Sizewell Emergency Planning: A Botch-Up Too Far

In January we reported that the Head of the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) had publicly agreed in November 2014 with his European counterparts that emergency preparedness for nuclear accidents ought to be based upon a severe accident, however unlikely. All our emergency planning (EP) was based only upon a reasonably foreseeable accident, so a yawning gap had opened at the highest level between how we ought to be protected and the farce that was in fact in place around Sizewell. In April we revealed that European bureaucrats had tried to smother the yawn by delegating to individual governments what they did about this, and that we had asked just how quickly this would happen in the UK.

Meanwhile we had ascertained from Suffolk’s Chief of Emergency Planning that he wasn’t allowed to budge in any way from the ancient 2001 REPPIR Act’s “reasonably foreseeable” basis, and that he would be in trouble from the ONR if he tried. We had also heard indirectly that the UK felt it had until February 2018 to do anything about all this.

From the Minister in the Cabinet Office in charge of Civil Contingencies (—happenings like nuclear accidents), to whom we wrote early last December, we heard nothing for four months. We did get an unsolicited letter from a Baroness in DECC containing some unbelievably dubious arguments, so we knew roughly what was going on. Nothing though from the man responsible for our happenings himself until we had nagged and nagged him and put three MP5 on his tail.

This is the shoddy botch-up: Government has about-faced on REPPIR and now pretends, against everything the ONR has always insisted, that a tiny reference to “extendability” in the Act means they can change EP when and as they like, that they are doing so, that everything in the garden is lovely meanwhile and until they achieve it by 2018, thanks to a pan-European unwillingness to upset the nuclear industry. Yet they are so deeply in denial of the everyday risks to us all that they always avoid the words “severe accident — however unlikely”, inventing euphemisms to cover their embarrassment. So we don’t know just what it is they promise us in EP by 2018 — if we are still here by then.

Of course it’s unacceptable, and we continue to work on it, and primarily on the Minister — a new one now, but will he dare to step out of line? Report by Member Peter Lanyon, who is leading for us on this Vital matter.