Review of UK nuclear safety identifies lessons from Fukushima

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The Health and Safety Executive's Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) has completed an interim assessment of the implications of the Fukushima nuclear emergency in Japan and concluded that the UK nuclear industry can learn a number of lessons from the incident, although the current operations of UK nuclear plants need not be curtailed.

The review, carried out by the Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations, Mike Weightman, concludes that the causes of the Fukushima accident – a magnitude 9 earthquake and the resulting 14 metre high tsunami – are “far beyond the most extreme events that the UK could expect to experience”.  However, the review acknowledges that severe events can occur as a result of other causes, and has proposed 26 recommendations aimed at ensuring that lessons are learnt from the Fukushima accident.

The review was ordered by Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, who has said there is “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”.

Dr Weightman's report identifies a number of areas where further more detailed reviews are necessary, including reviews of the layout of UK power plants, emergency response arrangements, dealing with prolonged loss of power supplies and utilities, and the risks associated with flooding, including tsunamis.

The interim report states that it has not identified  any significant defects in the UK’s approach to nuclear regulation – which is based on similar principles to the Japanese regulatory system – and that there is no need to change the current siting strategy for new nuclear power stations in the UK.

However, improvements in emergency planning arrangements are recommended, and, in the light of communication issues at Fukushima, so are steps to develop  more transparent and trusted communication and relationships between the nuclear industry and the public.

Japan is still dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami which caused the accident at Fukushima, and the emergency at the nuclear site is far from over.  Workers at Fukushima are still struggling to bring the situation under control, and recent information has shown that fuel inside the reactor cores has melted far more quickly and extensively than was initially believed

As a result, much is not yet known about the situation and circumstances of the accident, and so ONR will consider to review events in Japan, with a further report planned for release in September.