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Nuclear project in Somerset granted first new site licence in 25 years

Construction of a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset has moved one step closer after the independent Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) granted developer NNB GenCo the first new site licence for a UK nuclear power station in 25 years.  EDF and Centrica jointly own the project.

Further consents will be required to begin nuclear-related construction on the site. The Planning Inspectorate has until 21 December to put forward its recommendations to the Energy Secretary, having completed its examination of the company's application in September.

The developer is proposing to build two new UK European Pressurised Water Reactors (EPRs) on the site. The ONR is currently working with the Environment Agency to assess the proposed designs. The regulators issued interim acceptance for the EPR design in December 2011 and could make a final decision before the end of this year, subject to resolution of a number of issues by the designers, the ONR said.

Chris White, an expert in nuclear energy with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the announcement marked a "significant milestone" for the project.

"The granting of a nuclear site licence for Hinkley Point C in Somerset marks the successful completion of a significant milestone for the EDF/Centrica nuclear new build project, and should be warmly welcomed by the UK supply chain as the UK gears up to restarting nuclear construction after a gap of 20 years," he said. "Potentially, 2013 could mark the commencement of the delivery phase for the UK nuclear new build programme."

The ONR is the UK's independent nuclear regulator, and grants site licences on behalf of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). A nuclear site licence is a legal document, issued for the full life of the facility, which contains site-specific information and a set of 36 'Standard Conditions' in relation to design, construction, operation and decommissioning. A licence must be acquired before a company can go ahead with any sort of nuclear installation including power stations, research reactors, nuclear fuel manufacturing and reprocessing and bulk storage of radioactive matter.

Mike Weightman, the UK's chief nuclear inspector, said that ONR staff had spent the equivalent of 6,000 days engaging with NNB GenCo on its application over the past three years.

"To get us to this point, ONR's experienced, expert assessors have been assessing the adequacy of NNB GenCo's organisation, its arrangements for complying with conditions attached to the licence, the suitability of the site and NNB GenCo's ability to prepare a safety report for the proposed installation at Hinkley Point C," he said.

He added that the 36 standard conditions attached to the site licence gave ONR the "necessary regulatory powers" to oversee the site and ensure public safety.

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, managing director for nuclear new build with EDF, said that the company's planned infrastructure project was "similar in scale to the London Olympics" and would deliver jobs, skills and economic growth along the supply chain.

"The Nuclear Site Licence serves as a vote of confidence in EDF Energy's ability to deliver new nuclear," he said. "The proposed new power station in Somerset will provide enough low carbon electricity to power five million homes and its construction will create around 25,000 jobs at site alone, giving a real boost to the economy."

"However, there is still a great deal of work to be done before this nationally significant infrastructure project can become a reality. We remain focused on putting the components in place that will enable a final investment decision to be made at the earliest possible date. This includes working with Government to agree a Contract for Difference that is in the best interests of both consumers and investors," he said.

The project announcement is the second piece of good news for UK nuclear in a month, following the acquisition of Horizon Nuclear Power by Hitachi at the end of October. The Japanese technology firm has pledged to build two or three power stations on each of Horizon's two sites, creating up to 12,000 jobs during the construction phase.

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