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Nuclear reactor design approval will help UK meet low-carbon targets, says expert

Out-Law News | 14 Dec 2012 | 2:52 pm | 2 min. read

The nuclear industry regulator's approval of the design for a new nuclear reactor is a "significant milestone" in the UK's bid to reduce its carbon output, an expert has said.

On Thursday the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) gave the go-ahead for the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) to be constructed in the UK. ONR, which is an agency of the Health and Safety Executive, joined the Environment Agency in confirming that the EDF-designed reactor met safety, security and environment impact standards.

ONR issued a 'Design Acceptance Confirmation', whilst the Environment Agency issued a 'Statement of Design Acceptability' that approved the construction of the EPR subject to "additional site-specific consents and approvals".

Energy law specialist Chris White of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the development was to be welcomed.

"This is a major step forward for EDF and a significant milestone in the Government’s plans to bring-on £110 billion of inward investment to construct 16 gigawatts (GW) of new nuclear generation to help the UK get to its low-carbon future by 2030," White said. "This is great news for the UK economy and should herald a step-change in the UK supply chain, enabling a whole generation of contractors and suppliers to up-skill and revitalise the country’s engineering base."

White said that the approval given to the EPR design "marks a fitting end to 2012", a year during which there has been "real and tangible progress across the UK nuclear sector". He cited examples such as the recent takeover of the Horizon Project by Hitachi, which he said "promises a 100 year commitment to the UK nuclear sector", and the granting of the first new Nuclear Site License in 20 years to EDF for its Hinkley Project in Somerset, as evidence of such progress during the year.

“Re-starting nuclear construction in the UK after a gap of 20 years still remains a significant challenge, with additional site-specific consents and a main planning consent all being required before an EPR reactor can actually be constructed in Somerset," White said. "However, we are now getting very close to the delivery phase of nuclear new build in the UK."

"A state of readiness and an investment case validated under the transitional arrangements proposed by the Government’s recent Energy Market Reform package could both enable EDF to take its key final investment decision and commence construction of the first EPR unit at Hinkley during 2013," the expert said. "This could herald the creation of up to 30,000 construction jobs and encourage as much as £1bn to be spent on early-stage engagement in the supply chain, and would mark the first wave of new nuclear and the arrival of the low-carbon economy in earnest."

Colin Patchett, acting chief inspector of nuclear installations at the ONR, said that the EPR design met "the high standards" that the regulator demands are met.

"We have been able to identify significant issues while the designs are on the drawing board," Patchett said in a statement. "There remain site-specific issues that must be addressed before we’ll approve its construction on any site. This new approach to regulation has proved to be a success. We have done what we set out to do and our assessment has been effective, ensuring the protection of people and society from the hazards of the nuclear industry."

Joe McHugh, head of radioactive substances regulation at the Environment Agency, added: "Through robust scrutiny we are satisfied that this design can meet the high standards of safety, security, environmental protection and waste management that we and ONR require"