A DECISION on the future of the nuclear reactors switched off at Hunterston B amid safety fears is set to be taken by safety experts within a matter of weeks.

Bosses at the plant say that safety remains paramount to the decision whether to return reactors three and four to operation, with their fate now lying in the hands of industry watchdogs.

Reactor three has not been used to generate electricity since around 370 cracks in the graphite bricks around its core last March.

Station chiefs hit back this week after experts issued a stark warning about the potential risks in reopening them.

Independent consultant on radioactivity in the environment Dr Ian Fairlie and Dr David Toke, from the University of Aberdeen, spoke about the cracks in the reactor and issued a warning about potential hazards and the fallout to surrounding Scottish cities if something went wrong.

The safety case for reactor four is still with the regulator for assessment and is going through a rigorous process while reactor three's has still to be put forward by the energy company.

The decision that the regulators from the Office of Nuclear Regulation make will be based on rigorous assessment, with operators EDF Energy admitting they have asked the the operational allowance in the number of cracks be extended to 700.

EDF Energy told the News that the physical and computer modelling carried out in normal and extreme seismic operations shows conclusively that the reactor will still operate and shutdown as designed - with absolutely no erosion of safety.

The energy company says the current operational allowance is set far below anything that would challenge the safe shutdown of the reactor.

A spokeswoman for EDF Energy said: “Neither EDF Energy nor the UK nuclear safety regulator would ever allow the Hunterston B reactors to restart unless completely satisfied that it’s safe to do so.

"Nuclear safety drives everything we do.

"This means we work within very large safety margins. The regulator is completely independently reviewing the safety case for reactor four before deciding whether or not to approve for return to service.

"Our current best estimate is that we’ll be back online by 24 June, but it will take as long as it needs to.”

Station director Colin Weir said: "The ONR will, completely independently, review the case before deciding whether or not to approve for return to service.

"It is not possible for us to confirm with certainty how long this process will take; our top priority is that it’s completed with appropriate rigour.

"We have also declared 31 July for Reactor 3, an adjustment from the previous date of 30 June."

Only reactors three and four have been operational in recent past, with the reactors 1 and 2 belonging to Hunterston 'A' which is closed and now in the process of decommissioning.

Original forecasts for the future of Hunterston B was it was expected to be operational until 2023.