Sizewell: Watchdog says nuclear reactor concerns could be resolved by end of the year

DESIGNS for a nuclear reactor that could be used in a potential new power station on the Suffolk coast could be signed off by the end of the year, a safety watchdog has said.

The latest report from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) says that if improvements continue at the current rate then issues surrounding the European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) should be resolved.

EDF Energy wants to build two EPRs to form Sizewell C. However, the technical features of the reactor, which is designed by engineering company Areva, first have to be approved by the ONR, which is under pressure to meet an end-of-year deadline for the Government to be able to announce that no technical hurdles lie in the path of the construction of the new reactors.

Safety inspectors, which also includes the Environment Agency, are involved in a generic design assessment (GDA) aimed at resolving concerns.

The EADT has previously reported that there are 31 outstanding technical issues that need to be dealt with - leading some to question if an end of year deadline can be met. The latest quarterly GDA progress report reveals that two issues have now been resolved.

It continues: “If EDF and Areva sustain these improvements for the significant number of submissions that are still to be delivered and if they remain responsive to any questions that we raise, then we believe that the programmes that are set out in the revised resolution plans can be achieved. In that case, and if we are satisfied by the safety, security and environmental arguments that they put forward, then we might be able to close all of the remaining GDA issues by the end of the year.”

Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, EDF Energy managing director of nuclear new build, welcomed the report, saying: “We, and our partners Centrica, aim to take our final investment decision at the end of this year. Good progress had been made on the reforms to the electricity market designed to encourage investment in low carbon technologies. It is vital that that momentum is maintained in the legislative process and it is vital that we maintain the momentum in the licensing process – something which we and our partner Areva are committed to do.”

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But Suffolk-based environment consultant Pete Wilkinson said it would be a “miracle” if all the issues were resolved by the end of the year. “Some of these are very significant,” he said. “The ONR should have the courage to tell the Government that they can’t get it signed off in time and come up with a realistic timetable.”

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