Time is running out

Coalition is fighting urgent battle to stop latest radioactive mud dump by EdF

By Linda Pentz Gunter

An urgent campaign is underway in the UK to save the Severn Estuary from the prospect of more dredging and dumping of radioactive mud from the Hinkley C two-reactor construction site. The Severn Estuary is a marine protected area that lies between the Somerset coast in England and south Wales.

Hinkley C is a project of the French energy giant, Électricité de France (EdF), which has scored an electricity strike price guarantee from the UK government to get the project done that will gouge British ratepayers at rates three times the current costs.

EdF say the dredge and dump operations are needed in order to make way for a water-cooling system for the two unneeded, expensive and dangerous Hinkley C reactors — the flawed Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) design now suffering massive delays and cost-overruns at sites in France and Finland, and dangerous technical flaws that caused the shutdown of an operating EPR in China.

The construction of the costly Hinkley C reactors involves the avoidable dredging and dumping of radioactively contaminated mud into the Severn Estuary. (Photo: Nick Chipchase/Wikimedia Commons)

The water-cooling system, already banned in other countries, would draw seawater into a 7-metre diameter tunnel, destroying billions of fish in the process each year. These include eels, for which the Severn is an internationally important breeding ground. The system has already been vigorously opposed by wildlife and marine conservation groups. However, EdF has refused to install a fish deterrent system to reduce these impacts, citing cost issues.

In 2018, EdF dumped radioactively contaminated mud and sediment off the coast of Cardiff in Wales against wide and vigorous objection and a legal challenge in court. The mud was dumped into the “Cardiff Grounds” disposal site less than two miles from the Welsh coast in Cardiff Bay, quickly nicknamed “Geiger Bay” (a play on the old local name, Tiger Bay).

The 2018 opposition created significant media coverage and intense opposition, eventually driving EdF to reconsider. Perhaps hoping to avoid further opposition and negative media attention, the company is now looking to dump the mud off Portishead, Bristol, considering it a new, ‘soft touch’ location. Portishead is about 40 miles up the coast from the Hinkley site, close to the mouth of the storied River Avon.

Such a move would send millions of tonnes of contaminated mud and sediment on their way to the waters and beaches used by local communities and where children play, threatening the health of families and animal life. It would also potentially harm a protected marine environment, dispersing and depositing radioactive isotopes around the shores and beaches of the Severn.

As EdF continues to ignore legal safeguards, an independent and scientifically-led coalition — Save The Severn (Cofiwch Môr Hafren) – has secured a day in court, aiming to stop the mud dumping. On Thursday, March 8, 2022, Save The Severn will challenge the legality of the license granted by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in a Judicial Review hearing. 

The group alleges that a number of vital procedures have not been met and one of the available alternatives to dumping at Portishead should instead be adopted. 

Elevated levels of Cesium-137 and Americium-241 have been detected on beaches around Cardiff following the 2018 dumping. Save The Severn is acting to ensure that the same mistakes are not made at Portishead.

“An energy giant is taking the health, wellbeing and good nature of the people of Bristol and other Severn communities for granted in proceeding with dumping waste materials in sight of Portishead,” said Save The Severn spokesperson, Cian Ciarán. 

“EdF are pursuing this in the knowledge that the 2018 dump near Cardiff was unlawful. So instead, they plan to avoid further scrutiny by running to the English side of the Estuary to try and get away with it again. We have to come together as a community and as people to protect our valuable Severn and its ecology.” 

The existing Hinkley site, pictured, is responsible for the radioactive discharges that now threatened to be dredged and dispersed, potentially permanently damaging the surrounding environment. (Photo: Mark Robinson/Creative Commons)

Ciarán, well known in the UK as a member of — and keyboardist for — the Welsh rock band, Super Furry Animals, was a lead plaintiff in the original case against EdF in Cardiff. Although the dump plan has shifted across the waters, he says his concerns see no boundaries. 

“They are taking us and the planet for granted,” he said. “They are not doing this to safeguard energy production or as an act to combat climate change,” he said, but “for short-term gain for ulterior motives. This is a choice made for convenience and profit, not out of necessity or consideration for the environment or future generations.”

Hinkley C, says Ciarán, “is economically and morally unjustifiable in so many  ways.”

The radioactive mud and sediment is a result of the decades-long operation of the Hinkley A and B reactors. Hinkley B is due to close this year. Hinkley A shut down in 2000. However, according to Save the Severn, the removal and relocation of the mud is in direct contravention of protections afforded to the Severn Estuary Special Area of Conservation and OSPAR Marine Protection Area.

Note: You can help

With a possible legal bill of £60,000 ($82,000), Save The Severn, are calling for donations. These can be made online here.

This article was drawn from a February 9, 2022 press release from Save The Severn.

Headline photo of the Severn Estuary at Portishead by ArticCynda/Wikimedia Commons

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