Campaigners want N-plant plans halted

PUBLISHED: 09:43 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 10:09 06 July 2010

THE government should halt all plans to build more nuclear power stations with immediate effect after it was revealed that Suffolk was just hours away from a nuclear accident, campaigners claimed last night.

THE government should halt all plans to build more nuclear power stations with immediate effect after it was revealed that Suffolk was just hours away from a nuclear accident, campaigners claimed last night.

About 10,000 gallons of radioactively contaminated water was discharged into the North Sea in January 2007 after a pipe, carrying cooling water to an engineered pond containing highly radioactive spent fuel rods, burst at Sizewell A power station on the Suffolk coast.

Now an independent consultant's report has said that the power station was about ten hours away from a serious accident which could have drained the cooling pond, uncovered the old fuel and started a fire which would have released highly radioactive products.

Last night, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament's eastern region spokesman Mell Harrison called on the government to view the incident as a lucky escape and reconsider its position on the future of nuclear power.

She said: “It's fantastic that this has come into the public domain. We believe it just shows how close we were to disaster. I certainly think the government should look at this and put a stop to any new nuclear power stations being built until we understand exactly what we are letting ourselves in for.

“We say it shows how vulnerable Sizewell is and proves that we should be decommissioning the power stations we've got and certainly not even considering building new ones.”

Site operator Magnox South said at the time that it has taken the incident seriously but that there was never any off-site danger or impact on the environment.

However a report, commissioned by the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign and written by Dr John Large of Large and Associates, has called for the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) to look at the incident again and reconsider prosecuting Magnox South.

NII announced nearly two years after the incident that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute Magnox South, partly because of the firm's quick response to the incident.

Now an interim NII report on the incident has shown that contaminated water made its own way into storm drains and then into the North Sea.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said that he is now going to carry out some independent research of his own before meeting with site managers and local stakeholders later in the summer.

He said: “I want to go through every single detail of the report so that I know I will be asking the right questions when we meet. I will be looking not only at what happened, but at what the danger was.

“I understand that when investigations were carried out after the incident, it was found that there was no danger to people in the surrounding area.”

Paul Wilkinson, Sizewell A's site director, said that storm drains had been 'bunged' as a result of the incident and that the contaminated water was only released into the sea after calculations showed that the radioactivity contained was less than one percent of the annual discharge limit.

Mr Wilkinson said the company had “worked closely and in an open and honest manner” with its regulators. “We have addressed every issue and we're willing to be involved in detailed debate on the event itself,” he said.

Ray Jepps, Magnox South chief nuclear operating officer, said the NII report made public was an interim document. “A lot more technical detail will be in the final report,” he said.

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