BANNG Column for Regional Life, October, 2018 – By Varrie Blowers, Secretary of BANNG
BANNG has long maintained that there is no need for a new nuclear power station at Bradwell. The costs, in terms of the long-lasting, physical damage to the tranquil and vulnerable Blackwater estuary, of the finances, of the potential for terrorist attacks and of the uncertainties around investment by a potentially hostile state, are too high. Nuclear power is an old-fashioned technology and given the continuing success and decreases in the costs of renewables and storage, there will be no need for it by the time Bradwell B could be in operation.
In its partnership with EDF, CGN, a Chinese state-owned nuclear company, is the majority two-thirds stakeholder in the Bradwell B project. However, it seems now that CGN is wavering. In the Financial Times of 18 September it was reported that CGN ‘has admitted that political sensitivities could prompt it to give up the chance to operate a new atomic power plant in the UK’.
The Chinese withdrawal, should it come, would appear to reflect widespread concerns about the security issues surrounding Chinese investment into a highly sensitive part of the UK’s national infrastructure. In the Financial Times, Zheng Dongshan, Chief Executive of CGN’s UK subsidiary, is reported as acknowledging that it would take time for CGN ‘to show the public, the government they can trust us’.
Andy Blowers, Chair of BANNG, said: ‘The project may be doomed anyway as the Bradwell B site is totally unsuitable and is opposed by communities all around the Blackwater estuary.’
A BANNG delegation recently made an interesting visit to the site, arranged by Jim Crawford, Deputy Chief Executive of the Bradwell Power Generation Company. Standing on the sea-wall and looking down at the low-lying, Flood Zone 3 site (1 in 200 or greater annual probability of flooding from the sea (>0.5%) in any year), it was difficult to imagine anyone building anything there, never mind a nuclear power station! But it was even more unimaginable that anyone would even consider storing and attempting to protect highly radioactive nuclear wastes on such a site for at least 160 years.
Yet this is what is being proposed. With sea-level rise, predicted as a result of climate change, £Ms would need to be spent on flood defences. These would have to be extensive and they would have adverse effects on the coast elsewhere. The Bradwell B site would become a concrete island. But there is no reason to believe that the site could be defended in the unknowable conditions at the end of the next century.
During discussion over a cup of tea with Jim Crawford and his colleagues, it emerged that the preference was for direct cooling of the proposed Bradwell B reactors. As it is acknowledged that there would not be sufficient water in the Blackwater estuary to achieve this, Barry Turner, Vice-Chair of BANNG, after the visit said: ‘It would mean running pipes for 5 km., possibly even further, across St. Peter’s Flats into the Thames Estuary to access the required large volumes of cooling water at all tide states. However, CGN has declined to disclose the cooling volumes required even though they must be known.’ BANNG believes that this undertaking would be technically challenging and an extremely expensive way of providing cooling water and the pipes might also provide a terrorist target. The alternative would be intrusive cooling towers.
Further, the project faces the need to avoid damaging the Marine Conservation Zone which gives protection to the Colchester Native Oyster and other marine life. And the international and national designations protecting migratory birds and other species must be respected.
The site is currently under scrutiny as the Government decides whether it, along with the other sites designated in 2011, remains potentially suitable for the deployment of nuclear reactors by 2035. BANNG has made it clear that the site, which was unsuitable 10 years ago, is even more unsatisfactory now.
The Chinese reactor design, not yet in operation anywhere, has to be approved by the UK’s nuclear regulators for safety and security. The Generic Design Assessment process is presently underway but it will not be known for at least 3 years if the regulators will approve the design or not.
BANNG believes there are ample reasons for pulling the plug on Bradwell B before it goes any further. And given the Chinese seem to be losing interest in the project, now would seem the ideal time for the Government to take the opportunity to pull Bradwell from the list of potential sites.