Guidance on licensing new nuclear build

Licensing of new nuclear power plants could take just three years under guidance issued jointly by the Health and Safety Executive and other regulators last week

The series of guidance documents was issued jointly by the Environment Agency, the HSE, the Scottish Environment Protection

Agency and the Office for Civil Nuclear Security.

The HSE has developed a two-phase process for granting a licence for new build "in anticipation of renewed interest in nuclear power in the UK".

As expected, this involves an initial assessment of a generic reactor design, followed by an application process for a formal site licence for construction.

Pre-licensing is central to the government's draft policy framework for new nuclear. Outlining its approach, the HSE says that "although preferred, generic design assessment will not be mandatory."

The staged approach is expected to reduce the time taken to gain approval to build standardised new plants. Any statement of "design acceptance" from the HSE would be valid for several years until a site is found.

Operators will have to provide the HSE with management plans for spent fuel and radioactive waste, including "a demonstration of how the design and its proposed operation will avoid or minimise the generation of radioactive waste".

The public will have the opportunity to comment at each stage of the process and operators must respond to issues raised. They must also make all relevant information – excluding commercial and security sensitive information – available to the public. The HSE must take public comments into account when coming to its decisions.

Meanwhile, the Agency's new process for generic assessment will consider "radioactive waste discharges and disposal, issues such as water abstraction and discharge, and the operation of conventional plant".

The Agency will require estimates of annual arisings of solid radioactive waste during operation and decommissioning and plans for managing and disposing of radioactive waste. If management options include direct disposal of spent fuel, operators should provide advice from the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority.

Applicants can submit the information required "at a later point in the generic assessment phase or hold over some issues" until the site-specific phase.

Assessments of applications for nuclear site licences will focus on "site-specific issues and those relating to the organisation of the potential operator".

"Where these applications are based on a generic design that has undergone assessment, the regulators will take full account of the work they have already carried out," said Joe McHugh, the Agency's head of radioactive substances regulation.

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