The Financial Times reports that the French state-backed power utility EDF is proposing to finance nuclear investment in Britain by charging customers upfront for new infrastructure – a technique commonly used in utilities such as water, airports and power distribution. But the nuclear industry has a poor record for delivering on time and to cost; consumers who paid up front for five to ten years would run the risk that if the reactor were delayed, over-budget or ultimately not commissioned, the power savings would not materialise and they might suffer a total loss.
Twelve years ago, British Energy found cracks in one of the two reactors at Hunterston B, with almost a fifth of the 500 boiler tubes experiencing defects. A year later Power Technology reported a sharp decline in output, with wear and tear due to high operating temperatures.
Reuters reported in May this year that the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was informed in March 2018 about keyway root cracks found during planned inspections of graphite bricks in the core of Reactor 3 at Hunterston. EDF Energy said in a statement, “Inspections confirmed the expected presence of new keyway root cracks in the reactor core and also identified these happening at a slightly higher rate than modelled”. The ageing reactor was due to come back online in May, but EDF Energy extended the outage until later this year.
On 22nd November the Times reported that the government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) announced that it had carried out the most recent checks. an ONR spokesman said “A conservative assessment of the inspection results shows that the number of cracks in reactor three exceeded the operational limit of 350 cracks in the existing safety case,” which pushed the total over government safety limits according to a BBC report. An EDF Energy spokeswoman said that the number of cracks exceeded the operational limit but added that the situation was “mitigated by the cracks being much narrower than modelled in the safety case”.
The BBC report added that Rita Holmes, chairwoman of the Hunterston Site Stakeholder Group, challenged the energy supplier, saying she did not believe reactor three should be brought back into operation and told an investigative journalist “If safety were indeed EDF’s number one priority, then reactor three would remain shut down. As it is EDF is seeking permission to restart an aged reactor, which despite huge efforts and high cost, failed to back up its current safety case”.
Other campaigners have called for the plant’s closure, objecting to the country spending more millions on ‘outdated’ power stations and adding to the growing nuclear waste pile.