Stop Hinkley press release

10 May 2009

Safety regulator may pull the plug on Hinkley C prototype

The nuclear regulator governing the go-ahead of the Hinkley C prototype currently being built in Finland has threatened to withhold its approval because it is afraid the safety systems will not work while condemning the 'lack of professional knowledge' of those working for the design company.

The new crisis has been sparked by a leaked letter from Jukka Laaksonen, STUK's director general, to Anne Lauvergeon, the chief executive officer of the French nuclear company Areva, which has designed and is building the reactor, to express his "great concern" over "the design of the control and protection systems".

He said he first raised the issue in the spring of 2008, but "we have not seen expected progress in the work on the Areva side" adding that "the attitude or lack of professional knowledge" of some of the people representing the firm in expert meetings on the issue "prevents progress in resolving the concerns. Therefore evident design errors are not corrected and we are not receiving design documentation with adequate information." He warns: "Without a proper design that meets the basic principles of nuclear safety... I see no possibility of approving these important systems for installation. This would mean that the construction will come to a halt."

The crisis for the industry follows a trail of problems at the prototype site at Olkiluoto in Finland . The wrong mix of cement was laid down for its foundations and important welding work, subcontracted to non-nuclear firms, was found to be flawed. AREVA is facing a 3 billion Euro hole in its accounts, partially caused by cost and time overruns on this reactor, now three years late and with no start-up date.

The news emerges as the UK nuclear regulator refused to give information on Hinkley B's safety systems under a Freedom of Information request from Stop Hinkley. A third shut-down system was never installed at the plant and Stop Hinkley has been pressing for its installation in the ageing reactor. British Energy has strongly objected to the information being published. (2)

Jim Duffy, Coordinator of Stop Hinkley said: "It's vital that any new reactors have safety systems we can be confident in, especially as the nuclear fuel is much more radioactive than in existing reactors. One report shows if a serious accident occurred 28,000 lives could be lost. This could mean the end to the Hinkley C project."

He added: "But this is an ongoing issue for an untrustworthy industry who still haven't fitted the final tertiary shut-down systems after forty years at the ageing and cracked Hinkley B reactors. There's still time to put our focus on safe, clean renewable energy and energy efficiency measures."

Jim Duffy, Stop Hinkley Coordinator

Notes:

  1. Independent on Sunday article 10th May 2009 http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/safety-threat-to-planned-nuclear-power-stations-1682293.html

  2. Email from UK nuclear regulator refusing info on Hinkley B missing shut-down system 21st April 2009 See highlighted sections.

Dear Mr Duffy

Freedom of Information Request Reference No: 2009010160

Further to my email of 3 April 2009, we have now concluded our search and assessment of the documents identified that relate Question 4 of your request.

I can confirm that the Health and Safety Executive holds the following information:

•  A British Energy presentation

•  An email trail setting up a meeting that has now taken place.

•  A contact report.

However this information is being withheld as it falls under exception 12(5)(f) of the Environmental Information Regulations.

This is a qualified exemption that is subject to the public interest test. This means HSE has to balance the public interest factors favouring disclosure against those favouring non-disclosure. A full explanation of the decision is given in the annex attached to this letter as well as the factors considered when deciding where the public interest lay.

If you have any queries about this letter, please contact me. Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.

If you are unhappy with the decisions made by HSE you may ask for an internal review within two calendar months of the date of this letter by writing to me.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:

The Information Commissioner's Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow, Cheshire SK9 5AF
Tel: 01625 545700
Fax: 01625 524510
Email: mail@ico.gsi.gov.uk
Website: http://www.informationcommissioner.gov.uk

Yours sincerely

Mike Jennions
HSE ND FOIA Officer
Building 4 Redgrave Court
Merton Road
Bootle Merseyside L20 7HS

Annex

Consideration of FOI or EIR

This question relates directly to shutdown systems for the reactor in particular diverse shutdown systems. The objective of such systems is to provide for control of the reactor and protect people and the environment. As the request relates to diverse shutdown options the connection and proximity to protection of the environment is much clearer. The ultimate aim of such systems is to provide protection of people and the environment by prevention of release of radioactive material. In our judgement the emphasis is on the environment and hence it is appropriate to consider this request primarily under EIR.

Exception: Regulation 12(5)(f) states: the interests of the person who provided the information where that person ? (i) was not under, and could not have been put under, any legal obligation to supply it to that or any other public authority, (ii) did not supply it in circumstances such that or any other public authority is entitled apart from these Regulations to disclose it, and (iii) has not consented to its disclosure.

Exception 12(5)(f) refers to the interests of the person who provided the information

Consideration of the British Energy presentation - In this case the information was supplied on a voluntary basis. The way in which it was supplied also goes to the heart of the regulatory approach that is adopted within the Nuclear Directorate (ND). In particular we have sought to have early engagement as it reduces the risks of misunderstandings and potential re-work of safety submissions. We have also found that it is a way of working collaboratively with other regulators so that a joined up approach is achieved. In this specific instance the third party has objected strongly to release of the presentation on the basis that the work is incomplete and could be taken out of context in advance of final options being established. Under the FOI Act, exemption 36 refers to prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs. This exemption has to be sanctioned by a qualified person. In this case the HSE Chief Executive. If this request were to be considered under FOI it would be appropriate to put a case to the Chief Executive for this exemption to be applied.

The public interest is finely balanced but in our view the fact that the information will ultimately be available for release is a factor that weighs against release at this time. In addition the FOI issues are relevant and add weight to the decision.

Consideration of the email trail. - This information shows how arrangements are made and the follow up to the presentation mentioned above. This confirms the unfinished nature of the work and also gives an insight into the relationship between the regulator and the regulated. The arguments set out above apply to this item of information and is specifically relevant to the request. The public interest test would favour release when taken in isolation. However when considered in the context of the considerations under 12(5)(f) there is an argument for not releasing at this stage. Overall we favour the approach of consideration of the totality of the information and that the balance is that it would harm the licensee/regulator relationship and should not be released.

Consideration of the HSE contact report

This document is HSE's record of the meeting for its internal purpose. The same exceptions can be considered and similar arguments apply. However it is not information supplied by the licensee and as such the consideration of 12(5)(f) is weaker. But the impact on BE still needs to considered. There would be an impact but the note contains our view. On this basis the public interest test is in favour of release as it shows our process. However it is questionable whether this document is within the scope of the request. A literal interpretation would be that it is not in scope. Taking this into account and the fact that this complete package of information will need to be considered again I believe it is more appropriate to keep as a package and release later

Conclusion and Recommendation

The public interest test is finely balanced as set out above. We consider the information as a package and is also work that is in progress and therefore it should not be released at this stage. It should be noted however that this is likely to be releasable in the next 3 to 4 months

 

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