Heysham moves safety goalposts

Heysham Power Station.
Heysham Power Station.

EDF Energy is responsible for the safe running of six of the 12 nuclear reactor sites around the coasts of the UK. These six sites operate now ageing AGR reactors.

One of these sites is at Heysham 1 and 2, another is at Dungeness B in Kent. All AGR reactors are of similar age and are beyond, at or approaching, what in their initial design was termed their safe life span 25 – 30 years. Heysham 1 came ‘on stream’ in 1984 and Heysham 2 in 1989.

As of last week, and presumably with public safety in mind, EDF responded to the discovery of a nine month old fault in one of the ageing eight boilers immediately around the reactor core of Heysham 1, by shutting down both reactors at Heysham 1 and also its AGR Hartlepool reactors.

In the national press and on BBC North West News experts questioned the wisdom of such a delay.

A further essential safety feature built into AGR reactors are the graphite bricks actually located within the reactor core. These bricks cannot be removed without a total dismantlement of the reactor core.

On June 4, 2014, it was reported by the BBC, that at Dungeness B, after 30 years of being bombarded by high level radiation from the nuclear fuel rods within the core, these bricks are now cracking and starting to lose weight beyond the safety limits set by the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONF).

Historically, safety levels within the nuclear industry have continually been reviewed to give greater protection to both the public and nuclear personnel. Yet EDF has now leaned upon the Regulator ONF to adjust the safety levels for the performance of the graphite bricks within EDF’s fleet of ageing AGR reactors, thus enabling EDF to continue operating these reactors beyond their original ‘design basis’ levels.

I quote Steve Thomas, Professor of Energy Policy at the University of Greenwich: “It doesn’t feel good when we come up against safety limits and the first thing the ONR do is to move the goalposts”.

There is much talk about ‘end of life care’ for our ageing population, yet no-one is acknowledging the reality of the need for ‘end of life care’ for our ageing AGR nuclear reactors.

As a resident living within six miles of Heysham 1 and 2, I am profoundly concerned about the decisions being taken by EDF to insist upon the continued extended operation of out-of-date AGR reactors. It appears that no-one dares to face, let alone speak publicly, of the imminent and realistic next stage in the responsible management of nuclear power – its decommissioning.

We, the trusting public, must act responsibly in calling Government and EDF to account. No more changing of safety standards in order to keep increasingly failing nuclear reactors in service.

Mo Kelly, Architect

Esthwaite Gardens

Lancaster.