Letter to Hinkley Point Site Stakeholder Group

Dear SSG Member,

I am taking the step of writing directly to you in response to an article that you may have seen in the national press recently regarding weight loss in the graphite core of our gas-cooled reactors.

While the story is balanced, the headline - ‘Safety Regulation Could Be Relaxed To Keep Nuclear Power Stations Open’ - is incorrect and misleading and may generate more interest in the media, particularly around our sites.

Seven of our nuclear power stations – including Hinkley Point B each have two Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors that have a graphite core which acts as a ‘moderator’ slowing down fast neutrons during the operation to improve the efficiency of the nuclear reaction.

The core is made up of 1000’s of interconnected graphite bricks and during normal operations graphite loses a very small amount of mass. This is a well-known phenomenon which was fully considered as part of the stations’ design and is factored into safety limits that are agreed with our independent regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Graphite ageing is one area used to determine the lifespan of an AGR nuclear power station. Greater understanding of the ageing process by sampling and modelling can lead to them operating safely for longer, giving the UK secure, and reliable low-carbon electricity.

The reactor cores are inspected, and the graphite sampled, on a routine basis and we work closely with scientists and UK universities to understand how materials in our nuclear reactors change over time and how that will affect the stations’ operations. We regularly refine our own safety assessments as we identify new information and we share our findings with the regulator and with the wider scientific community. All of our operations are closely scrutinised by the ONR.

EDF Energy takes an extremely cautious approach and we operate our power stations with very large safety margins. We are well aware of our safety responsibilities to the communities around the sites and to our people working on them, and let me be very clear: nuclear safety will always be our overriding priority

In the highly unlikely event of a safety issue arising, this would result in the affected reactor being safely shut down and taken out of service. Nuclear safety is our overriding priority and EDF Energy would always take a nuclear power station out of service where there were safety concerns, regardless of commercial considerations.

If you have any concerns about this, or any of our operations, please contact me either by letter or at the next local stakeholders meeting. 

Pete Evans - Acting Station Director

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