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COVID-19 Nuclear News: Nuclear Industry in EU Begins To Isolate Key Operational Staff

The operators of nuclear power plants in Europe are taking steps to minimize the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Actions include isolating key staff and stockpiling items workers might need if they are unable to leave a site.

In Europe, Nuclearelectrica, which operates the Cernavodă nuclear power station in Romania, has already isolated about 400 essential operating and production staff at Cernavodă. A spokeswoman told wire services that the measure, based on established emergency plans, will remain in place as long as necessary. The staff are isolated in a specially designated area within the Cernavoda plant site.

France, the world’s most nuclear energy dependent nation, announced staff reductions at its Flamanville nuclear station. EDF said that due to high regional infection rates it was reducing the staff at the plant from 800 to 100.

A spokesman for the Flamanville plant told Reuters that “we have decided to only keep those in charge of safety and security” working while the coronavirus crisis runs its course.

Vattenfall, which owns 10 nuclear reactors in Sweden and Germany, said measures are in place to deal with the outbreak.

”We are well equipped to carry out our yearly outage season and plan to continue to supply fossil-free electricity to our customers, both in the short and long term,” the company said in an email statement.

CEZ, state-owned operator of the Czech Republic’s nuclear fleet, said it has been applying preventive measures since the end of February. Business trips have been suspended and all information centers including those at nuclear plants, have been closed and all excursions and visits to the plants suspended. Bus services used by employees and suppliers to and from nuclear plants are being frequently disinfected.

Last week further preventive measures were applied by CEZ at Temelin, Dukovany and other facilities that are considered critical state infrastructure. The measures include taking the temperature of everyone entering a facility and social distancing in canteens.

Personal meetings have been suspended in favour of electronic means of communication and “several hundred” employees are working from home.

“All these measures are purely preventive [and] we have not registered any case of coronavirus at the nuclear plants so far,” a spokeswoman said.

Madrid-based industry group Foro Nuclear said Spain’s seven commercial nuclear units remain in operation and operators are focused on the security of workers. They have implemented, in conjunction with the regulatory body, measures to protect workers including flexible working hours and remote working in positions that allow it.

New-build projects, including those at Hinkley Point C in England, Hanhkivi-1 in Finland have not been delayed by the outbreak.

Construction at Hinkley Point C in the UK has not been affected by the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus, but EDF Energy said it will be working with contractors and trades unions to review the developing situation in the coming days and weeks.

Also in the UK, authorities announced they are shutting down a nuclear fuel reprocessing site at Sellafield after 8% of its 11,500-strong staff were forced to self-isolate. The move came after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus and will lead to a gradual shutdown of the site’s Magnox facility, which is scheduled to close permanently later this year.

The UK’s nuclear regulator said it is “actively engaged” with all its nuclear sites to ensure that appropriate contingency plans are in place, given the developing national and international situation.

The Canadian Nuclear Association reported that Canada’s nuclear stations are helping keep hospitals clean and safe during these critical times through the production of cobalt-60. It is a medical isotope used to sterilize medical equipment such as gowns, gloves, masks, implantable devices and syringes in hospitals. It is also used to preserve foods so that they have a long shelf life.

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