What we have just heard from the Secretary of State and from Doctor Weightman is very important, and I would particularly like to pay tribute to the leadership shown by Chris Huhne.
All of us here today are of course thinking about the events of the past few days in Japan. It is a terrible human tragedy, and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this disaster.
Over 5000 people have already been confirmed dead, with many thousands more expected to follow, whilst parts of the country lie in tatters, and the weather on the ground is worsening.
I have been struck by the dignity, courage and resilience of the Japanese people in these extraordinary and dramatic circumstances.
Allow me now to think of our colleagues in the power companies in Japan and specifically of those in the nuclear power stations – and especially those who are fighting, facing an exceptional challenge in the nuclear plant at Fukushima.
Our thoughts are with them – as they are tackling this unique and challenging combination of circumstances.
Through the World Association of Nuclear Operators, we have been offering our support, together with our colleagues in France.
We, EDF, are now making arrangements to ship 100 tonnes of boric acid to Japan, to help with cooling efforts, we are providing potassium iodate tablets and preparing to mobilise staff.
I am proud of the way that all of EDF Energy’s employees have reacted over a difficult time for those who work in the nuclear industry. You can imagine their emotion. I am determined to listen to them in full transparency and with an open mind. But I want to stress that our workforce, and our unions, have responded with compassion, understanding and resilience. Their thoughts have been with their industry colleagues in Japan. But they have all the time maintained their absolute focus on delivering high standards of safety.
The world is watching what is happening in Japan.
It is totally right that the nuclear incident unfolding at the moment should trigger so much attention and concern.
So I would like now to consider three main aspects related to those events:
- The political.
- The regulatory.
- And our role as a nuclear operator.
First the political. Such an extraordinary event with a worldwide impact is a defining moment for politicians to demonstrate leadership.
That leadership has been in evidence in many quarters – from the Secretary of State as I have mentioned, from the statement made by the Prime Minister this week, the resolve of the Leader of the Opposition, comments made by many MPs at the ECC Select Committee, and John Hutton’s article in today’s Telegraph.
All have shown clear-headedness in their response – avoiding knee-jerk reactions. This is what our politicians have done over the last four days – acting at the national level.
I would like also to pay tribute to those at the local level. Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson yesterday met with the local authorities in Somerset, to talk about the considerable progress we are making at Hinkley Point.
He noted the local determination to press ahead with our project, and the strong feeling that whilst we should learn any lessons we may need to from Japan, we should not delay our progress.
My second point, is to welcome the role of our safety authority – a stable, independent and strong authority. I welcome the mandate given to Mike Weightman to report on the facts, to analyse them and to draw lessons from them.
The interim report, due in May, as well as the final report, will play an important role in maintaining the trust – based on transparency – in the high standards of safety we adhere to.
We are determined to support Mike Weightman – we will play an active, not a passive role in the lessons learnt exercise.
Thirdly, I wish to say a word about us – the largest nuclear operator in the UK – covering two areas:
- Our existing plants.
- Our plans for new build.
As licensee and operator of the existing nuclear fleet in the UK, we are already examining closely reports of events and implementing early actions. We will work with Mike and his team as we do so –ahead of the publication of his reports.
Our Generation Board held an extraordinary meeting on 15th March to take stock of recent events. They received a thorough review of the operation of our plants in fault situations, as well as taking on board the wider issues that events in Japan are beginning to reveal. We continue to operate our fleet to the highest standard but have also set in place an immediate action plan, including:
- an immediate check by our Station Directors of their back up systems, over and above normal audit processes;
- organising refresher training for employees on use of our back up systems;
- initiating a review of our Emergency Plan, with particular focus on the impact on infrastructure disturbance, and
- establishing formal arrangements to ensure that any learnings from Japan are fed into our safety processes.
We have shared this activity openly with our colleagues in Magnox and more widely through WANO.
‘Safety-First’ remains an integral part of our DNA – seeking to achieve continuous improvements – and refusing complacency.
We are proud of our safety performance and we want to remain proud of it.
We should not, at this stage, make snap decisions about existing nuclear power stations until all the facts are known. Nor should we reach hasty decisions about nuclear new build.
While we understand the importance of adjusting the timetable to take into account the NII report, it is also equally important that establishing the framework for new nuclear should not be subject to undue delay.
The events in Japan do not change the need for nuclear in Britain.
The critical task in front of us today is to deliver a secure, clean and affordable energy mix.
The GDA process must continue alongside the work being undertaken to finalise Dr Weightman’s Interim and Final reports – as it is important that we are able, as soon as possible, to embrace the key components of these reports in relation to our new build projects.
There has been welcome progress with regard to establishing the carbon price floor and we look forward to seeing this in the Government’s Budget for growth, enterprise and jobs. The carbon price floor is a fundamental enabler for us and other investors to move forward with our multi billion pound investment plans that will drive precisely the long term economic growth and jobs the country needs.
Electricity market reform is also continuing, and we hope to see decisive delivery this year. EDF Group and Centrica our co investor expect to take our final investment decision on UK new build early next year. We need to move forward with mutual commitment.
In conclusion, I would like to refer to what I said on Monday this week at the British Embassy in Paris, at an event organised to talk about the opportunities and partnerships for the British and French supply chain, afforded by existing and new nuclear in France and in Britain…
We need to act and act in a highly responsible way, being responsive to the questions raised, keeping our resolve undimmed.
Government, industry and regulators all have a joint role to play in providing leadership and clear communication over the coming weeks and months.
We will need to act with humility and leadership.
Humility means respect for the facts and respect for different viewpoints.
Leadership means deserving the trust of the public and unerring determination to make sure that what the country needs will happen.