Fans of Chernobyl will know just how dangerous nuclear reactors can be, and now cracks found in a power plant in Scotland could lead to the full evacuation of Edinburgh and Glasgow.
The Hunterston B nuclear power plant, near Ardrossan, Scotland, is home to two of Europe’s oldest nuclear reactors. At 43 years old they’re way beyond their operating lifetimes, which have been extended twice by EDF Energy.
The reactors are scheduled to close down for good in 2023, but there’s a serious safety fault at the plant.
According to Edinburgh Live, the reactors have what is called keyway root-cracking, where the graphite moderator cores in the reactors develop cracks leading to instabilities. In turn, this could lead to a major nuclear accident.
The reactors have been closed since October 2018 as a result of the fault, but EDF Energy, who own the plant, are making a case for turning them back on.
Although the probability of a meltdown is still low, the consequences could be severe, and would result in the evacuation of both Glasgow and Edinburgh due to radioactive contamination.
Dr Ian Fairlie, an independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment, and Dr David Toke, Reader in Energy Policy at the University of Aberdeen, are arguing the two reactors should not be restarted.
This is a serious matter because if an untoward incident were to occur – for example an earth tremor, gas excursion, steam surge, sudden outage, or sudden depressurisation, the barrels could become dislodged and/or misaligned.
These events could in turn lead to large emissions of radioactive gases. Further, if hot spots were to occur and if nuclear fuel were to react with the graphite moderator they could lead to explosions inside the reactor core.
In the very worst case the hot graphite core could become exposed to air and ignite leading to radioactive contamination of large areas of central Scotland, including the metropolitan areas of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The operational limit for the latest period of operation was 350 cracks but an inspection found that had been exceeded. EDF reportedly plans to ask the regulator for permission to restart with a new operational limit of up to 700 cracks.
Hopefully the operators know what they’re doing; I don’t think we should take any risks when it comes to nuclear reactors!
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.