Cracks found in nuclear reactor at Hunterston B

The cracks at Hunterston had been predicted by operator EDF Energy. Picture: Getty
The cracks at Hunterston had been predicted by operator EDF Energy. Picture: Getty
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NEW cracks have been found in bricks making up the core of one of the two reactors at the Hunterston B nuclear power station in North Ayrshire.

EDF Energy said two cracked bricks were found during a planned maintenance inspection of 6,000 that make up the reactor’s graphite core.

The operator said the cracks were predicted and did not pose any safety risks. The cracks were found in August and have occurred since the last inspection in 2011.

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Colin Weir, station director at Hunterston B, said: “Every time we take the reactor out of service for planned maintenance we inspect the graphite core which is made up of around 6,000 bricks.

“During the current Hunterston outage we found two bricks with a new crack which is what we predicted during Hunterston B’s lifetime as a result of extensive research and modelling.

“It will not affect the operation of this reactor and we also expect that a few additional cracks will occur during the next period of operation.

“The small number of cracked bricks found during routine inspection is in line with our expectations, the findings have no safety implications and are well within any limits for safe operation agreed with our regulator.”

The nuclear power station began operating in 1976 and was originally scheduled to be shutdown in 2011 but this was extended to 2016.

EDF Energy later said a technical and economic evaluation of the plant confirmed it could operate until 2023.

Keith Parker, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association said no station would be allowed to remain open if there doubts about its safety.

“The independent nuclear regulator would not allow stations to operate if they were not satisfied that safety standards were being met.

“EDF Energy have said that these cracks were anticipated as the reactor ages but they and the regulator have both said they’re satisfied that the station is within the safety margins and can continue to operate for several years ahead.”

Katy Clark, Labour MP for North Ayrshire and Arran, said Hunterston needed to be kept under “continuous review” to ensure public safety.

“We have to be incredibly concerned about this issue and put safety at the top of the agenda. We need to keep it under continuous review and if there is any suggestion of risk, act appropriately.

“People will be concerned and they have the right to feel safe.”

Lang Banks, director of WWF Scotland, said: “News of yet more cracks in the country’s ageing fleet of nuclear power stations underscores why we’re right to be taking steps to harness cleaner, safer forms of energy.

“These cracks are a sign that we can expect these nuclear facilities to become increasingly unreliable in the future.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Government said while Hunterston B was safe, the development illustrated that Scotland’s nuclear facilities have a limited lifespan and longer term energy alternatives were needed.