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Nuclear safety fears jeopardise Kent airport expansion


FEARS OF a plane crashing into Dungeness nuclear power station are threatening to block ambitious expansion plans for the nearby London Ashford airport.

Increasing capacity at the airport would increase the risk and severity of an aircraft accident at Dungeness says the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII), which has lodged an objection to the planning application for the scheme.

The operator, London Ashford Airports, wants to develop the airport, which currently takes just 5,000 passengers a year on light aircraft, to take 2M passengers on large commercial planes by 2011, growing to 6M passengers by 2021.

It submitted two planning applications to Shepway District Council in January, one for construction of a new terminal and the second to extend the runway. If the council backs the expansion plans the NII can appeal to the Department for Communities and Local Government for a public inquiry.

An NII spokesman said it had 'lodged an interim objection to the planning applications and is currently in discussions with the licencees [British Energy and British Nuclear Group].' He explained that the NII's two main areas of concern were the implication of developments on the emergency planning arrangements in the event of an evacuation of the nuclear facility and the safety case for accidental aircraft impact.

'The licencees must collaborate with local authorities on plans to decide if the current arrangements can cope with an increase in the transient population, ' he said.

On the subject of aircraft impact he said: 'The licencee must prove that any increase in risk does not present a hazard.' The NII and British Energy (BE) are now assessing the impact on the safety case for Magnox reactor plant Dungeness A, now in decommissioning, and advanced gas cooled reactor plant Dungeness B, which is still in operation.

A report published last week by consultant John Large on behalf of the anti-airport expansion lobbyist Lydd Airport Action Group, warned that the increased number of air movements and the increased aircraft size would have serious implications on safety at Dungeness A and B.

Large said: 'The report analysis reveals that even at passenger levels of 500,000 a year the risk of crash damage is 14 times more likely than the NII's minimum risk target of one in 10 million per year.' LAA argues that the airport expansion is 'a viable solution to the increasing UK demand for air transport'.

NCE 500 Should London Ashford Airport be allowed to expand?

12 % Don't know

39 % Yes

49 % No

NCE 500 is 500 engineers who agree to be polled with a different question each week. Have your say at www. nceplus. co. uk

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