PUBLIC liability insurance in the event of a disaster at Sizewell or any other UK nuclear sites is set to be increased from £140million to £1.2billion under plans waiting to be ratified.

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But critics claim the amount is still “woefully inadequate” - particularly in view of the cost of damage caused by the Fukushima disaster in Japan two years ago.

Insurance to cover “third party” loss or damage within the impact zone of a nuclear accident in the UK has remained at £140m for some years.

Eight years ago the UK and other signatories to a European convention put forward proposals to oblige operators to increase the cover to 700m euros (£588m).

However, following the Fukushima disaster the proposed amount was increased to £1.25billion euros (just over £1bn), an amount which would be topped up to 1.5bn euros (about £1.2bn) by signatories to what is known as the Paris and Brussels Convention.

The move was instigated by the UK Government “to ensure that more compensation will be available to a larger number of claimants in respect of a broader range of damage”.

The new amounts will be phased in over a five-year period once the agreement has been ratified by all the European signatories, hopefully later this year.

But Suffolk environment consultant Pete Wilkinson, a former member of a Government radioactive waste advisory agency, said: “‘Even the higher figure represents a derisory amount when compared to the estimated $10-20bn needed for the partial clean up of the radiological aftermath of Fukushima.

“Thousands of people living in what they consider to be areas safe from the effects of nuclear power may one day have a rude awakening when they are required to leave their homes, possibly indefinitely, and seek compensation which the industry will be unwilling and unable to provide.”

Nigel Smith, a Middleton parish councillor and member of the Sizewell Stakeholder Group, said the increased insurance cover was still “woefully inadequate”.

An EDF spokeswoman said the company agreed with the changes to achieve consistency across signatory European states.

“However, liability in the event of an incident is only part of the answer,” she said. “We believe it is far more important to engineer out the risk of an incident than to simply insure against it.

“Safety is the number one priority for EDF Energy and the nuclear industry and the Government protects the taxpayer best by ensuring through regulation that the highest possible standards of construction and operation are maintained with a view to safety.”

The spokeswoman said the insurance requirement on the nuclear industry was “uniquely stringent” compared with other industries.

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said: “A provisional date of December 1 this year has been agreed by the contracting parties for joint ratification but this timetable will be reviewed when the parties meet again in June 2013.”

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