Peter Banks, BANNG’s Coordinator, takes an overview of past nuclear developments at Bradwell and what might be in store for the future in the BANNG column for the August 2021 edition of Regional Life.
Locally here, all around the Blackwater Estuary, the twin towers of the reactor buildings of the former Bradwell A nuclear power plant are visible for many miles around. Now the industry wants to build a vast, new nuclear station ten times the physical size and ten times the power output next door to the former plant. Bradwell A relied on the claim that nuclear power is clean, safe and reliable. In reality that was far from the case. And the proposed new station (Bradwell B) comes with the claim that it is vital to meet our needs for power and will bring an employment bonanza. The rhetoric is far from reality.
The Past: Bradwell A – a chequered history
Bradwell A (BRA) was one of the first generation of civil nuclear power stations built in the UK under the brand MAGNOX (which referred to the casing of the Uranium fuel), opening in 1962 and closing in 2002. But during those years not all was as well as it seemed.
BRA was beset with problems throughout its active period, including: a near meltdown; a 14+ year radioactive leak (which earned BRA the nickname ‘The Tritium Teabag’); a hushed up claim of a cyber security breach; and it only ever ran at much lower output than it was designed for. Periods when it was not generating, ‘outages,’ were often protracted which meant BRA did not deliver projected output or achieve acceptable levels of safety.
After closure in 2002 it entered into another phase, decommissioning. This, also, has not been without a raft of problems.
The Present: an accumulating mess
All the highly radioactive spent fuel rods, from the 1960s onwards, were taken from BRA to Sellafield, Cumbria, and remain in storage there. All Low Level Waste (LLW), such as PPE and demolition waste, was taken to Drigg, close to Sellafield, where it is also in storage. The remaining Intermediate Level Waste (ILW), after the disastrous experiment to dissolve it in Nitric Acid and dump the effluent into the Blackwater, is stored on site in the Interim Storage Facility (ISF) at Bradwell. Over the last couple of years the ISF has been receiving ILW from the closed Dungeness A station and will shortly also receive ILW from the Sizewell A station, making Bradwell a regional nuclear dumping ground.
And there’s more. The highly radioactive reactor cores, housed in two shiny buildings, will remain on the site at least until the end of this century before they can be considered for removal and possible disposal, if a repository becomes available by that time.
The future: the past revisited?
The company behind Bradwell B is a partnership between China General Nuclear (CGN) and Électricité de France (EdF) which has already carried out an initial consultation in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns. This was the first stage in applying for a Development Consent Order (DCO), which is a bit like making a planning application but to central government rather than a Local Planning Authority such as Essex County Council or Maldon District Council.
Parallel to this the developer submitted its Chinese-designed reactor, the Hualong UK HPR1000, for safety assessment to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and for environmental assessment to the Environment Agency (EA). This process is called the Generic Design Assessment (GDA)
……And the Future Phantasies?
While no specific proposals have emerged the Bradwell site might become a candidate for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs). Whilst this concept has misguided popularity with the Government no model has passed even a concept design stage.
Nuclear Fusion. Belport Ltd. has very recently managed to get Bradwell added to the list of possible sites for the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant. Fusion is still a long, long way off, if it ever becomes a commercial possibility.
Geological Disposal Facility (GDF). Historically, in the mid-1980s, Bradwell, along with three other sites in Eastern England, was proposed as a potential site for a near surface repository for LLW by a nuclear industry entity called Nirex. Due to fierce local opposition the plan was dropped along with the other sites proposed. However, it was recently announced that two sites in the East of the country, one of them in Lincolnshire, have been put forward as potential locations for a GDF.
Whilst Bradwell has NOT been mentioned it is still worth bearing in mind that the Eastern region is an area with a proliferation of nuclear facilities with existing sites, Bradwell A, Sizewell A and Sizewell B (online until 2035), let alone the prospects of Sizewell C and Bradwell B.
Don’t destroy – cherish!
The overarching issue is not what could happen but rather what absolutely should not! With the threat to the fragile environment of the Blackwater and the Dengie Peninsula, let alone the potential effects of sea level rise, why destroy rather than cherish?