Japan Crisis Must Prompt Rethink On Newbuild Nuclear Power Plants

It is to be hoped that the unfortunate events unfolding in Japan in relation to the nuclear industry will cause the United Kingdom government to pause and reflect on the wisdom of its plans to encourage a new generation of nuclear plants.

The Celtic League has been consistently opposed to the concept of nuclear new build since it was first mooted and this opposition was reiterated when, as expected, the UK announced that the range of sites for proposed new reactors would be at many of the existing nuclear sites including Sellafield, Heysham and
Wylfa around the Irish sea.

Our fears were compounded last year when the Nuclear Directorate (ND) expressed concerns (see link below) about one of the designs being mooted for the Wylfa site (coincidentally by the Japanese owned Toshiba-Westinghouse Group) saying that:

“ND is not yet satisfied that the proposed Steel Concrete Steel modular construction method which would be used for some key structures could protect the reactor’s safety systems from severe weather and other external hazards such as physical impact.

ND has therefore requested appropriate evidence to demonstrate that the strength and durability of the structures have been adequately justified.”

It is to be hoped that in addition to prompting a review of any proposed nuclear new build the UK government and HSE will also review the decision to extend the operating life of existing nuclear plants. Again the Celtic League has expressed reservations about the decision to continue to operate the Wylfa plants despite
a chequered operational safety record.

Whilst the situation unfolding in Japan is necessarily linked to the initial earthquake event we should not lose sight of the fact that the issues surrounding the safety of the nuclear plants are related to a failure of safety
systems and therefore the lessons learned can and should apply to all nuclear facilities.

It would be easy to contemplate events in Japan as unfolding afar and of little immediate consequence. However in living memory we had on our own doorstep a similar catastrophe (the Windscale fire) and many of the dangers inherent in that event are more relevant today as the UK tries to extract a final few –
operationally hazardous – years from its aged nuclear plants.

HSE link here:

https://www.hse.gov.uk/newreactors/position-statement-westinghouse.pdf

Related link on Celtic News:

https://groups.yahoo.com/group/celtic_league/message/3511

(Please note if you type `nuclear power’ into the search box on the news group you can access the full archive of CL comment on all aspects of nuclear safety/risk)

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League

15/03/11

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