Safety in nuclear has always been the number one priority

Photo of Zoe Stollard, Clarke Willmott

Zoe Stollard, Construction Partner at Clarke Willmott shares her thoughts why nuclear is a safe source of low carbon energy generation and the impact of Covid-19, and how safety in nuclear is prioritised.

Safety in Low Carbon Nuclear Energy

People from time to time seem to get drawn back to negative thoughts about nuclear power due to Chernobyl and Fukushima. The most recent reminder came from the critically acclaimed HBO Chernobyl series. However, a UK survey conducted by the Nuclear Industry Association in 2018 came back with 72% of respondents supporting nuclear energy as part of low carbon energy generation which is encouraging, demonstrating that hearts and minds are largely convinced of the value of nuclear. I would argue that this level of support gives the Government the social licence to promote, drive and support activity in the sector, being mindful of the nation’s efforts to deal with Covid-19.

The global nuclear industry takes these exceedingly rare incidents exceptionally seriously so lessons can be learnt with actions being implemented to existing stations and incorporating recommendations into new nuclear builds across the world. The last major incident at a nuclear power plant was at the Fukushima Daiichi reactor in 2011, due to a 9.0 magnitude undersea earthquake. With lessons learnt nuclear remains one of the safest environments to work in, as all businesses engaged in the sector have the “Nuclear Safety Culture (NSC)” as part of their DNA.

Characteristics of Safety in Nuclear

There are eight internationally accepted characteristics associated with creating, sustaining and developing a strong NSC as documented in detail by the International Atomic Energy Agency. At the heart is the role that people play in NSC by taking responsibility, with safety being at the heart of decision-making to build trust and enabling the ability to question decisions. It does not matter whether the individual is a bus driver, welder or the station director, the approach is consistent.

Acting for consortia and businesses helping to build Hinkley Point C, I know safety is the overriding ethos that drives behaviours to design, manufacture build, operate and decommission a nuclear facility providing a safe source of low carbon energy generation for the next 60 years. The primary objectives are to protect people and the environment against accidents with a right first time and zero harm approach being adopted. In fact, every meeting with EDF NNB I attend starts off with a safety message, demonstrating safety is both a top down and bottom up driven approach.

Creating a covid-secure workplace

Safety at Hinkley has been brought into sharp focus due to Covid-19, with wide ranging measures to prevent the spread of infection. For example, on the buses run by Somerset Passenger Solutions which we act for, screens to protect drivers have been added with strict social distancing protocols. Where screens cannot be retrofitted these buses and coaches have been taken out of service and 60 replacement buses have been brought in, along with stopping certain pick up and drop off points.

This is just one of a vast series of measures implemented on this complex project, which has seen the workforce on site being reduced from 5000 to 2500 workers to ensure Public Health England advice is being followed. Covid-19 will undoubtedly impact on the schedule of this critical national infrastructure, but actions taken clearly demonstrate that safety will always be the number one priority in nuclear, to build a low carbon energy base.

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