I met senior representatives from the Office for Nuclear Regulation on 21 February 2019. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the current situation at Hunterston B and the processes that the ONR will use to make a decision on a possible restart of the reactors.
Although the ONR is not directly accountable to Scottish Government ministers, its representatives provided assurance that it will allow the reactors to restart only if it is satisfied that it is safe to do so, and that the ONR is functioning in an independent and transparent manner.
As the minister will be aware, there are 370 cracks in the reactor core at Hunterston B, which is a significant safety concern for the community and workers. It is a nuclear power plant that has been repeatedly closed due to safety concerns, and its reopening has been repeatedly delayed. Regardless of that, its lifespan will not go beyond 2023, which is a huge concern for the workers and the community. Will the minister and the Scottish Government commit to ensuring that there is a just transition for every worker who is currently employed by or connected to the nuclear power industry at Hunterston?
I can clarify that the checks have found 100 cracks, although it is estimated that there are 370. We do not know precisely how many cracks there are in the reactor, which is a point of fact to put across.
As I said in my original answer, the future of the reactors is a matter on which the ONR must engage with the operator, EDF Energy, and it is not directly accountable to the Scottish Parliament or the Scottish Government on that. We have an interest in the wellbeing of the community in North Ayrshire, as the plant employs many of its people, and we will do everything that we can to support them.
I do not want to prejudge the outcome of the exercise. We have to let the ONR do its work. I trust its judgment on the matter, and it has given us every assurance that health and safety is its primary concern. We will help if there are any implications for the plant itself.
Does the minister agree that Hunterston B operates within stringent safety limits and that EDF is regularly in contact with the Office for Nuclear Regulation regarding graphite cracks and other safety-related matters?
I visited Hunterston B last week and spoke to EDF, and it is clear that safety is the overriding concern of all who work there. Their own lives and those of their families living in nearby communities depend on it.
I agree with Kenneth Gibson about the workforce. Public safety is obviously the Scottish Government’s absolute priority. It is well known that our position on the future of nuclear energy is that we do not support it.
From the interactions that I and my officials have had with the Office for Nuclear Regulation and EDF staff at Hunterston B, it is clear that health and safety is the priority. The ONR was keen to stress that, in terms of the quality of its work, the workforce at Hunterston is one of the best that it has ever come across, and it has absolutely no concerns about the skill or ability of the workforce. If there are problems at Hunterston B, they are about the technology and not the workforce.