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23 April 2010updated 27 Sep 2015 2:21am

Why nuclear “Justification” isn’t enough

New build nuclear reactors will escape proper Parliamentary scrutiny. That cannot be right.

By Paul Dorfman

The nuclear industry want to build over ten new nuclear reactors in the UK. Each of these reactors will have 2.5 times the radiological inventory of Sizewell B, the biggest reactor in the UK.

Government figures state that a substantial new nuclear re-build will provide 4 per cent of our energy, and so halt only 4 per cent of our CO2 emissions. The estimated cost to taxpayers of decommissioning our current reactors and dealing with our present nuclear waste has mounted from £50bn to £73bn over the last five years.

The actual costs will be over £100bn.

Nuclear “Justification” is a high level assessment about whether the benefits of new nuclear build outweigh the health detriments. Justification is a legal regulatory requirement under EU law – it must be done before reactors can be approved. Once the Justification decision has been taken it will be all but impossible to re-open nuclear policy.

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This will not be subject to any Parliamentary scrutiny until after a decision has been made. However, if you don’t know the reactor design and can’t prove you can dispose of the radioactive waste, how on earth can you know the release?

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And if this is so, which it is, how can you expect to be in compliance with the law? Unfortunately this is the position that the Office of Nuclear development at the Department of Energy and Climate Change find themselves.

This means that government is about to take a decision on the “Justification” of more nuclear power when significant “what if” issues that are tied to health impact – such as reactor design and siting, vulnerability to attack, radiation waste, radiation risk, reactor decommissioning – have not been resolved.

Failure to do this leaves the government open to legal challenge and leads to hostility and mistrust of any future energy policy decision.

At this politically sensitive and strategic time for UK energy futures, whether you are for, against, or haven’t made your mind up about new nuclear reactors on the UK – this critical decision must be dealt with openly and fairly to get a better result for everyone by generating public trust in the outcome.

Because the Justification of new nuclear power in the UK represents a key issue for trust in government energy policy and the control of nuclear risk, we believe the Government should hold an Independent Inquiry, as allowed for under the regulations governing Justification: The Justification of Practices Involving Ionising Radiation Regulations 2004 (No. 1769), Regulation 17.

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Dr Paul Dorfman is Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust Energy Policy Research Fellow, facilitates the Nuclear Consultation Group, Member of MOD Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP) Steering Group (MSDPSG), Steering Group Member SAFEGROUNDS (Safety and Environmental Guidance for Remediation of Nuclear and Defence Sites), and served as Secretary to the Committee Examining Radiation Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE).