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EDF Energy has been forced to shut down two of its eight UK nuclear power stations amid safety fears, after discovering “unexpected cracking” in a boiler unit of one of its reactors in Lancashire. The French-owned energy giant said it had shut down its Heysham 1 and Hartlepool plants, each of which comprise two reactors, after confirming there was a “defect” in a boiler unit at Heysham 1 Reactor 1. Signs of a possible fault were first noticed in November 2013, leading to the “isolation” of one of the reactor’s eight boiler units. But it was only when the reactor was shut down in June for detailed inspections that EDF confirmed the defect.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation disclosed that EDF had found “unexpected cracking” in a “boiler spine”, a forged metal tube which supports the weight of boiler tubes coiled around it. “The spine supports the weight of an entire boiler and its failure could lead to water entering the reactor vessel,” the ONR said.
The pressure water reactor uses a primary cooling system of ordinary water under pressure to transport the reactor heat to the secondary cooling system also of ordinary water which is flashed off as steam which spins the turbines to generate electricity. EDF refused to explain what would happen if water entered the reactor vessel. But I will. See next paragraph. Plants of this design have a projected safe operational use life of 30 years. And these are over 40yo.
A sudden loss of pressure and the reactor goes super critical and lots of powerful moderator liquids have to be pumped into the reactor core very quickly to stop melt down. The whole event would put the reactor out of action for a long time while all the parts that developed cracks were replaced. An event like this would most certainly result in a major escape of radioactive products. That,s why EDF are shutting down now and doing the remedial work before a problem arises.