The Office for Nuclear Regulation features in national and regional UK media today (22 May 2012) relating to a story about the operating lives of the UK’s nuclear power stations. Many journalists have since asked for our position on this issue, so here are the questions our press office originally received and the answers we supplied.
1. How many companies have applied to extend the life of reactors? Licensees responsible for nuclear power stations do not apply for a reactor life extension, but rather justify safety of their operations throughout the life of the licensed nuclear installation. The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) requires that safety cases are periodically reviewed normally every 10 years; the licensees have well developed arrangements for these Periodic Safety Reviews (PSRs) and they are embedded as part of normal business both for the licensees and ONR. ONR staff are engaged with EdF Energy Nuclear Generation Ltd on their ‘Lifetime Management Programme’ for the extension of the operational lifetime of their existing fleet of nuclear power reactors. This has included reviews of the plants to establish where improvements could be made in monitoring plant and material performance and identifying where further work is necessary on the impact of ageing. ONR is content for the plants to continue to operate subject to satisfactory PSRs being carried out; and the results from routine maintenance, inspection and testing continue to support the agreed plant safety case.
2. Have any decisions been made, if not how soon will decisions be made? Key decisions relating to continued operation of a reactor occur following periodic shutdowns, or statutory outages, and upon completion of ONR’s assessment of PSRs. There is an ongoing programme of statutory outages and PSRs and reports can be found on the ONR website regarding our most recent decisions.
3. Are you expecting any other companies to extend the life of reactors? A decision to extend the life of a reactor is a commercial one, so you will need to contact EDF Energy and Magnox for an answer to this question. Whatever the decision is, the licensee needs to demonstrate to ONR that what they plan to do is safe and secure.
4. What are the various issues to consider when considering extending life existing reactors? ONR’s involvement in lifetime extension is to ensure that the continued operation of the nuclear power station is safe. There is no specific action needed from ONR in order for the licensee to extend the lifetime of a nuclear power station. Instead, the ability of a nuclear power station to operate continues to be subject to the validity of the extant periodic safety review, satisfactory safety case, operation within that safety case, satisfactory maintenance, ONR inspection and compliance with site licence conditions. If at any stage ONR is not satisfied that the station can be operated safely, it will not allow it to continue.