NUCLEAR reactors at Dungeness B power station were shut down for two months due to flooding fears in the wake of the Fukushima disaster.
Power station operator EDF Energy insists the move does not mean the site was unsafe at any time and branded reports in the national media as ‘misleading and inaccurate’.
But environmentalists have accused EDF of failing to be open and transparent.
Doug Parr, policy director of Greenpeace, said it was deeply worrying that the French company “did not feel the need to tell the wider community about serious safety worries over flooding”.
The energy company put a one-line statement on its website in May last year saying unit 22 at Dungeness station had been taken offline on 20 May for maintenance work that included completing improvements to flood defences for extreme events.
Yet there are claims that five months earlier in December 2012, EDF had privately admitted to the industry’s watchdog, the Office of Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that a shingle bank that acts as a primary sea defence was “not as robust as previously thought”.
EDF carried out further reviews and decided more flood defence work was needed to protect the site from flooding - the cause of the Fukushima disaster after an earthquake and tsunami.
An EDF spokesperson said: “This upgrading of flood defences does not mean the site was unsafe at any time. Before this work, Dungeness B was deemed safe to operate by the independent nuclear safety regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, who considered that the site was protected from events which would occur one in every 1,000 years.
“Following events at Fukushima, EDF Energy undertook further studies aimed at ensuring the sites were safe – even in case of events whose probability was as low as once in every 10,000 years. EDF Energy then informed the regulator that more work was necessary to meet this higher standard and that temporary measures could be installed within a week. The regulator accepted this proposal. It is important to know that the regulator can shut down the power station immediately if it has any safety concerns.
“During work to complete a number of flood improvements, EDF Energy conservatively took the decision to take both reactors offline for two months. Work to build a new flood defence wall around the site is due to be completed this month and additional measures are due to be completed later this year. In addition the company is continuously updating and improving the plant to ensure it is operating safely.
“The recent weather has had no impact on operations at Dungeness B. The last weather disruption happened during the St Jude storm in October 2013 when power lines supplying the station were hit by debris and the reactors were safely shut down.
“EDF Energy understands how important it is to tell people about what we do. It is not true to suggest that there was an attempt not to communicate events at Dungeness B.
“Local media, community groups and stakeholders were informed about the flood defence work and the reactors being shut down during this period. EDF Energy also informs the media every time one of our nuclear reactors is taken offline and again when it comes back on. And we publish plant information online every 24 hours.
Dungeness B station director Martin Pearson said: “We are never complacent and constantly look for ways to improve safety at Dungeness B. Safety always overrides any commercial considerations and we only operate with the approval of the independent nuclear regulator. We decided to raise standards even further following Fukushima, but that does not mean there was a greater risk to the power station.
“Maintaining strong links with our local communities and others who have an interest in our nuclear operations is critically important and we work hard at being as open as possible. I invite people to come to our visitor centre, see the power station and ask any questions they have about its operation.”