Hunterston nuclear power plant reactor to temporarily return to service

A nuclear reactor at a power station will temporarily return to service after being shut down last year when cracks were found in its core.

Reactor 4 at Hunterston B power station in North Ayrshire was one of two remaining reactors at the plant taken out of service last year.

Now, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has given operator EDF Energy the go-ahead to return Reactor 4 to service for up to four months.

Hunterston Nuclear Reactor cracks
Still taken from a video issued by EDF Energy last year of cracks in Hunterston B nuclear plant (EDF Energy/PA)

The ONR said it had focused on whether cracks seen in the reactor graphite core will compromise safety and concluded “an adequate safety case has been provided to allow a further period of operation”.

In a statement, the ONR said: “ONR is satisfied that Reactor 4 is safe to operate for the next period and can be safely shut down in all foreseeable circumstances, including that of a significant seismic event.”

Donald Urquhart, ONR deputy chief inspector, said: “We have made the decision to allow Reactor 4 at Hunterston B to return to service following a long and detailed assessment of the safety case submitted by EDF Energy.”

He added: “Nuclear safety remains our utmost priority and we would only allow a reactor to restart with clear evidence that it remains safe for workers and the public.”

The ONR said the longer-term condition of the reactor “remains uncertain” and EDF Energy “will need to justify safe operation” beyond the four-month period.

EDF Energy said in a statement: “We are pleased to confirm that the independent nuclear safety regulator, ONR, has given permission for EDF Energy to re-start Reactor 4 at Hunterston B power station.”

The energy company said tests have “demonstrated that even in the most extreme conditions our reactors operate within large safety margins”, adding the control rods will “safely shut down the reactor in all circumstances”.

The core will continue to be monitored to “ensure safe operations at all times”.

The safety case for returning Reactor 3 at Hunterston to service has been submitted to the ONR and the regulator said it would begin assessment shortly.

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer raised concerns over previous safety incidents at the plant, described by EDF Energy as minor.

The politician said these combined with the cracks “paint the picture of an ageing relic being pushed beyond its already repeatedly extended lifespan”.

Friends of the Earth Scotland director Richard Dixon said: “Restarting the Hunterston reactors is definitely not worth the risk.

“Most people in Scotland will not even have noticed these reactors at Hunterston have been offline for so long as dependable renewable energy has more than made up for the difference.”

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