In today's Times the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) said it has serious reservations about the Control and Instrumentation system which monitors and controls the station's performance and oversees nuclear safety. The NII said the system in the French company Areva's European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) design, proposed for Hinkley Point and possibly Oldbury, is overly complex and lacking sufficient manual overrides for operator intervention to bring the nuclear reactor to a safe shut down state.
The Finnish regulator made much the same complaint in December 2008 regarding lack of progress in this area on the Olkiluoto EPR nuclear plant, now three and a half years into construction but three years behind schedule and billions of Euros over budget. The head of STUK strongly noted to Areva concerns over the central and all-important reactor control system, so much so that STUK considered there to be ". .no possibility to approve these important systems for installation." (1)
The NII has said that it would grant a licence for the EPR reactor only if it was satisfied that the reactor design could be built and operated safely and securely. But Stop Hinkley campaigners are very concerned about an NII statement last Thursday (2) that "exclusions" could be made where the designers have not furnished sufficient information on aspects of the reactor.
Mr Kevin Allars, Project Manager of the NII's Generic Design Assessment team, said in his opening speech at a London conference for invited NGOs and local campaign groups, "We are catching up after a period of shortage of inspectors and hope to make a licensing decision in June 2011 but there may be some 'exclusions' where we do not have enough information to conclude our thoughts in certain areas. These will be things that are going to be done in the commissionning stage. We aim for zero exclusions but don't think it will happen...There are issues with the Control and Instrumentation architecture where some changes are necessary."
Jim Duffy, spokesman for Stop Hinkley said: "This intelligence system is crucial for the safety of the new reactor design and the NII are right to challenge Areva over it. This should be a show-stopper if it's not resolved and we would be appalled if a system of such importance is under consideration for exclusion from the licence due to political and commercial pressure to get the reactors up and running. The NII's authority would be severely compromised."
John Large, of the Consulting Engineers Large & Associates, who has reported on the troubles with the Olkiluoto EPR, noted that "A very real risk of the NII permitting the EPR licensing process to proceed on a piecemeal basis is that it, itself, could be compromised by having to wave through unsatisfactory aspects of the final design - the nuclear safety regulator playing catch-up happened with STUK at Olkiluoto which it now seems to very much regret."
Renewables report: intermittency not a problem
The news emerges as a report (4) commissioned by the National Grid shows that more that 40 percent of the UK's electricity can be delivered by renewables, mostly wind-power, with no problems with intermittency of supply.
Jim Duffy said: "The Government should change its mind over nuclear power which only produced 16 percent of the UK's electricity last year. Renewables can produce nearly three times as much by 2030, doing so without the safety risk and no nuclear waste or pollution."
Stop Hinkley Coordinator 1st July 2009
(2) HSE/NII Seminar for NGOs 25th June 2009, Royal Horticultural Society, London
John Large, Nuclear Consultant: Tel 0208 317 2860, Email: Largeassociates@o2.co.uk
July 1, 2009
UK regulator raises French nuclear concerns
Robin Pagnamenta, Energy and Environment Editor
French plans to lead a nuclear power renaissance in Britain have been dealt a major blow after regulators warned of serious reservations about the safety of the reactor technology earmarked for use.
The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) has written to EDF and Areva, the French companies that want to build four reactors in the UK, to express their concerns about the technology. The letter sets out concerns about the control and instrumentation (C&I) of Areva’s European Pressurised Reactor (EPR).
Described by one nuclear industry source as the “cerebral cortex” of a nuclear power station, C&I governs the computers and systems that monitor and control the station’s performance, including temperature, pressure and power output levels.
The NII, which is conducting a detailed review of two reactor designs for the UK, said the EPR technology was significantly compromised because of the interconnectivity of what were meant to be independent systems designed to operate the plant and ensure its safety.
The Health and Safety Executive, which oversees the NII, said that the EPR design could be rejected for use in Britain if its concerns could not be satisfactorily addressed. “It is our regulatory judgment that the C&I architecture appears overly complex,” the NII letter said. “We have serious concerns about your proposal which allows lower safety class systems to have write access [the ability to override] to higher safety class systems,” it continued.
The letter also highlighted concerns about the absence of safety display systems or manual controls that would allow the reactor to be shut down, either in the station’s control room or at an emergency remote shutdown station.
The NII’s warning will compound the view that EDF, the utility giant that is 85 per cent owned by the French state, is unlikely to meet its target of building its first UK reactor within eight years.
Areva is already scrambling to produce revised plans but the design assessment phase could be delayed well past its expected completion in 2011.
EDF wants to build four reactors in Britain at two sites, Hinkley Point in Somerset and Sizewell in Suffolk. Last year it spent more than £12 billion acquiring British Energy, the UK nuclear generator, to secure access to them.
The French-designed EPR is the world’s most powerful nuclear reactor. Each is capable of generating 1,600 megawatts of electricity — enough to supply a city of nearly 2 million people.
While two EPRs are being built in Finland and France, none is yet in service. The prototype EPR, at Olkiluoto in western Finland, is running three years late and billions of euros over budget.
The NII said that it would grant a licence for the EPR reactor only if it was satisfied that the reactor design could be built and operated safely and securely.
Finnish regulators raised earlier concerns about the reactor’s C&I systems but this is the first time that their British counterparts have done so.
Areva and EDF are in talks with the NII about a revised design. Areva said: “The group is committed to ensuring the safety of the EPR reactor and to meeting the UK’s specific requirements. The group is confident that a solution can be defined in the months to come.”
EDF said safety was the company’s No 1 priority at all times.