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Nuclear safety assessed after quake

The Government has been urged to look again at plans for new nuclear power stations in light of safety fears at Japanese reactors following the country’s massive earthquake.

Energy secretary Chris Huhne said officials were taking the situation seriously and examining how lessons from the crisis at the Fukushima power plant could be learned.

He called the incident at Fukushima a “very serious matter”, adding that: “We take this incident extremely seriously even though there is no reason to expect a similar scale of seismic activity in the UK.”

“It is essential that we understand the full facts and their implications, both for existing nuclear reactors and any new programme, as safety is always our number one concern,” he said.

He said that while there was no reason to think Britain could experience an earthquake along that scale, he had contacted chief nuclear inspector Mike Weightman for a report on the implications of the situation.

Open University professor Mike Fitzpatrick said: “The reactors that are being proposed for construction in the UK are much more advanced in terms of design and safety systems, and can cool passively following a shutdown which makes them inherently safer.”

The Fukushima nuclear facility in eastern Japan has been hit by explosions after a quake with a magnitude as high as 9.0 hit the country, followed by a massive tsunami.

The Government approved plans for new nuclear plants at eight sites across the UK last year.

The Liberal Democrats had previously opposed plans for new nuclear plants but they are a key part of coalition Government policy on energy. Mr Huhne had said he was “fed up” of the stand-off between advocates of renewable energy sources and those of nuclear power.

Environmental campaigners have put pressure on Mr Huhne to rethink the plans and focus on renewable power in the wake of the Japanese disaster. But Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said: “The immediate priority must be supporting the humanitarian response to the appalling catastrophe in Japan and it is right that the UK government has responded quickly to requests for help with practical support.”

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