Page last updated at 18:23 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Nuclear plant 'quake ban' lifted

Sellafield plant in Cumbria
Sellafield is seen as prime candidate for a new plant

An outright ban on locating new nuclear power stations in areas of the UK which are susceptible to earthquakes has been lifted by the government.

The move was the only major change to the siting criteria, which also include restrictions on proximity to towns and certain military facilities.

Ministers said the UK's earthquake risk was "modest" and power stations could be built to withstand any activity.

The nuclear industry now has two months to nominate potential new sites.

The UK does not sit over a major seismic fault zone, meaning earthquakes are relatively rare and mild.

The largest - 6.1 on the Richter Scale - happened about 75 miles (120km) north-east of Great Yarmouth in the North Sea on 7 June 1931. Most recently, in April 2007, Kent was hit by a quake with a magnitude of 4.3.

The areas of highest risk are thought to be along the west of England, Scotland and Wales.

Despite being urged by some to keep the ban, the government ruled that some seismic risk should not automatically stop a site getting past the first stages of consideration.

There will be plenty of opportunities for local authorities and the public to have their say
Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband

"Designing and constructing a nuclear power station to satisfactorily take account of local seismic conditions is a matter that is more appropriately considered at the development consent stage when the relevant information about design approach and precise location is known," it said.

"It would be not be reasonable to expect nominators to have this information at the strategic stage, which in some cases would require extensive site specific investigations to obtain."

Concerns over flood risk and the impact of power stations on "environmentally-protected" status areas also do not automatically rule out an area, but planners will have to show how damage could be eliminated or minimised.

Four sites

Nuclear developers will be able to apply for planning permission from next year and ministers will then announce which sites have been deemed "strategically suitable".

The final decision will not be taken until after a public and Parliamentary consultation.

Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband told the Nuclear Development Forum on Tuesday: "The industry continues to gear up to invest and we are on course to see new nuclear feeding into the grid by 2018.

"We'll be judging each site that gets nominated against the criteria we have set out today and there will be plenty of opportunities for local authorities and the public to have their say on the options tabled."

Last week, four potential sites for were proposed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. They were Sellafield in Cumbria, Bradwell in Essex, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Wylfa in Anglesey.

Most current UK nuclear power stations will cease operating within the next 20 years, prompting fears of an "energy gap" amid uncertainty about levels of future gas and oil supplies.

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