Today I have deposited in the House the final report which I requested from the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, on the events at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear site in March.
Fukushima changed the energy debate around the world. Questions were raised about the extent and safety of nuclear power and people rightfully wanted to know what happened, and whether it could happen again.
Safety is always our number one concern. We needed to understand the facts before making any decisions. That is why I asked the chief nuclear inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, to look at what Fukushima means for nuclear energy in Britain, and what lessons can be learned.
Dr Weightman produced his interim report in May. It was evidence based, and prepared in close co-operation with international regulators. It confirmed that the UK’s current safety regime is working, and that regulators and industry should continue to work together to make continuous improvements to nuclear safety.
The interim report also reassured us that new nuclear can be part of a low-carbon energy mix in the UK. Nuclear energy is important for our energy security now and we want it to be part of the mix in the future.
Dr Weightman’s final report was submitted to me on 30 September, and I am presenting it to the House at the earliest possible opportunity.
I would like to thank Dr Weightman and his team for their hard work. This is a thorough and comprehensive report on the lessons that can be learned for the UK’s nuclear industry. It will help ensure that our regulatory regime remains robust, and that the nuclear industry remains committed to continuous improvement for all existing and future facilities.
The final report expands on the interim report by providing additional information and evidence, widening the scope to include non-generation sites in the UK, such as Sellafield.
It provides background on how to mitigate against radioactive hazards; the differences between reactor technologies in Fukushima and the UK; and the differing approaches to nuclear safety and security in the UK, Japan and the wider world.
The report also sets out a timetable of events at Fukushima, and describes the work undertaken by Dr Weightman and his team.
One of the report’s key findings is that the additional information received since the interim report, including from his own visit to Fukushima and the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation’s own more detailed analysis, has reinforced the interim findings.
As the initial report made clear, the current regulatory safety framework in the UK is satisfactory. Dr Weightman sees no reason to curtail the operation of power plants or other nuclear facilities in the UK. He believes the industry has reacted responsibly and appropriately, displaying strong leadership for safety and safety culture.
The final report re-states these interim conclusions and recommendations. It also concludes that the UK practice of periodic safety reviews of licensed sites provides a robust means of ensuring continuous improvement in line with advances in technology and standards.
The final report also emphasises the need to continue the Sellafield legacy pond and silo clean-up with the utmost vigour and determination.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is making tangible, demonstrable progress in addressing these national priorities. It is the NDA’s top priority, and we have ensured that their work in this area is not limited by funding constraints. Reduction of risk and hazard sits at the very heart of the NDA’s mission.
Dr Weightman and his team are satisfied with the responses and actions initiated by Government and industry in response to the interim report.
The final report also re-states the recommendations from the interim report, adding additional detail where necessary. It focuses on areas that should be reviewed to determine whether there are further practicable improvements that can be made to enhance safety.
Dr Weightman has also recommended that regulators, Government and industry review:
the UK’s ability to monitor and provide real-time information in an emergency;
the robustness of emergency control structures and systems; and
continue to promote high levels of safety culture, making use of the National Skills Academy for nuclear and other “nuclear professionalism” schemes.
The final report also confirms the advice given by Dr Weightman at the time of the interim report; namely that he saw no reason to revise the strategic advice on which the nuclear national policy statement was based, or any need to change present siting strategies for new nuclear power stations in the UK.
Dr Weightman’s final recommendation is to invite reports on progress by June 2012, when he intends to report back on implementation lessons.
The European nuclear stress tests have been conducted in parallel to this process, and there are overlaps between the initial findings and the recommendations in Dr Weightman’s reports. Stress testing will continue into next year, and both industry and the Office for Nuclear Regulation will continue to be involved. Dr Weightman’s proposed supplementary report will include further details of the stress test.
Regulators and industry are also continuing to work together to take forward the generic design assessment process for new nuclear reactors, and have extended their timeline in order to take into account the findings in both the interim and final report. Regulators have stated that they hope to be in a position to take decision on the generic design assessment by the end of the year.
In conclusion, I welcome Dr Weightman’s final report, and I encourage the regulators to work closely with industry and other partners to take the recommendations forward. The Government intend to respond to Dr Weightman’s recommendations in more detail by the end of the year.