THE nuclear industry is secretly bidding to relax safety standards to allow the doubling of the number of cracks in the radioactive cores of Scotland’s ageing reactors. EDF Energy is asking for the safety rules to be rewritten so that it can keep running its nuclear power stations at Hunterston in North Ayrshire and Torness in East Lothian until they are at least 47 and 42 years old. They were originally designed to last 30 years. Prolonged radiation bombardment causes the thousands of graphite bricks that make up reactor cores to crack, threatening a safe shutdown. But EDF is asking the UK government’s watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), to permit an increase in the proportion of cracked bricks from 10 to 20 per cent. The revelation has sparked alarm from politicians and campaigners, who say that the industry is “gambling with public safety” and the public must be consulted. One leading expert argues that Hunterston should be immediately shut down. EDF’s bid to relax safety standards at Hunterston and Torness is highlighted in a new report today for the Scottish Greens. It concludes that the risks from graphite cracking are serious and argues that an international convention demands that environmental risks must be assessed, alternative energy sources considered and the public consulted. According to the report’s author, Edinburgh-based anti-nuclear campaigner and consultant, Peter Roche, Scotland doesn’t need nuclear electricity. “Despite the fact cracks are beginning in the graphite core of these reactors, increasing the risk for us all, the public has still not been asked for its opinion once,” he said. “The Scottish Government should ask itself if it really wants ageing reactors to continue operating and producing nuclear waste for up to another thirteen years – gambling with public safety – when we know that there are plenty of ways to provide alternative sources of energy.” Scottish Green MSP for West of Scotland, Ross Greer, warned that communities would be concerned about proposals to allow more cracking. “The lack of public consultation is just unacceptable,” he told the Sunday Herald. “If we did this properly, the public would reject an ageing, cracking, safety hazard. The Scottish Government’s relaxed position on nuclear needs challenged. We simply don’t need to sweat these plants and add to our toxic legacy.” John Large, a consulting nuclear engineer, pointed out that the integrity of the graphite bricks was vital to nuclear safety. If they failed, they could block channels that enable control rods to be inserted to close down reactors and prevent them from overheating. “Ageing problems like this serious cracking of the graphite bricks at the heart of each reactor are deeply worrying, so much so that these nuclear plants should now be permanently shut down,” he said. Large accused EDF and the ONR of “false confidence” in believing they fully understood graphite cracking, which was difficult to predict. “The Hunterston B nuclear reactors now in their forty-first year of operation, should be immediately shut down,” he stated. But EDF, a state-owned French company, insisted that its nuclear stations would continue to operate safely. “The graphite in our reactors is behaving exactly as experts predicted it would, and this is confirmed by our regular inspection programme,” said a company spokeswoman. The ONR told the Sunday Herald that its periodic safety review for Hunterston was due at the end of January. “While the decision is still being made, it would not be appropriate to comment on it,” said an ONR spokesman.
Herald 22nd Jan 2017 read more »