The case is the first to be decided under the Radiation (Emergency Preparedness and Public Information) Regulations 2019 which came into force in May 2019.
The Regulations impose various duties on operators who work with ionising radiation and local authorities to plan for radiation emergencies. The Regulations are part of an international, EU and national response to the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan in March 2011 following an undersea earthquake.
One of the key changes to emergency planning, reflected in the Regulations, is to require risk assessment and planning for events which have a low likelihood of occurrence but high impact in the event they do occur; as with the Fukushima disaster. Another change concerns a shift in responsibility for deciding on the extent of a geographical zone in which it is proportionate to plan for protective action in the event of a radiation emergency. Such zones are referred to in the Regulations as a 'Detailed Emergency Planning Zone' (DEPZ). Responsibility used to lie with either the Office for Nuclear Regulation or the Health and Safety Executive but now rests with the relevant local authority, who must designate the zone on the basis of a recommendation from the site operator.
West Berkshire District Council, the Defendant, designated a DEPZ around the Burghfield Atomic Weapons Establishment with a minimum radius of 3160 m from the centre of the site. Under the previous regime, the DEPZ was based on a minimum radius of 1600 metres.
The extension covers much of the 700 hectares of land belonging to the Claimants and which the Claimants hope to develop for housing.
The Claimants contended that the decision was unlawful in that the rationale for the new and extended DEPZ, which is required by the Regulations to be made public, was insufficient as a matter of law and that the regulatory oversight of the designation process has been deficient.
The claim was not successful. This is an important judgment for those with plans to develop land near nuclear facilities.
Mark Westmoreland Smith acted for the Office for Nuclear Regulation and successfully defended the notion that the regulatory oversight was deficient.
The full judgment can be read here.