With permission – Ziggi – Suffolk Artist
Andy Blowers argues that the latest Report on Climate Change means that plans for Sizewell C and Bradwell B must be abandoned in the BANNG column for Regional Life September 2021
About fifty miles up the coast from Bradwell, the iconic white dome of the Sizewell B nuclear power station provides a striking landmark. Together with Sizewell A (now closed), it forms a sprawling industrial complex of reactors, highly radioactive spent fuel stores, pipelines and power lines. Just to its north lies the Minsmere Reserve, one of the RSPB’s most popular and precious assets; to the south a fine stretch of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty stretching towards Aldeburgh.
The tightly confined area between Sizewell B, Minsmere and the sea is the site of the proposed Sizewell C new nuclear power station. Here is nuclear’s ground zero, the place where currently nuclear power is staging its last stand in the UK. If the application by the French company, EDF, and its partner the Chinese company, CGN, fails at Sizewell it is hard to see Bradwell B coming forward as the last of the so-called ‘Big Gigawatt’ nuclear stations.
Losing the Plot
Why is this? The simple but compelling answer is: Climate Change. I have spent some time in recent weeks attending and speaking at the Sizewell C Project Examination. This is a long-drawn out, bureaucratic and legalistic process where the Planning Inspectorate considers the application by the developer for permission to develop. The Sizewell project has already been through four stages of public consultation creating piles of reports, papers, press releases and meetings, actual and virtual, as EDF, the lead developer, defends its proposals for a mammoth nuclear power station of 3.3GW capacity (Sizewell B is less than half that) against a torrent of concerns and objections, local.
For my money the Examination has lost the plot. It has become bogged down in its forensic examination of the myriad components of the project. In focusing on detail, it is losing the big picture. It has become increasingly focused on challenging the developer to provide plans for remediation, adaptation or compensation to make the proposals acceptable. Far less attention has been given to whether the project as a whole should be rejected.
It is Climate Change that is the one overwhelming threat to both Sizewell and Bradwell. In recent weeks, the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Report has spelled out in uncompromising and unequivocal terms the imminent, accelerating, irreversible threat to our planet from global warming caused by human action. The impacts are already obvious and frightening and it is no longer possible to hide from the prospect of widespread heat waves, droughts, deluges and floods, firestorms and glacial melting. While it may yet be possible to arrest the amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere, it is already inevitable that the global temperature will rise by 1.5oC over pre-industrial levels (it is 1.1oC already). It is highly likely that it will reach 2oC by the end of the century (the ultimate level scientists regard as manageable), even if action is taken now, and quite possible that it will be higher still.
At 2oC sea-level rise will be of the order of a metre but, even if temperatures are held there, it will continue to rise. However, according to the IPCC, a rise of 2m. by 2100 and 5m. by 2150 ‘cannot be ruled out due to deep uncertainty in ice sheet processes’. Moreover, the Report also states that, as sea-levels rise, so the frequency and severity of coastal flooding and erosion will increase and extreme events that occurred once per century in the recent past are projected to occur annually in the future, under some scenarios.
An act of immense folly
These prognostications have alarming, almost terrifying implications for coastal communities, and the resilience and even survival of the two mega nuclear stations planned for the East Coast must be in question. It is just conceivable but imprudent to assume that the planned hard defences with built-in adaptations will hold out during the operational lifetime of the stations up to the end of this century.
But, it is inconceivable that these structures can survive intact into the unknown but worsening conditions of continuing sea-level rise and extreme events that are inevitable during the next century. Yet, the reactors and the highly dangerous spent fuel will remain in store on the sites until at least 2160 – and possibly indefinitely if a solution for removing and managing them is impracticable or unavailable.
There can be no possible justification for inflicting this legacy on future generations, on top of all the other imminent disasters that may well arise from Climate Change. Far from being any solution to Climate Change, coastal nuclear infrastructures will be its inevitable victims.
If we act now, there is a scintilla of hope that the worst consequences of Climate Change may be averted. But, given what we already know, deliberately to build nuclear power stations on our fragile eastern shores would be an act of immense folly.