UK nuclear safety culture strong, regulator says

11 October 2011

The UK chief nuclear regulator's final report on implications of the Fukushima Daiichi accident has found no fundamental safety weaknesses in the country's nuclear industry but says it can become even safer by learning lessons from Japan's experience.

 

Mike Weightman at Fukushima Daini, May 2011 (Greg Webb/IAEA)
Mike Weightman led the IAEA mission to Fukushima in June 2011 (Image: Greg Webb/IAEA)
The newly published 315-page report by Mike Weightman, the UK's chief inspector of nuclear installations and executive head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), expands on an interim report published in May.

 

The latest report provides additional information and evidence, and draws on national and international expert opinion including a fact-finding mission to Fukushima led by Weightman on behalf of the International Atomic Energy Agency in June. It also widens the scope of the report beyond UK nuclear generation sites to include non-generation sites such as Sellafield. Like the interim report, it does not examine nuclear policy issues.
 
The final report restates and reinforces the conclusions and recommendations outlined in the interim version, as well as adding further recommendations of its own. In total, Weightman concludes the UK can learn from the Japanese nuclear crisis in 38 areas, including reliance on off-site infrastructure (such as electrical grid supply in extreme events), emergency response arrangements, plant layout, risks associated with flooding, planning controls for development around nuclear facilities, and prioritising safety reviews.
 
The report finds that the practice of regular Periodic Safety Reviews at UK nuclear sites provides a robust method of ensuring continuous safety improvements. However, the Fukushima accident demonstrated problems when the vulnerabilities of older plant were not sufficiently recognised and addressed, leading to a conclusion that work on the program to clean up legacy wastes in ponds and silos at Sellafield must be pursued "with utmost vigour and determination."
 
Commenting on the report, Weightman expressed his confidence that UK nuclear facilities have no fundamental safety weaknesses, but emphasised there was no room for complacency. "Our philosophy is one of continuous improvement. No matter how high our standards, the quest for improvement must never stop. We will ensure lessons are learned from Fukushima," he promised.
 
UK environment minister Chris Huhne described the report as "thorough and comprehensive". Responding to the report in a written statement, he noted that the final report confirmed the interim report in seeing no reason to revise the strategic advice on which the UK's nuclear national policy statement is based, or any need to change present siting strategies for new nuclear power stations in the UK.
 
Huhne drew particular attention to recommendations that UK regulators, government and industry should review the country's ability to monitor and provide real-time information in an emergency; the robustness of emergency control structures and systems; and continue to promote high levels of safety culture particularly through "nuclear professionalism" schemes. He also observed that the findings of both the interim and final reports will be taken into account in the generic design assessment (GDA) process for new reactors currently underway in the UK, adding that regulators are hoping to be in a position to take a decision on the GDA by the end of the year.
 
UK nuclear industry players have been quick to endorse Weightman's final report. EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz promised to review the report's findings in detail and build them into the company's plans. "We have already committed to implementing his recommendations for us in full," he said. Meanwhile a statement from Sellafield Ltd particularly welcomed the recommendations on legacy wastes. "This is an area we have seen some real progress in this year and will continue to accelerate work as we deliver the commitments in our performance plan," the company said.
 
Weightman has asked for the UK nuclear industry to deliver progress reports to the ONR by June 2012, when he will make a report on the implementation of lessons learned.
 
Researched and written 

by World Nuclear News 

 

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