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UK environment watchdog consults on reactor designs

28 Jun 2010 17:49:51 | edem

The UK's Environment Agency launched a consultation on Monday on the preliminary conclusions to its investigations into the potential environmental impact of two new nuclear reactor designs.

The agency said it was minded to issue a "statement of design acceptability" (SODA) for both the EDF/Areva European Pressurised Reactor (EPR) and US engineering firm Westinghouse's AP1000 reactor designs, subject to a number of caveats.

The main areas of concern included issues related to decommissioning and spent fuel disposal in the case of both reactor designs. The environment agency found an additional area of concern in the Westinghouse design relating to the potential for radioactive waste to be released through the ventilation systems.

But the agency added that it is "confident" these areas can be addressed "either by the reactor designer or by a site developer as part of its site-specific application."

It added it would carefully consider respondents' views to its preliminary conclusions in reaching its decision on whether to issue an interim SODA. The deadline for responses is 18 October.

The consultation takes place as part of the UK's ongoing Generic Design Assessment (GDA) for new nuclear reactors.

The country's Health and Safety Executive's nuclear directorate has already identified several safety issues that needed to be addressed in both the Westinghouse and EPR designs before they could be approved for use in the previous stage (see EDEM 27 November 2009).

The executive is now at the final stage of its four-step GDA process, which sees the focus shift to a detailed assessment of reactor designs. It will issue its final verdict on the reactor designs at the end of the GDA Step 4, which is scheduled for June 2011.

The UK is expecting to lose a third of its generation capacity within the next 20 years as existing nuclear reactors and high-emission coal plants are decommissioned. New private-sector nuclear investment is seen as a way of helping to meet this shortfall.

The UK's Liberal-Conservative coalition government has made clear its policy to support constructing more nuclear, provided that developers can build and operate reactors free from public subsidies (see EDEM 13 May 2010).

EDF plans to construct four EPRs in the UK, with the first set to come online in 2017 (see EDEM 27 May 2010). RA

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