The UK’s principal nuclear regulators have published guidance for an integrated approach to assessing the safety of nuclear power station designs for the protection of people and the environment.
‘The Generic Assessment of Candidate Nuclear Power Plant Design’ has been jointly published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Environment Agency (EA), the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and the Department of Trade and Industry’s Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS).
According to the regulators, early scrutiny of designs will help ensure regulatory resources are applied at a stage when greater influence can be brought to bear.
The government’s report on the Energy Review, ‘The Energy Challenge’, released on 11 July 2006, stated government’s belief that nuclear power should have a role in the future UK generating mix, alongside other low-carbon options. Since then, the Department for Trade and Industry has carried out further consultation on the policy framework for new nuclear build, and will be publishing its findings in a White Paper later this year.
The Environment Agency (England and Wales) regulates radioactive waste disposal, air quality, cooling water discharges and operation of conventional plant, such as emergency stand-by power supplies and radioactive waste incinerators. It is also involved in flood risk management, contaminated land remediation and construction waste disposal.
‘Although, ultimately, the Government will decide whether or not nuclear power stations are needed to meet the UK’s energy demands, the Environment Agency insists all nuclear installations meet high standards of safety, security, environmental performance and waste management,’ said Environment Agency Head of Radioactive Substances Regulation Joe McHugh.
‘Assessing designs at an early stage is good for the environment and safety because we can influence the design so as to ensure people and the environment are properly protected. It is good for the public and other stakeholders because they can be well informed and engaged as part of our decision making, and it is good for the companies involved as they can make better informed investment decisions.’
The new guidance outlines the information reactor vendors, potential operators and other interested parties will be expected to provide so their proposals can be assessed.
It also lists the processes that will be followed to ensure the assessment of generic designs is rigorous and robust, conducted in an open and transparent manner, subject to nuclear security and commercially-confidential restrictions, and involves stakeholders, including the public, at an early stage.
At the end of the generic assessment, the regulators will each provide their views about the acceptability of a new nuclear power station design.
‘If an application is made to build a new nuclear power station on a specific site, the regulators will follow their existing regulatory processes before deciding whether or not to issue a nuclear site licence, environmental authorisations and permits, and security plan approval,’ said McHugh.
‘Where these site-specific applications are based on a generic design that has undergone assessment, the regulators will take full account of the work they have already carried out and would continue to work together at all stages. ‘