I never knew that people could be so chill about hundreds of cracks appearing in the core of a nuclear power plant. The Hunterston B facility in Scotland has been running since the early 1970s and was supposed to be retired in 2011. It really started showing its age in 2014, three years after decommissioning was supposed to commence, when cracks started appearing in the graphite bricks housing the reactor. The problem got worse until it was eventually closed in 2018 for around a year while its operators conducted some measures designed to improve safety. Plant owners EDF ultimately needed to convince the nuclear regulators to raise the operational limit for the number of cracks after more fractures were found than was originally considered safe. Hunterston B is a good example of how nuclear power may seem like a solid option for generating carbon-free electricity, but ultimately the price is paid several-fold due to the extreme safety concerns. The decommissioning process, which typically runs into the hundreds of millions of pounds, can last for over 50 years. In this case that’s around the operational lifespan of the plant itself, and if anything goes wrong, the environmental damage done is immense. Nevertheless, we’re running out of time to save the planet, and currently nuclear is one of the easiest options to develop consistent baseload electricity without exacerbating climate change. But it comes with a heavy price and I hope we abandon it as soon as cleaner technologies mature.
Engineering & Technology 4th Sept 2020 read more »