The case against Sizewell C
By Linda Pentz Gunter
In December 2018 we ran an article — The mad plan to store nuclear waste on the beach — which has become one of our most read stories. Now, as the climate crisis worsens, here comes a possibly even madder plan — a new nuclear power plant on a beach with a shifting coastline famous for erosion.
In the spring of 2013 — at least what is usually billed as spring — Paul Gunter and I represented Beyond Nuclear at meetings and talks around the proposed Sizewell C reactor on the UK east coast. An abnormally frigid wind from the Siberian mountains was blowing in off the North Sea — on whose coastline the Sizewell reactors sit. We strode along those unforgiving Suffolk sands dressed as if re-enacting an Ernest Shackleton expedition. Our “sightseeing” venture to the nuclear site allowed us to approach surprisingly close to the two shuttered and Soviet-looking Sizewell A reactors and their neighboring and still operating Sizewell B reactor — the UK’s only commercialized pressurized water reactor. There was an apparently invisible border — like a sort of Maginot line — marking where the nuclear property began, but not a security soul in site.
The Sizewell reactors sit on a windswept beach just yards from a sea that has already consumed ancient villages as the coastline changed and eroded over the centuries. Now the sea level rise that will come with climate change promises in time to drown a few more, most likely including the Sizewell nuclear site. Undeterred, the French government nuclear company, EDF, insists it will build a new reactor at Sizewell — one of its ill-fated EPR design that is already struggling at Flamanville, Olkiluoto and Hinkley. Just from a climate change point of view, it is an exercise in insanity. But there is so much more at stake.
The local activist group, Together Against Sizewell C (TASC) has been challenging the EDF plan for years, even as Sizewell sits permanently second in the queue behind the ever more delayed and ever more exorbitant sister site at Hinkley C in Somerset, where EDF is attempting to build two EPRs. Despite the technical problems, cost over-runs and the obscene strike price EDF scored off the UK government — which would almost triple current electricity rates — the company insists in can build Sizewell C more cheaply than Hinkley C and that construction could start within the next three years. It’s a pretty tall order and, arguably, total French farce.
What would actually happen to the Suffolk coastline and the surrounding villages, towns and countryside, is so alarming that TASC has ramped up its urgency in appealing to a likely somewhat otherwise distracted UK government — that is busy self-destructing over Brexit — to cancel Sizewell C.
In an eloquent petition, (which UK residents can sign at this link), TASC has laid out the case for halting the Sizewell C planning process immediately, arguing that in “report after report” nuclear power has shown “to be superfluous to UK climate change, cost and electricity generating targets. Nuclear is too expensive, a security risk and leaves a legacy of radioactive waste.” The petition will be delivered in person to the UK Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy.
On March 12, the group delivered an earlier petition, signed by 1,500 local people, to the Suffolk County Council’s Conservative leader Matthew Hicks, ahead of a cabinet meeting to discuss Sizewell C.
TASC also held an art exhibition to draw attention to the risks at Sizewell.
Specifically what Sizewell C would do to Suffolk is a list so compelling it is hard to see why any government in its right mind would continue to green light the project. But then “right mind” does not appear to be a common condition among governments these days and has never been a criterion when it comes to the choice to develop nuclear power or not.
The TASC arguments may be tailored to the Suffolk region but they perfectly sum up the severe and lasting impacts of any nuclear power project. As TASC writes:
“If Sizewell C nuclear power station were allowed to be constructed over the forecast 12 year build period in this flood-prone rural part of East Suffolk, the unacceptable scale of environmental, social and infrastructure dislocation will be all too evident. It will:
– devastate the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty which provides a rich and varied mosaic of habitats that are a haven for an amazing variety of wildlife including iconic species such as bittern, marsh harrier and otter;
– split the Sizewell Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest in half with a new permanent elevated road;
– be constructed on the boundary with Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Minsmere, with 24/7 light, noise and air pollution being a huge threat to the internationally important nature reserve as well as the wider environment;
– result in the loss of acres of valuable farmland;
– threaten homes, land and businesses with compulsory purchase;
– see road building and alterations for 25 miles around the site, including seven new roundabouts within an 8-mile radius of Sizewell;
– add hundreds of HGV journeys to and from the Sizewell site every day, causing unacceptable levels of CO2 and NOX emissions;
– harm the flourishing and sustainable tourism industry of East Suffolk affecting businesses around the much visited towns of Aldeburgh and Southwold and many popular villages as well as RSPB Minsmere and the National Trust’s Dunwich Heath;
– see up to two million litres of mains water consumed each day of nuclear power station operation, in addition to the huge volumes used during construction, in one of the driest parts of the country;
– see tons of fish and other marine life sucked into the cooling pipes along with an estimated 2.5 billion gallons of sea water per day, similar to the concerns at the identical Hinkley Point C;
– require nuclear waste to be stored indefinitely on our crumbling, sinking coast as sea levels rise;
– ceate a huge upfront carbon footprint during construction and from the mining, milling and fabrication of the uranium fuel together with an unknown carbon footprint at the back end of operation as nuclear power cannot answer climate change; and
– lead to the production of low level radiation with all its attendant risks to human health, especially to young children and those yet to be born.”
As Pete Wilkinson, TASC’s chairman, summed it up to the BBC: “It will fundamentally change the way of life in this region, cause people to lose their homes, destroy an area of outstanding natural beauty and leave us with another legacy of lethal radioactive waste.”