A new report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) concludes that Britain’s existing health and safety system is flexible enough to deal with any hazards and risks from energy developments, and to achieve sensible risk management.
HSE's report, published today, is in response to a request from Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks for an expert report to the Government’s energy review on health and safety issues associated with a range of energy developments, and on the potential role of pre-licensing assessments of nuclear reactor designs should the Government decide to look further into new nuclear electricity generation.
Announcing the report, HSE Chief Executive Geoffrey Podger said: “The analysis of the risks and hazards associated with the energy developments reviewed in our report suggests that the existing framework of controls is adequate. We have identified a number of areas where a more specific review of current arrangements is required. The urgency and priority that attaches to these areas, and the resourcing consequences for HSE, will depend on the decisions the Government takes at the conclusion of its review.”
The report covers gas storage; carbon capture and storage (CCS); some renewable sources (wind, wave, tidal and biomass); distributed generation, including hydrogen; nuclear power; and clean coal technology. Its key findings are:
- Hazards and risks of gas storage are significant but generally well understood and can be managed through existing arrangements and standards. Some review of the current legal framework is needed to ensure adequacy of major hazard controls in this area;
- CCS is a large scale, potentially challenging new technology but enough is known to conclude that the risks of its deployment are tolerable. Maintaining safety standards will depend on filling gaps in the knowledge base, developing new standards and reviewing the regulatory framework.
- Current law is generally adequate to cover risks associated with wind energy. The main need is for more attention to safe design and integrity and (onshore) closer scrutiny at the land use planning stage. Wave and tidal energy are much less developed, but the risks are expected to be comparable to offshore wind;
- Biomass processes are not particularly novel and any expanded use is not likely to require change to current arrangements. The main need is for training and familiarisation of those operating the processes;
- Distributed generation involves a wide range of applications and associated risks. The risks are no different from those commonly encountered elsewhere, so can be adequately controlled through current arrangements. There is a greater need in future to isolate parts of the network to ensure safe working.
- Nuclear risks are well known and understood. HSE’s expectation is that “third generation” reactor systems will demonstrate appropriate levels of safety with risk no greater than those of existing reactors.
- On nuclear prelicensing, the report proposes a two-phase approach; a reactor design authorisation process based on a generic site concept and a site- and operator-specific assessment on which to base the granting of a nuclear site licence. This process is intended to provide a more transparent, rigorous and robust regulatory approach to the safety of any new nuclear reactors
- Cleaner coal technologies are developed from well-understood techniques and present acceptable risks, which can be controlled under current arrangements. There is a need for more information and close monitoring of critical areas, especially underground gasification.