Stop Hinkley Press Release

Hinkley woes deepen

18th November 2006

A top casualty has been incurred at British Energy following the series of problems at Hinkley Point B, whilst safety regulators have railed at the company's suggested rapid timescale for repairs.

Today British Energy announced that their Chief Nuclear Officer has left with immediate effect. His role was to supervise the operations at Hinkley B and other nuclear power stations. In an extraordinary move the company's Chief Executive will take direct charge of all nuclear operations.

The news comes on the tail of British Energy's Six Monthly Financial Report which warned investors that Hinkley Point B and Hunterston nuclear power stations will remain closed until at least the New Year due to cracks in boiler tubes and when they restart will only operate at 70 per cent output. At similar Hunterston nuclear power station BE said that one third of the damaged pipes are not reparable and must be blanked off. They could not confirm whether or when 100 per cent output could be achieved at Hinkley as this would depend on boiler lifetimes, station lifetimes and the acceptance by the regulator of complex safety cases.

The safety case issue could be a thorny one as it was not clear from the BE report whether the safety regulators, the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, had agreed their timetable. Breaking news seems to indicate that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are furious at not being consulted on the timetable for bringing Hinkley back on stream, saying that they have not agreed any start up times.

Signing off the revised safety case will not be not straight-forward as new safety issues have arisen, not previously encountered.

The current extended safety shut-downs come at a bad time for British Energy who prefer to timetable their 'outages' during the summer months when wholesale electricity prices are cheaper. BE will currently be fulfilling long-term electricity contracts by buying in short-term electricity at top prices.

Unresolved graphite crack problems

The boiler outages also add to Hinkley's existing reactor core crack problems. Stop Hinkley have spoken with industry insiders who say that large-scale engineering projects will be required in a possibly vain attempt to make the reactor core safe. These include bracing the core in one of two different methods using extra steelwork. This may affect the reactivity of the reactor. Another problem of judging the spread of sub-surface cracks in the graphite bricks composing the reactor core is known as 'Eddie-Currents'. An expert has expressed surprise at this choice of technique not previously applied to graphite reactor cores, saying it would be extremely difficult to develop in the timescales required. But without some monitoring mechanism, the operators and regulators are in the dark over how widespread the cracking is and therefore what the precise risks are.

None of these approaches have been cleared yet by a safety case and with the regulators.

Jim Duffy, spokesman for Stop Hinkley said: "Chaos and disaster seem to be reigning at British Energy as they try to persuade their deserting investors that all is well at Hinkley and other nuclear power stations. Shares have plummeted since August from a high of 759 p to 459p today. The magnitude of the work facing Hinkley alone is extreme and must be performed in highly radioactive conditions. Even untried projects that will take twelve months or more to accomplish must be passed by the regulator before work begins and then before it is commissioned, which is not guaranteed at any stage. And the regulators will not simply abide by British Energy's finance-driven timetable. It's a very glum outlook for Hinkley."

Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley, 07968 974805

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