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Experts raise safety concerns over new nuclear reactors

The Government’s plans to increase the country’s reliance on nuclear power have been thrown into doubt after after experts raised a raft of safety concerns about two proposed reactors.

Britain’s main safety regulator, the Health and Safety Executive, said it could not endorse the use of French and American designed reactors because of wide-ranging concerns about their safety.

The government plans to promote construction of a number of nuclear power stations in the next 10 years to replace old atomic and coal plants in a bid to cut carbon emissions.These plans hinge on the use of new French and American reactor designs.

Earlier this month, Energy Secretary Ed Miliband approved 10 sites in England and Wales for new nuclear power stations, most of them in locations where there are already plants.

The 10 sites deemed suitable for future nuclear plants are: Bradwell in Essex, Braystones, Kirksanton and Sellafield in Cumbria, Hartlepool, Heysham in Lancashire, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire, Sizewell in Suffolk and Wylfa in North Wales.

But in reports on the assessment of the French EPR and US AP1000 reactor designs, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said there was a much more “detailed work” to do before they could be approved for use.

The HSE said of both units: “We have identified a significant number of issues with the safety features of …that would first have to be progressed.

“If these are not progressed satisfactorily then we would not issue a design acceptance confirmation.”

Among the criticisms raised, experts said there were significant concerns about EPR’s proposed architecture, and that improvements were required for “hazard barriers”.

Other issues relating to the reactor’s structural integrity were also addressed, with the report saying it was “too early to say whether they could be resolved solely with additional safety case changes or whether they may result in design modifications being necessary”.

The safety case of the AP1000’s internal hazards also showed “significant shortfalls”, it was found.

The HSE’s assessment work is due to be completed within a year and a half, but one industry expert suggested a delay of up to three years was possible.

The news comes after the Dungeness B nuclear power station in Kent was shut down following a fire in the boiler annexe earlier this week.

The Civil Engineering Contractors Association (CECA) said that safety was critical.

“If nuclear power is going to play a part in delivering a secure energy future for the UK, it must be safe and that means construction will be to exacting standards. The Health and Safety Executive has helpfully highlighted areas of concern, allowing these issues to be rectified before the plans are completed in June 2011,” said CECA head of industry affairs Alasdair Reisner.

“As we move towards this date, the Civil Engineering Contractors Association would encourage the reactor designers to call upon the skills and knowledge of the association’s members, to help them overcome any issues in relation to the buildability of the civil engineering aspects of the reactor design.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Doom and gloom again. China is going to build 100+ AP1000 reactors over the next few years. They will be built in China with Chinese labour. The HSE's job is to be cautious and evaluate all risks. Nuclear energy is expensive because of all the safety features buit in. French reactors are operating within 100 miler of the UK! Be cautious, yes but start with a 'Will do attitude' . The fire at Dungerness B has not been investigated yet. Fag end in waste bin? We will see.

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