Nuclear communities want Olympic-style legacy, and more information about risk

UK nuclear host communities want to have "legacy benefits" in the same way that they have been built into Olympic planning, MPs on the select committee on Energy and Climate Change heard today.

Alyn Jones, lead officer of the New Nuclear Local Authorities Group said “by virtue of how [planning] documents are structured they have to focus on construction, because it has the biggest impact” and National Planning Statements should have more discussion of legacy.

Jones spoke about a “renaissance” in the supply chain off the back of new-build and warned that local, regional and national concerns should be able to use that business opportunity, saying “it would be a big concern if they did not”.

“Thoughts from government on that would be very welcome,” he added.

Witnesses told MPs that there had been a change in the public’s view of nuclear risks since the Fukushima accident. It had raised accidents above nuclear waste as a concern, but Professor Nick Pidgeon of Cardiff University said there had not been a big drop-off in support for new nuclear in the UK. He attributed that partly to views of it as a natural disaster and the distance effect, but also said support for new nuclear “has never been whole-hearted – there has been a core ambivalence”, which meant people accepted its risks as a tradeoff against the risk of climate change.

Giving communities around nuclear sites a real understanding of risk was a key concern of all the witnesses. Bob Brown, director of corporate services at Sedgemoor District Council, where Hinkley Point is sited, asked how account could be taken of risk during the process of decidingon a new plant. Although local communities were well-informed, engaging with risk was difficult. “It’s not in the planning process, it’s in the technical consenting regime”, he explained. Jones said, the planning system was “difficult enough, but understandable” whereas scientific consent was not.

The witnesses said it was not necessarily up to the developer to provide that help, and the local authorities could not do it. The HSE and Office of Nuclear Safety were removed from the local process, so according to Pidgeon “they can’t have a conversation about that critical issue”. That also meant the communities got little information about changes in the risk profile for new plants compared to old – for example due to changes in storing spent fuel.