Science & Technology CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Nuclear Industry Association (Risk 11)

The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) welcomes the opportunity to provide written evidence to the Committee on this issue.

The NIA is the trade association and information and representative body for the civil nuclear industry in the UK. It represents over 270 companies operating in all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, including the current and prospective operators of the nuclear power stations, the international designers and vendors of nuclear power stations, and those engaged in decommissioning, waste management and nuclear liabilities management. Members also include nuclear equipment suppliers, engineering and construction firms, nuclear research organisations, and legal, financial and consultancy companies. Some of our members, particularly those participating in the UK nuclear new build programme, will be making their own detailed responses to the Committee.

The NIA cannot claim to be expert in risk perception or the tolerability of risks relating to major energy infrastructure, but would nonetheless like to make some general points which might provide some context to the issues being considered by the Committee.

First of all we would like to point out that, based on the industry’s opinion research, concerns about nuclear safety do not appear to have led to significant opposition to nuclear energy in the UK and those in favour of nuclear energy continue to outnumber those against. The NIA’s public opinion findings–undertaken in November and released this month—showed that over three quarters of the public continue to believe nuclear power is a necessary part of a diverse mix of energy sources to ensure the UK’s future energy supplies. As Keith Parker states in the attached press notice in 2010 nuclear energy had its highest support in over a decade. Favourability fell following the accident at Fukushima, but is now again rising towards 2010 levels.

An NIA focus group undertaken at the same time shows that in unprompted responses those involved did not pick out nuclear safety as a major energy issue; although more generic issues such as pollution and building on green belt were mentioned. However polls have also shown that, despite the best efforts of industry, the majority of those questioned did not feel well informed about the industry. It is important therefore that both Government and the industry should continue to engage, inform and discuss the issues of nuclear energy with the public in an open and honest dialogue. A key issue worth highlighting in any such dialogue is that all energy sources involve risks.

It is likely that there is a much better understanding of the excellent safety record of the UK’s nuclear power stations in the localities within which they are located. This is because of the public information programmes undertaken by the operators, and in the case of proposed new stations, because of the extensive preconsultations carried out as part of the planning process. Communication serves two purposes, a guide to action and also to maintain and build long term trust with stakeholders. The consultation process gives people the opportunity to raise issues, which are then dealt with in the planning process.

So far as the wider general public is concerned it is probable that even a major public information campaign is unlikely to lead to a realistic appreciation of the safety of nuclear stations. However at the end of the day policy on new nuclear developments should not be driven by the perception of risk, but by an evidence-based approach that enables an appropriate level of risk to be determined. As the Committee will be aware it is the responsibility of Government and the regulators to do this, and to ensure that stringent safety and security arrangements are in place to ensure that the likelihood of significant accidents is very remote. In practice, having undertaken all the necessary studies, regulators will only allow a reactor to operate if they are convinced of its ability to do so safely.

If it has not already done so we believe that it would be worth the Committee inviting the Office for Nuclear Regulation to provide evidence to the Committee on how they approach these issues in relation to nuclear facilities.

In this context the Committee may be aware that under EU legislation the Government is required, before any new nuclear station can be built, to undertake a process of regulatory justification to demonstrate that the benefits of a new station will outweigh any potential radiological health detriments. The attached Quick Guide to the NIA’s regulatory justification application in 2009 shows that the potential health detriment from all potential activities associated with new nuclear power stations is extremely small.1 This process was completed in relation to two candidate designs for deployment in the UK in November 2010, following overwhelming votes in favour in the House of Commons.

14 December 2011

1 Not printed.

Prepared 6th July 2012