When you switched on the bathroom light this morning did you wonder where the electricity came from? How was it generated? And most importantly, who is making sure that electricity is being produced in a way that minimises the impact on our environment.
This week we've said that Hitachi-GE's nuclear reactor design, the UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), can be used in the UK. We haven't made this decision lightly. It's been a long process of around four years of scrutiny and assessment work.
Since 2013 my team has been working with the company, in the UK and Japan, to make sure that they understood our expectations – high standards of environment protection and waste management. Hitachi-GE have already built ABWRs in Japan and it was important for them to understand our UK requirements.
We work with the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW). Here at the Environment Agency we focus on environment protection, waste management, and the potential impact on the environment. Our colleagues at ONR focus on safety and security. Thanks to my team and colleagues at NRW and ONR for their hard work, enthusiasm and dedication. They’ve really worked relentlessly and I am proud of them all.
How we reached our decision
So how does ‘GDA’ work? It starts with a request to us from government to assess a design. We then work with the reactor design company to help them understand regulation in the UK, provide guidance and set up arrangements for our work. Next we receive documents from the company, and it’s these that we assess over the next four years. If we’re not satisfied we ask questions and raise issues and concerns with the company. Have a look at our infographic.
We’ve made our assessment process open and transparent so that it’s not only my qualified technical staff that see submissions and can ask questions or make comments. We involve communities and stakeholders, through a comments process, a public consultation and ongoing engagement. Our consultation ran for 12 weeks earlier this year and I enjoyed getting out to Thornbury and Anglesey and speaking to and debating with people who live near the proposed sites. We value these opportunities and it's important that people can get involved.
Why we approved the UK ABWR
My team looked at eleven topic areas including waste management, proposed discharges and limits and the radiation doses that people and wildlife might receive. We compared doses with national and international limits to confirm that communities and their environment will be protected. We’ve also looked at the wastes that would arise during operation and decommissioning to make sure these would be able to be disposed of and that impacts would be minimised.
About the design
To learn more about the design we've approved have a look at Hitachi-GE’s short film. Horizon Nuclear Power are proposing to build and operate it at Wylfa Newydd on Anglesey and Oldbury-on-Severn in South Gloucestershire. The company has added short films to YouTube about the project.
Our work's not over. Our approval doesn't mean that construction can start. There are licences, permits and planning approvals to work through before Horizon Nuclear Power can lay concrete at its sites. And it’s already started. Last month our regulators went to north Wales to join Natural Resources Wales staff at a public drop-in about one of these permits.