Nuclear advocates suffer setback

Those arguing for a renewed nuclear programme to help meet Britain's emission targets have suffered a setback after it emerged Sellafield's reprocessing plant will remain closed for several months following a massive leak.

Advocates of nuclear power must resign themselves to an embarrassing blow to their argument while the renewable energy lobby will see the situation as providing more ammunition for their case.

The leak will cost £300million in lost revenue alone and will put a significant dent in the nuclear industry’s projected £2.5 billion profits over the next five years.

Making the Thorp plant safe is expected to cost further millions and repairs to get it back online will cost even more.

There is now a question mark over the plant’s future viability.

The leak itself, which saw tonnes of dissolved uranium and plutonium carried in nitric acid escape from a fractured pipe into the plant’s internal workings, has been the source of a political headache for Government as the Irish and other European neighbours jumped on the opportunity to renew calls for its closure (see related story).

When the leak occurred the radioactive material did not breach a secondary containment field so was not released into the wider environment.

Barry Snelson, managing director of British Nuclear Group which operates the plant, said at the time: “Let me reassure people that the plant is in a safe and stable state.

“Safety monitoring has confirmed no abnormal activity in air and there has been no impact on our workforce or the environment.

“I have asked for the front end of the plant’s reprocessing operations, including shearing, to be closed down. The plant is in a safe, quiescent state.”

Meanwhile workers have been reassured that jobs are safe and the plant will reopen in due course but opponents to the plant are claiming this latest upset could be a nail in its coffin.

The Nuclear Installations Inspectorate is currently carrying out a full investigation into the leak and its findings could lead to prosecution, as the operators have conceded the problem went unnoticed for as much as eight months.

By Sam Bond

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