MP speaks out on nuclear safety

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HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright has called on the government to assess the “adequacy” of plans for UK nuclear power plants to respond to a natural disaster in light of the earthquake and tsunami that has devastated Japan.

The Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has been crippled by fires and explosions since the 8.9-magnitude quake and 46-foot tsunami knocked out the plant’s cooling systems and back-up generators 12 days ago leading to fears over the levels of radiation.

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, as previously reported in the Mail.

The town’s MP has now called on the government to assess emergency plans for plants across the UK to respond to disasters on that scale.

Government ministers told Mr Wright that safety is their “primary concern” and that a report on the situation in Japan will be prepared to see what lessons can be learned.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Wright said: “To ask the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change if he will assess the adequacy of plans for UK nuclear power plants to respond to a natural disaster?”

Energy Minister Charles Hendry said that operators of UK nuclear power plants have to meet strict safety conditions to satisfy the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate of the Health and Safety Executive, which is the industry safety regulator.

That includes complying with the “rigorous conditions” of their nuclear site licence and other regulation, including the legal requirement to have detailed emergency plans in place to deal with major incidents.

Mr Hendry added: “In the light of the events in Japan, the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change has called on the Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Mike Weightman, for a thorough report on the implications of the situation in Japan and the lessons to be learned.

“This will be prepared in close co-operation internationally with other nuclear regulators, with an interim report in May and a final report within six months.

“It is essential that we understand the full facts and their implications, both for existing nuclear reactors and any new programme, as safety is always our primary concern.”

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.