Stop EDF’s silent spring!

Birds and other wildlife would be eliminated by EDF two-reactor project on English coast

By Linda Pentz Gunter

Two new nuclear reactors are threatened for the English east coast. The EDF project would destroy precious ecosystems and drive away already rare wildlife. Activists there are now raising funds for scientific expertise to help block any further progress on the reactors, and also, in a separate appeal, to continue the legal fight. 

Did you ever hear a bittern boom?

It sounds like a question Dr. Suess might have asked. But that sound, and the bird that makes it, is one of the critically important losses about to befall coastal Suffolk in the UK if French nuclear firm, EDF, continues to press forward with its plans for a new reactor there. The project is called Sizewell C.

Or more accurately, plows ahead. Because what EDF is proposing, and so far not nearly enough people are opposing, is to literally plow under some of the most precious, fragile and unique flora and fauna anywhere in the world. In exchange, it will plant the technically flawed and financially failing fiasco that is its European Pressurized Reactor, directly on the beach there. Two of them in fact. As it is already doing at the Somerset UK site — Hinkley C. To disastrous effects on the surrounding countryside.

We touched on this threat earlier this year in another article. As I wrote there: “The first thing that is likely to happen is that EDF will raze Coronation Wood. It will do this, not because it needs to now. It is not even certain that Sizewell C will go ahead. It will do this for show. The show in question is to prove to the world that the French nuclear industry is alive and well.”

Fortunately, on June 3, Suffolk activists won a crucial round in court that will allow a judicial review of the decision by East Suffolk Council in September 2019 to grant EDF planning permission to cut down the 100 year-old Coronation Wood. The judge granted permission for the challenge to proceed on the basis it is arguable that there were deficiencies within the Environmental Impact Assessment relied upon by the Council in making their planning decision. (Update: As the allowed challenge forced the exclusion of the argument that the proposed development did not satisfy the standard of need required by law to justify a major development in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, TASC has now also launched an appeal on those grounds.)

Suffolk Otter

The otter, a remarkable comeback success story, could be driven away by EDF’s Sizewell C project. (Photo courtesy of Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth)

This is a crucial development because, if EDF is not stopped, and Coronation Wood goes, the company will then proceed to desecrate and destroy a remarkable landscape that abuts and traverses the beautiful Minsmere Nature Reserve, managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Luckily, there are good people fighting back. They include Together Against Sizewell C, (which brought the legal challenge), Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth, Theberton & Eastbridge Action Group on Sizewell and RSPB Minsmere. All of them deserve our support. You can donate to the continued legal challenge here.

Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth is also leading a funding drive, to pay for needed scientific expertise. We will let them describe how you can support their efforts.

“We’re a local group of Friends of the Earth, who care passionately about our beautiful, tranquil Suffolk countryside and its rare wildlife.  Some of the species are already at risk and on the Red Data Book list.  Yet EDF Energy wants to build a nuclear power station here, known as Sizewell C, with an access road right across Sizewell Marshes, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

“Here there are protected animals, such as otter and water vole, beautiful butterflies, including White Admiral and Grayling, rare dragonflies like the Norfolk Hawker, and where scarce plants grow such as the lovely Marsh-orchids.

“Directly adjacent is Minsmere, the famous RSPB bird reserve.  In spring you might hear a bittern booming.

“The road would lead to the vast platform, where there would be two European Pressurised Nuclear Reactors, in themselves potentially hugely dangerous.  Right next to them is a store for high-level nuclear waste — and all of this in Suffolk’s Heritage Coast and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  There could hardly be a worse place for it!

Stream and woods Suffolk

A fragile and precious ecology is at risk if the two-reactor project is allowed to proceed. (Photo courtesy of Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth)

“To build the platform, EDF Energy would have to drill down 45 metres through the rare fen meadow, taking even more of the precious SSSI.  Peat is a non-renewable resource, having slowly developed over at least 6,000 years.  When disturbed, it releases greenhouse gases.  This valuable habitat cannot be replaced and would be lost forever, along with its highly specialised plants and animals.

“Just imagine — the small sounds of birdsong would be replaced by the roar of chainsaws cutting down many hectares of woodland, clouds of dust rising from the excavations and land clearance, the stench of diesel fumes from bulldozers, and permanent 24-hour artificial lighting not just blocking out the beauty of the night sky, but causing severe disorientation to bats, moths and other night-time inhabitants.

“The construction works would take at least 12 years, by which time the wildlife would have either died or been frightened away.

“We love this place.  The very thought of its ruination is unbearable.  Please help us to save it!

Expert witnesses required

“We need scientific evidence to prove that, during the 12 years of construction, the damage to protected species would be extensive and that the small amount of mitigation offered by EDF Energy is grossly inadequate.  We urgently need funds to pay scientists to write expert reports for us and to speak for us in the infrastructure planning examination.  This will determine whether or not Sizewell C should go ahead.

“Most particularly we need to be able to pay an expert eco-hydrologist, who would assess the changes to water levels in the surrounding marshes due to the construction works, which in turn would change the chemistry of the water.  This would mean that many of the rare and sensitive species, such as the dragonflies, moths, plants and birds, would no longer be able to thrive here.

“We have to convince the Infrastructure Planning Inspectorate that this is totally the wrong place for another nuclear power station.  The damage to our highly sensitive landscapes would be so appalling that it should not go ahead.  Scientific expertise is vital to enable us to counteract EDF’s arguments successfully — but it’s very expensive!

“The government inspectors will begin to examine EDF Energy’s application shortly, so we need to brief our scientists now as a matter of real urgency.”

If you wish to donate, you can do so here. Wild spaces belong to all of us on Earth. They matter wherever they are and whether we ever see them in person or not. In these days of lockdown, people have wondered if the birds are singing more loudly, or are simply more abundant. If EDF has their way, they will be silenced and gone.

Headline photo of a bittern taken at Leiston, Suffolk, RSPB Minsmere by Edwyn Anderton/Creative Commons-Flickr.

For more on how nuclear power harms wildlife, see our handbook.

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