Following the devastation in the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan on 11 March 2011, thoughts within Europe turned to the safety of our own nuclear power plants. A common methodology was developed across the Union, with multinational teams assessing the plants.

ENSREG, the group of national safety authorities of all 27 member states worked in cooperation with the safety checks that were undertaken. ENSREG is made up of officials from all member states and introduces agreements that deal with nuclear regulation. Following Fukushima ENSREG adopted an Action Plan which specified the need for country specific action and a regulatory peer review workshop.

Following the Action plan stress tests were completed at each nuclear site to assess the robustness of the plants in the case of extreme natural events, such as those that were experienced at Fukushima. Power plant operators carried out self-assessment, national regulators evaluated the assessments and their reports were checked by multinational teams. 17 countries participated in the tests, all 14 countries with operating nuclear power plants participated as well as Lithuania who are decommissioning a plant, Ukraine and Switzerland.

The tests found that generally levels of safety are high and no plant needed to be shut down, however significant improvements were identified for almost all plants.

Each Member State with nuclear power plants has prepared a national action plan which contains timetables for implementation.

The recommendations from the UK action plan included:

  • The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) should consider to what extent long term severe accidents can and should be covered by the programme of emergency exercises overseen by the regulator, it should also consider whether more should be done to prepare for remote incidents.
  • Ensure that the ONR has access to sufficient relevant expertise to fulfil its duties in relation to a major incident anywhere in the world.
  • The UK should initiate a review of flooding studies, including from tsunamis, in light of the Japanese experience to confirm the design basis and margins for flooding.
  • Review site layouts to ensure essential supplies and controls have adequate robustness against severe flooding and other extreme external events.
  • Analysis of seismic performance of structures, systems and components important to safety
  • Work with the National Grid to establish the potential unavailability of off-site electrical supplies under severe hazard conditions
  • Review the need for the provision of additional, diverse, means of providing robust sufficiently long term independent electrical supplies onsite in the event of the loss of off-site power.
  • Review the need for, and if required, the ability to provide longer term coolant supplies to nuclear sites in the UK in the event of severe off-site disruption.

It is estimated the cost to improve each reactor unit will be up to 200 million Euros. The UK has 19 reactors and could therefore be looking at a bill of 3.8billion Euros. The EU has limited funds to deal with this and plant operators are expected to partially fund the work.

New EU legislation is expected in the form of a revised Nuclear Safety Directive with more detail on safety procedures, frameworks and transparency.

Watch this space as we expect further developments in this area and the potential costs for plant operators in complying with new safety legislation is likely to be high.