Western Daily Press | SouthWest Business
A specialist engineer who worked at Hinkley Point nuclear power station for almost 30 years has attacked the nuclear industry’s approach to safety and predicted that a Fukushima-type disaster in the UK was “almost inevitable”.
Peter Smith’s comments were made at and after a weekend rally in Bridgwater against the proposed new Hinkley C nuclear power station. It comes as China is poised to take a multi-billion pound stake in the building of a nuclear power plant in Somerset with French energy giant EDF.
Secret talks are understood to have been taking place for weeks between the two, with the Chinese considering a 20 per cent share in the venture. British Gas owner Centrica already has a 20 per cent stake in EDF’s nuclear business, which plans to replace the power station at Hinkley Point, Somerset.
EDF Energy, which runs the Hinkley B plant and has applied for planning permission for the new twin-reactor station, strongly rebuts Mr Smith’s claims. Today, anti-nuclear campaigners plan to scale the fence surrounding the Hinkley C site and plant seeds to symbolise their fight to stop development.
Mr Smith, who was head of the ‘electrical instrumentation section’ at Hinkley, said: “Over the years, I became more and more aware of the dangers and dark side of nuclear power. The industry denies that it ever puts profit before safety but this is a lie. I have seen corner-cutting from the design stage onwards. At Hinkley, major safety systems were omitted and others only implemented after major incidents.
“The nuclear industry suffers from the delusion that nuclear power is safe. They said that after Three Mile Island, they said it after Chernobyl and they said it after Fukushima. Do we really want Hinkley Point to be the next major disaster?”
He said that the likelihood of a major accident in the UK is increasing. “The reason there was never a major incident at Hinkley was because there were experts like me who knew the systems inside out. These experts are now retiring or moving to other sectors.
“If you combine this brain drain with increasing commercial pressures and old reactors being pushed to perform beyond their intended lifespan, you’re creating a recipe for disaster.” Peter Higginson, technical and safety support manager at Hinkley Point B, said: “As even Peter Smith himself acknowledges, in his own words, ‘there was never a major incident at Hinkley’.
“More than that, the reality is that we guard against even the most minor of incidents. We have an open reporting culture, continuous investment in people and plant, robust design and procedures that all support our strong safety culture. Safety standards are very, very high, but we are never complacent and have not stood still since Peter left the industry.
“We have a programme to maintain knowledgeable and qualified staff and to plan for job succession to ensure that we do not lose expertise when people retire.
“Just last month we began a programme of £25 million of inspection and investment in the plant. I am personally very proud to work in an industry that continues to place safety above any other consideration and to live near Hinkley Point with my family.
“People can be reassured that the independent regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, has the power to shut down any power station that does not meet safety standards.” Hundreds of people from all over Britain attended the rally, which included a one minute’s silence in tribute to local Stop Hinkley campaigner Crispin Aubrey, who had planned to speak, but died earlier this month.
The talks with the Chinese are being closely monitored by the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who have visited China and are keen to tap into Beijing’s financial and nuclear experience.