As the government’s nuclear programme falls apart and as rising seas threaten nuclear plants, Andy Blowers asks the question in the February 2019 edition of Regional Life magazine
Over the past few months there have been two global developments which may, sooner or later, determine the fate of the new nuclear power station at Bradwell. One is the problem of securing investment for high cost, long term projects which involve technological and financial risk. The other is the incontestable evidence of accelerating global warming and the risks it poses to nuclear plant, especially those in coastal locations.
In he circumstances of rising costs and rising sea levels can the Bradwell project survive or is it ultimately doomed?
Nuclear policy in free fall
The Government is currently reviewing the sites designated for new nuclear power. In a not so subtle exercise of legerdemain it is merely carrying forward the eight sites nominated in 2011 then said to be the only ones capable of deployment by 2025. Now, in vastly different circumstances, these self same sites are apparently fit for deployment up to 2035.
The decision on individual sites will be made later in the year and it must be hoped that Bradwell is dropped from the list. But, don’t hold your breath. Of the other sites, Hinkley Point is under development but its future insecure. The Moorside site next to Sellafield, a bastion of the nuclear industry, has collapsed as Japanese investors Toshiba backed off and, more recently, Hitachi have signalled they are abandoning the Wylfa project in Anglesey, north Wales. The Oldbury plant on the Severn estuary, is not off the starting blocks. This leaves the two projects in our part of the world. One, Sizewell C, is in its final stages of consultation prior to development consent (about which we shall have more to say in a future column) but may falter when its primary developer has to put its money where its mouth is.
A queue of one
That other, Bradwell, until now an outlier, as the only site clearly left standing if only because it is way behind the others in terms of gaining permission. It is currently undergoing Generic Design Assessment by the regulators (who BANNG will be meeting this month) and still has to face the Justification process (evaluating its benefits against health detriments) and obtain development and regulatory permits before a decision to proceed is taken.
That may be years ahead but, as things stand, the main developer, the China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN), a state backed company, is very bullish about the prospects of developing Bradwell. Recently, the company’s Chief Operating Officer declared: ‘Today we bring expertise, capability and money. In simple terms, we have ramped up. We are bringing forward’.
So, as others fall by the wayside, Bradwell is coming to the front of what may soon be a queue of one. There are some formidable hurdles yet to cross, not least of which is global warming and climate change.
Climate changes the game
There can no longer be any doubt that the climate is changing and the impacts can be felt. Even here on the Blackwater last year’s wonderful summer and the mild winters we are experiencing are becoming the norm and greater extremes are in prospect. Global warming and sea level rise as a result of climate change is already with us and, in the years to come, we shall experience flooding, storm surges and coastal erosion of increasing frequency and severity. We are certainly on course for a rise in global temperatures of at least 20C by the end of the century with climate and sea level changes threatening low lying coastal areas world wide.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that action world-wide must be taken now to contain the rise to 1.50C but there seems little prospect of that. Even with a reduction in greenhouse gases it is inevitable that sea levels will continue to rise beyond 2100. Coastal infrastructures such as nuclear power stations with dangerous radioactive wastes stored on site will be especially vulnerable as conditions worsen.
Over a quarter of the world’s 460 nuclear power stations are on low lying coastal sites. The two sites in Eastern England are on a coast with land falling as it adjusts after the Ice Age thus contributing to sea level rise. Bradwell lies mainly in Flood Zone 3 with the highest probability of flooding. On this large site stretching over 536 acres to the coast (of which 75-85 acres will constitute the operational area) it is intended to put two nuclear reactors each with over 1GW capacity, a store to contain spent fuel and other highly active wastes a well as other stores and buildings. On present assumptions it is intended to discharge and draw cooling water via pipelines up to 5 km. out to sea.
Strike Bradwell from the list
If it is ever built the power station would produce electricity until the end of the century but, thereafter, the wastes would remain on site for an indeterminate period. It is assumed, at some point, in the latter part of the next century, the wastes will be carted off to a repository. By that time the site and its defences would be utterly overwhelmed.
It is really like throwing loads of dangerous rubbish into a bathtub that eventually overflows. And, as global warming wreaks havoc on our coastline, it will not be possible to turn off the tap. It may be the developer has already discovered through recent investigations that the site is unsuitable. Perhaps, the regulators will conclude that the project is unsafe at such a site. Or, the Government might now, at the eleventh hour, strike Bradwell from its list.