There has been much discussion locally about the recent planning application to relax the operational safety rules for Dungeness B nuclear power station. As global industrial disasters tend to show, it is the pushing of the technical envelope coupled with human failure which can lead to emergency.
Whilst public concern is justifiable about any relaxation of the safety regime at a nuclear plant, the proposed changes should allow continuing operations until about 2023, when EDF Energy’s new station at Hinkley Point C is due to come on stream. As one expert has said, the extension of the life of Dungeness B is an engineering judgement and one hopes that there are safety margins in place to support such a decision.
However, the application reflects the UK’s continuing lack of a long term energy policy to keep the lights on and reduce dependence on foreign suppliers. The costs of closing down time-expired nuclear facilities are enormous, and any decision to defer the closure of Dungeness B pushes the need for such expenditure further into the future. Meanwhile, we will all benefit from the developing technical expertise which enables the safe management of nuclear plants.