The Nuclear Power Generation National Policy Statement (the Nuclear NPS) has now been laid before Parliament for approval. Once designated, it will form the primary basis for decisions in relation to new nuclear power stations in England and Wales. The Nuclear NPS, together with the Overarching Energy NPS and the Planning Act 2008, sets the parameters for the determination of each application and provides guidance for the IPC/MIPU in relation to various matters, including the weight to be given to different site specific criteria and how to co-ordinate with other public bodies such as the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Environment Agency and the Ministry of Defence.
As with the other NPSs, references to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC) will be taken to be references to the Major Infrastructure Planning Unit (MIPU) or the Secretary of State after the Localism Bill has been enacted and comes into force.
Statements demonstrating the need for nuclear generation as part of the UK's energy mix in order to meet the country's low carbon targets by 2050 have been moved from the main body of the Nuclear NPS into the Overarching Energy NPS and Annex A to the Nuclear NPS (Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest). The Government has concluded that, given the urgent need for low carbon forms of electricity to contribute to the UK's energy mix and enhance security and diversity of supply, it is essential that new nuclear power stations are constructed and start generating as soon as possible, and significantly earlier than 2025.
Eight sites considered suitable for new nuclear power stations
Unlike the other NPSs, the Nuclear NPS is site specific. It marks the latest stage in an ongoing Strategic Siting Assessment process, started in January 2009, to identify those sites that are in principle suitable for nuclear new build. Government policy is that applications for new nuclear power stations should only be approved at sites which have been strategically assessed as being suitable (following public and parliamentary consultation and environmental assessment) as well as which satisfy local impact requirements.
Originally, 11 potential sites were nominated to the strategic siting assessment. Of these, only Dungeness was excluded from the first draft Nuclear NPS published in November 2009, on environmental grounds. Following updated site assessments, Braystones and Kirksanton were also excluded in October 2010 because they could not be developed quickly enough and risked adverse effects for the Lake District National Park. The updated assessments focused on the likelihood of the sites being suitable for the deployment of a nuclear power station by 2025. The Government now considers eight of the original 11 sites to be suitable:
- Hinkley Point;
- Sizewell; and
Effects of the Fukushima Daiichi crisis
Following the crisis at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, the assessments for the above sites were further updated in June 2011 to clarify the position of the regulators and the Government on protecting nuclear power stations against flooding, storm surge and tsunami.
The Government is satisfied that all eight of the potential sites can be adequately protected from flooding, and the approval version of the Nuclear NPS makes clear that the IPC/MIPU does not need to consider Dr Weightman's reports into the Japanese earthquake and tsunami when assessing applications for development consent. However, applicants are required to identify the effects of a 'credible maximum scenario' for flooding, as well as proposing measures to mitigate predicted future climate change.
Consent for new nuclear development
The approval version of the Nuclear NPS makes it clear that the fact a site has been identified as potentially suitable does not prevent the IPC/Secretary of State from considering its impacts to be greater than its benefits and consequently refusing development consent. Nor are nuclear power stations expected to be built at all eight sites, though the Overarching Energy NPS advises the IPC/MIPU to have regard to this possibility.
If an application is made for new nuclear development at a site which is not listed in the designated Nuclear NPS, the decision on whether to grant consent will be made by the Secretary of State.
The IPC/MIPU must take account of the Government's conclusions when considering applications for development consent. These include that: (i) there are no alternative sites to those listed in the approval version of the Nuclear NPS that are suitable for the deployment of new nuclear power stations before the end of 2025; and (ii) the eight sites specified in the Nuclear NPS should all be listed to allow sufficient flexibility and ensure that the Nuclear NPS does not act as a restraint on the ability of energy companies to fill the urgent need for new nuclear power stations (while enabling the IPC/the Secretary of State to refuse consent if it is appropriate to do so). Further, it should be reasonable for the IPC/Secretary of State to consider an application for development consent for a listed site on its own merits and conclude that a comparison with any other listed site is not relevant to its decision.
The IPC and the Secretary of State are required to give substantial weight to the benefits that will arise from granting consent to new nuclear power station projects capable of deployment significantly earlier than 2025. They will use evidence from the applicant of local engagement, pre-application work and agreements for transmission grid connections to assist it in the determination of applications.
The approval version of the Nuclear NPS includes amended and condensed text setting out the role of the IPC/MIPU and other "Nuclear Regulators" (the Environment Agency, the recently created Office for Nuclear Regulation and the Department for Transport).
When considering an application, the IPC/MIPU is directed to act on the basis that the relevant licensing and permitting regimes will be properly applied and enforced; they should not consider matters within the Nuclear Regulators' remit, and should not delay a decision regarding whether to grant consent until all licences and permits have been obtained. Consent should not be refused unless the IPC/Secretary of State has good reason to believe, based on advice from the relevant Nuclear Regulators, that any necessary permit, licence or authorisation will not be granted.
The IPC/MIPU will have to consider the nuclear-specific impacts of the proposed new nuclear power stations in addition to the general impacts that they consider in relation to any nationally significant energy infrastructure project under the Overarching Energy NPS. Such nuclear-specific impacts include flood risk; water quality and resources; coastal change; biodiversity and geological conservation; landscape and visual impacts; socio-economic impacts; and human health and well-being.
In addition to nuclear-specific impacts, the approval version of the Nuclear NPS sets out 'Flags for Local Consideration'. These are siting criteria identified through the Strategic Siting Assessment consultation in 2008, but which are more appropriately assessed at a project level. The IPC/MIPU is required to consider:
- proximity to civil aircraft movements;
- access to transmission networks;
- impact on significant infrastructure and resources; and
- the size of the site vis-à-vis construction and decommissioning.
Other Flags for Local Consideration will be assessed by the Office for Nuclear Regulation (rather than the IPC/MIPU) when an application for development consent is made. These include:
- seismic risk (vibratory ground motions);
- capable faulting;
- non-seismic ground conditions;
- emergency planning;
- meteorological conditions; and
- proximity to mining, drilling and other underground operations.
Radioactive waste management
The approval version of the Nuclear NPS also provides further details on how the Government has satisfied itself that effective arrangements will exist for the management and disposal of the wastes produced by legacy and new nuclear power stations. Geological disposal of higher activity waste is regarded as technically achievable and the Government is confident that it can identify suitable sites for both a geological disposal facility and the safe, secure and acceptable interim storage of waste.
The IPC/MIPU is therefore instructed not to consider the question of whether effective arrangements will exist for the management and disposal of radioactive waste, except to the extent that there are planning issues relating to the on-site management of waste which need to be considered as part of applications for development consent. The site assessments in relation to the eight potential new nuclear sites have been updated to reflect the Government's confidence that interim storage and geological disposal will be implemented, though no fixed delivery timetable has been set.
Guidance on consideration of issues
The approval version of the Nuclear NPS also clarifies how some of the issues the IPC/MIPU is to consider under the Overarching Energy NPS will be applied to nuclear applications. For example, the IPC/MIPU should note that development consent applications for nuclear power stations are still expected to demonstrate that the applicant has fully considered the opportunities for combined heat and power. Although such opportunities are unlikely to be economically viable in relation to new nuclear power stations because such stations will be located away from major population centres and industrial heat demand, the approval version of the Nuclear NPS no longer presumes that combined heat and power will not be possible at nuclear sites.
Applicants should use the approval version of the Nuclear NPS as guidance for the issues they will have to consider in their Environmental Impact Assessments and other documentation supporting their applications for development consent orders.
The designated Nuclear NPS will play a fundamental role in shaping the examination and determination process for applications. Issues that are settled as a matter of national policy in the NPS ought not to be re-opened during the examination of individual applications for development consent.
Summary of changes
The table below sets out the latest changes made following the conclusion of the second consultation in January 2011 to create the version of the NPS laid before Parliament for approval.
Policy on the siting of new nuclear power stations: Section 3.3 (on listed boundaries and the location of facilities) has been deleted and incorporated into section 2.3 (policy on the siting of new nuclear power stations), which now also reflects what the IPC/MIPU should do if it receives an application for a site which is partly within the boundary (it should treat it as a non-listed site, but in making any recommendation should consider the conclusions reached by the SSA in relation to the land within the boundary).
Flood risk: The "Applicant's assessment" has been clarified to show that the applicant should identify the impacts of the credible maximum scenario and demonstrate that in principle adaptation to that scenario would be possible.
Site assessments: Site assessments have been further updated since the consultation for the sites listed within the NPS and are now set out in Annex C of the approval version Nuclear NPS. Please see Annex A to the Government Response to the Consultation on the revised draft NPSs for Energy Infrastructure, which contains full details of the recent changes to individual site assessments.