Sizewell: Nuclear centre prone for action in emergency

Sizewell B has unveiled the UK's first Emergency Response Centre.

Sizewell B has unveiled the UK's first Emergency Response Centre.

Despite its multimillion pound price tag, state-of-the art equipment and imposing presence at the edge of a Suffolk town, developers hope Sizewell B’s new Emergency Response Centre (ERC) may never realise its full potential.

EDF Energy yesterday invited dignitaries and industry specialists to see inside the impressive structure, due to be fully operational - and “prepared for the unthinkable” - in March, following a programme of work since events at Fukushima.

Although the chief nuclear inspector’s review of the sector found UK facilities had “no fundamental weaknesses, Sizewell’s EDF-funded centre forms part of the firm’s £180m plan to meet recommendations for enhanced safety at its eight stations, with back-up plant and control systems for operators to control the station remotely if necessary, as well as emergency equipment, high pressure pumps and vehicles.

Addressing the site’s launch beside Leiston railhead, two miles from the plant, EDF chief executive Vincent de Rivaz, said: “Fukushima raised important and legitimate questions about risk, safety and the responsibility of operators, regulators and the Government. In the UK, there was a measured and rational response from the Government, the public and the industry. There was no rush to judgement - no knee-jerk reaction.

“[Dr Weightman] said that, as an industry, we acted responsibly; that there were no significant gaps in the scope and depth of safety procedures of nuclear facilities in the UK; that there was no need to curtail existing operations. But he also said there were lesson to be learned.

“Because we are a learning organisation, we committed to responding in the right way. We dedicated a significant amount of thought and resource to the entire process. We did it on time and on budget for this ERC.

“Fukushima taught us we have to be prepared for any eventuality. Here, the centre is intended as an additional line of defence, enhancing our ability of recovering after a low-probability extreme natural event.”

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Energy minister Baroness Verma said she was impressed by the “robust intent” with which EDF responded to the Weightman report, and that she welcome the centre as a “culmination of progress”.

EDF’s Japan earthquake response programme communications boss, Martin Kelly said the site will be kept in a constant state of readiness.