Press Release: July 24 2012

Nuclear regulator forced to review aircraft crash risk

The nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), acknowledges that if a large aircraft were to accidentally crash onto the Dungeness nuclear site it has the potential to cause its most severe 'Target 9' accident, killing more than 100 people. 

Over the last five years its rationale for not objecting to the proposed expansion of nearby Lydd Airport is an assertion that the probability of such an accident is low enough to be ignored. This is despite the development introducing Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s which have greater potential to cause a large radiological release on impact than the small aircraft which operate from Lydd today. For these large passenger jets, the runway is only 60 seconds flying time from the power stations and positioned such that a failed take off or landing could leave the aircraft heading towards the nuclear site.

Finally, under the weight of compelling evidence, the ONR now admits that it may have “got it wrong”. It acknowledges that the mathematical model which it uses to assess the probability of an accidental aircraft crash may be inadequate and applied in error to the Lydd Airport situation. As a result it has decided to set up a technical advisory panel to take a grass roots review of the model, including its application to this airport. It is understood that the panel will assess evidence presented by a range of experts including physicist, Dr Roberto Trotta from Imperial College London, commissioned by LAAG, as well as consider a proposal to introduce a minimum separation policy (minimum distance between an airport and a nuclear site) as the only robust way of managing this large scale accident risk.

Rationally, the Secretaries of State should not determine this planning application until after the advisory panel has completed its review and the ONR has applied its findings to this particular case. Yet the ONR's response to a recent government consultation on Dr Trotta’s research revealed that it has not considered any of the evidence presented on this subject and that it is maintaining its original position not to oppose Lydd Airport’s planning application. It now suggests that even if the panel proves that the probability of a nuclear accident after expansion is unacceptably high, it can solve the problem by shutting down Dungeness B.

Leaving aside the economic impact of prematurely closing the largest employer in the region, LAAG’s nuclear advisor, Large & Associates, has submitted evidence which proves that shutting down Dungeness B would not remove the risk to the public as the radiological hazard associated with heavy aircraft crashing onto the nuclear site remains for decades after the power stations cease operation.

This means it would be unsafe for the Secretaries of State to determine these planning applications until after the advisory panel has reached its conclusions and the ONR has provided a detailed response to all the evidence submitted. The regulator has a mandate to err on the side of caution in situations where the probability of the event is uncertain and the outcome extreme. Therefore, unless the ONR can prove that the public would not be placed at risk by the proposed expansion of Lydd Airport, it has an obligation to object and the Secretaries of State have no choice but to oppose this planning application.

Louise Barton
Lydd Airport Action Group
The Hook Madeira Road
Littlestone, TN28 8QX
01797 361 548 

Notes to editors:             

Notes to editors:

History of planning application and LAAG’s nuclear case

Related background