Shut Oldbury Press Release
28th April 2008
Bid to build unproven reactor at Oldbury
Shut Oldbury campaigners reacted with dismay at proposals (1) to build an unproven nuclear reactor at the Oldbury site in South Gloucestershire.
A consortium of two companies is bidding to build a Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor at the site where the existing corroded reactor core is due to close at the end of this year. The deal follows the government-owned Nuclear Decommissioning Authority's announcement to sell its nuclear sites to potential investors in nuclear new build, thereby competing with British Energy which is also attracting bidders for its existing nuclear sites.
The NDA's motive for the move is widely thought to be its cash-strapped situation due to the poor performance of ageing reactors at Oldbury and Wylfa on Anglesey , together with the THORP reprocessing plant at Sellafield. The NDA asked the government for £400 million earlier this year to support its decommissioning of old nuclear sites such as Hinkley A. The original forlorn expectation was that operating the old non-privatised reactors and reprocessing plants would bring in sufficient revenue to decommission the defunct UK nuclear sites.
But the Westinghouse has far to go before it gets a go-ahead in the UK . The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has a three year timetable to establish the safety of four potential reactor designs, including the AP 1000. The AP1000 may suffer problems in this process due to its novel cash-saving design known as 'Advance-Passive'. Much of the safety pipework and cabling has been 'stripped out' (2) compared to previous Westinghouse designs such as Sizewell B in Suffolk, with only half as much protective concrete.
On the issue of safety 'containment' in the event of a loss of coolant accident (LOCA) the high pressure and temperature steam and hydrogen liberated during the reactor primary circuit failure is contained within the first of two large domes. The first containment dome is surrounded by a second cooling dome. Following a LOCA the inner containment dome is cooled by allowing outside air to circulate up between the two domes, naturally convecting and exhausting through a chimney-like hole in the top of the outer dome - this natural process supposedly provides a failsafe means of 'passively' cooling the reactor fission products trapped inside the first containment dome.
"All very well in theory" says Nuclear Consultant John Large, "but if the initial LOCA is sufficiently violent, as it might be if triggered by a terrorist attack, so that the inner containment dome fails then this chimney arrangement will then act to efficiently suck out and throw the radioactive release into the atmosphere for subsequent dispersion and fall-out."
Westinghouse hope it will operate for 90% of the time for 60 years but no Westinghouse nuclear power plant has operated for more than 58% of the time for more than 34 years.
Jim Duffy spokesman for Shut Oldbury, a Stop Hinkley campaign, said: "It's a great matter of concern that bids are going in to build this untested reactor with its odd and potentially dangerous, money-saving design. The Government needs to decide whether terrorism is an active threat or not. If it is then reactors like this shouldn't be allowed to go any further."
"The regulators admit they are badly understaffed so it's doubtful they will have the resources to fully test and licence these reactor designs in such a short period. Putting terrorism aside, does the UK want to buy the first of a kind and be exposed to all the glitches? It's a pity the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority are departing from their remit to clean up the radioactive legacy of the UK's first folly into nuclear power by entering into plans to create even more nuclear waste for future generations to clean up."
Jim Duffy, Shut Oldbury Campaign, Stop Hinkley, 07968 974805