Report concludes Britain’s nuclear industry is safe

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Japanese earthquake and tsunami – Implications for the UK nuclear industry - .PDF file.

There are no fundamental safety weaknesses in Britain’s nuclear industry, according to a report requested by the government following Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi accident.

The report, published by Mike Weightman, chief inspector of nuclear installations, concludes, however, that lessons learnt from Fukushima can be employed in the UK to make its nuclear industry even safer.

In the report, Weightman, who is also executive head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation, points to government, industry and regulators to review 38 areas where he believes lessons can be learned in the UK from the nuclear crisis in Japan.

These include reliance on off-site infrastructure such as the electrical grid supply in extreme events, emergency-response arrangements, layout of plant, risks associated with flooding, planning controls around nuclear facilities and prioritising safety reviews.

The report, requested by the UK government, was published in interim form on 18 May. Since then, Dr Weightman has drawn on national and international expert opinion, and led a fact-finding mission to Japan in June — including a visit to the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant — to compile a thorough analysis of the evidence that has emerged to date.

In a statement Weightman said: ‘I remain confident that our UK nuclear facilities have no fundamental safety weaknesses. The Office for Nuclear Regulation already requires protection of nuclear sites against the worst-case scenarios that are predictable for the UK. But we are not complacent. Our philosophy is one of continuous improvement.’

Responding to Weightman’s final review, Tom Foulkes, director general of the  Institution of Civil Engineers, said: ‘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.

‘Weightman’s review has rightly set the standards high for UK nuclear, putting the onus on industry to strive for continued improvements in safety and risk assessment. Ensuring these lessons are understood at every level of delivery is crucial to minimising project risks.’

‘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,’ added Alistair Smith, chairman of the Power Industry Division at IMechE.

‘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.’

Weightman’s report was requested by Chris Huhne, 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 nuclear power station.

A report will be published next year on progress in implementing the lessons for the UK.