Hinkley C safety – can it be guaranteed? Who will guard the nuclear guards?

The watchdog that oversees nuclear safety has been accused of playing down the seriousness of hundreds of serious mistakes at power plants and military bases.

The Office for Nuclear Regulation [ONR] is responsible for the regulation of safety at nuclear sites and grades incidents with an International Nuclear Event Scale (INES) score.

Between 2012 and March 2015, the ONR gave 973 incidents a score of ‘zero’ – meaning there had been ‘no nuclear or radiological safety significance.’
This included an incident where a vehicle carrying nuclear material on the M1 hit a lorry and instances where workers at the main nuclear warhead base at Aldermaston in Berkshire were contaminated.

The ONR only issued an INES score of one – which amounts to ‘minor problems with safety components’ – 90 times during the same period. … “


How will our Local Enterprise Partnership resolve this one – with so many of its board having conflicts of interest with their own nuclear interests!

One thought on “Hinkley C safety – can it be guaranteed? Who will guard the nuclear guards?

  1. This story of fiasco in the nuclear industry would be amusing were the subject matter not so serious.

    Hinkley C is scheduled to be the first nuclear power reactor to be constructed in UK for some 30 years (The last one, Sizewell B, was started in 1988, two years after Chernobyl). Prosecutors in Paris have just opened an inquiry into allegations that a factory owned by Areva, the French nuclear group, has been falsifying component safety tests for decades. Prosecutors are reported to believe that the irregularities might have resulted from a deliberate attempt to cover up a safety risk. (And we all know who are building Hinkley.) So we might expect to be rebuilding experience and strengthening our regulatory organisation, making it fit for the 2020s and an organisation we can have faith in. But read on.

    The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) was set up as an arm of the Health and Safety Executive shortly after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. It was set free as a statutory corporation, with a quasi-autonomous status similar to that of Channel 4, in 2014.

    The job of the ONR, keeping potentially the most dangerous industry in Britain safe, is tough, possibly even contradictory.

    On the one hand it must stand guard over a vast and crumbling estate stretching from nuclear submarine docks to warehouses where degraded fuel is stored in glass (because we haven’t a clue of how and where to store radioactive materials safely in the long term), and oversee the renaissance in our nuclear industry.

    On the other, it is obliged by Treasury rules to give the sector room for financial growth and draws 94 per cent of its budget from the companies it was set up to regulate (of course – only don’t mention Gamekeepers and Poachers at this time of year).
    It is overseen by – wait for it – the Department for Work and Pensions on the surreal ground that it is the only ministry unlikely to have anything more than a glancing interest in (or knowledge of) the nuclear business.

    Its new Chief Executive, Adriènne Kelbie, has previously been director of operations at the Big Lottery Fund, deputy chief executive of Hull city council, and head of the Disclosure and Barring Service. A splendid all-rounder, no doubt, with a “safe pair of hands”. Whitehall speak for keeping below the radar.

    ONR Chief Nuclear Inspector, Dr Richard Savage in the ONR December 2016 newsletter explains: “Enabling regulation…is a constructive approach with dutyholders and other relevant stakeholders to enable delivery against clear and prioritised safety outcomes.”

    So you won’t, perhaps, be surprised to hear that, The Times and Plymouth Herald on Tuesday revealed that a torpedo inadvertently fired by a Navy warship at the nuclear submarine dock in Plymouth and three road accidents involving vehicles carrying radioactive material were among the events dismissed by the ONR as posing no danger.


Comments are closed.