Nuclear safety regulator: more work to do in completing post-Fukushima improvements

A report on progress made in implementing recommendations to upgrade the safety of the British nuclear industry in the wake of the Fukushima accident has concluded that more than 400 improvement actions have yet to be completed.

The report, published by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), follows up a detailed review of safety at UK nuclear sites following the Japanese crisis which was published a year ago by ONR. It also charts work done to meet the findings of a 'stress testing' programme aimed at identifying the ability of nuclear facilities to withstand extreme events such as floods, storms, and earthquakes.

ONR concludes that the nuclear industry has “responded well” to the lessons learnt from Fukushima, but that “there is always more work to do”.

Military nuclear sites such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), naval dockyards, and sites involved in the manufacture of the UK's nuclear submarines appear to have been the slowest in acting to make safety improvements. None of the safety recommendations which apply to the Rolls-Royce submarine reactor manufacturing plant at Derby are considered closed by ONR, and there has been “little progress” with improvement work at the submarine construction shipyard operated by BAE Systems at Barrow-in-Furness because the company's efforts have been focused on power range testing for HMS Ambush.

Out of a total of 178 recommendations which apply to sites involved in the Ministry of Defence's nuclear programme, 120 (70%) have not yet been addressed to a standard that meets ONR's requirements. Across the industry as a whole, 58% (426) from a total of 747 recommendations have yet to be closed.

At the Atomic Weapons Establishment, where the UK's nuclear weapons are built and maintained, 14 out of 37 actions (38%) have been closed to the satisfaction of ONR. The regulator states that further information is required before it can reach a view on seven further actions, and two actions originally identified are now considered to no longer apply.

AWE has made “no tangible progress” in addressing a recommendation requiring site operators to conduct a probabilistic safety analysis for nuclear facilities which could give rise to significant off-site radiation doses in the event of an emergency, and has been pressed by ONR to commission an independent review of its own analysis and methods from national experts.

The company “has not yet provided sufficient evidence” to support its view that extreme flooding events cannot occur, and discussions with ONR over flood risks remain ongoing.

At the national level, the report highlights concerns about the ability of government and the nuclear industry to adequately measure and predict radiation doses in the event of a severe hazard. Much of the environmental monitoring equipment around the Fukushima nuclear site did not work properly following the earthquake and tsunami, and ONR concludes that “it is still to be firmly established that there would be sufficient capability” to monitor radiation following a nuclear accident in the UK resulting from a severe external hazard.

ONR has committed to monitor progress on implementing its Fukushima safety recommendations and ensure that appropriate measures are taken by nuclear site operators to deal with them, but has stated that it “may not be reasonably practicable” to deal with all the issues by the end of 2014.