In which I suggest that perhaps the regulators might like to pull their fingers out?

So Hitachi is going to build nukes in the UK.

Hurrah!

Hitachi unveils £20bn plan to build nuclear reactors in the UK
Japan’s Hitachi has revived Britain’s ailing nuclear power ambitions with plans to invest £20bn in building at least four reactors in the UK.

Good.

And now for the bad bit.

Major obstacles remain before Hitachi can take a final investment decision or begin construction, however. The company has yet to begin the process of securing design approval to use its Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR) in the UK, which could take up to four years.

\”Securing design approval\”. Those regulations that Heseltine and all to the left of him insist do not affect business in this country. Spotty berks with clipboards insisting that the hand washing sink must be no more than 3 metres from the reactor and no less than 2.

However, sources suggested approval could come more quickly given the ABWR is licenced for use in countries including the US, and Hitachi has four of the reactors operating in Japan, which were built on time and on budget.

Great. They work. Tell the berks to fuck off and send in the bulldozers immediately.

17 thoughts on “In which I suggest that perhaps the regulators might like to pull their fingers out?”

  1. “Those regulations..”
    Remember what a pal worked in the industry once told me. If he took a paper to work, it became ‘low level nuclear waste’ the instant it went through the gate.

  2. Regulation of nuclear reactor designs would seem to be a very good idea. But you’d like to think some shortcuts could be taken in the approval process for a design that’s already been approved, built, and operated in the US and Japan.

  3. Nuclear reactor regulations are a waste of time?

    Some of them are, quite clearly, vital. But the pointless ones outnumber the necessary ones by several orders of magnitude. And, actually, it is the operating regulations that are the most safety critical. The safest design can be compromised by bad working practices and ramshackle Heath-Robinson contraptions have been operated in safety, for years, by dedicated and professional teams.

    And what PaulB said.

  4. Not quite, BiS, but yes the regs are a bit OTT when they are storing stuff that is so low level that if it was a banana you could eat it.

  5. “I think all regulatory processes should have short cuts when said technology has been approved by other competent regulators.”

    Indeed we need a framework to evaluate regulatory frameworks!

    One of the places ABWRs are operating is Japan, a place where regulation famously failed at Fukushima. I think the Hitachi design is safe, but there will be variations in supply chain operations, organisational cultures and styles, transportation issues, skills gaps, geological differences, seismic worries (shale gas earthquakes perhaps, not my area of expertise) and so on.

    There are ways to speed up the GDA, in fact I think there is a more basic licensing procedure the ABWR can go through which will take less time.

    However, the point is that the ONR is a very well respected international nuclear regulator precisely because it is rigorous. It is a pain in the bum, but then the stakes are very high.

    PS diogenes, fuck off.

  6. seismic worries

    Those have been taken into account in the UK for years. I started my engineering career calculating bolt stresses in lifting equipment in British nuclear power stations after applying accelerations consistent with the 5,000 and 50,000 year seismic events.

  7. Hello Tim,

    Oh good, you know what you’re talking about.

    Fukushima seemed to be the result of a lax safety culture in the Japanese nuclear industry and the impression I got was that the regulators were not thorough enough in assessing old plant operating standards. Don’t know enough for certain to what extent that interacts with their reactor assessments.

    I’m not saying that cross border regulator cooperation is a bad idea, certainly the reactor approval process could be hurried up (and from what I’ve heard from GE/Hitachi this is exactly what they’re planning) just that the UK’s nuclear regulator is an odd regulator to pick on.

  8. Great, here’s the example I’m looking for.

    Stuk are a pretty good nuclear regulator, Finland’s safety record is certainly pretty good even if Olkiluoto has overrun and Areva are blaming Stuk.

    You know what Stuk have approved, Russian V213 reactors (although this was a while ago). Does that mean we should get the Russians involved in British nuclear? I’m with Tim on this, no thanks.

  9. Fukushima seemed to be the result of a lax safety culture in the Japanese nuclear industry and the impression I got was that the regulators were not thorough enough in assessing old plant operating standards.

    There is every chance that the safety culture in Japan’s nuclear power stations has gotten lax, and the regulators might not be doing a very good job – I really don’t know – but the main problem with Fukushima was that the seawater from the tsunami knocked out the emergency diesel generators, which meant there was no power to run the coolant circulation pumps and other vital equipment.

    This possibly could have been forseen in a HAZID or other hazard identification exercise, but it is unlikely regulations would have made a difference unless they were so prescriptive that they made waterproof EDGs compulsory (no idea how you would achieve this in practice). But the face is, Japan’s energy requirements left them with little choice but to build nukes in an earthquake/tsunami zone, and no amount of regulations is going to eliminate the risk entirely. One of the lessons I learned from my brief time involved in earthquake engineering is that if the right earthquake hits, any facility is going to be destroyed. All you can do is minimise the risk as best you can.

    This is the principle behind the ALARP – As Low As Reasonably Practicable – legislation in the UK, which requires companies – at least in the oil business – to demonstrate the residual risks (i.e. once mitigation measures have been taken into account) on their facilities are ALARP. This doesn’t mean that events as freakish as a giant tsunami won’t cause major problems, any more than no end of engineering and testing permanently stops airlines from dropping out of the sky. But it is worth noting that the actual deaths caused by the Fukushima station being clobbered are negligible compared to those who died in the earthquake and tsunami.

  10. Tim Newman certainly knows what he’s talking about, Left Outside. And I strongly suspect you don’t. There were regulatory failures and lax procedures at Fukushima. They couldn’t connect portable generators that arrived to run their cooling systems, which would have saved their bacon, and they delayed seawater flooding, not because they were worried about irradiating the water (that’s basically a non-issue) but because it would fuck up the equipment. Lots of other things they could have done, perhaps, but you can read the Wikipedia page as well as me.

    But, and it’s a big but, you redesign it and I’ll come up with a different scenario that still destroys it. And whenever something goes pear shaped, *no* risky operation ever survives the post-mortem analysis. There’s always some arse-covering letter or something that was ignored and would have prevented it, things that weren’t reported, something that was offline or unreliable and hadn’t been fixed, or a procedure that was flat out the wrong thing to do. Trust me, there’s always something there. In the end though, the final containment survived and contained the meltdown and radiation exposure in the surrounding areas was minimal. So you have a destroyed reactor but no actual impact (except on some of the workers), which is a pretty good result under the circumstances.

    I’ll give you an example of an actual disaster from my field (road and tunnel traffic management with a strong focus on safety systems). Before the 1999 Mont Blanc tunnel fire, received wisdom was that the best way to control in-tunnel vehicle fires was to generate a gentle airflow to push the smoke along to extraction points (or to the end of the tunnel) and that because it was hot it would rise to the ceiling and conditions at road level would remain survivable. Dumping water on the fire (sprinklers) was regarded as extremely risky because it would cool the smoke which would then drop down and suffocate people. So many tunnels were designed without sprinkler systems (despite what Wikipedia says right now, I don’t believe Mont Blanc did, and if it did it definitely wasn’t used) and even those that did had very strict controls over their use. I was working on a tunnel design/early construction phase at the time, and I remember lots of discussions over who would be authorised to release water, operators refusing to take the responsibility, etc. It’s worth noting too that the truck in Mont Blanc that caught fire was carrying flour and margarine, nothing that anyone in their right mind would classify as hazardous materials requiring an extreme response – and yet managed to produce cyanide when burnt. Goodbye to a few dozen trapped motorists.

    After Mont Blanc there was a serious rethink, and at least in Australia, all tunnel operators are now trained to dump water at the slightest hint of a fire. If it’s under a bonnet or inside a truck, you won’t put it out, but you cool the source and prevent the fire ever getting big enough to generate enough smoke to kill people. There was one amusing example in the Sydney Harbour Tunnel where a van had an under bonnet fire, the passengers legged it, but the water somehow shorted the starter motor solenoid and it started cranking itself along the tunnel – still burning! The operators had to chase it through multiple deluge zones before the battery finally ran out.

    At the end of the day, a 4 year design approval process won’t prevent disasters and is simply ridiculous.

  11. A little further to my “there’s always something there” remark – the trick is working out when it’s really an indication that something should be changed, and when you should write it off as shit happens. Most regulatory responses fail to recognise that.

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