Stop Hinkley Press Release

8th December 2006

Hail of criticism in Hinkley report

Radio 4's flagship investigative programme, File on Four, last night (Tuesday) poured a hail of criticism on Hinkley Point nuclear power station and its operators British Energy, describing Hinkley as 'old and unreliable hardware'.

Cracks in Hinkley's reactor core and adjacent boiler tubes were the focus of penetrating questions in the forty minute 'Panorama' style programme.

Boiler tube cracking

A British Energy spokesman was forced to reveal that a full examination of boiler tubes had not taken place for four years and that was in just one of their seven Advance Cooled Reactors, before the surprise discovery of extensive boiler cracking at Hinkley. In the case of Hinkley and other AGR reactors, he admitted examination had been only on a partial 'sampling' basis.

Nuclear consultant John Large blasted British Energy for being taken by surprise by the discovery of cracks forcing the closure of four reactors, blaming BE's inspection regime. He said failures in ten per cent of Hinkley's boiler tubes were far too many to be acceptable. But he did not save the safety regulator from criticism as they had failed in their task by not ensuring a regular maintenance programme.

The boiler tube cracking had forced Hinkley and sister station Hunterston in Scotland to shut reactors down since September with predicted but not definite restart dates in January (1). Repair work will then continue in the summer.

Reactor core cracking

A representative from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, Len Creswell, when interviewed said that a reduction in strength of the graphite core was unavoidable with age and that Hinkley's reactor core had now lost 25 to 27 per cent of its original material. He agreed that the bone weakening disease, osteoporosis, was 'not a bad analogy' of Hinkley's ageing problem.

BE's spokesman, when pressed, appeared to claim that hidden graphite cracks were possible to monitor which was flatly contradicted by the nuclear regulator's documents obtained by Stop Hinkley and quoted in the programme by Jim Duffy.

John Large criticised BE for looking at ways to reduce safety margins set by the regulator over the reactor core cracks which he said the same documents showed the regulators were considerably concerned about.

The programme highlighted that only one of British Energy's fleet of seven AGRs was fully operational in September when Hinkley's boiler cracks were revealed. Nuclear analyst, Dieter Helm said that Hinkley was built in one of the worst organised construction programmes in the world with the AGRs consequently prone to unexpected problems that other nuclear power stations do not get. As these reactors have got older they have become the world's worst performers.

Another Government bale-out?

A nuclear economist suggested the combined shut-downs coupled with other rising costs for British Energy might lead to another Government rescue of the company as in 2003, which cost £5 billion. The cracking problems, some highlighted by documents obtained by Stop Hinkley, had this year cost the Government an estimated £1 billion in the aborted sale of its 65% share of the company.

Jim Duffy from Stop Hinkley said: "File on Four's description of Hinkley sums it up: old and unreliable hardware. It's past its sell by date, it's cracking up inside and its operators cut down on safety inspections abetted by the regulator, then pretend they know what's happening when they don't. It's appalling that we're running a third world reactor in the fourth richest economy."

"I feel sorry for the men who now expose themselves to a year's dose of radiation in a few days trying to fix the corroded tubes in the heart of this decrepit old reactor. And for all us tax-payers who have baled out this wretched company and may do again. Instead let's shut Hinkley right now."

Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator, 07968 974805

The 37 minute documentary can be heard,or downloaded through the File on Four website:

Tuesday 5th December: (taken from BBC website before the programme):
File on 4: As cracks are revealed at the heart of nuclear reactors, dealing a massive blow to generator British Energy and posing major safety questions, Julian O'Halloran asks if Britain has become dangerously dependent on a fleet of ageing and decrepit nuclear power stations.  [Rptd Sun 10th Dec 5.00pm]

Note (1): Eco soundings, David Adam, Wednesday December 6, 2006, The Guardian

Nuclear business as usual

In its recent six-month review, British Energy (BE) told investors and shareholders it was bullish about reopening its troubled Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B nuclear power plants - closed since cracks were discovered in boiler tubes - by the end of the year. That was news to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), which must first inspect the sites and give its approval. The NII responded to a request by anti-nuclear campaigners, under the Freedom of Information Act, to state: "There has been no correspondence between NII and BE that specifically states any expected restart dates."

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Click Here for a full transcript of the
BBC File on Four programme