Draft Justification Decision (Generation of Electricity by the UK ABWR Nuclear Reactor) Regulations 2015


The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chair: Dr William McCrea 

Blackwood, Nicola (Oxford West and Abingdon) (Con) 

Burns, Mr Simon (Chelmsford) (Con) 

Donaldson, Mr Jeffrey M. (Lagan Valley) (DUP) 

Fox, Dr Liam (North Somerset) (Con) 

Greatrex, Tom (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op) 

Hurd, Mr Nick (Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner) (Con) 

Lee, Jessica (Erewash) (Con) 

McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab) 

Mosley, Stephen (City of Chester) (Con) 

Murphy, Paul (Torfaen) (Lab) 

Phillipson, Bridget (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab) 

Reid, Mr Alan (Argyll and Bute) (LD) 

Robinson, Mr Geoffrey (Coventry North West) (Lab) 

Ruane, Chris (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab) 

Russell, Sir Bob (Colchester) (LD) 

Sharma, Mr Virendra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab) 

Wallace, Mr Ben (Wyre and Preston North) (Con) 

Watkinson, Dame Angela (Hornchurch and Upminster) (Con) 

Anne-Marie Griffiths, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

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Ninth Delegated Legislation Committee 

Wednesday 21 January 2015  

[Dr William McCrea in the Chair] 

Draft Justification Decision (Generation of Electricity by the UK ABWR Nuclear Reactor) Regulations 2015

8.55 am 

Mr Ben Wallace (Wyre and Preston North) (Con):  I beg to move, 

That the Committee has considered the draft Justification Decision (Generation of Electricity by the UK ABWR Nuclear Reactor) Regulations 2015. 

Good morning, Dr McCrea. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. On 11 December my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change laid before the House a draft statutory instrument containing his decision, as justifying authority under the Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004, that the generation of electricity from the nuclear reactor design known as the UK advanced boiling water reactor is justified. 

Regulatory justification is one of the necessary regulatory steps before new nuclear power stations can be built in the United Kingdom. It is based on the recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection which are used around the world as the basis for radiological protection. Those recommendations form the basis of the Euratom basic safety standards directive, which requires member states to ensure that before any new practice involving ionising radiation can be introduced—for example, a new design of nuclear reactor—it must first undergo a high-level assessment to determine whether its economic, social or other benefits outweigh the health detriment it may cause. 

The requirements were implemented in UK law through the 2004 regulations, which provide that a decision on whether to justify a new practice should be taken by the justifying authority—in this case, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The decision follows two public consultations by my Department. First, there was a consultation on an application from the Nuclear Industry Association for justification of the UK ABWR. Following that, the Department published a second consultation last year on a proposed decision that the UK ABWR should be justified. After considering the responses to those consultations, we announced on 11 December our decision that the UK ABWR was justified. Copies of documents setting out our detailed reasons for the decision have been deposited in the Library. 

In summary, we see a clear need for the generation of electricity by the UK ABWR because of the contribution it can make through increased security of energy supplies and reduced carbon emissions. One UK ABWR reactor will be able to produce 1,350 MW of electrical power for a high proportion of its operating lifespan of over 60 years, which is enough electricity to power 2.5 million

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homes. Nuclear power has long been a significant source of low-carbon energy and can continue to contribute to our energy mix. 

Energy companies are investing significantly in the prospect of new nuclear power stations, including Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd and Horizon Nuclear Power, which propose to build two UK ABWRs at each of the two new nuclear power stations at Wylfa in Anglesey and Oldbury in Gloucestershire. Beyond direct investment and employment from new nuclear power stations, we can benefit through the development of a globally competitive nuclear supply chain and an improvement in the quality of the UK’s skilled work force. 

Against those benefits, there is the potential for detriment, but that is small, well understood and guarded against by an established regulatory regime. The radiation dose that members of the public would receive from the normal operation of a UK ABWR annually would be below detectable risk levels in the context of overall radiation exposure, including medical procedures and background radiation. The safety features of the designs and the regulatory regime, which sets limits on the release of radiation and monitors compliance, will ensure that emissions are minimised. The risk of health detriment is therefore very low. 

Justification decisions apply to the management and disposal of radioactive waste that new nuclear power stations will produce, as well as to their operation. In making our decisions, we are satisfied that the regulatory regime will limit the risk of health detriment from waste management and disposal to very low levels. We are satisfied that there is a robust process in place to identify a suitable site for a geological disposal facility. We are confident that a site will be identified and that such a facility will be built. 

We also concluded that the possible environmental detriments arising from new nuclear power stations are likely to be avoided or adequately mitigated by the licensing and planning regime. We considered the risk of detriments arising from an accident or terrorist incident. Such possible detriments already exist, and the risk of such incidents should be seen in the context of the regulatory regime, which is intended to prevent accidents and protect against terrorist attacks.

We have confidence in the regulatory regimes for the safety and security of civil nuclear installations and materials in the UK, and consider that the likelihood of an accident or other incident giving rise to a release of radioactive material is very small. We have therefore concluded that the significant potential benefits outweigh the potential detriments, and that the generation of electricity by the UK ABWR should be justified. I commend the regulations to the Committee. 

9 am 

Tom Greatrex (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (Lab/Co-op):  It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr McCrea. I welcome the hon. Member for Wyre and Preston North; in recent weeks, it seems as though I have been opposite him more often than the Minister for whom he is deputising, but who is an important, busy man and probably has great matters of state to deal with, rather than some of the matters that we discuss in Committee. 

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The purpose of the regulations is to comply with the 2004 regulations, which justify practices involving ionising radiation, with specific regard to the ABWR designed by Hitachi-GE. Regarding the plans for that design at Wylfa, my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen) has been a consistent, passionate and persuasive advocate for his community. I think I am right in saying that the constituency Member for Oldbury has taken a more equivocal view. I know that he is a member of the Government now but his views are more mixed. Certainly, the plans at Wylfa are high on the agenda of many local people, who have lived with a nuclear reactor in their community for a number of years and are keen to see this progress. For that reason, as well as the wider point about the need for nuclear to continue to play a role in a balanced energy mix, I welcome the regulations. 

The consistency of the base load power provided by nuclear as a low-carbon source helps complement the variable output of other sources of energy. For that reason, we continue to support nuclear as part of the mix, and have done consistently through this Parliament and, indeed, in the lead-up to some of those decisions and processes from mid-way through the previous Parliament. 

The ABWR has been in use internationally for some time. The first model went live in Japan in the late 1990s. To that extent, it is a tried and tested piece of technology, although the generic design and assessment process for the UK is, quite rightly, robust and distinct. As the Minister said, the reactor is capable of producing 1,350 MW for a high proportion of its operating lifespan. 

In January 2014, the regulators began the formal technical assessment phase—step 2 of the GDA for the ABWR—which considered the question of radiation. The Office for Nuclear Regulation suggested a number of changes to Hitachi-GE’s reference plant, but raised no formal regulatory issues. On 28 August, it cleared the ABWR to progress to the next stage of the GDA. 

For the record, in relation to exposure to radioactivity—the 2.7 millisieverts a year that is the annual dose to a member of the public—84% comes from natural sources, 16% from medical procedures and about 0.2% from other sources, including existing nuclear power stations. That does not mean that it is not important to ensure that these issues are properly addressed early in the GDA in the preparation for this reactor design potentially to become a part of our fleet. 

However, I have a number of points that I hope the Minister will clarify. Will he set out the schedule for the ABWR to clear the remaining parts of the GDA, and what estimate has he made of the anticipated construction time for an ABWR in the UK? The proposal at Hinkley, which is a different reactor design, has been beset by problems in France and Finland, and although it is stated that in the UK a number of those issues will be dealt with prior to construction, there is concern that sometimes such things take longer than is first intimated. Does the Minister have an up-to-date assessment of expectations? 

The current justification is explicit in excluding mixed oxide fuel or fuel reprocessing. When does the Minister expect his Department to make a decision on the disposal or reuse of the UK’s 100 tonnes of plutonium? Hinkley Point C was awarded a higher strike price, on the grounds that it was deemed first of a kind in the UK.

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Although a future ABWR would be the first in the UK, it is a technology that has been around for close to 20 years. Will the Minister confirm whether a UK ABWR would also be considered first of a kind? Is that the benchmark for each different reactor design we may have in future in the UK? 

The Minister said that the ABWR is capable of producing 1,350 MW for a higher proportion of its operating lifespan. Will he clarify his estimate of the likely load factor of an ABWR, and say how that compares with competing available nuclear reactor technologies? 

The Chair:  Before I call the next speaker, I will say that there is little that could be more important than what we discuss in this meeting. I call Paul Murphy. 

9.6 am 

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab):  First, I welcome you to the Chair, Dr McCrea. We have worked together on many different issues. It is good to be with you and other Members this morning. 

I rise briefly to support the Government and what the Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said. Supporting this statutory instrument is an important stage in developing nuclear power, in particular Wylfa Newydd in Anglesey. I make no comment on Oldbury even though my mother’s family comes from that part of the world. I want to make the point about Wylfa in particular, because it is so important to people who live on the island of Anglesey and across north Wales generally. 

I visited the plant on a number of occasions when I was Secretary of State for Wales. As Members probably know, nuclear power has been generated in that part of the world since the early 1970s. This is a great opportunity for the island. I am told that between 6,000 and 8,000 jobs will result from the construction of the plant and that the company is spending around £6 billion on it. Of course, that has an enormous impact on the local economy, affecting not simply those who will work at Wylfa Newydd, but the supply chain to the plant. It is important that the community in Ynys Môn—Anglesey—is hugely supportive of the project, which will, for example, bring in high-quality apprenticeships. 

This is a very important stage. It means that we can say to the people of north Wales that the Government and Parliament have looked closely at the safety aspects of the development. We know that will assuage those who have in the past disagreed with the project. Therefore, I fully support it and my hon. Friend’s questions, because it is important to look at the time scale. How long is it going to take? The sooner it happens, the better for the people of Anglesey and north Wales. 

In conclusion, my party, along with—I believe—the Government, is of the view that this country’s energy policy must be based on a variety of different sources, of which nuclear power is undoubtedly one.

9.8 am 

Mr Wallace:  First, I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Ynys Môn. I spend a lot of time on the island of Anglesey, and I know how important his campaign to secure the reactor for the island has been. The potential

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for economic development that it will bring is incredibly welcome in that part of the world and to the good people of Anglesey. 

I want to address the points made by Opposition Members, particularly the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West. On time scales, the further assessment has already started, and we are moving towards the detailed assessment. We think that the reactor will be on target to complete by the end of 2017. If all agreements are in place, we hope that construction can start, leading to operations commencing in the mid-2020s. Hopefully, that will be in line with our target—as well as with the previous Government’s target—for producing electricity from nuclear reaction. 

We hope that we can achieve towards 80% load factor should the advanced boiling water reactor be put in place. I echo the shadow Minister’s comments: we are in a fortunate position in that we are dealing with technologies that have already matured; we are not the first in the queue with prototype technologies, which are usually where unforeseen costs and delays are incurred. I hope that the UK ABWR and the reactors at Hinkley Point will demonstrate that we will learn from any flaws or mistakes in more mature reactors and import corrections and best value to ensure that we are up and running and on target as soon as possible. 

The geological disposal timetable was set out in a reviewed framework in the White Paper in July 2014. We intend to stick to that framework. We will get closer to firming up and being able to discuss an actual strike price as we move towards the final stages of committing the contract for agreeing the reactor and rolling out its “go” time, or the main-gate time, as they say in defence. 

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I stress that regulatory justification is the first step in the radiological protection regime. Following the justification decision, we have to go through further processes involving more detailed examinations by regulators of reactor designs and the effect on specific sites of proposals to build nuclear power stations. A justification decision does not mean that the reactor design and the nuclear power station will pass through the further processes successfully; it is still possible that it can fail and not go ahead. 

A practice must be justified before it is adopted or approved, so decisions are made in advance of full information on the benefits and detriments of the practice that might emerge from operational experience. The decision therefore seeks to identify the potential detriment from the reactor designs by making informed assumptions based on the best information available, including information about the ABWR—the generic design from which the UK ABWR derives—which has already been in operation elsewhere in the world, information about other reactor designs, and the expert opinion of regulators and others. 

If new and important evidence about the efficacy or consequences of the class or type of practice comes to light, the 2004 regulations allow the Secretary of State to reassess any regulatory justification decision. The regulations are an important legal step in taking forward the nuclear new build programme in the United Kingdom, and I commend them to the House. 

Question put and agreed to.  

9.12 am 

Committee rose.  

Prepared 22nd January 2015