Finalised UK energy plans go before parliament

23 June 2011

The UK's finalised Energy National Policy Statements (NPS), which set the stage for planning decisions on energy infrastructure projects including nuclear, have been formally published ready for debate in parliament.

The publication of the NPSs is the culmination of a process that began with a consultation on six draft statements for energy infrastructure, which ran from November 2009 to February 2010. A formal response had been expected later that year but following UK general elections in May 2010 the country's coalition government subsequently decided to launch a further consultation in October 2010. The relaunched consultation closed on 24 January 2011 after receiving over two and a half thousand responses.

The nuclear NPS lists the eight sites which are recognised as potentially suitable for the deployment of new nuclear power stations by 2025: Bradwell, Hartlepool, Heysham, Hinkley Point, Oldbury, Sellafield, Sizewell and Wylfa. All are already home to existing nuclear power plants with the exception of Sellafield, which is home to fuel cycle facilities but not to an operating nuclear power plant. Three other sites (Braystones, Dungeness and Kirksanton) were removed from the list in October 2010.

Announcing the publication of the statements, energy minister Charles Hendry said they formed a key part of UK plans to move to a low carbon future while protecting the security of energy supplies, providing a clear framework for decision making on planning applications for major energy infrastructure. "Industry needs as much certainty as possible to make such big investments. These plans set out our energy need to help guide the planning process, so that if acceptable proposals come forward in appropriate places, they will not face unnecessary hold-ups," he said, adding that the government is "determined to make the UK a truly attractive market for investors."

Around a quarter of the UK's generating capacity is scheduled for closure before the end of the decade, Hendry said, and would need to be replaced by secure, low carbon, affordable energy. The NPSs set out the need for new energy infrastructure, including electricity from a mixed portfolio of all types of generation, and set out national policy on a number of key energy policy areas. Five NPSs covering specific technologies - fossil fuels, renewables, gas supply and gas and oil pipelines, electricity networks, and nuclear - sit below an overarching energy NPS.

Lessons learned

The draft NPSs have been scrutinised in both the UK's parliamentary houses and the finalised statements include considerations from the responses to the consultation as well as the interim report of UK chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman on lessons to be learned from events at Fukushima.

In response to Weightman's interim report, published on 18 May, the government has amended one paragraph of the NPS on nuclear power generation to set out that, in addition to identifying the effects of the credible maximum scenario in the most recent projections of marine and coastal flooding, developers should demonstrate that in principle adaptation to such a scenario would be possible. "Aside from that, the government does not consider that the interim report results in changes to the planning guidance contained within the NPS," it says in its formal response to the consultation, which has been published alongside the NPSs.

The NPSs will now be debated in parliament before being ratified, at a date to be confirmed.

Warm welcome

The publication of the NPSs was welcomed by the would-be builders of new UK nuclear power plants.

EDF Energy, which owns and operates eight of the UK's nuclear power plants and has plans to build four new ones, said the documents were a key step in the planning process for all types of energy infrastructure. The company said it was encouraged to note broad cross-party support on the need for new nuclear which had been restated by senior politicians from all the UK's main parties in recent weeks.

"These steps are important as we and our partner Centrica progress plans for new build at Hinkley Point and Sizewell," the company said.

The Horizon Nuclear Power joint venture by EOn UK and RWE npower, which plans to build at Wylfa and Oldbury, also welcomed the move.

Horizon COO Alan Raymant said the statements represented another step forward towards the delivery of new nuclear developments in the UK. "Both Wylfa and Oldbury are excellent sites for new build and approved National Policy Statements are necessary to allow us to progress our planning applications. We're keen to see timely consideration of these important documents in parliament," he said.

Raymant also pointed to the importance of the current Generic Design Assessment being carried out by the UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation. "The Generic Design Assessment timetable has quite rightly been adapted to make sure any lessons learned from the events in Japan can be incorporated, enabling us to set out a clear, confident safety case alongside our planning application," he said.

Researched and written

by World Nuclear News