Nuclear Reactors in France and UK Face Meltdown Risks

June 14th, 2015 - by admin

Henry Samuel / The Telegraph & Lizzie Parry /London Daily Mail Online – 2015-06-14 01:22:30

French/British Nuclear Reactors Flawed, Prone to Meltdowns
Henry Samuel / The Telegraph

PARIS (June 9, 2015) — Nuclear safety inspectors have found crucial faults in the cooling system of France’s flagship new-generation nuclear power plant on the Channel coast, exposing it to the risk of meltdown.

The third-generation European Pressurised Reactor currently under construction in Flamanville is the same model that Britain plans to use for two new plants at Hinkley Point in Somerset. State-controlled nuclear giant Areva is responsible for the design and construction.

France’s nuclear safety watchdog found “multiple” malfunctioning valves in the Flamanville EPR that could cause its meltdown, in a similar scenario to the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident in the US. The inspectors listed the faults in a damning presentation obtained by Mediapart, the investigative French website.

This is the latest setback for what is supposed to be France’s atomic energy showcase abroad, following the revelation last month that its steel reactor vessel has “very serious anomalies” that raise the risk of it cracking. The vessel houses the plant’s nuclear fuel and confines its radioactivity.

The findings were listed in a presentation by the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN) to France’s top nuclear safety regulator (ASN). The watchdog reportedly cited “multiple failure modes” that could have “grave consequences” on the safety relief valves, which play a key role in regulating pressure in the reactor.

Owned by state-controlled French utilities giant EDF, Flamanville lies close to the British Channel Islands and about 150 miles from the southern English coast. Designed to be the safest reactors in the world and among the most energy-efficient, the €9 billion (£6.5 billion) EPR has suffered huge delays in models under construction in France, Finland and China. It is now due to enter service in 2017, five years later than originally planned.

In April, it was revealed that excessive amounts of carbon in the steel in the top and bottom of the reactor’s vessel, which forms a shell around it, could cause cracks which could prove disastrous, as the vessel cannot be replaced during the lifespan of the reactor.

The faulty safety relief valves are situated on the pressuriser, which regulates the high pressure within the primary circuit where water cools the nuclear fuel by releasing steam when necessary.

The failure of a pilot-operated relief valve in the primary circuit was a key factor in the partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island plant in the US in March 1979, and which led to the halting of America’s civil nuclear power programme. In that accident, nuclear reactor coolant escaped through a valve that was stuck open, sending the reactor into partial meltdown.

At Flamanville, IRSN noted “opening” and “closing” failures concerning the pilots that operate the safety valves and “risks of fluid leaks” of the reactor coolant. It warned that the multiple faults could have “grave consequences”.

On Tuesday, IRSN confirmed tests conducted by EDF showed “difficulties in opening and shutting valves”. But it played down the gravity of the findings, saying: “For now, one cannot conclude it is serious as we haven’t fully judged the quality “of the valves” — a view it will announce this summer.

“We are examining dossier handed in by EDF with a view to starting up the EPR. There are remarks on all subjects. It’s classic,” said Thierry Charles, deputy director general of IRSN.

Last week, the French government announced Areva NP, the nuclear reactor arm of state-controlled Areva, is to be sold to EDF, its former client which also operates all of France’s 58 nuclear reactors. The move followed Areva’s announcement in March that it had racked up record losses in 2014 of €4.8 billion.

EDF is in the final phase of negotiations with the British government on building the two Hinkley plants in Britain, which in February it said would be “possible in the next few months”. The European Commission estimates the development will cost £24.5 billion.

Nuclear Power Station Cancer Warning:
Breast Cancer Rates Five Times Higher Near Welsh Nuclear Plant

Lizzie Parry /London Daily Mail Online

LONDON (June 9, 2015) — Women living downwind from nuclear power plants are at five times greater risk of developing breast cancer, experts have warned.

In three separate studies, a team of scientists looked at the rates of various cancers in populations living close to Trawsfynydd power station in North Wales, Bradwell in Essex and Hinkley Point in Somerset. They discovered breast cancer rates, in particular, were higher than expected national averages at all three sites.

At Trawsfynydd, rates of the disease were five times greater than average, while in Essex and Somerset women had double the risk of developing breast cancer.

The research, supervised by Dr Chris Busby, who was previously based in Aberystwyth but is now attached to the Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga, also found other types of cancer were recorded at double the rate in Trawsfynydd.

The Welsh plant is the only nuclear power station built inland in the UK. It acts as a cooling water source and is also a sink for radioactivity released from the plant.

A significant amount of radioactive material exists in the lake bed sediment. The power station ceased operation in 1993 but has yet to be fully decommissioned.

The prevailing winds at the site are south westerly and more than 90 per cent of those living downwind of the power station were surveyed by researchers working for Dr Busby.

The paper, published this month by Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, states: ‘Trawsfynydd is a “dirty” nuclear power station.’

‘As it has carbon dioxide, gas-cooled graphite block reactors, its releases into the air are higher than most other types of nuclear reactor. In addition, all the liquid releases are discharged to the lake, where they have accumulated to the lake body sediment,’ the researchers noted.

‘Results show very clearly that the downwind population has suffered because of these exposures. This is most clear in breast cancer in the younger women below 60, where the rates were almost five times the expected.

‘Additionally we see a doubling of risk in those who ate fish from Trawsfynydd lake, which supports the conclusion that it is mainly a nuclear power station effect that is being seen.’

Other forms of cancer showing elevated levels included prostate, leukaemia, mesothelioma and pancreas. Altogether, 38 people in the area researched were diagnosed with cancer between 2003 and 2005, against an ‘expected’ level of 19.5.

The report said: ‘These results are remarkable and relevant to political decisions about nuclear energy.’

In a separate report, also published in the Jacobs Journal of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine, Dr Busby’s team revealed their findings of a similar study close to the Bradwell nuclear plant in Essex. The plant is located on the south side of the River Blackwater in Essex.

In order to arrive at their conclusions they compared populations in wards adjacent to the River Blackwater with a control population living nearby in an uncontaminated area close to the River Crouch.

The researchers concluded: ‘Between 1995 and 2001 breast cancer mortality was significantly higher in wards adjacent to the River Blackwater in Essex than in wards which were inland.

‘The Blackwater wards which had measured radioactive contamination from the Bradwell nuclear power station had about twice the breast cancer mortality than a control group of wards on the uncontaminated River Crouch.’

They added: ‘We have also studied breast cancer mortality in the wards near the Hinkley Point nuclear site in Somerset, using the same approach as this study, and have found the same result, a doubling of risk.’

All three nuclear power plants are managed by Magnox Ltd, a company owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, which is ‘responsible for the decommissioning and clean-up of the UK’s civil nuclear sites on behalf of the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change’.

A Magnox spokesman said: ‘Comment on the details of the study is a matter for experts in public health.

‘However the radiation exposures of our workforce, and that of the general public, from authorised discharges from the nuclear industry, are well below the maximum levels authorised by independent regulatory bodies. The limits are set to ensure members of the public are properly protected.’

Dr Jill Meara, director of Public Health England’s Centre for Radiation, Chemical and Environmental Hazards (CRCE), said: ‘Identification of disease clusters are matters for local public health teams. If those teams needs specialist support, such as in radiation epidemiology, they can talk to CRCE for assistance.’

Public Health Wales said it was liaising with local health teams covering Traswfynydd to see whether any cancer clusters had been identified in the area.

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