Utterly destroyed

That’s the outlook for a spectacular stretch of coastline should new reactors be built there

From Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group

“The Essex coastline is remarkable for its length, at 350 miles the longest of any county in England, its more than thirty islands, and its estuaries, like the Blackwater, extending the sea miles inland,” writes Andy Blowers. “And yet, its very character is threatened by the proposed new reactor project at Bradwell B.” 

The Bradwell B nuclear power station would be a joint two-reactor project of the French government energy company, EDF, and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN). The proposed design is the Chinese HPR1000. The project has not yet received its Development Consent Order and is vigorously opposed by the local community and by environmentalists and scientists.

“What is to be lost, should Bradwell B come to pass?” Blowers asks. “First and foremost will be the sense of openness and space, for this coast is a place where land, sea and sky meet; the vast East Anglian sky with endlessly changing weather, the daily theatre of blue and grey sky, scudding clouds, tranquil and stormy, sometimes a golden sunrise or a glorious glowing sunset.

“Beneath is the restless sea, the ebb and flow of the tide revealing for a while the mud and gravel of the foreshore, draining and refilling the creeks, eroding and replenishing the mudflats and saltmarshes. This vast panorama, the essence of the Essex coastal scene, would be utterly destroyed by a massive nuclear complex, with cooling towers pluming to the sky, discharges polluting the waters and the air and earthworks disrupting the land.”

The threat at Bradwell is similar to that for the proposed Sizewell C new nuclear plant site in neighboring Suffolk, also a joint project of EDF and CGN. (The Sizewell reactors will be French EPRs.) Both projects are on fragile, low-lying coastal sites vulnerable to inundation and will be increasingly exposed to the impacts of climate change in the form of sea level rise, storm surges and coastal processes. And both are situated in areas of considerable environmental importance and sensitivity that would be severely compromised by nuclear development.

That is why Blowers, an international expert on radioactive waste management and sustainable development, has written to the Sizewell C Examining Authority declaring that both Bradwell B and Sizewell C should be abandoned as a whole now to avoid falling victim to the catastrophic impacts of climate change later.

An expansion of Bradwell nuclear power plant could permanently blight the landscape. (Photo: “Bradwell nuclear power station” by Paul Wilkinson/Creative Commons)

Blowers OBE, Chair of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG), Professor of Social Sciences at the Open University and formerly a member of various Government scientific advisory bodies on nuclear wast, insists that far from being ‘potentially suitable’ sites, as the Government declared a decade ago, Bradwell and Sizewell are ‘totally unsuitable’ for the deployment of nuclear reactors and highly radioactive spent fuel stores, which will remain on site until the latter half of the next century.

Professor Blowers states: “There is the possibility of calamitous risks being passed on to generations in the far future. This may be acceptable to the developers and Government, in which case they should say so. It is not acceptable to those, like me, who oppose this development.”

In terms of their sheer scale and location, the Bradwell B and Sizewell C reactors would be inappropriate, gross intrusions into the landscape with devastating impacts on habitats, wetlands and the marine environment. These impacts may be individually tackled by adaptation, mitigation or compensation. But, says Blowers, “such a piecemeal approach is not acceptable in so far as it may lead to an outcome that is wholly unacceptable. That is why I would claim that both projects must be judged as a whole.”

It is the impact of climate change that provides the most compelling reason for abandoning these proposals now. Even in the unlikely event of global warming being limited to 20C there will still be global sea-level rise of around a meter by 2100. If present warming trends continue, a rise of 2m. and more is conceivable. It is questionable whether the proposed hard defenses will be proof against inundation, storm surges and coastal processes in deteriorating circumstances. In any case, in conditions of increasing uncertainty, it must be questioned whether such colossal infrastructures should be developed on such inappropriate sites on the vulnerable East Anglian shores.

Beyond the turn of the next century we enter the unknown and unknowable, although fears of collapse of ice sheets are already suggesting almost unimaginable consequences especially for coastal populations and structures across the globe. 

Although the power stations should have closed by then, their reactors and spent fuel will remain on the sites, at least until around 2165, quite possibly beyond. The plans for managing these dangerous materials are vague and simplistic. The Government asserts that ‘effective arrangements will exist to manage and dispose of the waste’, yet a geological disposal facility does not exist and may never do so, especially for unknown quantities of highly radioactive new build wastes so far in the future.

Blowers observes: “We simply cannot know if the careful (or careless) plans for the safe management of radioactive waste management can be carried forward in anything like their present formulation, if at all.”

And there is the impact on future generations. “We cannot foresee, and they cannot tell us, what will befall these gigantic pieces of dangerous infrastructure on our vulnerable coasts,” Blowers said. “Therefore, on grounds of intergenerational equity it is unethical and impractical to pass on burdens of risk, cost and effort to generations who derive no alleged benefit from the activity”.

In conclusion, Professor Blowers writes: “the proposal for new nuclear power stations at Bradwell and Sizewell must be rejected as a whole on the grounds of their immense scale and environmental impact on sites that will become unsustainable, unmanageable, unacceptable and unsuitable.”

For more information, see the BANNG, Together Against Sizewell C and Stop Sizewell C websites.

Headline photo: “Blackwater estuary” by frank.shepherd is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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