Thursday, 13 June 2019

Lessons learned from Lithuanian reactor closure for UK's cracked reactors

Letter submitted to The Guardian:
I was very interested to read  Neringa Rekasiute’s article on the ‘nuclear oasis‘ of Ignalina’s giant nuclear  complex in Europe Now (“In a Soviet-era nuclear town, I brought Lithuania’s forgotten side to light, “ The Guardian, 12 June 2019; www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jun/12/soviet-era-nuclear-town-lithuania-isolated-communities) having visited the vast site several years ago as part of a visit by the Vienna-based World Institute for Nuclear Security. (WINS).

During that visit to the site - which contains a decommissioned turbine halls so huge that several jumbo jet  aircraft could comfortably be accommodated inside - I learned of an extremely alarming security incident involving  the theft of a full-sized nuclear fuel rod from the site. Although since recovered, it demonstrated how important it is to properly secure even sites of closed reactors.

Last week I attended the European Commission-sponsored Euradwaste conference in Pitesti, Romania, (http://fisa-euradwaste2019.nuclear.ro/), where a presentation on decommissioning Ignalina was made by scientists (Prof. Poskas & Dr Narkunas) from the nuclear engineering laboratory of the Lithuanian Energy Institute in Kaunas, the nation’s second city after capital Vilnius.

Their work has been on assessing and modelling the distribution of radioactive carbon-14, in the very high stack of graphite blocks around the reactor core prior to dismantling. This suggests that even though Ms Rekasiute feels the Lithuanian government “mainly pretends” the adjoining company city of Visaginas “isn’t there”, the government in Vilnius is seriously trying to find safe ways to dismantle the plant using the trained local workforce.  

The experience gained will certainly prove useful to the UK, which has several reactors either already closed, or close to closure, such as the troubled Hunterson reactors near Glasgow, where hundreds of cracks have been discovered in the graphite core. (“Footage of cracks in North Ayrshire nuclear reactor released,” Guardian, 8 March 2019; https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/mar/08/photos-cracks-north-ayrshire-hunterston-b-nuclear-reactor).

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