Shut Oldbury Press Release
Oldbury permitted to operate past closure date
18th December 2008
Campaigners are astonished that the UK's oldest operating reactor has been permitted to continue operating past its planned closure date at the end of this month and despite safety concerns for the past six years.
The twin reactors at Oldbury have been shut down alternately for the past six years due to severe weight loss in sensitive areas. Documents produced for the Shut Oldbury campaign under the Freedom of Information Act are littered with phrases such as 'damaged' and 'defective' referring to the reactor core problem. One document states that the weight loss is as high as a third of the total mass of some the graphite bricks which constitute the reactor core at 34.5 percent. Another document produced by Manchester University assesses the strength of the graphite bricks at only twelve percent of the original weight bearing capacity when the reactor was first built, some forty years ago.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority who own the nuclear power station on behalf of the Government is known to be cash-strapped due on one hand to the escalating costs of decommissioning Sellafield and the old Magnox reactors now estimated at £83 billion and on the other hand by long outages at plants such as Oldbury and the THORP reprocessing plant which shut for three years due to an undetected leak. The NDA has been left with a massive gap in its finances which perhaps propels it into deciding to keep Oldbury running despite safety concerns.
Another issue may be political pressure due to the Government's plan to let the industry build more nuclear reactors at sites such as Oldbury. Keeping Oldbury going could be seen as beneficial as it 'keeps the flag flying' for nuclear power on the River Severn.
Only one of the reactors will be allowed to run as reactor 2 must still satisfy the regulators. Reactor 1 has been out of action for two years as it had reached what had been considered by the regulators to be the limit of its corrosion levels at 34.5 percent. Reactor 2 was due to have reached this safety limit this year. Decades of high temperatures, high pressure and radioactivity have corroded away the vital components at the heart of the reactor. But they cannot be replaced due to the complexity of the engineering and high radiation levels.
If the Magnox design for Oldbury were to be put forward to be built today, it would be thrown out without a second thought due its shortcomings, even before the internal age-related defects are taken into account.
Oldbury has been producing a relative trickle of electricity for the past six years due to the long safety outages of both its reactor cores. In 2001 it was suggested by the then owners, BNFL, that a new type of nuclear fuel be introduced into Oldbury, known as 'Magnox'. Campaigners complained that this more enriched fuel was a potentially dangerous experiment and the plan was pulled.
Oldbury has been implicated in health scares. Chepstow, across the River Severn was found to have eleven times the average leukaemia cases in 2001 by Dr (now Professor) Chris Busby . Downstream on the Avon coast breast cancer mortality was found to be 51 percent higher than average; downwind within 5 miles of Oldbury (towards the northeast) prostate cancer mortality was found to be 37 percent above the average. See www.llrc.org
Jim Duffy, spokesman for the Shut Oldbury Campaign said: "This is an astonishing decision. The oldest and most damaged UK reactor is allowed to keep running past its long established closure date despite safety concerns which the regulators have recorded for the past six years. No doubt the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is desperate to top up their coffers due to their spiralling expenses in decommissioning Sellafield and the old Magnox reactors. But perhaps the Government has given this mad idea a push to keep the nuclear flag flying during their plans to build a new fleet of reactors at sites including the West Country."
Jim Duffy, Shut Oldbury Campaign / Stop Hinkley 18th Dec 2008