UK nuclear gets go-ahead

UK nuclear gets go-ahead after Fukushima review

A review of the UK’s nuclear industry after Fukushima says there is no reason to curtail nuclear operations in Britain.

Dr Mike Weightman’s final report into the consequences of Japan’s Fukushima disaster on the UK also found there were no fundamental weaknesses in Britain’s licensing regime or safety assessment principals.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who published the findings today, said: "The report makes clear that the UK has one of the best nuclear safety regimes in the world, and that nuclear power can go on powering homes and businesses across the UK, as well as supporting jobs.

"We must, however, continue to improve where we can, not just with operating power stations and new sites, but by dealing with our nuclear legacy in a robust and efficient manner too."

In a written statement to MPs, Huhne said the final review confirmed the interim findings in May, that new nuclear could be a part of the low-carbon energy mix in the UK. Following the publication of the interim findings, the Government signalled that a new generation of UK nuclear power plants, which ministers say are necessary to keep the lights on and cut carbon, was on track. The Government has also confirmed eight sites it believes are suitable for new nuclear plants, all of which are adjacent to existing reactors.

But environmental campaigners have criticised the Government for pushing forward with new nuclear power plants before lessons could be learned from the Fukushima disaster and have raised a number of concerns about the review.

Greenpeace is also pursuing a judicial review over the Government's decision to give the go-ahead to new reactors before the final report was published.

Dr Weightman, who led a visit to Japan and Fukushima in June, insisted that, although it was only six months since the disaster, it was possible to have drawn "reliable conclusions and identified the main lessons to improve safety". "I remain confident that our UK nuclear facilities have no fundamental safety weaknesses,” he said.

"The Office for Nuclear Regulation already requires protection of nuclear sites against the worst-case scenarios that are predictable for the UK," Dr Weightman said.

The report said the events that hit the Japanese power plant, including a 46ft high tsunami, which shut down the power to the reactors and knocked out their cooling facilities, "are far beyond the most extreme natural events that the UK would be expected to experience".

But Dr Weightman said regulators were not complacent. "No matter how high our standards, the quest for improvement must never stop.

"We will ensure lessons are learned from Fukushima. Action has already been taken in many cases, with work under way to further enhance safety at UK sites."

There are 38 recommendations in the report, including reviewing the reliance on off-site infrastructure such as the power grid in the case of a disaster, and looking at flooding studies to make sure nuclear sites are sufficiently protected.

The final review did not find any significant defects in the UK's approach to nuclear regulation, which includes periodic safety reviews every 10 years. But the report found the example of the weaknesses of the ageing Fukushima reactors highlighted the need to deal with facilities such as Sellafield's legacy fuel storage ponds and waste storage silos "with the utmost vigour and determination".

Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) director-general Tom Foulkes said that, following the report, the nuclear industry could move forward with the programme to build new reactors with renewed confidence. "Nuclear is a vital part of the UK's energy mix - at present there is no other viable, low-carbon alternative to replace baseload generation from gas and coal-fired plants set to come offline in the next decade.”

But Louise Hutchins, from Greenpeace, said: "This looks like a rushed report, before the full implications are known about Fukushima. It's designed with one objective - to give the green light to a new generation of nuclear power stations, irrespective of the safety, environmental or rising financial costs of those nuclear stations. This is Government complacency.”

Alistair Smith, of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: "This meticulous review should reassure the public that UK nuclear engineers work to the most stringent safety regulations and that we will proceed with an even safer regime when building our new generation of nuclear plants over the course of the current decade.

"I hope work can now progress to finalise the generic design assessments in the UK, as the fact remains that without new nuclear power we stand no chance of meeting out climate change obligations and the very real possibility of the UK's lights turning off in a decade's time."

Further reading:

Read the Dr Mike Weightman’s full report, Japanese earthquake and tsunami: Implications for the UK nuclear industry.

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