On 26 November 2012 the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) – the UK’s independent nuclear regulator – granted the first new site licence for a UK nuclear power station in 25 years.  The licence was granted to NNB Generation Company (NNB GenCo), a subsidiary of French Energy Group EDF, who seek to install and operate a nuclear installation on their site at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

A significant amount of work was carried out by the ONR to reach the decision. The regulator is reported to have spent the equivalent of 6000 days engaging with NNB GenCo, assessing their suitability, capability and competence to hold a nuclear site licence, at a cost of approximately £8million to the company.

In July 2011 NNB GenCo submitted its application to the regulator under the Nuclear Installations Act 1965. The application was made in respect of a nuclear installation comprising two thermal neutron reactors - these being reactors fuelled with uranium dioxide enriched with isotope U235 moderated and cooled by water – together with any machinery, equipment, appliances or storage facilities required for the operation thereof.

A review of the licence application was carried out by the ONR and a full project assessment report published as part of the licensing process. Stages in this assessment included:

  • Consideration of NNB GenCo’s organisational capability and associated arrangements to lead and manage safety
  • Assessment of the proposed site in terms of suitability, including
    • establishment of an adequate emergency plan.
    • decommissioning strategies, plans and programmes and waste management.
    • site boundary definition.
    • arrangements to provide for security of tenure of the land.
    • security and safeguards requirements
  • Inspection of the location and marking of the site boundaries
  • Assessment of the arrangements in place for licence condition compliance and the production of safety reports.

The grant of the nuclear site licence does not permit the commencement of nuclear-related construction. Further regulatory permission is required in the form of a nuclear site licence condition, which will depend upon the regulator’s satisfaction with the company’s pre-construction safety case. Additional permits will also be required from the Environment Agency, as well as planning consent from the Secretary of State.

To access the ONR’s assessment report please click here