Reactor designs pass nuclear safety tests

Government regulators have given safety clearance in principle to the reactor types planned for deployment in Britain's nuclear new build programme.

Nuclear companies EDF Energy and Areva’s European pressurised water reactor and Westinghouse’s AP1000 design have to pass "generic design assessments" to demonstrate their safety credentials before they can be built in the UK.

The reactor types have been subjected to additional tests in line with recommendations from chief nuclear inspector Dr Mike Weightman following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan this year.

This week the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Environment Agency issued interim statements of design acceptability confirming that they are satisfied with the way both teams of reactor designers are dealing with the issues raised by Weightman’s report, published in October. Final clearance is excpected to take another 12 months.

ONR director for nuclear new build Kevin Allars said: "This interim acceptance confirms that all the plans on how the industry will resolve the outstanding issues are in place. It is for the designers now to satisfy us that they have resolved these issues. We will not allow the industry to build the reactors until they have done so."

Environment Agency head of nuclear regulation Joe McHugh said the assessment has been a challenging process, involving more than 60 expert engineers, scientists and regulators. "It means we are far better placed to ensure that any new reactors that are built in the UK meet high standards of safety, security and environmental protection."

EDF Energy chief executive Vincent de Rivaz, whose company’s application for the first new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset was accepted for examination by the Infrastructure Planning Commission last month, described the announcement as "very good news" for UK new nuclear build.

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