Safety assessment documents have come to light which report that major cracks have been located in some of the reactor cores of Britain’s current generation of nuclear power stations. The documents were retrieved under the Freedom of Information Act, and show that the Nuclear Safety Directorate (NSD) had expressed concerns over the deterioration of reactor cores at Hinkley Point B in Somerset, among other U.K. nuclear power stations. The company, British Energy, which operates 13 advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGR) including Hinkley, apparently does not know fully why the cracking has occurred, is unable to monitor the progress of the deterioration and hence cannot provide a clear estimate of the extent of damage that has occurred.
Cracks in the graphite brick cores of the ageing AGR’s have been noticed for some time, but without any real public awareness of the problem arising until now. In 2004 British Energy warned that it might not be possible to extend the lives of its Hinkley Point B, Hunterston B, Heysham 2 and Torness plants beyond the30 year span initially envisaged for them because of the cracked graphite brick problem. The company are keen to extend the lives of its AGR reactors but the papers, which were obtained by Greenpeace via “Stop Hinkley”, a local nuclear watchdog group, suggest that unless British Energy introduces more stringent safety monitoring this might be impossible. The NSD says that it does not believe that there is any imminent public danger from radioactive release, but “some lesser event” is inevitable at some stage, without a “more vigilant precautionary approach… [being] …adopted”. more