On 10th January 2008, when the Government confirmed it wanted new reactors to go-ahead, it said it would carry out ‘facilitative actions’ to speed up their construction.
The Nuclear National Policy Statement (NPS) is intended to establish the ‘need’ for new reactors, so the subsequent planning process will only deal with site specific issues. On 18th July 2011 the House of Commons debated and approved the six finalised National Policy Statements for Energy and the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Chris Huhne, designated them under the 2008 Planning Act the day after.
The Justification Process is required under European Union regulations. Companies hoping to build a nuclear facility must show the benefits outweigh the potential health risks. In March 2008 the Government issued Guidance and invited nuclear companies to put forward new reactor designs by June for a justification decision. On 18 October 2010 the Secretary of State, Chris Huhne, published his decisions as Justifying Authority that two nuclear reactor designs, Westinghouse’s AP1000 and Areva’s EPR, would be Justified. In other words, in his opinion, their benefits would outweigh any radiological health detriment they may cause.
On 11 December 2014 the Secretary of State, Ed Davey, published his decision as Justifying Authority that the nuclear reactor design, Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd’s UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (UK ABWR), would be Justified.
Waste and Decommissioning Financing Arrangements: The Government legislated in the Energy Act 2008 supposedly to ensure that operators of new reactors will have secure financing arrangements in place to meet “the full costs of decommissioning and their full share of waste management and disposal costs”. Before construction begins, an operator of a new nuclear power station will have to submit a Funded Decommissioning Programme (FDP) for approval by the Secretary of State. The independent Nuclear Liabilities Financing Assurance Board was established to provide impartial scrutiny and advice on the suitability of FDPs. Alongside the approval of an operator’s FDP, the Government will expect to enter into a contract with the operator regarding the terms on which the Government will take title to and liability for the operator’s higher activity radioactive wastes. The Government expects to ‘dispose’ of spent fuel and intermediate level waste from new nuclear power stations in the same geological disposal facility that it is hoping to find a site for to ‘dispose’ of the waste already created by existing reactors. The contract with the operators of new reactors will set out how the price that will be charged for this waste transfer will be determined. This ‘waste transfer price’ is supposed to be “consistent with the Government’s policy that operators of new nuclear power stations should meet their full share of waste management costs“, but nuclear economist Ian Jackson points out that, because the new build spent fuel is unlikely to be buried underground before 2130, and a discount rate will be applied to the waste transfer price, we are basically hoping that the stock market will fund most of the cost.
A Generic Design Assessment (GDA) of new nuclear reactor designs is being carried out by the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Environment Agency (the Regulators). GDA, also known as pre-licensing, allows the generic safety, security and environmental aspects of new nuclear reactor designs to be assessed before applications are made for licences and permits to build particular designs of reactor on a particular sites. On 14th December 2011 the Regulators granted interim Design Acceptance Confirmations (iDACs) and interim Statements of Design Acceptability (iSoDAs) for the EDF and Areva UK EPR reactor design and the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor design. The EPR design had 31 outstanding issues and the AP1000 had 51.
In December 2012 the Regulators confirmed that the EPR reactor design is suitable for construction in the UK and issued a Design Acceptance Confirmation (DAC) and Statement of Design Acceptability (SoDA).
Westinghouse decided to request a pause in the GDA process for the AP1000 pending customer input to finalizing it. In January 2014 Westinghouse became a part of the NuGen consortium when parent company Toshiba bought a 60% stake. In August 2014, Westinghouse recommenced GDA in order address the 51 outstanding GDA issues which must be resolved before ONR and EA would consider granting a DAC/SoDA. The process is scheduled to be completed in January 2017.
Early in 2013 Hitachi-GE applied for GDA for its Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), and in August 2014 the ONR and EA completed the second stage of this, and cleared it to proceed to stage 3. In 2015 the ONR and EA raised an issue regarding reactor chemistry, which Hitachi-GE is addressing, and then another regarding safety analysis. The whole GDA process was to be completed about the end of 2017. There are four operable ABWR units in Japan, while two more are under construction. (See ABWRs – one of the least realiable reactors in the world, nuClear News No.77 September 2015) Two more are being built in Taiwan and one is planned for Lithuania. The design is already licensed in Japan and the USA. It can run on a full-core of mixed-oxide (MOX) (containing weapons-useable plutonium) nuclear fuel.