HSE under fire on independent nuclear safety advice

The Health and Safety Executive has denied that the independent Nuclear Safety Advisory Committee (NuSAC) to the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has been wound up permanently

NuSAC, a panel of independent scientists, academics and trade unionists reporting to the HSE’s Nuclear Installations Inspectorate was disbanded on 31 October last year. But the HSE says it “will be reconstituted in some form” as part of HSE’s work to establish a Nuclear Directorate, although there is no timetable for this.

The HSE also points out that: “The traditional advisory committee structure is not necessarily the only route” for advice. For instance the NII, it adds “ is staffed by experts and calls on many sources of advice on nuclear safety”, including contractors.

MSP Rob Gibson of the Scottish National Party, and a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Energy and Climate Change committee, attacked the closure of NuSAC:

“At a time when the UK Government is promoting new nuclear power stations, to shut down an essential organisation that advises on nuclear safety is utterly incomprehensible.”

Friends of the Earth said the closure was alarming given New Labour’s haste in preparing the ground for a new nuclear programme, and called for its restoration.

In a closing letter to the HSE, ex-Chair of NuSAC Steve Vranch advised that a replacement should be set up as quickly as possible to deal with continuing and growing workload for existing and proposed nuclear power and waste sites.

However, the uncertainty over the future of NuSAC is overshadowed by much deeper concern over a continuing critical shortage of nuclear safety inspectors given government plans for nuclear expansion.

Mike MacDonald, negotiations officer for Prospect, the union which covers nuclear inspectors, warned that: “The NII has 170 inspectors and needs an additional 20 for current work, as well as 30 more to meet nuclear new build needs. Also 50 inspectors are due to retire in the next five years.”

The HSE denies the shortage could delay nuclear plans, and says it is acting on recommendations of the Stone report on NII staffing, anticipating more recruitment over the next two years.

It admits being behind on its Generic Design Assessment process, a standard way of assessing safety for several nuclear power plants at once, but it expects to meet its deadline of summer 2011.

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