Safety in Nuclear Power Plants
It was only in January 2008 that the British government announced that they were giving the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power plants to be built in order to meet the UK’s energy needs of the future. Nuclear power has always provoked a polarisation of opinion, much of which is often centred on safety.
However, the fact is that the nuclear industry is possibly subject to more stringent legislation than the vast majority of industries and safety aspects are of paramount importance. Risk assessments have to be extremely comprehensive and must identify all conditions which could result in an accident. Following that procedure, it is then necessary to introduce fail safe systems to prevent accidents occurring and, in spite of the widespread criticism that the industry has always been subject to, the UK nuclear industry has always had an exemplary safety record.
Nuclear Power Plant SafetyThe Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for granting licences to operate nuclear installations and one of its divisions – the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) has the role of conducting regular and thorough inspections of nuclear power plants.
When a licence is granted, an NII inspector is immediately assigned to each site to ensure that the plant is always fully compliant with the terms of the licence agreement. They have the power to enforce compliance and also to shut down any nuclear reactor should the need arise. However, because of the robust design of all nuclear reactors, there have been very few incidents worldwide since the introduction of nuclear energy, with the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 in the Ukraine, being the only one that has resulted in any deaths.
Emergency Contingency PlansAs part of their licence agreement, all nuclear power plants need to prove to the NII that they have properly defined and suitable arrangements in place for dealing with any sort of emergency which could occur within a particular plant site.
Nuclear Power Plant SecurityThe responsibility for nuclear power plant security lies with the Office for Civil Nuclear Security (OCNS). They are not just responsible for ensuring that each plant fully complies with security legislation within the confines of the plant but also for the transportation of any radioactive materials. Each plant, therefore, must have an approved security plan in addition to any safety legislation it must also adhere to.
Access to nuclear power plants is strictly regulated with armed police, who are part of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, present at all of the UK’s nuclear installations. They are responsible for the protection of all nuclear materials both contained within the site and whilst in transit.
What About the Threat of Terrorism Against Nuclear Power Plants?One of the main reasons why potential terrorists have not targeted nuclear reactors, apart from the fact that they are so robust in the way they are designed these days, is that any damage caused as a result of terrorist activity would not result in any significant release of radioactivity which could not be contained within the plant itself. In fact, thorough scientific research has shown that the reality of a major disaster occurring as a result of a terrorist attack would be far less than a similar attack on, say, a coal fired power station.
Evacuation of a nuclear installation after any kind of attack or other major malfunction which would result in any kind of release of radioactive material could be carried out at walking pace and, although this would cause disruption to the site itself and could also possibly affect neighbouring residential areas where people might be temporarily displaced should radioactive material be released into the atmosphere, the consequences with regards to modern day nuclear reactors are far more likely to result in economic losses as opposed to presenting health issues as any such release of radioactive material is likely to remain well within the plant itself.