Consultation has started on the UK nuclear industry's required legal justification of new build plans.
The Justification exercise is required under EU law to ensure that nuclear power developments are in the public interest. Conducted at a high level and using generic terms, it essentially means to show that the overall benefits of the use of ionising radiation in the generation of power outweigh any health detriment.
A document setting out the industry's beliefs on this was submitted by the UK's Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) to the Department for Energy and Climate Change (Decc) at the end of November. The department has now made it available for comment during a consultation period which lasts until March 2009.
Mike O'Brien, the minister at the head of Decc, said: "Justification is just one step on the way to new nuclear. There will be many more opportunities for the public to have their say along the road, such as siting and planning applications." It is O'Brien that will take the eventual decision on the Justification process, to be announced and consulted on late in 2009 before a final decision in January 2010.
Four 'classes of practice' using ionising radiation to generate electricity have been outlined by the NIA - one for each reactor design lodged with safety regulators for Generic Design Assessment (AECL ACR-1000, Areva EPR, GE-Hitachi ESBWR, and Westinghouse AP1000). These are to be considered individually for Justification as 'new practices' because of the material differences between modern reactor technology and the UK's existing nuclear fleet, notwithstanding the pressurized water reactor at Sizewell B.
The UK new-build scene is centred on Electricité de France's (EdF's) takeover of British Energy and plans to build two pairs of 1600 MWe EPR power units. Two more of the same reactor are expected from EOn, while the industry awaits announcements of proposals to deploy Westinghouse AP1000 units. In all, some 14,000 MWe of new nuclear capacity could soon be on the drawing board.
The NIA said it had support in preparing the Justification application from British Energy, EdF, EOn, RWE, Vattenfall and Iberdrola.
In the Justification document, the NIA concludes that the maximum additional radiation dose to a member of the public from new nuclear build would be less than 0.3 mSv per year, while "average individual doses to the UK population as a whole have been shown to be so low as to be of no concern."
Meanwhile, nuclear power's strengths in low-carbon generation and energy security would yield economic benefits to the UK. The document says the "likelihood of an accident and associated economic penalties is so remote it can be discounted."