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February 9, 2011

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New regulatory body for nuclear industry

The Government has vowed to bring forward legislation to establish a new independent statutory body to regulate the nuclear-power industry.

Announcing the formation of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), in a written ministerial statement yesterday (8 February), Work and Pensions minister Chris Grayling said the new body would take on the relevant functions currently carried out by the HSE and the Department for Transport.

The ONR will absorb all the elements of the Nuclear Directorate – the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, the Office for Civil Nuclear Security, and the UK Safeguards Office – as well as the Department for Transport’s Radioactive Materials Transport Team, thereby consolidating civil nuclear and radioactive transport safety and security regulation under one body.

All existing regulatory requirements and standards with which the industry must comply will remain unaffected. Mr Grayling also confirmed that “the vast majority of the costs of the regulator would continue to be recovered in charges from operators in the nuclear industry rather than funded by the public purse” and any additional costs “will be entirely met by the nuclear industry”.

It is expected that the ONR will be established as a non-statutory body from 1 April, pending legislation – a move Mr Grayling described as a signal of the Government’s commitment “to securing an appropriately resourced and responsive regulator for the future challenges of the nuclear sector”. Once fully operational, the ONR will be legally separated from, but still supported by, the HSE.

Prospect, the union representing more than 200 nuclear safety specialists, welcomed the Government’s announcement to expedite the formation of the ONR.

Negotiator Mike Macdonald said: “Our members are experts in their field and they believe the creation of this independent body will give a better focus for nuclear safety regulation. We’ve not yet seen the detail but, as long as our conditions are met, this will be a step forward for public safety, especially in the light of new nuclear build.”

One of the conditions Macdonald refers to is that the ONR has a board of directors close to the industry, with external members representing employers and staff in the sector, including the trade unions – a change that Prospect believes will “allow inspectors to focus on the real health and safety issues in the industry rather than political decisions”.

The union also wants the regulator to be allowed to make decisions in the public interest and be free from political or commercial pressure, as well as having the liberty to set its pay, pensions and other terms and conditions.

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