Near-meltdown at ageing nuclear plant &amp&amp

Issue 

By Duncan Chappie

Rather than stop valuable production, Britain's main state-owned nuclear power company risked a meltdown of a gas-cooled nuclear reactor for more than nine hours. Nuclear power is the next industry to be privatised by the Conservative government. Closing the reactor would have led to fines for the power company from National Grid, the electricity suppliers, and would have drawn attention to a series of safety problems at nuclear power stations.

Nuclear Electric were fined "a six figure sum" at the Crown Court in mid-September for negligence during the accident in 1993 at the plant in Wylfa, north Wales. It is the world's largest Magnox-class reactor, employing 500 people.

When a 59 kg crane grab fell into the reactor and cracked a channel containing a rod of enriched uranium fuel, a partial meltdown became likely. The court heard recordings of staff discussing the financial penalties, laughing and giggling as the accident unfolded.

A meltdown would have contaminated the gas used to cool the reactor. Depressurisation in the reactor could have led to the release of radioactive gas into the atmosphere and forced the evacuation of the surrounding area.

After nine hours being unable to trace the conditions of coolant in the reactor, Nuclear Electric closed the reactor. It closed for two weeks, costing the company L3 million.

The seeming indifference of Nuclear Electric to the accident has developed fears about the safety of nuclear power in the run-up to the planned L3.5 billion sell-off of nuclear power after a program of licensing plants for safety comes to an end in December.

Friends of the Earth spokesperson Dr Patrick Green said, "If these kind of considerations take over Nuclear Electric when it is in the public sector, what is going to happen when many stations are in the private sector?".
[Abridged from Socialist Outlook.]