UK government clarifies criteria for 'intermediate risk' nuclear sites

Out-Law News | 11 Jan 2018 | 10:08 am | 2 min. read

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) late last week published its position on the criteria for determining the new category of 'intermediate risk' nuclear sites that is to be established in UK law.

Helen Peters, a nuclear expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind, said that the changes that BEIS has made to the criteria are to be welcomed and would enable the government to move forward with laying the draft Nuclear Installations (Prescribed Sites and Transport) Regulations in parliament at some point in the near future.

The new regulations once introduced will come into force at the same time as the amendments to Nuclear Installations Act 1965 which are set out in the Nuclear Installations (Liability for Damage) Order 2016.  These amendments support the implementation of the 2004 Protocols to the Paris Convention on nuclear third party liability and the Brussels Supplementary Convention.

The decision on the criteria for intermediate risk sites has been made further to a consultation in 2016 on the proposed definitions for the purposes of nuclear liability for low risk nuclear sites, intermediate sites, relevant disposal sites and the transport of low risk nuclear matter. 

After considering the responses to the 2016 consultation, the government elected to further consider the definition for intermediate risk sites. It elected to reconsult on the matter in 2017 because the proposed revised definition was significantly different to the one set out in the 2016 proposal. The BEIS paper published last week contained the government's response (12-page / 101KB PDF) to the feedback it received to its reconsultation.

A new liability limit of €160 million will apply to nuclear sites classed as 'intermediate risk' once the legislative changes come into force. As many as 14 nuclear sites could qualify as 'intermediate risk' sites under the new criteria that has been established, BEIS said.

"Sites that meet these criteria represent a lower risk of causing significant damage in the event of a nuclear incident," BEIS said. "Accordingly, setting a lower level of liability recognises this lower risk and reduces the cost of operators’ mandatory insurance cover in line with this lower risk."

“The criteria for intermediate risk nuclear sites have been expanded so that the category now covers: sites which store radioactive material where the radionuclide inventory is greater than the threshold criteria for low risk sites, but are not sites for the storage of highly active radioactive waste (e.g. waste from processing used nuclear fuel); the national repository for low level waste – as it is a licensed nuclear site (rather than a relevant disposal site); former nuclear power generating sites that have been permanently defueled and the spent fuel is stored in accordance with relevant good practices," BEIS said.

“This in addition to the types of sites already proposed for inclusion in this category: nuclear fuel fabrication plants (does not include plants manufacturing fuel from plutonium or plutonium mixtures); uranium enrichment facilities; plants for the manufacture of radioactive isotopes for medical, scientific, agricultural and technical uses”, it said.

The list of possible intermediate risk sites is not a closed list and could vary according to whether operators apply for their sites to be classified as intermediate sites or not.