Safety concerns about the strength and resilience of EDF reactor’s steel dome delay approval for the Hinkley project

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The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has not yet approved the French-led project amid increasing worries about the reactor’s steel dome. Robin Pagnamenta Energy Editor of the Times reports that plans to build the nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset could be halted by the industry regulator over these safety concerns.

France’s nuclear regulator, ASN, warned last year of “very serious anomalies” and weak spots in the steel reactor vessel being constructed at Flamanville, a site on the Normandy coast where EDF is building a reactor with the same design as at Hinkley Point. High concentrations of carbon, which weakens the resilience of steel and its ability to prevent cracking, have been found in the reactor dome at Flamanville. ASN said that it would decide later this year what action EDF needed to take. Other experts said that if the problem could not be resolved EDF would have to break the dome out of the reactor building, which is near completion.

The ONR said that the novel design of the French reactor had been cleared for use in Britain but that the company retained powers to stop the project at any point under the terms of its 2012 licence. The regulator added, “The domes for Hinkley Point C will be manufactured from larger ingots and use a different casting process.”

Dr Thomas Rose, Department of Science and Technology Studies, UCL, comments that in addition to the financial arguments, his department’s research disputes the statistics for ‘core melt accident’ per reactor. The term ‘core damage frequency’ refers to risk assessment: the likelihood that, given the way a reactor is designed and operated, an accident could cause damage to a nuclear reactor core which, if not controlled, can lead to a nuclear meltdown.

He added, ominously, that smaller unitsas advocated by Lord Ridley – would mean more units and whether smaller units are safer is questionable .

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