The benefits of new nuclear reactor technology will outweigh any potential health detriments, according to a formal Justification application submitted to the UK government on behalf of the country's nuclear energy industry.
The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA), a trade association representing the UK's civil nuclear industry, submitted the document with support from would-be builders of new UK plants British Energy, EDF, EOn, RWE, Vattenfall and Iberdrola. The NIA says its high-level assessment of the benefits of new technology such as the AP1000, ESBWR and EPR reactor designs concludes that the security of supply and carbon reduction benefits of nuclear new build would more than make up for the limited potential for any adverse health effects. NIA chief executive Keith Parker said: "We feel the application is extremely comprehensive and puts a very strong case that the net benefits of new nuclear power far outweigh any possible detriments."
'Justification' is a vital part of the process before any new nuclear power plant can be built in the UK and is required under European Union legislation. Following internationally established radiological protection principles, its purpose is to ensure that no practice involving exposure to ionising radiation - in this case, the construction of new nuclear power plants - is adopted unless it produces sufficient benefits to the exposed individuals or to society in general to offset any potential health detriment. Although described by the NIA as an "important milestone" on the way to new build, any new projects will still require full regulatory approvals in due course.
In March, the UK government's Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) formally issued an invitation to the country's nuclear industry to bring forward new reactor designs for a Justification Decision, with a closing date of 7 June. The entire Justification Decision process, including a formal consultation, is expected to take up to 18 months and is generic rather than specific to any particular site. It is independent of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) and Strategic Siting Assessment (SSA) currently being undertaken by the UK government to help facilitate nuclear new build.
EOn joins up
Separately, the NIA announced that EOn, one of the utilities supporting the Justification application, has become a member of the UK trade association. The German-based power company is one of the UK's leading electricity generators and distributors, as well as a power and gas retailer. Its UK generation portfolio includes wind farms and biomass as well as fossil plants, and the company plans to be part of any nuclear new build. "EOn intends to participate fully in this nuclear future through building at least two reactors, as part of a balanced portfolio," said EOn UK chief executive Paul Golby.