Hinkley Point-A is shut down permanently

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
#531
09/06/2000
Article

(June 9, 2000) Because of too high costs of a safety inspection program, the Hinkley Point A station in the UK will remain shut down permanently. Owner British Nuclear Fuels (BNFL) announced a lifetime program for the other seven Magnox stations.

(531.5179) WISE Amsterdam - On May 23, BNFL announced its plan to permanently close down the two Hinkley Point A reactors in Somerset. The Hinkley Point A Magnox reactors, with a total capacity of 470 MW, had been out of service since April 1999 due to technical problems. BNFL came to the conclusion to close the station as it would otherwise have to spend "tens of millions of pounds" on studies and remote inspections to fulfill safety criteria as required by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII). Since April 1999, at least BP30 million (US$45 million) had already been spent on repairs and upgrades to make the station, which went critical in 1964, suitable for an operational lifetime of 45 years.

Although all the Magnox reactors have the same basic design, a specific feature in the Hinkley Point A reactors is the reason that BNFL considered it too expensive to keep them open. When the Magnox stations were developed, the designers never considered that certain reactor areas would need to be inspected, as it is presently required. For the other Magnox stations, solutions were developed, but not for Hinkley Point A. When NII ordered a significant inspection program to better prove the safety cases submitted in March by BNFL, the operators concluded this would take too much time and cause too much loss of income.

The Hinkley Point A reactors were shut down last year when checks through old documents proved that parts of the reactor vessels had not been tested properly at the time the station was built. But for decades, anti-nuclear activists had already protested against the lack of safety of the station. It lacked a secondary containment and they also feared the embrittlement of the reactor vessel, which was a reason to shut down a sister station at Trawsfynydd in 1993.

BNFL further announced a lifetime strategy for the other seven Magnox stations, with a total of 18 reactors. Whereas Hinkley Point A operated for almost 35 years, the others have a planned lifetime of 35 and even up to 50 years. The next to be closed will be Bradwell (in 2002), followed by Dungeness A (2006), Sizewell A (2006), Calder Hall (2006/2008), Chapelcross (2008/2010), Oldbury (2013) and Wylfa (2016/2021). According to BNFL, the closure program would cost BP10 billion (US$14.7 billion). Three other Magnox stations already closed some years ago--Berkeley in 1989, Hunterston A in 1990, and Trawsfynydd in 1993.

It is not sure yet whether Oldbury and Wylfa will really operate until the date presently laid down. According to BNFL, it depends on the development of a new Magrox fuel. Magrox fuel is made of uranium in ceramic oxide form, in contrast to the Magnox fuel of metallic uranium. A decision on the use of Magrox fuel is to be taken in 2003.

Once all Magnox spent fuel have been reprocessed, the B205 reprocessing plant at Sellafield is to close in 2012. The B205 plant is one of the main sources of radioactivity releases from Sellafield. With the future closure, BNFL states that "Total liquid discharge impact [...] will further reduce by more than 80%".

The decision to close Hinkley Point A was welcomed by anti-nuclear groups, though they demand the immediate closure of all the stations. Said Helen Wallace of Greenpeace: "Every day these stations add to the discharges into the Irish Sea [through reprocessing], every day they are an accident waiting to happen." Friends of the Earth condemned BNFL's decision to keep the other seven stations running for another two decades: "The Magnox plants are a key driver for reprocessing. It is irresponsible to let the stockpile of nuclear wastes continue to grow."

Sources:

  • Press release, BNFL, 23 May 2000
  • The Guardian, 24 May 2000
  • Reuters, 24 May 2000
  • Nucleonics Week, 25 May 2000
  • The Guardian, 21 February 2000
  • PA News, 2 March 2000

Contact: Friends of the Earth UK, 26-28 Underwood Street, London N1 7JQ, United Kingdom Tel: +44-207-490 1555; Fax: +44-207-490 0881
Email: susdev@foe.co.uk
; Internet: www.foe.co.uk