Response to Hinkley B Director's "Comment"
in Western Daily Press, 28 May 2008
29th May 2008
Nigel Cann's zeal for nuclear expansion at Hinkley Point is not surprising given his role as Director of Hinkley 'B' but there are other sides to the argument.
His reactor has not been 'generating electricity safely' for its 32 year life. Accidental releases of radiation have occurred throughout that time including one episode in the eighties where radioactive carbon dioxide gas escaped with claims by a nuclear consultant at the time that the accident was second only to Windscale in severity. Human error seemed to be the trigger.
Hinkley 'B's construction in the seventies was found to have be been flawed with systematic 'bodge' welding to steel pipes owned up to by a former welder. History repeats itself as the new European Pressurised Reactors (EPR) expected to be built in Somerset have been afflicted with construction faults on two sites in Finland and France . The faults have ranged from concrete foundations having the wrong concrete mix to steelwork being badly welded by under-qualified subcontractors. Work at the Flamanville site was halted this week by the French regulators.
It's astonishing that, as Mr Can says, Hinkley 'B' has been given a life extension to 2016, given a catalogue of serious problems. Its corroded and cracked reactor core has suffered an unexpected weight loss of 25 to 26 percent in the worst affected areas, making reactor fuel overheating more likely with a fuel fire a worst case scenario. The crucially placed network of boiler tubes alongside the damaged reactor and within the same pressurised housing was discovered to require rewelding in an unexpected exercise that put the reactor out for eight months up to May last year. So fragile is the partially repaired system that output has been reduced by forty percent. A series of burst boiler tubes could wreak havoc with the degraded reactor core through a pressure surge.
Worse still, the reactor is strangely not equipped with its 'last resort' shut-down system. This would 'hold down' the reactor if the safety control rods failed to function by becoming lodged in crooked or damaged channels. The second defence of nitrogen or water injection into the reactor could fail if the problem includes an opening where these radiation dampeners could pour out again. And the last system, known as 'boron beads' which would neutralise the reactor is bizarrely and inexplicably...missing! So much for the industry being 'quite rightly more closely regulated than any other industry' as Mr Cann puts it. The regulation seems very lightweight.
The risk from nuclear power, studiously avoided in his letter, includes the health of populations living downwind from the reactor. Studies we have published have shown extra breast cancer, leukaemia and infant deaths in the nearest downwind town of Burnham-on-Sea. The Hinkley response, aired at British Energy's Cannington meeting, was that the 'numbers are small'. At least here was a tacit admission of guilt. I wonder how the nuclear sums would add up if affected families were to sue the industry as is now occurring in America ?
Well, the undeniable global threat of climate change could be argued to be more important than the pain and death of any number of local individuals. If so this should be debated. But a weakness in the nuclear argument was put by the Government's own advisors on climate change, the Sustainable Development Commission. They said that replacing all our existing reactors could reduce our carbon emissions by a paltry four percent. (This figure was also hidden at the back of the Government's last desperate consultation on nuclear power referred to by Mr Cann). On the other hand, cheap and safe energy conservation measures alone could axe our carbon output by a massive thirty percent. Renewables could help this figure substantially and be brought on more quickly than nuclear.
Electricite de France, who Mr Cann supports building Hinkley 'C', has shown its colours in the recent buy-out of the West Hinkley wind-farm. Although nuclear supporters claim to support renewable energy and energy conservation as Mr Cann suggests, the industry's massive buying power has elbowed out Somerset 's best hope of a decent clean renewables project. And Mr Cann helped to torpedo it with his spurious objections to the local council that accidental 'blade throw' from a wind turbine 500 metres away could damage the reactor he claims can withstand the impact of a potential terrorist attack'. Which is it Mr Cann?
On the subject of security he argues that Hinkley's 'dedicated armed police force' will protect us from the unthinkable consequences of a terrorist attack. But experts at the time of 9/11 said all nuclear reactors are vulnerable. I have yet to hear a cogent argument that a jumbo jet loaded with fuel could not obliterate sensitive parts of a reactor such as its cooling ponds. The new EPR will store sufficient 'hot' spent fuel for twenty Chernobyls. It's difficult to think that even dedicated armed policemen could do anything against a determined attack.