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Nuclear inspector gives green light to atomic energy

By Reuters
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 8:00 EDT
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LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s nuclear power plants are safe enough to continue operating and the government’s strategy for building new nuclear plants is adequate, the country’s Chief Nuclear Inspector said in his final post-Fukushima report on Tuesday.

“I remain confident that our UK nuclear facilities have no fundamental safety weaknesses (but) no matter how high our standards, the quest for improvement must never stop,” said Mike Weightman, the head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), who also led a U.N. team of nuclear experts on a fact-finding mission to Japan’s Fukushima in May.

Britain’s nuclear operators and regulators should review 38 areas where lessons can be learned from Japan’s nuclear reactor meltdown and radioactive release in March, including reliance on off-site infrastructure, emergency response arrangements and flooding risks.

Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, who presented the findings in a written statement to Parliament on Tuesday, said the report will help the nuclear industry remain committed to improving existing and future power stations.

The report also said there was no need to change the government’s strategy for choosing new sites for nuclear power plants.

The government has identified eight sites around England and Wales as possible building sites for new nuclear plants, with the first expected to be built by EDF Energy at Hinkley Point on the coast of Somerset.

“Nuclear energy is important for our energy security now and we want it to be part of the mix in the future,” he said.

Huhne commissioned Weightman in March to assess the consequences of the Fukushima nuclear disaster for Britain’s nuclear industry and presented his final findings on Tuesday.

The government is promoting plans to build a new generation of nuclear power plants in Britain by 2025 to help meet low-carbon energy targets.

“The report makes clear that the UK has one of the best nuclear safety regimes in the world, and that nuclear power can go on powering homes and businesses across the UK, as well as supporting jobs,” Huhne said.

NUCLEAR STRESS TEST RESULTS

Weightman, a chartered engineer and physicist, also said his report tied in with findings made during EU-wide nuclear stress tests, which are ongoing throughout the region.

First results from EU-wide nuclear stress tests showed Britain’s nuclear reactors are reliable and require no structural changes, the ONR said last month.

EU states have until the end of October to submit full safety test reports to the EU Commission and a final report consolidating EU-wide stress test results will be presented to the European council in June 2012.

Weightman already said in his interim Fukushima report published in mid-May that Britain’s nuclear reactors are safe and an earthquake and tsunami on the scale seen in Japan are unlikely to occur in Britain.

In an interview at the time he said the human factor was an important aspect to discover to find out what to learn from the Japanese disaster.

The ONR will next year publish a report on the progress made in implementing the lessons outlined in Tuesday’s findings.

(Editing by James Jukwey)

Reuters
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