Preparing for and responding to energy emergencies
Over recent years the UK has had a strong, secure and resilient energy system, but this is no reason for complacency. The government accepts it can’t completely remove the possibility of disruption to energy supplies caused by, for example, weather-related hazards, accidents, malicious events or industrial action.
This guide gives an outline of the plans and resources available to tackle emergencies which have the potential to affect oil, gas and electricity production and supply, and the civil nuclear establishment. The Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) has a specific role and responsibilities in the event of an emergency - these are explained in detail.
The guide also lists contact numbers for upstream incidents.
The government maintains capabilities to lead a national response to emergencies of all kinds, including those that affect energy. The Cabinet Office co-ordinates across government, and as appropriate with the devolved administrations, plans and responds to emergencies. Overarching policy and the main programmes for delivering and maintaining preparedness and mitigating risk are set out in the UK resilience section of the Cabinet Office website.
DECC works with industry, regulators, sector bodies and other stakeholders to maintain the resilience of the energy infrastructure, networks and assets and to reduce vulnerabilities. It also maintains emergency response arrangements to:
- reduce the impact in the event of a disruption to gas, electricity or oil and fuel supplies
- ensure recovery as soon as possible in the aftermath of any such incident or emergency
Downstream oil refers to the supply of oil from its production at refineries to its final consumption by end users.
Managing a downstream oil emergency
Technical incidents in the downstream oil sector occur sometimes without any discernible impact on supplies. These are managed and resolved by the companies involved. DECC manages incidents that significantly disrupt oil supply or demand. DECC’s priority is to maintain (as close as possible) normal fuel deliveries in event of any disruption to the fuel supply chain, to get fuel to the people that really need it and to protect the UK economy. Where a risk of industrial action is identified, DECC will invoke levels of contingency planning but prioritise encouraging the parties involved to solve the issue through negotiation.
DECC has numerous measures it can deploy during a supply disruption. These include:
- working with retailers to increase forecourt stock levels
- activating the downstream oil protocol to improve information sharing (if industry agreed this was necessary)
DECC has the National Emergency Plan for Fuel (NEP-F), which details a set of emergency response tools that can be used to regulate or prohibit the production, supply acquisition or use of substances as fuel. Depending on the circumstances, industry and government can use this plan to manage a downstream oil emergency. Where legislation is required to implement the response tools in the NEP-F, there are emergency powers under the Energy Act 1976.
As part of its contingency planning, the government is working with the downstream oil industry, including haulage companies, to maintain a capability within the Armed Forces to make fuel deliveries in the event of a serious disruption to normal deliveries due to industrial action by fuel tanker drivers. This plan will ensure that military personnel could be efficiently and safely deployed. This activity will be reviewed regularly.
DECC works with industry to develop the evidence base that supports further action to improve resilience of the downstream oil sector. DECC has commissioned a number of studies in recent years to inform this work and regularly meets with industry regularly through the Downstream Oil Industry Forum.
Training for the sector
The people employed in the downstream oil sector – including at refineries, distribution terminals and filling stations – provide an important technical knowledge base for the UK economy. Maintaining these skills also helps increase the sector’s resilience against disruption.
Downstream gas and electricity
Downstream gas refers to the natural gas supply network from reception terminal and storage site to consumer isolation valve in the UK.
Electricity refers to the electricity supply network from generator to consumer meter in the UK.
There are a number of actions we can take to minimise the impact in a gas and/or electricity supply emergency.
Fuel security code
As a primary measure DECC can instruct power stations to use alternative fuel sources to generate electricity. This emergency power is supported by the Fuel Security Code.
Electricity Supply Emergency Code
If a prolonged electricity shortage affects a specific region, or the whole country, rationing may be necessary. The Electricity Supply Emergency Code outlines the process for ensuring fair distribution while still protecting those who require special treatment. This is managed through a process known as ‘rota disconnections’.
Working closely with industry to understand and plan for emergencies, DECC regularly holds exercises to test the effectiveness of these plans. The National Emergency Plan for Downstream Gas and Electricity was most recently revised in 2012.
Maintaining the electricity supply
DECC has a duty to make sure electricity supplies are reliable and meet voltage and frequency standards. Major electricity failures are very rare in the UK but severe storms are the most common cause of widespread power loss. Analysis of such events shows how important it is to manage trees near overhead lines. DECC has amended the guidance to reflect this:
Upstream oil and gas
Upstream oil and gas refers to the exploration and production of crude oil and natural gas.
Managing an upstream oil or gas emergency
Operators must notify the DECC Licensing, Exploration and Development (LED) Team immediately in the event of:
- emergency well operations (abandonments, sidetracks)
- production shutdowns
- hydrocarbon releases
- events that may affect production or attract public/media interest
During normal working hours, please notify the most relevant contact:
DECC LED (Aberdeen) for hydrocarbon releases, emergency operations and matters that affect production in North and Central North Sea.
Emergency phone number: 01224 254058
DECC LED (London) for all exploration matters, emergency operations and matters that affect production in South North Sea, Irish Sea and onshore, and any other matters.
Emergency phone number: 0300 068 5130
DECC Enquiry Unit Phone: 0300 060 4000
Outside normal working hours call the DECC/BIS duty officer in London.
- Phone: 020 7215 3234/3505
- Mobile: 07747 898537
- Fax: 020 7215 3501
You can read more detailed information on upstream emergency response plans in the following documents:
You can also download PON-1: Petroleum Operations Notice for reporting release and permitted discharge.
Although high safety standards and strict precautions in the UK mean nuclear emergencies are very rare, detailed emergency planning is required so that nuclear site operators and public authorities are properly prepared to respond to such events.
DECC is responsible for co-ordinating civil nuclear emergency planning in England and Wales at a national level. This planning is facilitated through forums such as the Nuclear Emergency Planning Delivery Committee (NEPDC) and its working groups, which bring together organisations involved in nuclear emergency planning across the UK.
Nuclear emergency planning and response is regulated by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).
Radiation monitoring and reporting
A network of 96 radiation monitoring stations (RIMNET) across the UK provide hourly updates and detect any abnormal increases in radiation levels. The extent and magnitude of radioactive contamination is assessed using the INES scale.
All nuclear site operators are required by law to have nuclear emergency plans based on their licence terms. This includes training staff and providing appropriate safety equipment.
Local level emergency planning
Under the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2001 (REPPIR) Regulations, local authorities must prepare an off-site emergency plan if:
- their area includes a nuclear site
- the nuclear site operator has assessed that a radiation emergency in the area is reasonably foreseeable
The plan must cover an emergency that might result from an act of terrorism.
Off-site emergency planning
Off-site emergency plans are designed to restrict human exposure to ionising radiation. The ONR decides when off-site emergency plans are required for areas that pose a foreseeable risk.
DECC chairs the Nuclear Emergency Planning Liaison Group (NEPLG), which brings together organisations with interests in off-site civil nuclear emergency planning. The group also issues the NELPG consolidated guidance.
NEPLG Exercise Review: 2010-11
In the course of preparing this review, ONR gathered comments from 14 exercises conducted between February 2010 and March 2011.
This report focuses on the actions reported after these exercises, recommendations following lessons learnt and general suggestions for improvements.
Safety arrangements (including emergency planning) at all nuclear instillations in the UK are governed by a range of legislation for both on-site emergencies and local-level emergency planning. This includes:
- Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA) - places a general duty on all emergency responders to do all that is reasonably practicable to reduce risk
- Ionising Radiations Regulations 1999 - contain specific requirements for the protection of employees and the public from radiation
- Nuclear Installations Act 1965 - each nuclear site has specific licence conditions (including safety arrangements) that must be met in accordance with this legislation
- Nuclear Industries Security Regulations 2003 – sets conditions for on-site security arrangements
- Civil Contingencies Act 2004 – establishes a clear set of roles and responsibilities for those involved in emergency preparation and response at the local level
Maintaining the security of nuclear sites
Civil nuclear operators are required by law to have site security plans setting out the security arrangements for the protection of nuclear sites and nuclear material on such sites. These plans must gain the approval of the regulator and must thereafter be complied with.
The arrangements cover, for example, physical protection features such as fencing and turnstile access, the roles of security guards and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the protection of proliferation-sensitive data and technologies and the arrangements to ensure the trustworthiness of the individuals with access to sensitive nuclear information and material. Civil nuclear operators are financially and legally responsible for implementing and maintaining these security measures.
Provision of specialist support services
The Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) is the specialist police force providing the dedicated armed response at civil licensed nuclear sites.
All nuclear emergency responders receive specialist training and protective equipment to operate in hazardous environments and to rescue and treat any casualties. Both the Ambulance and Fire and Rescue Services are equipped to decontaminate sites.
The Emergency Planning College is the dedicated UK emergency planning and crisis management training centre.
For further information on the government’s overall emergency preparedness measures, visit Cabinet Office resources on emergency preparedness.
DECC would act as the lead government department in response to an emergency at a civil nuclear site in England or Wales. The Department would assemble up to date information on the emergency, including measures being taken to protect the public and make the site safe again. This is done by liaising closely with other government departments, the Welsh Government, agencies and organisations close to the affected site, such as police, fire service and local authority.
As the lead government department, DECC would:
- ensure that information is available to the public and media via the News Coordination Centre maintained by the Cabinet Office
- be responsible for alerting the International Atomic Energy Agency, the European Commission and various neighbouring countries of the accident
- provide the Secretary of State of Energy and Climate Change, who is responsible to Parliament for civil nuclear safety matters, with briefing on the course of the accident and measures taken to protect the public
- appoint a Government Technical Advisor (GTA) from the ONR to advise the police and emergency services on measures to protect the public
Further information regarding the responsibilities of other organisations in the event of a nuclear emergency can be found in the NEPLG Consolidated Guidance.
Alerting the media, public and international community
DECC is required to notify European partners of any incident which takes place in the UK. It does this by notifying the European Commission (and states with which the UK has bilateral agreements) through the European Community Urgent Radiological Information Exchange (ECURIE) system, including technical information about the incident, and the countermeasures being put in place.
DECC is also required to notify the International Atomic Energy Agency through the Unified System for Information Exchange in Incidents and Emergencies (USIE) system. This is a restricted secure website which allows for the exchange of information on nuclear accidents or radiological emergencies.
Decontamination and recovery programme
Our National Response Strategy [PDF] details how decontamination work is managed, including processes and responsibilities as part of the recovery phase. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is the lead government department responsible for this area.
Local level response
The strategic response to an emergency at a local level would be co-ordinated at the Strategic Co-ordination Centre (SCC). Decisions on mobilising emergency services during a nuclear emergency would be taken by the GOLD Commander leading the response at a local level. Central Government authorisation would be necessary should further national capabilities be required to assist the response.
Other response measures include provision of temporary housing. Reception centres can be opened by local authorities to house people who are displaced from their homes.
Review phase: emergency plans are kept under continual review and are regularly tested through regular off-site exercises at civil nuclear sites.
Nuclear third party liability compensation
The UK is a contracting party to the Paris Convention on nuclear third party liability and Brussels Supplementary Convention.
The Convention aims to ensure adequate and fair compensation for victims who suffer damage as a result of a nuclear incident at a nuclear installation or during the transport of nuclear substances to and from that installation. At the same time, it is aimed at ensuring the installation operators – who are in the best position to ensure the safety of their installation – take responsibility for any failure in safety. The convention also ensures compensation in the case of nuclear damage across borders.
The Convention imposes no fault liability on the designated operator of the nuclear installation that causes damage. It channels all liability to that operator so that victims can sue an identifiable operator, and victims in all parties to the convention should have equal access to the compensation.
The countries that have ratified the Paris Convention are Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and the UK.
Amendments to the convention were agreed in 2004. They upgrade the existing regime and are intended to ensure that in the event of a nuclear incident, an increased amount of compensation will be available to a larger number of victims in respect to a broader range of damage that is currently the case.
The amendments to the convention are not yet in force. This will take place once the amendments have been ratified by the signatories to the conventions. The signatories that are also EU member states are required to ratify the amendments at the same time.
The UK is committed to ratifying the amended conventions as soon as possible. In order for the UK to be able to ratify the amendments however, we need to implement the changes to the convention in UK law. We intend to do this by amending the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 through secondary legislation made under section 76 of the Energy Act 2004.
Implementation of revisions to the Paris and Brussels conventions
The UK is working to implement the changes made to the Paris Convention on nuclear third party liability and the Brussels Supplementary Convention. The government intends to lay the finalised Order amending the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 before Parliament by the end of this year. In addition, in order to prepare for the change in the liability regime, it is necessary for nuclear operators and the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC) to look at how the requirement in section 19 of the NIA 1965 for insurance or other financial security for the new and increased liabilities can be met.
Work on the draft Order is ongoing. An updated version (replacing the one published last year) is included for information and to help with the work on insurance/financial security.
A list of the main changes is included at the front of the draft Order. Please note that as this is not the final version of the Order, rather it is work in progress, not all envisaged changes are included at this stage and the current drafting may be subject to further change.
In its response to the consultation on the implementation of changes to the Paris Convention Government said that it would consider the options for setting a third party liability of less than €1200 million for ‘intermediate level’ sites. Having considered this the Government has come to the conclusion that three types of nuclear installations – uranium enrichment plants, nuclear fuel fabrication plants, and plants for the manufacture of radioactive isotopes for non-nuclear purposes such as medicine or research – should have a liability level of the Euro equivalent of £140 million.
The government believes that this solution represents proportionate and better regulation. Such sites do not achieve a critical nuclear fission reaction, nor do they handle or store the large radioactive (including fission products) inventories associated with power reactors and spent fuel reprocessing plants and their associated facilities and therefore the hazards are lower. A similar approach has been taken in a number of other Paris Convention countries. Drafting for this provision will be prepared in due course.
As part of enabling nuclear operators’ discussions on insurance/financial security a working paper has been developed, which:
- sets out in broad terms some of the issues that operators should consider when bringing forward proposals for insurance or other financial security
- lists some of the evidence operators should provide to demonstrate that they have satisfied the section 19 requirement
The working paper is not intended to provide a definitive set of acceptance criteria or to replace operators’ own professional financial and legal advice on such matters.
Laws and Regulations
Waste arising from a nuclear accident or incident - Radioactive Substances Act 1993
DECC works with a range of government departments and agencies involved in nuclear emergency response planning. These include:
- Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR)
- Department of Health (DH)
- Health Protection Agency (HPA)
- Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
- Government Office for Science
- Environment Agency
- Food Standards Agency
- Government Decontamination Service (GDS)
- Cabinet Office
- Home Office
- Ministry of Defence (MOD)
- Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG)
- Representatives of the Devolved Administrations
- Met Office