Andy Blowers asks if the demise of Wylfa sets a precedent for Bradwell B in the March 2021 edition of Regional Life.
On the remote northern coast of Anglesey, facing the grey rollers of the Irish Sea is a huge concrete sarcophagus. Two huge cylindrical blocks linked together and clad in block colours of green, grey, white and black meld into the landscape and rocky shore line. This is the Wylfa A nuclear power station, the largest and last of the Magnox power stations which operated from 1970 to 2015. It is now being decommissioned and its reactor cores and waste stores will remain in situ until early in the next century.
On our Essex shores the Bradwell A Magnox station, clad in silvery grey reflecting the sea and sky, stands sentinel to a bygone nuclear age. It, too, has long since ceased operations, closing in 2002 after forty years in operation, and is the first Magnox station to enter Care and Maintenance as a quiescent radioactive store until the end of the century.
Wylfa and Bradwell, are discreetly emerging as part of a heritage landscape. But, in recent years, next to these stations, there have been plans for new and much bigger nuclear power stations threatening wide-scale disturbance and danger and permanent transformation of these rural coastal lands into urbanised industrial landscapes.
But, the prospect of these giant stations, intimidating for so long, seems now to be receding. Wylfa B or Newydd, at least, now seems dead in the water and can Bradwell be far behind as the ‘nuclear renaissance’ proclaimed in the early years of the century is shattered beyond recovery? The similarities between the two projects are instructive:
|Wylfa Newydd is a project brought to the brink of development by Japanese conglomerate, Hitachi. The plans for a 2.7GW station proceeded slowly but achieved Generic Design Assessment (GDA) and completed the process for Development Consent.||Bradwell, a project mainly in the hands of Chinese developer CGN using Chinese technology for two reactors of 2.3 GW is at a much earlier stage. It is currently going through its GDA and issued its pre-Application plans a year ago.|
|At Wylfa, several years of delay and funding issues brought about Hitachi’s withdrawal from the project last year and in January this year Hitachi withdrew its application for Development Consent.||Bradwell, the creature of the UK/China ‘golden relationship’ sealed in 2015 was ramping up its progress until, without warning, it announced last month it was pausing its activities for at least a year.|
|At Wylfa, the Planning Inspectorate was concerned about the impact on biological diversity and especially the disturbance to Arctic and Sandwich Terns in the bays around the proposed power station.||Likewise, the Blackwater area is rich in saltmarshes, reedbeds, ancient grazing marshes and ‘outstanding assemblages’ of rare flora, and home to the iconic Colchester Oyster and overwintering Brent Geese.|
|The influx of 7500 workers would adversely affect tourism, the local economy, health and wellbeing.||Similarly, at Bradwell 10,000 working on construction will bring disruption and disturbance to the whole region.|
|The inspectorate’s report concluded with the following: ‘on balance, the matters weighing against the proposed development outweigh the matters weighing in favour of it’ and therefore ‘the case for development is not made’.||The overall impact of a massive, industrial complex on a rural, tranquil, low-lying region would be transformative and the loss of a wild, spiritual and beautiful area would be irrecoverable.|
NO CASE FOR BRADWELL?
The case against Bradwell, based on the precedent of Wylfa, seems strong; but, once three crucial differences are added in, arguably there is no case at all.
The site. Wylfa sits on hard rock and is 15 metres above sea level, widely regarded as a ‘good’ site on which to construct a 2.7GW power station. Bradwell is a far less sustainable site, on a coastline liable to impacts from sea level rise, storm surges and inundation. There is no guarantee that the nuclear island could be sustained against the unknowable conditions at the end of the century and beyond.
Political Opposition. Wylfa has enjoyed strong political support from the Welsh Government, its local MP and local council. By contrast, Bradwell B, even at this early stage, is opposed by both Colchester Borough and Maldon District Councils.
The China Syndrome. The enthusiasm for Bradwell B has dimmed as relations have soured and concerns about Chinese takeover of UK sensitive infrastructure have ramified.
Efforts will, no doubt, continue to revive the nuclear prospect at Wylfa. And, it may be that, after its pause, Bradwell B will return reinvigorated and prepared to face the many obstacles to its further progress.
More likely is the prospect that Wylfa Newydd and Bradwell B will remain nuclear fantasies and that the now closed Magnox stations will, as time goes by, become part of our industrial heritage, distant reminders of a long lost nuclear age.