Jellyfish force nuclear shutdown at Torness

TORNESS nuclear power station is operating as normal again this week thanks to the efforts of three local fishing boat crews who removed “unprecedented” numbers of jellyfish from the sea.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 7th July 2011, 8:57 am

When huge quantities of jellyfish were found obstructing cooling water filters last Tuesday, June 28, the East Lothian plant’s operator, EDF Energy, shut down both reactors as a precaution. Thanks to the fishermen’s clean-up operation, both reactors were up and running again by Tuesday of this week.

According to a local conservationist, global warming is one possible explanation for the “unprecedented” number of jellyfish currently in Berwickshire coastal waters.

With so many jellyfish in the seawater surrounding Torness, local fishing vessels were recruited to assist in removing them. Eyemouth boats ‘The Boy Andrew’ and ‘The Stransay Lad’ were both involved in the clean up operation alongside a Dunbar vessel. They were fishing off Dunbar at the time.

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Eyemouth Harbour master Ivan Stevenson told ‘The Berwickshire News’: “Something like this is a flash in the pan; I was shocked to learn that there were enough jellyfish in the water to shut down the reactors.

“I’ve seen a few jellyfish on the beaches outside Eyemouth and I’ve heard that there are a lot up and down the coast at the moment, but I never expected them to have this sort of impact.

“It will have been a very different operation to what the guys on ‘The Boy Andrew’ and ‘The Stransay Lad’ are used to, but I’m sure it was an interesting one and a good way for them to supplement their income.

“They pulled their nets outside of the filter area, took the jellyfish out of the water and then out to sea to release them.”

Torness station director, Paul Winkle, paid tribute to the fishermen, whose efforts meant that one of the reactors could be switched on again last Friday morning with the other back in operation on Tuesday morning.

He said: “I am delighted that we have the units back. This is in part down to the great efforts of the local fishermen who have helped clear the jellyfish from the sea near the station. The decision to shut down reactors proved right and showed that all here at Torness have safety at the heart of everything they do.”

EDF Energy, said the shutdown was a precautionary measure and there was never any danger to the public or any repercussions for customers. It added that there had been no impact on the environment.

As well as its two advanced gas cooled reactors, Torness relies on supplies of sea water to ensure it operates safely. It has filters which are designed to prevent seaweed and marine animals entering the cooling system.

If these screens become clogged, the reactors are shut down to comply with the station’s safety procedures.

Conservationists have warned that the increasing number of jellyfish is a global problem that has emerged over the past 15-20 years, with three catalysts playing a major role: climate change; a decline in predatory sea creatures; and fertilisers ending up in the sea which favour some creatures at the expense of others.

Georgia Conolly, head ranger at St Abbs and Eyemouth Voluntary Marine Reserve, confirmed there are an unusually large number of jellyfish in the waters along the Berwickshire coast at present. She said: “It’s quite usual to have jellyfish blooms, but these normally occur in spring time as the sea is beginning to warm up and at the end of the summer. But this year we’ve seen an unprecedented number of the creatures in our waters.

“We can’t be 100 per cent as to why this has happened, but I would go along with the suggestion that climate change has played a part and the fact there are fewer larger fish in the food chain to eat the jellyfish.

“They’re pretty much everywhere at the moment. A lot of people have been up here for diving and someone took a photo at Pettico Wick, just north of St Abbs Head. The sea was pink due to all the jellyfish there. I do a lot of surfing and I’ve noticed lots of jellyfish too.”

The creatures that disrupted operations at Torness were ‘moon jellyfish’ and, according to Ms Conolly, don’t pose too much of a risk to public as they aren’t known to sting people.

But Ms Conolly points out that there are other species of jellyfish out there so if swimmers or divers in the sea aren’t sure of the type it would be better not to touch them.

“Moon jellyfish don’t tend to sting people. You can pick them up and you shouldn’t get hurt, but my advice is if you don’t know for sure. Look but don’t touch. Jellyfish are at the mercy of the current. They don’t actively set out to sting anyone.”

It’s not just Torness that’s been shutdown by jellyfish. Operations at nuclear plants in Japan have been disrupted by large numbers of jellyfish in recent years.

Ms Conolly added: “It is quite staggering that jellyfish could cause such disruption at a place as big as Torness, but it just goes to show you can’t beat nature. I know a few people who work up there and they said it was shut down a few years ago because of seaweed. And once again nature has humbled us.”

In another case of nature putting a spanner in the works, an Atlantic grey seal was rescued from EDF’s Hinkley Point nuclear power station in Somerset earlier this month after it got trapped in the inflow area chasing fish. Plant operations were not affected.