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Dr Mike Weightman's interim report, 'Japanese earthquake and tsunami: Implications for the UK nuclear industry': Written Ministerial Statement by The Rt Hon Chris Huhne MP - 18 May 2011

Today I have laid before the House the Chief Nuclear Inspector’s interim report on the events at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear site in …

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government


Today I have laid before the House the Chief Nuclear Inspector’s interim report on the events at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear site in March.

Dr. Mike Weightman, supported by his colleagues in the Office for Nuclear Regulation, produced this independent report which examines the immediate lessons learned for the UK nuclear industry. The final report is due in September.

Safety is and will continue to be our number one priority. We take the incident at Fukushima very seriously. Although the plant is stabilising, the situation remains critical. However, progress in securing the site is being made; and the operator, TEPCO, has outlined a roadmap to recover the plant during the next year.

Dr Weightman believes that there is sufficient information available for his interim report to reach a number of conclusions and recommendations, which have concentrated on potential lessons for the nuclear power reactor sector. However some of his recommendations are relevant to all sectors. His final report will cover all of the nuclear industry in more detail.
Dr Weightman has drawn a number of conclusions. He states that the direct causes of the nuclear accident - a magnitude 9 earthquake and associated 14 metre high tsunami - are far beyond the most extreme events the UK could expect to experience. In this respect he concludes there is no reason for curtailing the operation of nuclear power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK. Nevertheless Dr Weightman notes severe events can occur from other causes, and that learning from such events is fundamental to the robustness of our nuclear safety arrangements. I can therefore confirm that once further work on the recommendations is completed any proposed improvements to safety arrangements will be considered and implemented in line with our normal nuclear safety regulatory approach.

The interim report also identifies various matters that should be reviewed to improve the safety of the UK nuclear industry. I consider it an absolute priority that the regulators, industry and Government act responsibly to learn from the 26 recommendations in the report; and to respond to them within one month of today’s publication.

Dr Weightman’s recommendations require the review of a wide range of nuclear safety matters, including international and national emergency response arrangements, public contingency planning, communications and the review of flooding studies, site & plant layouts, electricity & cooling supplies, multi reactor site considerations, spent fuel strategies and dealing with prolonged accidents. I very much welcome this approach, and I believe it is vitally important that the Regulators and Industry continue to adhere to the principle of continuous improvement for all existing and future nuclear sites and facilities. The interim report does not identify any implications for the strategic siting assessment of new reactors and I do not believe the final report will either.

In taking this important work forward Dr Weightman deserves our thanks. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently noted that the UK has a mature, transparent and independent regulatory system, an advanced review process, and highly trained and experienced nuclear inspectors. The reputation of the UK’s regulatory regime is further endorsed by the appointment of Dr Weightman to head up the IAEA’s review of events in Japan. I would like to congratulate him on his appointment, which reinforces our belief that he is the right person to consider the lessons learned for the UK’s own nuclear industry.

In light of the events at Fukushima, we have agreed with our European colleagues that the safety of existing nuclear sites and equipment in the EU should be subject to “stress testing”. We believe these stress tests will supplement the UK’s already robust regulatory regime. The scope of the stress test is currently being developed by the European Nuclear Safety Regulators Group and the European Commission.

My officials will review carefully the interim report, but from my discussions with Dr. Weightman I see no reason why we should not proceed with our current policy: namely that nuclear should be part of the future energy mix in the future as it is today, providing that there is no public subsidy.

This policy has recently been supported by the Committee on Climate Change in its ‘Renewable Energy Review’ which states that “nuclear should play a key role in taking Britain towards a clean prosperous future as it is a safe power and the lowest cost, large scale, low-carbon electricity source.”

Subject to careful consideration of the detail of Dr Weightman’s interim report, I intend to bring forward for ratification as soon as possible the Energy National Policy Statements, which are principally about the planning guidance on energy infrastructure for the IPC but will also include a list of potential sites for nuclear power stations.

Any further implications from the final report can be taken onboard subsequently. Regulators and industry will continue to work together to take forward the generic design assessment process. They will need to factor into this work the recommendations outlined in the interim report. We encourage them to work together in setting out their timeline for conclusion of the process.

I strongly welcome Dr Weightman’s interim report. I encourage the Regulators to work closely with industry and other partners to take the recommendations forward, and I look forward to receiving the final report in the autumn.

I commend this statement to the House.

Published 18 May 2011