The nuclear safety regulator is facing a leadership crisis and is ill-equipped to deal with a mounting workload linked to China’s plans to invest £8 billion in the British industry, experts have warned. The Office for Nuclear Regulation is responsible for ensuring the safety and security of 15 nuclear reactors, hazardous sites such as Sellafield and the transport and disposal of high-level nuclear waste. It also oversees the safety case for new reactors. In recent months, it has been plagued by desertions, including the departure of Andy Hall, the chief inspector, and Alasdair Corfield, the finance director. Neither has been replaced. The ONR has been struggling to recruit experienced staff and is advertising more than 20 vacant positions, including experts in the transportation of radioactive materials, cybersecurity, radiation protection and nuclear fuel safety. David Lowry, a nuclear industry consultant, said that he was “very concerned that the ONR doesn’t have the staff and expertise it needs” at a time when Chinese, French and Japanese companies are planning a huge expansion and existing UK reactors are approaching the end of their lives. Andy Blowers, who has served on a government committee dealing with the handling of nuclear waste, said that the ONR was thinly stretched, adding: “There are staffing pressures which mean they cannot cope.”
Times 12th Jan 2016 read more »
A couple decades ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) published what it called the “bathtub curve.” This curve charted the expected and observed performance of nuclear reactors from initial operation until final shutdown. The main finding of note was that when a reactor first comes online, typically there are a large number of problems as the operators learn the technology of that specific reactor, issues resulting from construction deficiencies surface, etc. After a shakedown period of a year or two, reactor operations typically settle down for quite a while, with most reactors operating relatively efficiently. But as time goes on, problems associated with reactor aging–components being exposed to extraordinarily high heat and radiation as well as the simple reality that all things mechanical break down over time–begin to materialize and safety issues begin to mount again. As we have been seeing at reactors across the nation, especially those in competitive markets, when aging-related safety problems arise, so do economic problems. It takes a lot of money to operate and maintain aging reactors, and some, like Crystal River, San Onofre, Trojan, Maine Yankee and more, have elected to close permanently rather than continue to pour money into them.
Green World 11th Jan 2016 read more »