Lessons need to be learned from Japan quake: UK minister

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Britain's energy minister said Sunday that lessons need to be learned from the problems facing Japanese nuclear reactors after the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

"I'm asking our own nuclear regulator, or safety authorities, to look very carefully at the Japanese experience to learn any lessons that we can, both for our own existing nuclear reactions and for any new nuclear programme, because safety is absolutely the number one priority for us in all our energy sources, and that has to be the case with this one as well," Chris Huhne told BBC television.

"We have to learn the lessons from what has gone on in Japan and make sure we take them on board."

Huhne said there were differences between the Japanese and British nuclear programmes.

"We don't have type of reactor that is involved in this particular incident, in the UK, and nor are we proposing that it should be part of any new nuclear programme," he said.

"And in addition, of course, there is a very big difference in that we're, frankly, amazingly lucky that we don't live in a seismically active earthquake zone like Japan."

Huhne, who belongs to the Liberal Democrat element in the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, was asked about public reaction to the disaster in Japan which comes as Britain is about to relaunch its nuclear programme.

"Well, public opinion obviously is going to be very influenced by the investigation. And the investigation is absolutely crucial. So we mustn't put the cart before the horse," he said.

"They key thing is to get to the bottom of what has gone on, to understand any and all of the lessons that there may be from what's gone on in Japan for the UK. Now, clearly there may be some in terms of operator safety and so forth."

The coalition government cleared the way in October for new nuclear power plants to be built at eight sites in England and Wales -- three fewer than the 11 proposed by the previous Labour government.

The coalition had already said it would give the go-ahead to companies that want to build new nuclear plants, provided no public subsidy is required, despite Liberal Democrat opposition to new nuclear power stations before the party was in power.

In June the British authorities are due to authorise the use of EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) technology by the French Areva and EDF groups and the AP1000 design of the US company Westinghouse in the building of new nuclear reactors.

© 2011 AFP

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