20 March 2014, 08:17

UK nuclear station's reactor ceases its work to prevent Fukushima-style disaster

UK nuclear station's reactor ceases its work to prevent Fukushima-style disaster

EDF energy company hushed up a real threat of flooding at Dungeness nuclear station. The company quietly shut down one of the station's reactors for five month, after experts had identified a risk of a disaster, similar to Fukushima. The reactor was shut down on May 22, last year, after EDF had told the Office of Nuclear Regulation that urgent works to improve the station's flood protection wall were needed. The reactor was reopened on October 15.

After the closure of the reactor, EDF reported to the media that “unit 22 at Dungeness station was taken offline on 20 May for maintenance work which includes completing improvements to flood defenses for extreme events.” Five months later, the company said: “Unit 22 at Dungeness B power station resynchronized to the Grid at 0.522am on Tuesday 15 October.”

At the same time the company's spokesman didn't specify, why did it take so long to carry out "maintenance work".

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, thinks that EDF should have provided more information on the issue. EDF couldn't act as if nothing had happened, because the plant's five-months-long outage was not a mere trifle.

He also adds that people need to be told the truth, it's not a good policy to play such things down in order to "not frighten the horses". He calculates that the five-month closure could have cost EDF around £100m in lost electricity revenue, while the group would have saved very little in the way of expenses, still having to pay wages and maintain the reactor.

EDF's report about the condition of the flood protection wall was elaborated with the help of the Environment Agency and meteorological experts. EDF alerted the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) in December 2012 that it “no longer had confidence” in its primary sea defense.

EDF originally boosted the shingle flood defense early last year, but a further analyses showed that the works had to be extended, the station director said. The defense system comprises a flood protection wall around the site and its construction would be finished to the end of the month.

Dungeness is one of eight nuclear power plants in the UK and the Government has plans to build 12 new reactors in order to switch to lower-carbon energy. However, none of the proposed projects has been approved.

EDF spokesman said the closure was part of its “response to events in Japan which caused serious damage to Fukushima Daiichi”. "We are continuously updating and improving the plant to ensure it is operating safely,” he added.

Station manager at Dungeness B Martin Pearson says that the recent adverse weather has had no impact on existing infrastructure and the power station has operated normally in recent high tides and stormy weather.

The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster was a catastrophic failure at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant on 11 March 2011, resulting in a meltdown of three of the plant's six nuclear reactors. The failure occurred when the plant was hit by the tsunami triggered by the Tōhoku earthquake; the plant began releasing substantial amounts of radioactive materials beginning on 12 March, becoming the largest nuclear incident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Voice of Russia, Independent

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