Select Committee on Trade and Industry Written Evidence


Annex C

HSE REVIEW OF THE PRE-LICENSING PROCESS FOR POTENTIAL NEW BUILD OF NUCLEAR POWER STATIONS—EXTRACT FROM CONSULTATION DOCUMENT

SUMMARY

  HSE is reviewing its strategy for regulating the design of new nuclear power stations in the light of a request from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for advice on the potential role of pre-licensing assessments of candidate designs. To help ensure that we cover all relevant issues, we have set out our emerging thoughts below and are seeking your views on these and any points you believe we should take into account when we submit our advice to DTI.

  This is not consultation about whether to build new nuclear power stations, or the pros and cons of doing so, or the safety of any new stations. Rather, it is about HSE's approach to regulating the design of new nuclear power stations if we were asked to do so, even without a decision to go ahead with new build. Please return your comments by 28 April 2006. This time scale will allow us to consider your views as we draft HSE's submission to the current DTI energy review. Feel free to copy this discussion document more widely. To help us collate and consider your views you can return your comments via email, using the microsoft word document response form or by post by downloading the pdf response form, printing out and completing in hard copy.

    —  Further information around the HSE's submission to the Energy Review and useful reading relating to pre-licensing.

  We will consider all comments received in preparing our report to DTI. Unless you specifically request confidentiality, reference to your comments and how we have addressed them may be included in our report and will be made publicly available. HSE will submit its report to the DTI by the end of June 2006 and will subsequently publish it.

1.  INTRODUCTION

  The DTI has asked the Health & Safety Executive to provide an independent expert report on some specific potential health and safety risks arising from recent and potential energy developments, including consideration of a new generation of nuclear power stations. In particular, it has requested advice on the potential role of pre-licensing assessments of candidate designs in the event of new nuclear build. To respond to this, HSE has decided to undertake a review of its strategy for regulating the design of new nuclear power stations. As part of this process, we are seeking the views of interested stakeholders, both through:

    —  a stakeholder workshop which was held on 3 March 2006, and

    —  through posting this discussion document for comment on the HSE internet site.

  It should be noted that this review is limited to the general process for regulating a new nuclear power station design, and will not consider the licensability of specific reactor designs as we have not been asked to undertake any assessments of them. In conducting its review, HSE is following the guiding principle adopted by the Health and Safety Commission when it responded to the 1994 Government review of the prospects for nuclear power (the Nuclear Review). This was;

    "to ensure, through the regulatory processes and the framework of legislation, that all licensees—existing and new—continue to maintain, or where reasonably practicable enhance, the existing high standards of health and safety achieved by the UK nuclear industry".

2.  THE PURPOSE OF THIS DOCUMENT

  This document is intended to provide information on HSE's review of its strategy for regulating new nuclear reactor designs and to present an opportunity for your comments and views to be expressed.

  Areas where we would welcome your views on the potential role of pre-licensing assessments are identified in sections 5 to 9. We identify a series of questions which we consider relevant at the end of each of these sections, but recognise these may not be exhaustive. We are therefore seeking your views on these and any other issues that you consider relevant to pre-licensing assessments and our strategy for assessing new nuclear power station designs.

  HSE needs to submit its expert report to the DTI by the end of June 2006, so we have to limit the period over which we invite views and comments. We therefore intend to seek views and accept comments up until 28 April 2006. This will allow us time to analyse them and ensure that our review of regulatory strategy has addressed all relevant issues. Our conclusions on this will form part of the overall HSE expert report to the DTI's Energy Review team.

3.  CURRENT UK NUCLEAR LICENSING SYSTEM

  In common with other industrial activities in the UK, the operators of nuclear plants must comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSW Act). This places a fundamental duty on employers to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health safety and welfare of their employees and members of the public. Under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965 (as amended), no site may be used for the purposes of installing or operating any nuclear power reactor unless a nuclear site licence has been granted by the HSE. HSE delegates the granting of licences to HM Chief Inspector of Nuclear Installations (including the attachment of conditions) and the detailed administration of the licence to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII). The current nuclear licensing system has been in place for many years; information on the application of this process can be found in the "Regulation of Nuclear Installations in the UK, including Notes for Licence Applicants [PDF 180kb]". The UK's nuclear licensing system was last reviewed in 1994 as part of the HSC report to the Nuclear Review. The HSC report concluded that there was a well-tested framework of legislation, backed up by sound technical assessment, inspection and enforcement methodologies. It also considered that the nuclear regulatory system had been validated by the Public Inquiries into proposals to build new nuclear power reactors at Sizewell B and Hinkley Point C. Overall it concluded that the system was generally sound and that there was no need for any fundamental change to respond to any new industrial structures that might emerge in the future. The Government subsequently endorsed HSC's conclusions.

4.  CHANGES IN THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY

  There have been many changes in the UK nuclear power industry since 1994. These have included:

    —  the electricity market has been deregulated;

    —  privatisation and restructuring of industry have resulted in the formation of British Energy and Magnox Electric;

    —  technical resource to support the industry has reduced;

    —  and ageing issues have been a key focus for industry.

  Furthermore, there has been no new construction of nuclear power stations in the UK although other new nuclear facilities have been built. In view of the changes which have taken place, it is expected that any proposals for new nuclear build will be market-led, rather than originating from a state-owned entity.

5.  PRE-LICENSING PROCESS

  As noted above, the current UK nuclear site licensing regime has been in place for some considerable time. For nuclear power plant, this was based on a UK-led market with mature licensees, who had established a detailed knowledge of the nuclear regulatory system and a well-informed working relationship with HSE. Some of the key concerns for new potential licence applicants are likely to be: the impact on project viability of timescales for regulatory assessments and decision making; lack of certainty as to whether a nuclear site licence will ultimately be granted; and whether costly design changes might be subsequently be necessary to resolve ongoing regulatory concerns. Potential licensees may wish to reduce; project and commercial risk, by seeking preliminary, or pre-licensing regulatory assessments of prospective reactor designs, before large-scale financial commitments are made. Throughout any pre-licensing phase, as for the licensing process itself, HSE would need to ensure that high standards of nuclear safety and public confidence in regulatory decisions were maintained through transparent, rigorous, robust and effective regulation.

This suggests that HSE needs to consider the following questions

    1.  How might the licensing process be enhanced to reduce the regulatory risks to projects while improving regulatory effectiveness?

    2.  What role might pre-licensing assessments play in this?

    3.  What would be the pros and cons of separating HSE assessment of plant design safety from assessment of site-specific aspects and assessment of the organisation of the licence applicant?

    4.  How could the interfaces between such separate assessments be managed to maintain or improve overall regulatory effectiveness?

    5.  Would additional guidance help to elucidate the relationship between an agreed programme of identified safety submissions and the gradual reduction of project risk as outstanding regulatory concerns are resolved?

    6.  Could HSE issue a formal regulatory report summarising its findings following separate assessment of a detailed design, safety case and if so, how should the period of validity of its conclusions be determined and what caveats might apply?

    7.  How might the separate regulatory processes for health, safety, environment and security be better aligned?

    8.  What additional guidance on the licensing process would assist potential new entrants into the UK nuclear industry?

6.0  REQULATORY PRIORITIES AND RESOURCE ISSUES

  HSE might be asked by reactor vendors, construction consortia, or potential licensees to carry out pre-licensing assessments of one or more new designs of nuclear power reactors. Such pre-licensing assessments could range from a limited scope view on whether the design could be broadly acceptable in the UK to a full review leading to permission to construct, after due consideration of site specific and licensee capability considerations (and subject to any local planning inquiries, etc.). The ability of HSE to undertake such additional work would be dependent on the availability of resources and our regulatory priorities. It is also noted that as other regulators such as the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environment Protection Agency and the Office for Civil Nuclear Security, might need to take regulatory decisions, priorities would have to be agreed with them.

This suggests that HSE needs to consider the following questions

    9.  How should competing licence applications or requests for pre-licensing assessments of candidate designs be prioritised?

    10.  Who should prioritise these—the regulators, Government, a body representing the nuclear industry, etc?

    11.  HSE may find itself in the position where it has already started (and at least partially recovered costs for) a pre-licensing assessment of a particular design at the behest of one company, when a different company makes a similar request. How should HSE deal with this situation without unfairly benefiting the second applicant over the first?

    12.  One way of dealing with possible multiple requests might be to set an initial period for the submission of expressions of interest and to programme regulatory resources on the basis of applications received during that period, prioritising any subsequent applications separately. Would such an arrangement be workable?

    13.  How should HSE be financed to cover the resourcing requirements associated with any pre-licensing assessment of new reactor designs?

7.0  OVERSEAS DESIGNS

  Whilst a design could originate in the UK, it likely that any new build proposal in the UK would utilise a design which originates overseas. That design may have been subject to a licensing application or various degrees of safety assessment by regulators in the country of origin and elsewhere.

This poses a number of questions for the applicant and for HSE

  14.  How should applicants ensure that their safety submissions demonstrate compliance with UK health and safety requirements, in particular the duty to reduce risks so far as is reasonably practicable?

  15.  In discussions involving reactor vendors, design authorities and plant suppliers, how should applicants ensure that the predominant role of the nuclear site licensee in managing nuclear safety is preserved?

  16.  To what extent should HSE give credit to safety assessments performed by overseas nuclear regulators while fulfilling its duty to secure high standards of nuclear safety for the UK public and workers?

  17.  How might HSE assess other regulators' work without impinging on their duties and roles, and give such credit?

  18.  How might applicants utilise overseas regulators' safety assessments and take credit for them in their safety submissions to HSE?

  19.  How might HSE develop an understanding of the context within which the overseas regulators made their decisions, sufficient to enable it to judge the weight to be given to those decisions in a UK context?

  20.  How should applicants ensure that HSE is provided with the access to staff and facilities of overseas regulators, reactor vendors and plant manufacturers necessary for it to judge the quality of their analyses, assessments and products, and validate the parts of the applicant's safety submissions that rely upon them?

  21.  The flexibility inherent in HSE's goal-setting approach may allow for variations in design and operation from those accepted in the country of origin. How far should HSE go in ensuring that design and operational standards accepted during the UK licensing process remain consistent with regulatory requirements in the country of origin?

8.0  LESSONS LEARNT FROM PREVIOUS LICENSING EXPERIENCE OF NUCLEAR POWER PLANT

  All nuclear reactors that have been through the licensing process in the past were ordered when the nuclear generating industry in the UK was in state ownership. For Sizewell B, interactions between the then Central Electricity Generating Board and NII took place over a long period starting with NII's generic review of Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) safety in the mid-1970s, and culminating in the granting of a licence in 1987.

Questions that HSE now needs to consider include

  22.  What lessons can be learned from the Sizewell B licensing and subsequent Hinkley Point C inquiry experiences?

  23.  How might the industry or others help improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the licensing process?

  24.  Might there be scope to have greater clarity of the respective roles and scope of regulatory processes and local planning processes and inquiries, and how they are linked together?

  25.  Is the licensing process sufficiently transparent?

  26.  How might public confidence in the outcomes of regulatory assessments of candidate designs and licensing applications be enhanced without diluting duties?

9.  REGULATORY STRATEGY

  As noted in section 3, the current nuclear licensing system has been in place for many years. At the time of the Nuclear Review in 1994, the Health and Safety Commission concluded that the current nuclear legislative framework was still appropriate. However, the nuclear industry has changed nationally and globally since then and any decisions on new nuclear build are likely to be market-led, rather than originating from a state owned entity.

Questions that HSE needs to consider are:

  27.  Can the current goal setting UK nuclear site licensing system continue to respond robustly to the demands of a changing, market-led nuclear industry?

  28.  Are any changes to HSE's regulatory approach to new nuclear reactor design necessary or desirable to provide continuing confidence in the current regulatory system?

  29.  Might some features of overseas regulatory systems offer benefits to the UK?

10.  CONCLUSIONS

  You are invited to send us your views and comments on the issues raised in this document by 28 April 2006. Please do not feel obliged to respond to all the questions posed (1-29), but limit your comments to those you consider of particular importance if you wish.

  If you wish to comment on wider Energy Review issues, please respond directly to the DTI's Energy Review Consultation document, which may be found at http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/review


 
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