The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) publishes today its analysis of UK / European nuclear safety three and a half years after the Fukushima disaster. The Policy Briefing is the first of a trio of nuclear policy briefings – the others being on nuclear emergency planning and nuclear security – which challenge the new UK Government and nuclear regulatory agencies to consider fundamental changes as a result of specific issues the Fukushima disaster has raised. (1)
NFLA Policy Briefing 132 on nuclear safety considers the recently agreed and updated International Convention on Nuclear Safety. It notes that the robust Swiss / European proposed changes were significantly diluted following representations from the United States and Russia. This would have required existing reactors to upgrade to a similar level of safety in certain respects to that of new reactors. Europe is spending much more on upgrading reactors than the rest of the world. In France, EDF, for instance, is spending around $13 billion on implementing safety measures on its 59 reactors, whereas American utilities will spend only $3 billion for roughly 100 reactors.
However, in the NFLA’s view, European nuclear safety authorities have dodged major questions such as the threat from terrorism, plane crashes, off-site emergency plans, and the same multiple disaster scenarios that sparked the Fukushima crisis. The post-Fukushima ‘stress tests’ carried out on European reactors also decided to ignore the age of the plants and so, for example, missed suspected cracks in aging reactor vessels in two Belgian reactors, which might now have implications for all of the world’s reactors. Any reactor older than 30 years is of higher concern than others because steel and welding seams experience fatigue under constant neutron bombardment, especially in the reactor vessel and primary cooling circuit. NFLA note that most UK reactors are older than this. NFLA remain concerned with the continuing drive from the nuclear industry, largely supported by nuclear regulators, to extend the life of such reactors.
NFLA also argue that lessons have still not been fully learnt about the impact of the Fukushima disaster on nuclear safety, as the recent publication by Greenpeace International of a draft International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) report on the accident has shown (2). Greenpeace argue that the draft IAEA report is full of inaccuracies and uncertainties playing down the environmental impact of the Fukushima disaster. The IAEA report also fails to acknowledge the uncertainties that still surround the causes of the disaster. Much of the critical systems inside the reactors that melted down have not yet been inspected. Protection of the industry still seems to be as pressing an issue for the IAEA as protection of the public.
The NFLA conclude that spending large amounts of money to upgrade aging reactors is likely to prove to be a fool’s errand. The money could be far more effectively spent on boosting energy efficiency and renewable energy programmes. There is no such risk of a catastrophic accident at onshore or offshore wind farms or radiation release from solar panels.
NFLA Chair Councillor Mark Hackett said:
This NFLA Policy Briefing provides an expert analysis on the international nuclear safety regime. Whilst NFLA is pleased that increased resources are being placed on resolving nuclear safety matters in Europe, it remains concerned that key areas are being overlooked or ignored. Fukushima was never expected to encounter such a disaster as it did in 2011. This report calls for a rethink of national and international nuclear safety, and raises concerns over the operation of nuclear reactors over 30 years old. I have asked for this report to go to the new UK Energy Minister Amber Rudd and nuclear regulators for comment and challenge. NFLA will continue to represent its members by providing the highest quality research across nuclear policy and I commend this report to those seeking improvements to the UK and European nuclear industry.”
For more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary on 0161 234 3244 or 07771 930196 or the NFLA Scotland Policy Advisor Pete Roche on 0131 444 1445.
Notes for editors:
(1) NFLA Policy Briefing 132 on nuclear safety is attached with this media release. It will be placed on the NFLA website http://www.nuclearpolicy.info in the ‘NFLA General Policy Briefings’ section. Reports on nuclear emergency planning and nuclear security will be published shortly as a trio of post-election nuclear policy research papers.
(2) Greenpeace International, 1st June 2015 http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/news/Blogs/nuclear-reaction/IAEA-Fukushima-Daiichi-accident-report/blog/53055/