There is no need to curtail the operation of nuclear power stations after the crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan, UK nuclear chief inspector Mike Weightman has said.
In an interim report on the lessons that could be learned from the disaster, which followed a 9 magnitude earthquake and a tsunami that battered the Japanese coast, Weightman said similar natural events would not happen in the UK.
He said existing and planned nuclear power stations in this country were of a different design to those at Fukushima, which were rocked by explosions and damage to the reactors after the tsunami shut down power to the plants, knocking out their cooling facilities.
And flooding risks were unlikely to prevent construction of new nuclear power stations at potential development sites in Britain, all of which are on the coast, he said.
The government is planning new nuclear reactors on existing sites to maintain electricity supplies and cut greenhouse gas emissions as an old generation of power stations are shut down.
Weightman said there was no need to change the current strategy for siting new nuclear plants. But he said lessons could still be learned from the nuclear accident in Japan.
The executive head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation was asked by energy secretary Chris Huhne to report on the implications of the nuclear crisis in Japan. Weightman's initial assessment will be followed by a final report in September.
The interim report made 25 recommendations for areas to be reviewed by the government, industry and regulators, to determine if there are any measures that could improve safety in the UK nuclear industry.
Weightman said: “The extreme natural events that preceded the accident at Fukushima – the magnitude 9 earthquake and subsequent huge tsunami – are not credible in the UK.
“We are 1,000 miles from the nearest fault line and we have safeguards in place that protect against even very remote hazards.
“Our operating and proposed future reactor designs and technology are different to the type at the Fukushima plant.
“But we are not complacent. No matter what the differences are, and how high the standards of design and subsequent operation of the nuclear facilities here in the UK, the quest for improvement must never stop,” he said.
The report found no “gaps in scope or depth” in the safety assessment measures for nuclear facilities in the UK, or any “significant weaknesses” in the nuclear licensing regime.
It also said there would be considerable scope for lessons about human behaviour in severe accidents that would be useful for enhancing contingency plans and training for such events.
Responding to the report, Huhne said: “Safety is and will continue to be the number-one priority. I am pleased that today's report confirms that the UK's current safety arrangements are working.
“I want regulators and the industry to work together so that we continue to improve our safety regime.”
Huhne said the report provided the “basis to continue to remove the barriers to nuclear new build in the UK”.
“We want to see new nuclear as part of a low-carbon energy mix going forward, provided there is no public subsidy. The chief nuclear inspector's interim report reassures me,” said Huhne.
The Engineering the Future alliance, which represents the engineering community, welcomed Weightman's review. Dame Sue Ion FREng, a spokesperson for the alliance, said: “Nuclear power is an important part of the UK’s energy mix and is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future as we strive to achieve a low-carbon economy.
“We must ensure that lessons are learned and implemented following the incident at Fukushima. The Engineering the Future group is actively supporting the work of the UK review of nuclear safety.”