Boss of giant Torness nuclear power plant says plant has proven itself after record-breaking run amid pandemic
The man in charge of the vast Torness nuclear power plant on Scotland’s east coast said the industry had a huge contribution to make after the 30-year-old plant celebrated a record-breaking performance.
One of the two reactors at the power plant near Dunbar operated continuously for 865 days between shutdowns, breaking the previous record of six days.
This achievement is a source of pride for Tamer Albishawi, who was promoted to Station Manager at Torness in September. Aged 38, he is the youngest station manager of the eight strong parks operated by EDF.
The company acquired the fleet when it bought East Kilbride-based British Energy for £ 12.5 billion in 2008.
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Sitting in his office with a view of the power plant and the Forth Estuary, Mr Albishawi notes that the good performance of reactor number one allowed Torness to play a vital role during last year’s pandemic.
“The one generation of Torness in 2020 was enough to power every home in Scotland and carbon-free; the equivalent of taking 1.7 million cars off the road, ”he says.
Asked about the deep-rooted opposition some people have to the industry for environmental reasons, Albishawi agrees that selling the nuclear history has always been difficult.
However, he believes that growing awareness of the threat of climate change has only strengthened the case for nuclear power as part of a mix that includes a large share of renewable energies.
“I absolutely think we should embrace more renewables,” says Albishawi, who believes offshore wind will be an important part of a low-carbon mix. From Torness, he sees boats leaving for the area where EDF is developing the Neart na Gaoithe wind farm.
However, noting that nuclear power is available 24/7, he observes, “You cannot control when the wind is blowing and we still cannot store large amounts of energy. I am sure this will develop in the future, but I would also like to point out that having a lot of renewables without them being backed by significant energy is quite difficult to manage from a grid stability point of view.
On the issue of security, Mr Albishawi said: “I have two young children and my wife and I have taken them on several site visits and it is because of my confidence in the safety and security. quality of the station… I know what’s going on here; I know the technology; I know how impressive the people who work here are. If you think about what we accomplished: our best ever race in the height of the pandemic. ”
Mr Albishawi was born in Jordan but moved to Edinburgh with his family when he was two years old.
He entered the nuclear industry after obtaining a first degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Huddersfield and also holds an MBA from the University of Edinburgh. As a station manager at Torness, he is interested in how things work that he developed in his youth while having to take on enormous responsibilities.
The factory has 500 employees and 250 contractors work on site. Many of the workforce live locally.
The site was chosen for the ease of access to the seawater which it uses as a coolant, but Dunbar is less than five miles away. Edinburgh is less than 30 miles away.
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Mr Albishawi, who is known as Tam to his colleagues, says strengthening ties with the community is an important part of his job.
The job of managing the plant involves regular testing for hazards such as fire and terrorism.
“The last one we did was a 24 hour exercise… it was simulated very realistically. We had the police at night, radio communications. The scenarios are intentionally very extensive. We imagine the worst that could happen and add to that another worst that could happen.
The factory contains two reactors that generate heat which is used to produce the steam needed to spin massive turbines housed in a cavernous hall next to them.
Mr. Albishawi is especially pleased that the team he leads recently managed to successfully complete a critical outage despite the challenges posed by the pandemic. Outages are carried out every three years according to a schedule agreed with the regulator and allow EDF to carry out maintenance and inspection work on graphite fuel bricks, which play a key role in the safety of the reaction process.
The latest involved an investment of around £ 25million and the completion of more than 12,000 jobs.
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Mr Albishawi’s team had to arrange to allow an additional 500 people to work on the site while making sure to respect social distancing and other precautions related to Covid-19. The factory imported mass testing capability, made it possible for people to work from home where possible, and introduced one-way systems and color-coded markings to guide the movement of people around. of the labyrinthine site.
There was no on-site transmission and the number of positive cases recorded was relatively low.
The company performed the most graphite inspections it had ever done during the last outage and Mr. Albishawi found the results reassuring.
“We continued to see that the kit is in such good condition, mainly because when it breaks down we really do all the work that needs to be done. We’re investing a lot of money to make sure the kit continues to generate safely and gives us another three years and that’s how we had our best run ever.
When it opened in May 1988, the plant was to close in 2018. The planned end of production date on the site was then postponed to 2030.
“Based on our inspections, we know how the graphite ages and we find that it is exactly what we expected, which tells me that the 2030 estimate is a good estimate,” Mr. Albishawi.
He believes that it would not be commercially viable to replace graphite.
However, Torness will continue to generate electricity long after some plants have reached the end of their life.
Hunterston in Ayrshire is expected to enter the emptying process later this year.
The generation stopped at the Dounreay factory in Caithness in 1994.
EDF announced earlier this month that it had decided to move Dungeness B in Kent to the unloading phase with immediate effect. The plant has been on extended shutdown since 2018, while EDF is grappling with technical challenges that it says have not been found at similar stations.
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EDF is building the Hinkley Point C plant in Somerset which will include two reactors. In January, the planned cost of the plant was increased from £ 500million to £ 23bn. The planned date for the start of production has been postponed to 2026 from 2025.
Mr Albishawi is confident that Torness will make a huge contribution to the Scottish energy mix and to the local community in the future.
“We have a fantastic asset. We offer something really special considering the net zero ambition.
After production ceases, there will be enormous amounts of activity on site for years to come during the fuel withdrawal and decommissioning processes.
Questions and answers
In which countries have you enjoyed traveling the most, for business or leisure, and why?
I visited China and Hong Kong on business before the Covid pandemic. I found the different approach and methodology to be a valuable learning experience.
For recreation, I like to travel to Indonesia. I am fascinated by culture, music and especially the incredible street food!
When you were a child, what was your ideal job? Why did he appeal?
I always wanted to be an engineer and I still love engineering. I like to understand how things work and found myself dismantling just about anything I could get my hands on. Putting things back in place, however, was another story!
What has been your biggest break in business?
During my tenure as Torness Station Manager, we set Torness’ record for best continuous execution of 865 days, safely generating enough carbon-free electricity to power every home in Scotland twice and avoid equivalent emissions of more than 2 million cars. This is up to every member of the Torness team and reflects our continuous learning as a company. I am incredibly proud of the Torness team, contractual partners and core teams for this exceptional achievement, which was achieved through excellent teamwork, professionalism and dedication.
What was your worst time in business?
The global Covid pandemic. I understand our responsibility to safely generate carbon-free electricity, especially when our hospitals rely on energy to save lives. All of our teams are affected by the global pandemic and it has been a huge challenge to ensure we fulfill our role in critical national infrastructure while ensuring that our people and community are protected. While this has been and continues to be a huge challenge, I am touched by the flexibility, professionalism and selflessness our staff have shown in ensuring that everyone has electricity when we have them. need.
Who do you admire the most and why?
I have always been grateful for the NHS and the support of our doctors and nurses. A very dedicated and incredibly knowledgeable nurse, Maeve, looked after our son through a difficult time. Not only was she exceptionally good at what she did, but she showed genuine empathy and selflessness while taking care of our son. It was personal and non-transactional and while I can’t imagine how difficult it must be for a nurse in a pediatric intensive care unit, what I saw was her passion and energy for her. ‘ensure children are happy during difficult times. Which person !
What book do you read and what music do you listen to? What was the last movie you saw?
I am fascinated by human psychology and reread Aubrey Daniels’ “Bringing Out The Best in People”. I love Spanish music, especially flamenco.
The last movie I saw was on our Friday family movie night, it was my 10 year old daughter, Tanya’s turn to pick and we watched Soul. Incredible movie!