Powering ahead to our nuclear future

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THE safety of Hartlepool’s nuclear power station was front page news in July 1975. ANDREW LEVETT looks back at assurances given to press and public as the station took shape on the dunes south of Seaton Carew

THE chances of an explosion at Hartlepool power station were “nil” and of any radioactive gas reaching beyond the periphery of the station was “as remote as being hit by a meteorite”.

Those were the views of station manager Tudor Thomas at a press conference following a meeting with the Hartlepool Borough Council, the police and other bodies.

On the question of an explosion, Mr Thomas said: “The possibility of that is absolutely nil. It is physically, scientifically and every other way impossible.”

He explained: “When laymen would look for a bang, we would expect a fizz with the escape of radioactive gases.”

Mr Thomas said the only possible escapes could come from pipes carrying carbon dioxide to cool the advanced gas-cooled reactors which form the nuclear heart of the station.

But he stressed monitoring equipment at the station was so sensitive any escape would be detected immediately.

He said: “Emergency teams would then pin-point the escape and effect emergency repairs.

“In the unlikely event of the gas escaping outside the boundary teams would go out into the countryside and carry out a monitoring exercise and find out which way the prevailing wind is taking the radioactive material.”

The Mail quoted Mr Thomas as saying any gases which did go beyond the boundary could only travel about two thirds of a mile.

He added that there was no record of any leaks outside the boundaries of Britain’s eight existing nuclear power stations.

Hartlepool power station was, he said, regarded as one of the safest in Europe and incorporated all the improvements in equipment and techniques gained from experience with earlier reactors.

The power station was still being built in 1975, with construction started in 1969 and completed in 1985, with the first electricity being generated in 1983.

Mr Thomas said levels of radioactivity in the area would be measured before fuel was injected into the first reactor.

Samples would be taken of milk, grass, air, soil and fish around the station.

He explained: “The aim of this is to build a picture of the natural radiation in the area.

“This means that once having established the local pattern we will not be allowed to exceed it once the station is in operation.”

Contact Andrew Levett by emailing andrew.levett@northeast-press.co.uk or write to him at Hartlepool Mail, New Clarence House, Wesley Square, Hartlepool, TS24 8BX.