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Chief Nuclear Inspector publishes annual review of industry performance

The Chief Nuclear Inspector has today published his annual report detailing the performance of Great Britain’s nuclear industry during 2022/23 – with conventional health and safety and cyber security flagged as the two key industry themes for the year ahead.

Mark Foy, Chief Executive and Chief Nuclear Inspector at the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), reports that in-year industry performance was good overall, but not as strong as expected in some specific areas where outcomes were variable.

In areas where performance did not meet the expected standards, ONR has held the industry to account to influence improvements.

This has included a focus on sites that are in enhanced or significantly enhanced regulatory attention.

The reporting year saw an increase in incidents and issues on some sites. Sadly, this included a work-related death at Hinkley Point C, Somerset, in November, 2022, and also a fatality at AWE Aldermaston, Berkshire, in July 2023 [outside of the period covered in the report].

Both were construction incidents, unrelated to nuclear materials, and with no radiological consequences to the public.

Police investigations remain ongoing, supported by ONR inspectors, and our thoughts remain with the family, friends and colleagues of the deceased individuals.

This annual report challenges the industry to devote increased attention to two overarching themes during 2023/24.

Nuclear site (or conventional) health and safety remains a regulatory priority – particularly at a time of increased construction and demolition across the sector.

ONR has challenged industry to achieve sustained improvements in this area, with improved risk profiling, embedding of learning, and effective implementation of risk control measures highlighted as areas for prioritisation.

The second strategic theme relates to cyber security, with key dutyholders acknowledging the need to invest further in line with commitments under the 2022 Civil Nuclear Cyber Security Strategy.

To encourage this, ONR’s thematic priorities will be focused on governance arrangements (including leadership), risk management and cyber protection capabilities (particularly Category 1 sites) and independent, intelligence-led assurance activities.

Last year’s outstanding themes – management of ageing facilities and leadership and culture for safety and security - have been retired in light of progress made by industry. However, these themes remain a priority and will continue to be assessed during regulatory engagements.

The annual report highlights a number of positive achievements across the sector during 2022/23 including:

  • Progress on collaborative work across government on the Advanced Modular Reactor (AMR) Research, Development and Demonstration Programme;
  • Start of defueling at Hinkley Point B and Dungeness B - with excellent progress observed;
  • Close out of a long-standing Level 1 Regulatory Issue requiring improvements in areas of safety performance at AWE Aldermaston; and

Mark Foy said: “ONR is here to protect society by securing safe nuclear operations.

“Overall performance of the industry remained good, and we welcome the compliance, standards, and progress in many areas.

“However, the report highlights shortfalls that require enhanced effort and strategic oversight across the industry.

“Conventional health and safety will remain a key cross‑cutting theme, and a priority focus for ONR and the industry for 2023/24, alongside the emerging key theme of cyber security.

“We expect to see industry-wide improvements in these two areas during the year ahead.

“It has been encouraging to see the industry beginning to adopt innovative practices such as the deployment of robotics and I am particularly pleased the sector is starting to see the benefits of our enabling approach to the adoption of new technologies.

“For example, our Innovation Hub is already working with stakeholders on the deployment of artificial intelligence (AI) solutions where it is in the interest of society and beneficial to the industry’s safety and security."

Mark added: "The industry is entering a period of change and increased demand, signalled by the launch of Great British Nuclear in April 2023, to accelerate investment and provide opportunities across the nuclear supply chain.

“This is in addition to the major investment already established by the Ministry of Defence for its nuclear propulsion and strategic weapons programmes.

“As the sector prepares to support a growing nuclear portfolio, we have begun to influence a joined‑up and industry-wide approach to building and sustaining a resilient, capable workforce for the future.

“This will be a regulatory priority into 2023/24, and likely beyond, to ensure the successful, safe and secure delivery of the UK’s ambition.”