Press Release: March 25 2013

UK government risks infringing nuclear safety legislation over Lydd Airport

The European Commission has written to the UK government regarding its concerns about nuclear safety as a result of Lydd Airport’s proposed expansion. Lydd Airport is located less than 60 seconds flight time from the Dungeness nuclear power complex. The runway extension will transform this small local airport, which operates predominantly light aircraft, into a regional airport capable of supporting Boeing 737s and Airbus 320s - aircraft that the nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) acknowledges have the potential to cause its highest category nuclear accident in the event of a crash.

Responding to a complaint from LAAG over the basis of the ONR’s decision not to oppose this development and its lack of engagement over this case, the Commission - after examining the evidence - concluded there were sufficient concerns to write to the UK government over a potential infringement of the Nuclear Safety Directive.

The operator of Dungeness B (EDF/British Energy) objected to the development of Lydd Airport in 2007 on the basis that “The large scale increase in air traffic around the site is a risk that should be sensibly avoided in the local and wider public interest ..”.

The ONR on the other hand did not oppose the expansion, arguing that the probability of an aircraft accident at Dungeness resulting from the introduction of large commercial aircraft at Lydd Airport is so small it could be ignored. Evidence provided by a number of leading experts shows that the mathematical model on which the ONR based this regulatory decision is seriously flawed, yet the ONR continues to maintain its regulatory position.

Despite requests over a number of years, the ONR has refused to allow the basis of this decision to be subject to public scrutiny. It has consistently failed to answer specific questions about well substantiated concerns surrounding the efficacy of the model, plus errors in its application and in the advice given to government departments, mostly revealed through technical papers and email exchanges obtained via freedom of information requests. Although it is the government’s responsibility to ensure the ONR operates in a transparent manner with regard to its regulatory decisions, it has failed to seek accountability from the ONR, despite the depth of evidence demonstrating that the basis of its regulatory decision is flawed.

Should the government approve the development of Lydd Airport without holding the ONR to account on these matters and satisfactorily answering the questions put to it by the European Commission, it ultimately faces the possibility of the case being referred to the European Court of Justice.  

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

Notes to editors:

General Background