The UK's Office for Nuclear Regulation has the expertise and resources it needs should it receive a request from government to assess China's Hualong One reactor design, its chief nuclear inspector, Richard Savage, said today. ONR's chief executive, Adriènne Kelbie, added that she sees no need for wholesale change at the organisation and that recruitment of inspectors and other staff is on target. They spoke to World Nuclear News during the International Atomic Energy Agency's 60th General Conference being held this week in Vienna.
Under a strategic investment agreement signed last October, China General Nuclear (CGN) agreed to take a 33.5% stake in EDF Energy's Hinkley Point C project in Somerset, England as well as jointly develop new nuclear power plants at Sizewell in Suffolk and Bradwell in Essex. The Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C plants will be based on France's EPR reactor technology, while the new plant at Bradwell will feature the Hualong One design.
As part of that agreement, CGN agreed to form a joint venture company with EDF Energy to seek regulatory approval for a UK version of the Hualong One design. Hualong International Nuclear Power Technology - the joint venture between CGN and China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to promote the Hualong One reactor design in export markets - was officially inaugurated in March.
The ONR - which became a statutory public corporation in April 2014 - manages the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) process with the Environment Agency. The ultimate positive outcome of the GDA process is issuance of a Design Acceptance Confirmation (DAC) from the ONR and a Statement of Design Acceptability (SoDA) from the Environment Agency. Before this, an interim DAC and an interim SoDA are issued.
The GDA is a voluntary process for reactor vendors - it is policy rather than law - but it is a government expectation for all new build projects.
EDF Energy/Areva's UK European Pressurised Reactor design received a DAC and SoDA in December 2012. Hitachi's UK Advanced Boiling Water Reactor - for its UK subsidiary Horizon Nuclear Power - began the GDA process in January 2014. The AP1000 - to be used by Toshiba and Engie's UK subsidiary NuGeneration - reached the iDAC and iSoDA stage in Dec 2011, but then Westinghouse paused the process until its owner Toshiba bought a stake in NuGen. It restarted the process in January 2015.
Both the UK ABWR and the AP1000 are on target to complete their respective GDAs next year.
Asked whether the ONR has the capacity to assess a new reactor design, Savage told WNN: "Absolutely. We've been planning for this for some time. We've got our assumptions about the program in the UK, which is obviously developing quickly for us. We have approximately 350 inspectors and that's projected to increase, recognising the program we need to regulate. We have an expectation to have a request from government to have a GDA for a Chinese design and we're prepared for that.
"We've got the two GDAs that will conclude next year, all being well, and so the timing works quite well for us with potentially a new GDA coming into the process. We have the resources and the expertise to deploy into that process for a Chinese GDA."
Kelbie added: "There have been questions about ONR's capacity for a while and I'd like to knock them on the head. ONR has been re-attracting people that are leaving. The numerical projections on our recruitment are looking really good and I think ONR has been increasingly recognised as a good place to work, as well as a very professional regulator. Our numbers are spot on at the moment.
"Like most of the nuclear industry we have a number of staff who will retire. The bigger question for us is exactly the same as across industry, which is how do we address differences in capability, not just capacity. That gives us the opportunity on how we bring in our newer inspectors and develop and grow them and help them shape ONR for the next 50 years and not just reflect the last 50. But I am very confident that ONR will continue to attract great people and will increasingly be able to develop future needs. Technology is changing, we will modernise and we have a real opportunity to be incredibly influential in the new generation of nuclear in the UK."
ONR chief executive since January, Kelbie is scheduled to meet the public body's board next month to discuss any changes she feels are needed.
"My priority at the moment is to stabilise the organisation after a period of some turnover, both at board and senior executive level. We will be meeting with our board on 25 October to consider the next three years for ONR, so it would be inappropriate for me at this stage to discuss changes. But I would say that this is about how we continue to enhance and improve ONR. I don't envisage any wholesale changes. This is a very good regulator and it's simply about fine-tuning for the future," she said.
Asked if they see the potential for an international design acceptance process and standardisation in the evaluation of reactor designs, Kelbie and Savage stressed the ONR is fully engaged with the Multinational Design Evaluation Program (MDEP). The OECD Nuclear Energy Agency established MDEP eight years ago.
Savage said: "The rigour and robustness of the GDA process is proving itself. Two GDAs are projected to conclude next year for the AP1000 and the UK ABWR. There's a lot of benefit in that process in terms of doing the assessment upfront, exposing the issues and managing the risks. It's really important for us to retain the rigour and robustness. If that can be used internationally then that's all to the good. We have conversations in that light.
"We collaborate through the MDEP, sharing information and our assessment of that process. That's an important thing for us to do. It's a two-way collaboration and within that, in terms of licensing and permissioning, there are obviously national aspects of that that are retained within our national framework. But working back from that it's really important to share assessment type work and join up in those areas."
Kelbie added: "ONR is proud of the history of nuclear safety we have in the UK and more and more now safety and security. It wouldn't be for us to make government policy about pan-Continent regulation, but we do feel we're a very strong regulator, we're very independent, and we know that other nations are interested in how we do it and we're always happy to share expertise and knowledge. How and when that is used is for others to decide at this point."
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by World Nuclear News