reactors, with expected lives of 60 years may well not achieve that unprecedented timescale.



Page Updated 19-May-2008