NEW fears have emerged over the safety of an ageing nuclear reactor at Oldbury Power Station following the publication of a "shocking" report.

A top nuclear expert has warned that the decision to allow the reactor to re-start after two years of tests, even though an extra safety system had not been fitted, was "deeply alarming".

It comes after an internal report was made public under the Freedom of Information Act, which stated that the reactor was not safe enough to operate for the next 18 months but allowed it to carry on operating on a temporary basis until November.

The heavily censored documents reveal that the the Nuclear Installation Inspectorate (NII) pressed for a safety system, which would automatically shut down the reactor in the event of a fire.

But the watchdog body accepted power station operator British Nuclear Group's response that returning the reactor to full working order was more pressing than fitting the device.

Nuclear consultant John Large said he was "disturbed" by the contents of the report.

He said: "If the reactor is said to be unsafe to operate for its last 18 months then it's highly unlikely to be safe for six months."

The report, released to the Shut Oldbury campaign, also revealed a one-in-1,000 risk of a fire at the plant.

Local Green party activist Cllr Philip Booth told the Gazette that he thought allowing the plant to restart without the safety trip was "wholly unacceptable".

He added: "It is quite shocking that despite the NII casting doubts on the nuclear company's ability to cope with exceptional circumstances they still allowed the reactor to start up last month.

"We must immediately and permanently close this 39-year-old dinosaur that is the oldest and most corroded reactor in the country."

Jim Duffy, spokesman for the Shut Oldbury campaign, said: "The oldest and most corroded reactor in the country should not be subject to this level of relaxation of standards. Despite being heavily censored, the safety report was dotted with examples of cautions being overruled."

The report predates the May 30 fire at the power station, when the number two reactor was shut down after a blaze broke out in insulation materials surrounding a generating transformer.

NII spokesman Mark Wheeler said the safety trip was an additional safety measure to deal with a single clad meltdown, which was very unlikely, and that standard shut down systems were in operation at Oldbury.

He said: "We have to look at the likelihood of such an event and the risk it poses to people, both of which are very low, and we are therefore satisfied that it would be disproportionate to insist that the licensees install this system in the short term.

"We understand that people are frightened of nuclear plants but we are not relaxing our standards."