Government Faces High Court Challenge On Nuclear Power Plans

Calls For Latest Nuclear Regulations To Be Quashed

25.03.2011

A LANCASHIRE man who is opposed to Government plans to introduce up to 20 new nuclear reactors across the UK has launched a High Court legal challenge against the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

Rory Walker (24), who lives close to Heysham, where one or two new reactors may be built, believes that the Secretary of State has not met his obligations in law and, as a result, is putting the health of local residents at risk. 

Rory, who is opposed to nuclear power, instructed law firm Irwin Mitchell to launch judicial review proceedings on 28 February 2011 to challenge the lawfulness of Secretary of State Chris Huhne’s decisions late last year that two new types of nuclear reactor were justified.

According to the Euratom Directive and UK Regulations, the Secretary of State must ensure that the health detriments from nuclear power stations are outweighed by their economic, social and other benefits before giving the go ahead to build new nuclear power stations.

This regulatory process is called ‘Justification’ and is the first of three stages designed to protect members of the public against the dangers of ionising radiation. It is followed later by ‘Optimisation’, which requires radiation exposures to be kept as low as reasonably achievable, and ‘Limitation’, which ensures exposures remain within legal limits.

Legal papers for the judicial review claim that the Secretary of State’s approach to Justification last year failed to make proper estimates of health detriment and failed fully to take into account scientific research findings showing increased leukaemia risks near nuclear facilities. The papers criticise the Government’s decision to allow health impacts to be revisited at later stages after construction commences and highlight that with estimated costs of up to £6bn each, it would be difficult for the Government not to proceed with operating these nuclear reactors once built.

Explaining his reason for launching legal proceedings, Rory Walker said: “My concern is the effect of radiation emissions on myself and my community and the potentially long-lasting impact of radiation on people like myself wanting to start a family. In order to deliver its policy of new nuclear builds, the Government suggests that justification can be carried out after building £6 billion power stations; this is unrealistic.

“Justification is the only stage at which health risks are fully analysed and compared with the benefits. The Government’s approach to justification does not appear to give the protection that the regulations were designed to provide.”

Andrew Lockley, Partner and Head of Public Law at Irwin Mitchell, said: “The fundamental purpose of the Euratom Directive is to make sure that a comprehensive and detailed assessment is made before new nuclear reactors are built. It does not permit an approach which appears generalised, generic and deferred. Justification requires that the health detriments should be considered and balanced against the economic, social or other benefits which may occur - but this doesn’t seem to have happened here”.

The judicial review seeks a declaration that the Secretary of State’s decisions were unlawful. It also asks that the Justification Decision Regulations 2010, which were agreed for the two new types of reactor (EPR and AP1000) on 29 November 2010, be quashed.

In a scientific report prepared for the court, Dr. Ian Fairlie, a consultant on radioactivity in the environment, said: “There have been numerous epidemiological studies into the increased incidences of cancer near nuclear power stations. In fact, if the risks found following the KiKK study, a report commissioned by the German Government, were applied to Heysham, infants and young children under five living within 5km would be exposed to increased risks of cancer, especially leukaemia.”

Heysham in Lancashire is one of seven sites that the Government identified for future reactors. Other sites are Bradwell in Essex, Sellafield in Cumbria, Hartlepool, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire, Sizewell in Suffolk and Wylfa in North Wales.