A remodelled nuclear regulator is required for the new era of nuclear power in Britain, although the regulations themselves will not change.
The move is the latest of many that UK legislators have made in their efforts to facilitate the building of nuclear power plants, which had been neglected for a decade.
The pace of change in the UK nuclear scene was illustrated by questions to EdF Energy at a supply chain forum yesterday.
Potential suppliers asked which of a variety of quality assurance standards would be required for new UK nuclear power plant components, but EdF Energy managers could only say this was still under discussion with regulators.
EdF Energy wants to break ground on its first UK reactor, probably Hinkley Point C-1, in 2011, with full construction coming in 2013 and commercial operation before the end of 2017. The reactor it wants to build, the Areva EPR, is mid-way through the Generic Design Assessment process.
In order to replace retiring nuclear reactors and meet a gap created by the early closure of certain coal fired units before 2020, it became necessary for the UK government to launch consultations on nuclear power and throw out a previously ambivalent policy. Planning approval procedures also had to be improved for renewables as well as nuclear, and an office to rapidly qualify new reactors for build had to be set up. British politicians have since been among the most vocal nuclear advocates in the world.
The new structure proposed yesterday in a consultation document would consolidate some earlier changes, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said, and create "a single, easily identifiable, body for regulating the civil nuclear energy sector." The new regulator would be a 'statutory corporation' reporting to ministers on regulatory matters and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as well as ministers on strategies and business planning.
Already, the operations of the Office for Civil Nuclear Security and the UK Safeguards Office have been moved to the Nuclear Directorate of the HSE. Naming a new version of the the body responsible for these functions will make the changes official and complete.
The end result should be the Nuclear Directorate covering the following areas as a single independent authority:
- Civil nuclear power reactors
- Nuclear chemical and research sites
- Defence nuclear facilities
- New nuclear reactor generic design assessment
- Civil nuclear security
It will also take over regulation of the tranport of radioactive materials from the Department for Transport.