Report considers lessons of Fukushima for the UK

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An interim report published today says lessons should be learned from the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station but that events in Japan should not curtail Britain’s nuclear operations.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the report identifies 25 recommended areas for review — by either industry, the government or regulators — to determine if sensible and appropriate measures can further improve safety in the UK nuclear industry.

These include reviews of the layout of UK power plants, emergency-response arrangements, dealing with prolonged loss of power supplies and the risks associated with flooding.

The 26th recommendation calls for plans to be published by the middle of June detailing how each of these 25 matters will be addressed.

‘The extreme natural events that preceded the accident at Fukushima — the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent huge tsunami — are not credible in the UK,’ said report author Mike Weightman, executive head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the UK’s chief inspector of nuclear installations.

‘We are 1,000 miles from the nearest fault line and we have safeguards in place that protect against even very remote hazards. Our operating and proposed future reactor designs and technology are different to the type at the Fukushima plant.

‘But we are not complacent. No matter what the differences are, and how high the standard of design and subsequent operation of the nuclear facilities here in the UK, the quest for improvement must never stop. Seeking to learn from events and from new knowledge, both nationally and internationally, must continue to be a fundamental feature of the safety culture of the UK nuclear industry.’

One recommendation suggests: ‘The UK nuclear industry should ensure the adequacy of any new spent fuel strategies compared with the expectations in the Safety Assessment Principles of passive safety and good engineering practice.’

‘Learning from Fukushima, this report makes clear the need to minimise the quantity of spent fuel stored on UK reactor sites, which is to be welcomed,’ said Prof Neil Hyatt, RAEng/NDA Chair in Radioactive Waste Management at Sheffield University.

‘More broadly, the indefinite storage of substantial quantities of radioactive wastes in aged facilities on multiple UK nuclear sites must be subject to similar challenge. There is a clear need to process such wastes into passive safe materials to reduce on-site hazards, particularly in relation to an unforeseen and severe accident.’

The interim report was requested by the secretary of state for energy and climate change within days of the earthquake and subsequent tsunami of 11 March that led to the crisis at Fukushima Dai-ichi. The full report will be published in September.

Despite events in Japan, nuclear power must remain part of the solution says IMechE’s engineering chief Colin Brown. Click here to read more.

Report recommendations include:

  • The UK nuclear industry should initiate a review of flooding studies, including from tsunamis, in light of the Japanese experience, to confirm the design basis and margins for flooding at UK nuclear sites, and whether there is a need to improve further site-specific flood risk assessments as part of the periodic safety review programme, and for any new reactors. This should include sea-level protection.
  • The UK nuclear industry should ensure that the design of new spent fuel ponds close to reactors minimises the need for bottom penetrations and lines that are prone to siphoning faults. Any that are necessary should be as robust to faults as are the ponds themselves.
  • The UK nuclear industry should review the need for, and if required, the ability to provide longer-term coolant supplies to nuclear sites in the UK in the event of a severe off-site disruption, considering whether further on-site supplies or greater off-site capability is needed. This relates to both carbon dioxide and fresh water supplies, and for existing and proposed new plants.
  • The UK nuclear industry should review, and if necessary extend, analysis of accident sequences for long-term severe accidents. This should identify appropriate repair and recovery strategies to the point at which a stable state is achieved, identifying any enhanced requirements for central stocks of equipment and logistical support.