Reassurance for residents

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A GOVERNMENT minister has reassured residents that safety at nuclear power stations is the number one priority after a Japanese plant was devastated by an earthquake and tsunami.

Chris Huhne, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, said the UK has a “strong track record” in nuclear energy, but said a review of all sites – including Hartlepool Power Station – is under way to see if any lessons can be learned from the disaster.

It comes after the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has been crippled by fires and explosions since the 8.9-magnitude quake and 46ft tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling systems and back-up generators two weeks ago, leading to fears over the levels of radiation.

Mr Huhne also said he would not make any “knee-jerk reactions” when it comes to future plans for nuclear generation in this country.

There is an eight-strong list of sites where new power stations could be built and Hartlepool is included.

It is understood that any new build would not happen until at least 2020 if the town was selected.

Mr Huhne said: “We have a particularly strong track record in nuclear power and an international agency recently did a review of our regulations in the UK and concluded that it was very effective and extremely well staffed by people with great expertise and that is good news.

“But we are not in the least bit complacent after what has happened recently in Japan.

“The Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, will be investigating if there are any lessons that can be learned to improve our safety even further.”

That report will investigate back-up systems for when reactors are damaged, as well as whether employees have adequate training.

It will be prepared in co-operation with other international nuclear regulators, with an interim report published in May and a final report within six months.

The disaster along Japan’s northeast coast has wiped out entire communities and left almost 9,000 people dead with more than 12,000 still listed as missing.

Mr Huhne added: “We do not live in an earthquake zone and we don’t suffer from tsunamis, but I have specifically asked the report to look at how we cope with sudden flooding.

“Safety is always our number one priority.”

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has also raised the issue in the House of Commons and asked the Government to assess the “adequacy” for UK nuclear power plants to respond to a natural disaster.

Energy Minister Charles Hendry said that operators have to meet strict safety conditions to satisfy the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive, which is the industry safety regulator, including the legal requirement to have detailed emergency plans in place to deal with major incidents.

EDF Energy, the owners of Hartlepool Power Station, have already drawn up a hit list of measures including immediate checks on power station back-up systems, refresher training for staff and reviewing emergency plans.