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Fukushima crisis sparks fears around UK's nuclear programme

18 March 2011

Fears about the future of the UK’s £50bn new-build nuclear programme are growing as government and industry take in the implications of the ongoing crisis at Japan's Fukushima power station, Building reported.

A cross-party group of five MPs has called for an immediate suspension to the programme, while Energy secretary Chris Huhne launched a review of existing and new-build nuclear safety by Chief Nuclear Inspector Dr Mike Weightman. Huhne also refused to rule out delays to the programme.

The review is thought likely to derail the Health and Safety Executive's Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process, which was supposed to give the two proposed UK nuclear reactor designs a provisional green light in June.

A senior government source told Building that there was concern that any new design and safety conditions brought in following the review may be expensive for private sector investors to implement. “The concern is whether it gives the operators cause to look again at their plans to invest,” he said.

In Construction News, nuclear expert Enguerran Ripert of consultant with Frost & Sullivan speculated that Fukushima would have knock-on consequences for contractors looking to participate in the new build programme.

“It will certainly have repercussions, firstly for PR reasons as the government will need to acknowledge it is taking the current disaster into account.

“All contracts now in the process of negotiations will have to be slowed down until public opinion can again accept that nuclear needs to be part of the power mix,” he said.

Construction News also reported on an emergency meeting of the EU nuclear safety authorities, where member states were urged to “re-think their nuclear strategies”.

Germany has already halted production at seven nuclear plants in a three month moratorium on nuclear development. Spain is believed to be reviewing security at its nuclear plants, while protests have taken place against nuclear production in France.

But in the UK, energy secretary Chris Huhne told the DECC select committee: “I regret the fact some continental politicians do seem to be rushing to judgement on this before we’ve had proper assessment.”

The five MPs who launched an early day motion calling for the immediate suspension of the UK’s new-build programme are led by Lib-Dem Martin Horwood and Tory Zac Goldsmith.

Horwood, Lib Dem environment spokesman until last year’s election, said: “I’d support immediate suspension … [The accident] does highlight the inevitable inability of the highest design standards to cope with unexpected events.”

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