Criteria for new nuclear sites cannot rule out environmental damage

A government study has concluded that its criteria for selecting new nuclear sites are not sufficient to rule out environmental damage from new nuclear stations.

The study, conducted as part of the strategic environmental assessment of the government’s nuclear policy, was published by the Business Department (BERR) alongside the draft selection criteria on Tuesday.

It concludes that the criteria put forward by government, and in particular making some of them discretionary, means that “adverse impacts cannot be wholly ruled out”. It flags up impacts on air quality and water as two key areas that the criteria fail to address adequately.

But it also says that the criteria are “likely to lead to outcomes which are, on balance, broadly in line with the principles of sustainability and environmental protection”, and that the criteria that relate to environmental protection are “consistent” with UK and EU legislation.

The government has proposed two types of criteria – exclusionary and discretionary – to assess the suitability of sites for new nuclear stations proposed by developers.

Exclusionary criteria are those that "for safety, regulatory, environmental or other reasons will exclude a site from further consideration". They cover issues such as seismic conditions and proximity to large centres of population.

Discretionary criteria have the potential to rule out a site. They include factors such as flood risk, proximity to hazardous industrial facilities or environmentally sensitive sites and access to cooling water. These will have to be assessed on a case by case basis.

Presenting the criteria, Business Secretary John Hutton said: “We must do everything we can to remove any remaining barriers and open up the UK as the most attractive place in the world to invest in nuclear power.”

The criteria will be finalised in 2009, and companies will then be invited to nominate sites. A national policy statement justifying a new nuclear programme – along with a list of possible sites – will be published in 2010.

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