A suspect waste discharge pipe at the plant has been taken out of service, and contaminated water has had to be been removed and disposed of. Government safety watchdogs have carried out an inspection and are being kept informed of investigations.
The radiation leak was detected on 11 February and disclosed to a meeting of the Torness local liaison committee on 19 March. Though the amount of radioactivity involved is said to be small, there are growing concerns that the ageing 27-year-old nuclear plant could develop more serious problems.
According to the French state company that runs Torness, EDF Energy, radioactive tritium was discovered in water contained in sumps that are part of the site drainage system. The discovery was immediately reported to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and the UK government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).
“Subsequent checks showed that the levels of tritium found in the sump water posed no risk,” said an EDF Energy spokesman. “The water in the sumps was safely removed and disposed of via the authorised discharge routes. The sumps are sealed, preventing an unauthorised discharge to the environment.”
He disclosed that investigations were focusing on one of the plant’s four effluent discharge pipes. “This particular pipe has been taken out of service until the investigations are satisfactorily concluded,” he said.
Dr Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, warned that Torness was “well into middle age and the cracks are literally beginning to show”.
He said: “This is the latest in a series of problems at Scotland’s two nuclear stations and shows that regulators need to be very vigilant if we are to avoid a serious release of radioactivity to the local environment while these plants continue to operate.”
The local liaison committee was told that reactors at Torness had to be unexpectedly shut down four times in 2014 because of a series of equipment faults. EDF Energy also operates a 39-year-old nuclear power station at Hunterston in North Ayrshire, where cracks and breakdowns were reported in October 2014.
Jason Rose, Scottish Green candidate for MP in East Lothian, thought that the number of leaks and shutdowns showed that Torness was well past its prime. “Those of us who have to live with a nuclear plant on our doorstep need assurances from EDF that more effort will be made to prevent these sorts of serious incidents,” he said.
“I remain extremely concerned that there will be no public scrutiny of plans to extend the operating life of the plant, and no effort by local or national government to prepare a smooth transition for workers and the economy. Local people should have a say in what happens next at Torness.”
A spokesman for Sepa said: “From the evidence provided by the investigation to date, Sepa officers are satisfied that the early detection of tritium demonstrates that routine surveillance operations at the facility are suitable and that there is no evidence of discharge to or impact on the environment.”
Sepa and ONR have conducted a joint inspection of the Torness drainage system to gain oversight of efforts to trace the source of the leak. “ONR is satisfied that there are no safety concerns and welcomes the actions taken by EDF Energy to investigate the cause of this incident,” said an ONR spokeswoman.