UK chief nuclear inspector issues performance report

11 October 2019

While the UK nuclear industry met the required safety and security standards last year, there remains room for improvement, the country's Chief Nuclear Inspector Mark Foy said today in his first annual report on the sector's performance. He said three key areas of focus are the management of ageing facilities, conventional health and safety, and delivering a holistic approach to nuclear security.

Mark Foy (left) at the Hinkley Point C construction site (Image: ONR)

"The report provides an independent, authoritative view of the nuclear industry's safety, security and safeguards performance," said Foy, the regulatory head at the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR). "It underpins our commitment to being open and transparent and aligns ONR to similar practice by other UK regulators and our international peers.

"The nuclear landscape has continued to evolve at pace this year. In this report, we recognise notable progress in the industry's management of the nation's historic nuclear legacy, as well as specific challenges arising from ageing operational facilities across the power generation and nuclear weapon and propulsion estates. We have further recognised the inherent uncertainties across the new nuclear build programme."

In November 2018, ONR provided EDF NNB Generation Company with consent to commence pouring of concrete for the nuclear island of unit 1 of the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant in Somerset, England. "In taking that decision, we have confidence that NNB GenCo is achieving the high levels of assurance and quality control necessary to build a nuclear reactor and has the appropriate arrangements in place to ensure similar standards are achieved through its supply chain," the report says.

Considerable progress with hazard and risk reduction and decommissioning has been made across the UK's 21 decommissioning, fuel and waste sites, Foy says. At Sellafield, progress has been made on the removal of volumes of radioactive waste and used fuel from legacy ponds, and preparations are under way for retrievals from the legacy silos.

Foy said ONR's focus at Sellafield will be on securing timely retrievals from the silos and delivery of modern facilities for storage of legacy waste and special nuclear materials. It will also engage with stakeholders to ensure that Sellafield retains the organisational capability to deliver safe and accelerated hazardous remediation and risk reduction.

Notable progress towards decommissioning and hazard reduction at other sites has also been made, the report says. These include the entry of the Bradwell plant into a period of care and maintenance, and significant work towards addressing legacy waste at the Hunterston A and Berkeley plants. A new facility has been constructed at Capenhurst for the storage of depleted uranium oxide. A significant portion of "special nuclear material" has also been transferred from Dounreay to Sellafield.

Room for improvement

"Despite many positive advances in the year, certain dutyholders continue to attract enhanced or significantly enhanced levels of regulatory attention in a security context," Foy's report says. In most cases this was due to a combination of factors that include continued development of security arrangements, competence, capability and capacity and continuing work on the movement and storage of nuclear material, it added.

"I am satisfied that the nuclear industry has overall continued to meet the requisite high standards of safety and security to protect workers and the public," Foy said. "However, where dutyholders have fallen short of such standards, we have focussed our attention accordingly to ensure that they have plans in place to improve their performance and return to routine levels of regulatory attention in a timely manner."

Foy has specifically challenged industry to deliver improved performance on three key themes in 2019-20 and onwards.

"Firstly, there are significant challenges associated with ageing facilities, which require sustained focus and commitment to ongoing investment in plant, people and processes to ensure continued safe and secure operation, such that hazards are adequately controlled," he said.

He also noted that the ONR has seen a reduction in conventional health and safety performance in certain sectors of the industry. "Renewed efforts are required to ensure this performance improves and the trend is reversed," Foy said. "This is particularly relevant as considerable work is either underway or planned by the nuclear industry in new build construction, post-operational clean out, decommissioning and demolition."

The third area for improvement is enhancing the security culture within organisations. "The implementation of our Security Assessment Principles across the sector is a real opportunity to deliver improved organisational ownership and cultural change on security matters," Foy said.

"Our top priorities continue to be delivery of our core regulatory functions, holding industry to account on behalf of the public."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News