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Friday, 6 September, 2002, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
'No design flaw' at nuclear plant
Inside Torness
Two reactors at Torness have been shut down
The Torness nuclear power station should be producing electricity again before the end of the year, according to a local MSP.

Labour's John Home Robertson said he had also received assurances that there are no design faults at the East Lothian plant.

The area's MSP was speaking after a meeting with operators British Energy and the Torness local liaison committee.


It seems the welds were not quite as good as they should have been on one or two of these impellers - that's certainly not the same as a design fault

John Home Robertson
The company, which made a loss of 500m in its latest financial year, is seeking government cash to save it from insolvency.

British Energy runs the Hunterston plant in Ayrshire and Torness, which employs 450 people and produces 1,200 megawatts of electricity if both reactors are in use.

The company has been hit by a sharp drop in electricity prices and by problems at some of its power stations - including Torness.

Reactor 1 at the East Lothian plant was closed down automatically last month due to vibrations in the gas circulation system, which cools the reactors.

A second reactor has been out of action since May because of a similar problem.

Shut down

British Energy said there was no "incident" in either case and no escape of radiation at the plant, which accounts for about 12% of its annual energy output.

The Scottish Green Party has called for the station to be shut down indefinitely, claiming that it may have design flaws because of compromises during construction.

The party said it had obtained information indicating that the big fans inside the reactor cooling system were made from forged metal rather than cast metal, which is apparently used in other nuclear stations.

Torness sign
The plant has been closed for several weeks

It said this was because no supplier could reach the stringent safety requirements for the cast components.

MSP Robin Harper said concerns that the new material used may be susceptible to vibrations were raised at the time even though it passed safety tests.

"I am calling for Torness to stay shut down until the full report on these fans [is published] and then for them to be replaced," he declared.

Mr Home Robertson said this was an "irresponsible" demand.

Speaking after a special meeting of the local liaison committee, he said the recent problems were not related to the design.

No further problems

"It seems the welds were not quite as good as they should have been on one or two of these impellers - that's certainly not the same as a design fault," he said.

Mr Home Robertson said no further problems had been found during checks on more than half of the 16 impellers used in the two reactors.


In any restructuring, we want to make sure our members are not casualties

Danny Carrigan
Amicus
"They are continuing to check the remaining impellers, and while safety remains the watchword, I'm hopeful that a case can be made for Torness to re-open sooner rather than later," he said.

He predicted that the power station should be up and running again by Christmas.

It has been suggested that it could cost British Energy at least 25m to repair the problems.

Meanwhile, unions are calling for the jobs of nuclear workers in Scotland to be protected as efforts continue to save British Energy from collapse.

Amicus is seeking an urgent meeting with the company's Scottish management to discuss the company's future.

Public control

"We want reassurances that workers' terms and conditions of employment prospects will not be weakened in any way," said the union's regional secretary Danny Carrigan.

"In any restructuring, we want to make sure our members are not casualties."

Scottish National Party MSP Alex Neil urged the UK Government to bring British Energy back under public control.

Robin Harper
Robin Harper: "Stay shut"
Mr Neil said it was vital that government ensures the safety of all nuclear stations, but said that it must be done on the condition that British Energy be renationalised.

Scottish Enterprise Minister Iain Gray said that while energy policy was a matter for Westminster, the firm was a major employer and major generator in Scotland.

"Officials from the Scottish Executive will remain in constant contact with officials from the DTI as the situation progresses," he said.

"It is, however, important to recognise that the prime concern of government in intervening in this matter is one of maintaining security of supply and safety in production."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Environment correspondent Louise Batchelor
"Union leaders are watching the situation very closely"
John Home Robertson, MP for East Lothian
"There are long-term obligations to protect nuclear safety"
See also:

06 Sep 02 | Business
16 Aug 02 | Scotland
13 Aug 02 | Scotland
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