The spotlight on Dungeness nuclear power station on the Kent coast has intensified after it emerged that concerns about flooding at the site were so high that the regulator gave it a week to come up with an action plan or suspend operations.
The deadline was imposed after an EDF study into the rate at which sea water could come over the top of the site’s primary sea defence prompted the group to report to the regulator that it “no longer had confidence in this aspect of their safety case”.
Following the revelation in The Independent that energy giant EDF quietly shut one of the station’s two reactors for a period of months last year, a document put together by the industry regulator shows that on 14 December 2012, EDF “agreed to provide [nuclear regulator] ONR with a justification for continued reactor operation or to place the site into the safest state by 21 December 2012”.
According to the document, the regulator – known as the Office of Nuclear Regulation – accepted EDF’s “draft justification for continued operation at Dungeness B” on the basis that the reactor would shut down if a “severe flood warning” was issued in the area.
The agreement also required EDF to install temporary local flood protection measures – completed on 23 December 2012 – and “more permanent” measures. There is a perceived lack of transparency, however, with many in the industry suggesting EDF had done little to publicise the flooding threat. Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: “There is a real problem about transparency in the nuclear industry. When it is so risky and we are being asked to rely on it for the future, this raises the question of whether we can trust the private sector. There is a real need to be open, honest and transparent. This incident demonstrates that we can’t dismiss safety concerns, especially after Fukushima,” Ms Bennett added.
EDF has sought to address some of the confusion surrounding the closure of the two reactors at Dungeness, saying that it took them both offline for about two months from around mid-May last year “to undertake additional protection to cover extremely rare events: ones which might happen only once in 10,000 years”. A spokesman said EDF puts out alerts to the media every time a reactor opens or closes. However, it admitted that it had previously failed to clarify that the plant closed both reactors for two months each last year, rather than one reactor for five months.
The spokesman added: “We identified an anomaly with our safety case and notified ONR immediately. The regulatory process specifies a week for responding and we made temporary arrangements and produced an acceptable plan with this timescale. Because we responded so positively the regulator was content to allow us to continue operating.
“The severe flood warnings... in the report bear no resemblance to standard Met Office warnings and are intended to reflect a significantly more severe threat...”