Energy secretary commissions chief nuclear inspector in light of Japan earthquake

Energy secretary Chris Huhne has asked the chief nuclear inspector to report on the implications for the UK nuclear industry of the worsening situation in Japan.

Huhne said the review would discuss implications for both existing plants and the new build nuclear programme.

He said: “We take this incident extremely seriously even though there is no reason to expect a similar scale of seismic activity in the UK.

“I have called on the chief nuclear inspector, Dr. Mike Weightman for a thorough report on the implications of the situation in Japan and the lessons to be learned. This will be prepared in close cooperation internationally with other nuclear regulators.” 

“It is essential that we understand the full facts and their implications, both for existing nuclear reactors and any new programme, as safety is always our number one concern,” he said.

The move comes as German chancellor Angela Merkel announced she was suspending the country’s civil nuclear new build programme in light of growing safety concerns.

Overnight a third explosion at the Fukushima plant in Japan following Friday’s earthquake and tsunami has led to harmful amounts of radiation being emitted.

There is to be an emergency meeting today of the European Union’s nuclear safety authorities and operators to assess Europe’s preparedness in case of nuclear emergency.

The UK has plans to build new nuclear plants on ten sites across the country, in order to replace and expand the UK’s ageing fleet of nuclear power stations.

Huhne’s Liberal Democrat party was opposed to the development of nuclear power stations even before events in Japan, but agreed not to oppose the programme under the Coalition agreement.

Last week Building revealed that EDF had selected a consortium of Bam Nuttall and Kier as a preferred consortium for the £100m first major civils contract related to its planned plant at Hinkley in Somerset. If this is built it will be the first nuclear plant in the UK to be constructed for over 25 years.