The UK's nuclear regulators have given their initial approval to all four reactor designs proposed for the country's next generation of nuclear power plants.
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) and the Environment Agency (EA) announced that the initial stage of the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) conducted on the four designs had found no shortfalls - in terms of safety, security and the environment - that would prevent any of them being licensed in the UK.
The four designs subject to the initial assessment were: Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd's (AECL's) 1200 MWe ACR1000 pressurized heavy water reactor (PHWR); Areva's 1600 MWe European Pressurized Water Reactor (EPR); General Electric-Hitachi's (GEH's) 1550 MWe Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR); and, Westinghouse's 1100 MWe AP1000 PWR.
The regulators' findings were based on the claims made by the vendors of the designs, the basis of which will be assessed during subsequent stages of the GDA. The vendors must now confirm to the regulators whether they are interested in continuing to the next stage of the GDA process.
Mike Weightman, head of the HSE's Nuclear Directorate, said: "As new nuclear power stations are being considered for the UK, it is vital for regulators to get involved with potential designs at the earliest stage - where regulatory assessments can have the most influence - so that we can ensure that the existing high standards of nuclear safety and security in the UK are being maintained and improved." He added, "The GDA process has set out new standards in openness and transparency with the creation of a public involvement process whereby the public can view designs on the web and comment on them, and by our decision to publish all our assessments reports on the web."
Joe McHugh, head of radioactive substances regulation at the EA, said: "We demand that any new nuclear power stations meet high standards of safety, security and environment protection. As we begin the detailed assessment step of GDA, the reactor vendors and the regulators have much work to do before we will be able to decide whether these designs can meet those high standards."
The UK government said in January that, if necessary, it would run a prioritization exercise to identify, in conjunction with reactor designers and operators, which of the four designs subject to the regulator's initial assessment are most likely to be progressed for licensing and construction.
At the end of the GDA process - expected to take over three years to complete - the regulators will make statements setting out their conclusions about the acceptability of each of the designs. The regulators' assessments of any subsequent specific site applications will take into account the GDA work they have carried out and should take about a further year to complete.
The HSE, through its HM Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), grants site licences to allow the construction and operation of nuclear power plants in the UK. Through its Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS), it regulates security at all the country's civil nuclear sites.
Early in 2008 the new White Paper on Nuclear Power put nuclear energy at the heart of the UK government's response to the need for secure, safe, affordable, low-carbon energy supplies. The government invited energy companies to bring forward plans to build and operate new nuclear power plants.