Environment Agency

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The Environment Agency was set up in 1996 covering England and Wales but in 2013 became an England-only non-departmental public body of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

Nuclear responsibilities

Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of Spinwatch.
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The Environment Agency is 'responsible for regulating the nuclear industry on environmental matters such as disposals and discharges of radioactive waste from the site, discharges of cooling water and operation of standby generators'.

Our position on nuclear power is that we:

  • recognise nuclear power's role in providing low-carbon electricity generation as part of the national energy mix
  • insist that nuclear installations achieve high standards of safety, security, environmental protection and radioactive waste management
  • believe that Government and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority should continue to demonstrate credible commitment to making progress with geological disposal of radioactive waste.

Waste

Since 6 April 2010 has regulated the disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear sites under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010 (EPR). We also regulate certain aspects of the keeping and use of radioactive sources on nuclear sites. These Regulations replace the Radioactive Substances Act 1963 (RSA93). For convenience we call this Radioactive Substances Regulation (RSR).

Generic Design Assessment

The UK's two civil nuclear regulators – the HSE and Environment Agency – have been carrying out a new process called 'Generic Design Assessment' (GDA), which looks at the safety, security and environmental implications of new reactor designs before an application is made to build that design at a particular site. [1] In March 2008, the initial assessment of four nuclear power station designs was completed. No shortfalls in any of the four designs were found. A series of reports on each design were published. [2]

The next stage was going to be a prioritisation process to select a maximum of three reactor designs to proceed to the next stage of the assessment, but Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd announced in April 2008 that it was pulling its ACR-1000 design out of the process to focus on its home market. [3]

On 12 June 2008, HSE and the Environment Agency announced that they were starting the next, more detailed stage of the GDA process - referred to by HSE as Step 3 - for the remaining three designs.

Then in September 2008 General Electric's nuclear venture with Hitachi Ltd. asked the HSE to temporarily halt the process of assessing its so-called Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor so that it could focus its efforts on getting U.S. approval instead. [4]

This left only the Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 design and the Areva-Siemens European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) in the assessment process.

At the end of the process the regulators will make statements setting out their conclusions about the acceptability of the designs.

Updates from the HSE on the process are on its GDA Reports webpage.

Regulating the shale gas industry

In a written answer to Maria Eagle MP in April 2014 about how many Environment Agency staff were working on'the regulation of fracking in England and Wales; and what reductions in the budget of the Environment Agency have affected people working on that regulation.'

Dan Rogerson replied:

The Environment Agency has set up a team of 10 national officers working full time to develop the regulatory regime for oil and gas activities. This work covers conventional and unconventional oil and gas activities. This team is supported by additional technical resource from elsewhere in the organisation. The workload fluctuates and these specialists are not solely dedicated to regulating and permitting unconventional activities. It is therefore not possible to give an exact answer, but the agency estimates that approximately 40 further members of staff are currently involved in this work across England.
UK Government policy is to ensure the shale industry is able to develop in a safe, sustainable and environmentally responsible way within a well-regulated environment. Regulating the industry will remain a priority for the Environment Agency. Funding for setting up the regulatory regime comes from DEFRA grant in aid. Work to regulate individual sites is financed through the charges the Environment Agency raises for environmental permits and licences, supported where necessary by the grant in aid.

Controversies

Investing in the very industries it regulates

FrackWell.png This article is part of the Spinwatch Fracking Portal and project
In December 2014 the Environment Agency was accused of having a "clear conflict of interest" after a Spinwatch investigation published in the Independent on Sunday found that the UK regulator's pension fund invests millions in controversial industries which it then regulates. Worth £2.3bn, the fund invests in UK companies investing in fracking, incineration and nuclear power, all of which the Agency is involved in regulating. The paper reported that,
The pension details are contained in a response to a Freedom of Information request from the EA, which lists the companies it had a stake in as of March [2014], its latest available audited information. And its investments are in marked contrast to the Agency's public image of being a leading "responsible" investor that integrates "environmental, social and governance considerations into all decision-making." The Agency champions its commitment that by 2015 "25 per cent of the fund will be invested in the sustainable and green economy".
Despite these bold claims, the list reveals that the EA, which was heavily criticised last year for its response to flooding, holds £50m direct investments in oil and gas companies such as Shell, BP and BG Group, as well as millions more in indirect oil and gas funds. This year the EA commissioned a report on the risk to its fossil fuel investments becoming "stranded assets" but was advised against disinvesting. "Reducing investment exposure to the fossil industry does not precipitate a reduced prevalence of that industry," argued its consultants.

Fracking investments

The EA pension fund's fracking, incineration and nuclear investments could potentially open up the EA 'to legal challenges if it were to grant permits to companies in which its pension pot has a financial interest' reported the paper.

The fund is investing in two companies financially intertwined with fracking giant Cuadrilla, the company that has been the subject of fierce protests in Lancashire and West Sussex. The first is Centrica, which is investing £60m in Cuadrilla's Lancashire operations and the second is Riverstone Energy, which owns 44 per cent of Cuadrilla.
...The EA is also investing in Barclays, the bank behind Third Energy's attempts to frack and conventionally drill the Ryedale Valley in North Yorkshire, and French company Total, which announced plans to invest $50m (£32m) in licences backed by fracking companies IGas, Dart Energy and partner Egdon Resources earlier this year.

The paper also reported that 'globally, the fund also invests millions in chemical and mining companies, including diamond mining; tobacco and alcohol companies; arms manufacturers; a gambling company, as well as Starbucks which has been repeatedly accused of tax avoidance. [5]

It is with issues such as fracking, incineration and nuclear that the EA is probably at its most vulnerable. Its investments could potentially open it up to legal challenges if the it were to grant permits to companies in which its pension pot has a financial interest.

People

Former people

  • Lord Chris Smith - former chairman. In October 2014 Smith was appointed head of an 'independent' Task Force on Shale Gas, funded by industry, to look into the risks and benefits of fracking in the UK.

Lobbying firms

Former lobbying firms

Contact

Website:

Resources

Notes

  1. See UK Nuclear Regulators: Nuclear Reactor Assessment HSE website accessed December 2008.
  2. Generic Design Assessment Reports, HSE website, accessed December 2008.
  3. T.Hamilton,'AECL abandons effort to sell UK reactors' Toronto Star, 5 April 2008.
  4. L.Paulsson, 'GE asks UK to suspend approval of nuclear reactor' Bloomberg, 17 September 2008.
  5. Andy Rowell, Environment Agency investing pension fund in industries it regulates is 'clear conflict of interest', 28 December 2014