'Rush' for new nuclear power plants condemned

Environmental campaigners today accused the Government of pushing forward with new nuclear power plants before lessons could be learned from the Fukushima disaster, ahead of the publication of a report on the crisis.

This week the Department of Energy and Climate Change is expected to publish the final report into the implications for the UK nuclear industry of the disaster at the tsunami-hit Fukushima reactor in Japan.

But Greenpeace is concerned that the inquiry has been conducted too fast to learn the lessons from the crisis which began when the nuclear plant was hit by a tsunami following the magnitude 9 earthquake in March, with information still emerging.

And the green group said the Government had not even waited for the final report, conducted by nuclear chief inspector Dr Mike Weightman, before signalling the go-ahead for a new generation of nuclear power plants this summer.

In initial findings published in May Dr Weightman ruled out the need for the UK to curtail the operation of nuclear power stations in light of the situation in Japan.

Dr Weightman said the possibility of similar natural events, which saw a magnitude 9 earthquake and 14-metre tsunami batter the Japanese coast, were not "credible" in the UK.

He also said existing and planned nuclear power stations in this country were of a different design to those at Fukushima, which were rocked by explosions and damage to the reactors after the tsunami shut down power to the plants, knocking out their cooling facilities.

And flooding risks were unlikely to prevent construction of new nuclear power stations at potential development sites in the UK, all of which are on the coast, he said.

Dr Weightman said there was no need to change the current strategy for siting new nuclear power plants.

But he said lessons could still be learned from the nuclear accident in Japan.

The interim report recommended 25 areas for review by the Government, industry and regulators, to determine if there are any measures which could improve safety in the UK nuclear industry.

Following the publication of the interim findings, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne signalled that plans for a new generation of nuclear plants, which the Government says are necessary to keep the lights on and cut carbon from the power sector, were on track.

In June the Government confirmed eight sites around the country which it considers suitable for new nuclear reactors, all of which are next to existing plants.

Greenpeace has made submissions to the inquiry outlining a number of concerns including that the timescale of the report has been too short, there has been a lack of transparency, industry regulation was not strong enough, security issues should be addressed, the interim report did not provide proper information on radiation exposures and that lessons could be learnt from Fukushima about the UK's spent nuclear fuel stores.

The environmental organisation has also launched a judicial review bid over the Government's decision to green-light the new nuclear reactors before the final report was published.

Louise Hutchins from GP said: "It's not really clear what Dr Weightman's final report is for. The Government already jumped the gun and gave the green light to new reactors in Britain without bothering to wait for Dr Weightman's final conclusions on lessons from the Fukushima disaster.

"The rushed timetable set for this final report looks like a dangerous attempt by the Government to cut corners and silence voices of concern, in order to keep pushing forward with its favoured technology.

"That's why we are taking the Government to court - to make them wait for the evidence, properly consult and to think again about new nuclear power, like Germany, instead of closing ranks again with the nuclear industry."