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Energy: Nuclear Power

House of Lords written question – answered on 6th April 2011.

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Photo of Lord Boswell of Aynho Lord Boswell of Aynho Conservative

To ask Her Majesty's Government what lessons they have learned from (a) the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and subsequent measures introduced in the United Kingdom to protect the human population and the environment, and (b) the Fukishima nuclear disaster, for the future British nuclear power programme.

Photo of Lord Marland Lord Marland The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change

The 1988 report of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), The Chernobyl Accident and its Consequences, set out the cause of the accident and three main lessons for the United Kingdom, which are listed below with an explanation of the position today in each case:

"There needs to be a strong nuclear safety regulator, independent from the organisations responsible for operating and promoting nuclear power"

The UK's nuclear regulatory system and its delivery are regularly examined by the IAEA's International Regulatory Review Service which has noted, in particular, the maturity and transparency of the regulatory system and advanced review process, and that it is backed up by highly trained, expert and experienced nuclear inspectors. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) took over the role of nuclear regulator from the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive from 1 April and is intended further to enhance the regulator's independence, flexibility and accountability so that it maintains a world leading reputation as a strong regulator in the face of the current and future challenges of the nuclear sector.

"The nuclear safety regulator needs the technical capability to assess and challengeoperators' safety analyses"

The Chernobyl reactor design was reviewed by the UKAEA against the then current safety assessment principles issued by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) and found to have a number of major shortcomings that would have precluded its licensing in the UK. NII (now part of the ONR) has revised these principles twice in the intervening period to ensure that they continue to reflect modern practice, and international standards and guidance. The ONR has been established such that it will have the flexibilities it needs to develop and capitalise on its technical capability to promote high standards of nuclear safety and security for UK citizens and society.

"Operators must ensure that a proper safety culture permeates all activities on their nuclear site"

For many years, the UK nuclear regulator has worked with the nuclear operators at the most senior levels to ensure that excellence in leadership and management for safety is given the appropriate high priority. The creation of the ONR provides a platform to give renewed impetus to this.

My right honourable friend the Secretary of State has asked UK Chief Nuclear Inspector Dr Mike Weightman to provide a report to the Government on the implications of the unprecedented events in Japan and the lessons to be learned for the UK nuclear industry.

He has asked for an interim report by mid-May 2011 and a final report within six months. The reports will be published in the public domain.

The Chief Nuclear Inspector made a statement on 29 March outlining the broad areas that would be included in the scope of his report: http://www.hse.gov.uk/nuclear/fukushima/statement-290311..htm.

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