In this week’s Gossage, our columnist explores whether the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) should be more concerned about flaws at the Taishan nuclear power plant.
China is not well known for its commitment to an open government. So the information now published, as to why one of its new nuclear plants at Taishan has been shut down for over six months, is potentially very worrying for the UK. The closure is owing to cracked fuel rods that emerged after only one operating cycle.
Why is it worrying? Taishan is the only completed example in the world of the prototype EPR being constructed at Hinkley Point in Somerset, and scheduled for Sizewell in Suffolk. And the implications for the viability of both of these £20bn+ ‘investments’ are potentially very serious. The Business Department is taking no responsibility for analysing these implications. Instead, a spokesman told the Daily Telegraph that, “If the British Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) considered that any nuclear site was not safe or secure, it would not be allowed to operate.”
So, is the ONR keeping a beady eye upon the Taishan problems? Er, no. In response to a Freedom of Information request from Sussex University this January, the ONR admitted it ‘holds no information relating to design flaws regarding Taishan, or indeed any information that suggests this claimed design flaw has or may impact either Hinkley Point C or Sizewell C’. But this must mean the ONR cannot have made any inquiries as to these possible design flaws, because if so they would by definition hold some information. Given the amount of worldwide media attention the issue has had, most people would rightly think the ONR is simply not discharging its duty.