Tuesday, December 05, 2006

'British Energy' -

couldn't organise a piss up in a....... nuclear power station (mine you, that might not be a such a good idea!).

Just listened to a report on BBC Radio 4's File on Four programme that has sent my very core soaring to high temperatures! Two of the nastiest words to be uttered in energy circles for some time now have been......'British Energy'. Mind you right up there would be energy market, Margaret Thatcher, central government and nuclear energy.

British Energy, bailed out by government 4 years ago is on its way to meltdown once again. The recent surge in energy prices had BE and the government smiling. The latter thought they would sell their (our!) 65% stake in BE (bought for £5 billion) on the share market (for £3 billion - a loss note) . Not any more. Energy prices have dropped and only 1 out of 14 (yes, that's 1 of 14) AGR nuclear power stations is operating normally. Four are currently closed due to 'unforseen circumstances'. These stations represent 5% of the UK power supply and if we have a wee cold snape this winter it may well be lights out in Bromley (north London is apparently too important). OK, I know it's still summer out there but the 'experts' are a little nervous.

Hinkley, Hartlepool, Hunterston and Torness are all 'out to lunch' due to maintenance shutdowns. Cracks in boiler tubes has become a familar problem. At Torness alarms signified a fault with gas circulator. Maintenance shift engineers were not on site as they had been removed to an 'on call' status as a cost measure so, the shift operator did what? He ignored the alarm and continued operations! Needless to say further damage was done and Torness has been closed down since. You get the picture.

Who's to blame. The 'energy market' for one, as it doesn't encourage extra capacity investment. The government, as it has no energy policy.........Milton Friedman , Margaret Hatcher oh, and Tony Blah for recently advocating more of the same. Arrrrrrrrrrggghhhhhh!!


At 9:14 am, Blogger Pete Smith said...

Just to clarify a few points: British Energy operates 8 nuclear power stations, not 14. Sizewell B operates a single Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) which maintains a fine operational record. The other 7 power stations each operate a pair of AGRs. 2 of these 7 sites are currently closed because of cracked boiler tubes, with plans to restart at 70% capacity in December and January. Tube cracks were identified initially in one reactor at each of the two sites, with the other two reactors being closed subsequently for investigation. The problems you quote with operation of the gas circulation equipment at Torness occurred in May 2002, and Torness is currently operational.

At 9:25 am, Blogger Matt Burge said...

According to the Beeb it's 14 and I'm not aware of another operator running N-stations within the UK. Maybe it's 14 AGRs on 7 sites. Yes the Torness situation was, not 'is', a problem....we hope!

At 9:32 am, Blogger Pete Smith said...

In a way I feel a bit sorry for the operational staff at the British Energy reactors. Apart from the Sizewell B PWR, all the reactors are showing their age, with the closed sites Hunterston and Hinckley being 30 years old and at the end of their operational life. The UK AGR program was rightly condemmed on File on Four as being the worst implemented anywhere in the world. The AGR design has inherent flaws that are now showing themselves in a major way, e.g. cracks in the graphite core. British Energy, as a privatised company, is at the mercy of wholesale energy markets, shareholders and its company pension scheme. Top management has taken its eye off the ball to take care of business as a PLC.
God knows what's going to happen. As reported in this blog last month, BE have sacked their chief operations officer and restructured their management structure, but this is probably just cosmetic. The problem is not enough investment and rising operational costs, combined with projected downward trends in electricity prices.
The blame lies with successive UK governments for building crap reactors in the first place, for privatising a core national service, and for long-term cowardice and complacency in allowing our nuclear generating capacity to wither away through old age and neglect while continually postponing decisions on its replacement.

At 9:51 am, Blogger Pete Smith said...

<<< I'm not aware of another operator running N-stations within the UK >>>

BNFL are stll running some old Magnox reactors. Sizewell A and Dungeness A are due to close at the end of 2006. Wylfa in Anglesea is scheduled to close in 2010.

<<< Maybe it's 14 AGRs on 7 sites >>>
You got it 8-)

At 9:52 am, Blogger Matt Burge said...

You're absolutely right that successive governments are to blame and that a core service such as this should not be in private hands. I'm genuinely concerned for the H&S of UK citizens having now listened to this BBC report.If there are to be new stations built they should be nationalized.

At 1:19 pm, Blogger Matt Burge said...

Although BE & BNFL are currently run separately they used to be the same thing. Latest is that BNFL will be no more by end of 2007 as they are selling off their bits and pieces. They currently have 18 sites of which 1/3 are closed.

See; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BNFL

According to this link the govt is looking to competitive tender the decommissioning process in order to 'drive down costs'.

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