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Cracked reactor cores have "increased risk"

Cracked reactor cores have "increased likelihood of increased risk"

London, International July 5 2006: Nuclear power stations operated by British Energy (BE) in the UK are structurally defective and their continued operation is increasing the risk of a radioactive accident, according to documents written by the Government's own nuclear inspectors.

The revelation, which comes just days before the Prime Minister is expected to give the go-ahead to a new generation of nuclear generators, has been revealed in correspondence passed to Greenpeace UK between British Energy (BE), who operate the reactors, and the Nuclear Safety Directorate (NSD).

"These shocking documents don't just show the structural damage to nuclear reactors in the UK, they show the incompetence of the Government and British Energy who have known about these risky cracks yet have refused to do anything about it," said Shaun Burnie, Greenpeace International nuclear campaigner. "It is clear that Tony Blair should shut these dangerous reactors down. Nuclear is never safe and Blair should not proceed with plans to build even more nuclear plants, renewable energy is the safe, clean answer to climate change - not nuclear."

The documents, analysed by independent nuclear engineer John Large, show that the bricks which make up the reactor cores of UK's 14 advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) currently in operation are cracked (1). In a severe event the cracked graphite bricks could cause safety mechanisms to fail potentially resulting in a nuclear accident.

"The nuclear safety case for these reactors centres around the core remaining structurally sound during operation. Yet these documents show that there are considerable uncertainties about the core's ability to fulfil its crucial safety role, said John Large. "In view of the increased risk presented by the continued operation of these nuclear plants, the reactors should be immediately shut down."

In an assessment report on the safety of Hinkley Point AGR nuclear power station in Somerset, dated in April this year, the NSD concluded that there is "an increased likelihood of increased risk should we agree to continued operation" (2).

Local resident, Jim Duffy, who lives in the shadow of Hinkley Point, (3) said: "I was appalled to read these documents, it is clear that Hinkley is unsafe and should be shut immediately. I'm extremely worried that Tony Blair seems hell-bent on leaving my children, and future generations, exposed to the legacy of our highly dangerous nuclear industry."

Greenpeace is an independent, campaigning organisation which uses non-violent, creative confrontation to expose global environmental problems, and to drive solutions essential to a green and peaceful future.

Notes to editors

(1) There are 14 AGRs in the UK, across the following sites: Dungeness in Kent (2), Hartlepool (2), Heysham in Lancashire (4), Hinkley Point in Somerset (2), Hunterston in Ayrshire (2) and Torness in East Lothian (2).

(2) The safety issues identified by the NSD are:

* Graphite bricks that make up nuclear reactor cores are extensively cracked;

* BE does not have a full understanding of why the reactor cores are cracked;

* BE does not know the extent of the damage;

BE does not know how much cracking the core can sustain before it falls below the minimum safety required for a nuclear reactor.

(3) Jim Duffy is part of the 'Stop Hinkley' campaign and was the individual who got the Government's nuclear inspectors documents released through the freedom of information act.

© Scoop Media

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