There are so many big energy stories around just now, I don't know where to begin. Let's start with a really outrageous piece of governmental dereliction & irresponsibility, dating back to Blair and his latter-day conversion to nuclear revivalism.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Dr Mike Weightman, HM Chief Inspector of NII and Director of Nuclear Directorate, has been ordered by Crapper Huhne to make an urgent review of the implications of Fukushima for the UK’s ambitious plans for 10 new nukes. It isn’t going to be easy.
In 2009, Weightman made a report to the Board of the HSE entitled Briefing on the Nuclear Programme, which has been obtained under an FOI request. Weightman’s paper cited the 2008 Nuclear Regulatory Review: the NII [the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate] is “significantly under-resourced for its predicted future workload, both with and without new nuclear build … Staffing shortage is increasingly severe both due to inability to recruit suitable staff and also age profile of existing staff”.
He went on: “HSE has struggled to recruit sufficient nuclear safety inspectors. … The planned requirement for regulating existing facilities [our emphasis] is 192. This would still leave the NII with one of the lowest ratios of inspectors to plant in the world. [We] need to significantly increase rate of recruitment and sustain it … [our] main office in Bootle not ideal for recruiting and retaining staff.”
He warned that of the 166 inspectors then in post, 40 would be post retirement age ‘within 2-3 years’. He also stated that to carry out the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) – the pre-evaluation of the new reactor types that are planned to provide the 10 new nuclear power plants desired by the government to keep the lights on – the total number of inspectors required would be 232.
How many are there today ? No recent update has been published, but the HSE website says the Inspectorate has ‘some 250 staff’ of which around 60% hold honours degrees. This makes 150 graduate-level inspectors at best which – since the GDA is in full swing - means a shortfall of 80.
Before the new emergency Weightman review was put on the plate of this overworked team, the DECC website declared: “The Office for Nuclear Development is working to ensure that the nuclear regulators continue to have the resources and tools necessary for GDA. The regulators have stated that they expect to complete their GDA assessment in June 2011.” This completion date – which had already slipped by 6 months - must surely now slip again.
Another 2009 HSE document stated: “Although we have said that we could issue a Design Acceptance Confirmation with exclusions or conditions, this does not mean that we are prepared to undermine the robustness of our requirements for safe and secure designs. If, by the end of GDA, we are unable to come to a satisfactory overall conclusion, then we will not issue a Design Acceptance Confirmation”.
What chance that EDF and the other would-be nuclear developers get their approvals in 2011? Even Clegg has spotted that the enterprise is doomed. What are we doing trying to build a large 21st C nuclear industry with an inspectorate that can't even cope with what we've got ?
To be continued ...