Six shocking facts about Sellafield
If the continually-delayed Hinkley Point C proposal wasn’t already generating enough bad press for the UK’s nuclear sector, the newly-emerged Sellafield nuclear storage scandal will only further colour public opinion.
Yesterday, BBC Panorama aired a laundry list of safety hazards it uncovered at the Cumbria site, from faulty infrastructure to radioactive material stored in plastic bottles. It's worth noting that Sellafield has since released a rebuttal to the claims made during the BBC's half-hour report, alleging gross simplification of the issues.
Here are six of the most shocking findings reported as facts by the programme.
Ignoring alarm bells
The Sellafield facility has thousands of alarms which ring to indicate potential problems. The whistleblower featured in the programme claimed that alarms were routinely reset by Sellafield staff without investigating the cause. In fact, it was stated that alarms at two of the plants at the complex were sounding thousands of times each day.
A leaked document called “Sellafield Key Performance Indicators”, released in 2013, said that any deviation from minimum staffing volumes was “not acceptable”. Most of the plants at the facility were found to be routinely low on staff, with minimum levels breached 19 times in one month in 2013.
Three years ago, an electricity substation at Sellafield exploded due to faulty wiring, with some nuclear units across the site losing power. After ventilation systems stop working in one area, radioactive dust spread throughout the building. A short time later, Sellafield’s managers appeared in front of Parliament — and then Managing Director Tony Price failed to tell MPs about the seriousness of the situation.
In 2008, a consortium of companies, including URS, AMEC and AREVA, was awarded the contract to manage Sellafield. When interviewed for the programme, the consortium’s one-time Director, David Pethick, was quoted as saying the condition of the complex’s infrastructure was “very poor” and on the verge of a breakdown.
Nuclear waste storage silos built “hastily” in the 1950’s currently contain radioactive material that would ignite upon contact with air. This material needs to be moved before the structure of the silos degrades too far, but no such action has yet been put in motion.
A report from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) found that Sellafield’s Magnox, a major reprocessing plant, had four serious and potentially-fatal incidents occur within its walls between 2014 and 2015. Another ONR report claimed that the safety violations at Magnox constituted grounds for the closure of the entire complex.
Hydrostor receives $4m funding for A-CAES facility in Canada
Hydrostor has received $4m funding to develop a 300-500MW Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) facility in Canada.
The funding will be used to complete essential engineering and planning, and enable Hydrostor to plan construction.
The project will be modeled on Hydrostor’s commercially operating Goderich storage facility, providing up to 12 hours of energy storage.
Hydrostor’s A-CAES system supports Canada’s green economic transition by designing, building, and operating emissions-free energy storage facilities, and employing people, suppliers, and technologies from the oil and gas sector.
The Honorable Seamus O’Regan, Jr. Minister of Natural Resources, said: “Investing in clean technology will lower emissions and increase our competitiveness. This is how we get to net zero by 2050.”
A-CAES has the potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions by enabling the transition to a cleaner and more flexible electricity grid. Specifically, the low-impact and cost-effective technology will reduce the use of fossil fuels and will provide reliable and bankable energy storage solutions for utilities and regulators, while integrating renewable energy for sustainable growth.
Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “We are grateful for the federal government’s support of our long duration energy storage solution that is critical to enabling the clean energy transition. This made-in-Canada solution, with the support of NRCan and Sustainable Development Technology Canada, is ready to be widely deployed within Canada and globally to lower electricity rates and decarbonize the electricity sector."
The Rosamond A-CAES 500MW Project is under advanced development and targeting a 2024 launch. It is designed to turn California’s growing solar and wind resources into on-demand peak capacity while allowing for closure of fossil fuel generating stations.
Hydrostor closed US$37 million (C$49 million) in growth financing in September 2019.