Andy Blowers ponders the Sizewell C development and what may eventually befall Bradwell in the BANNG Column for Regional Life, April, 2019
‘The evening has come, and the tide still rises. Soon it will be over the saltings. The breeze is strengthening. Night and wind and tide are moving in together. A primrose sky has flowered beyond the western trees; to the east there is a narrow band of purple above the grey line of the sea.’ (On the Essex Coast by J.A.Baker)
To the north, forty miles from Bradwell, the tranquil, low-lying and beautiful Suffolk coastline is abruptly interrupted by bulky, stark white and grey concrete structures – huge boxes, prominent from the land and sea and familiar to passengers on incoming flights. This discordant intrusion is the Sizewell nuclear complex consisting of Sizewell A, a former Magnox nuclear station (similar to Bradwell A) now being decommissioned, Sizewell B, with its distinctive white dome, the only PWR (Pressurised water Reactor) and the last nuclear station to be brought into operation in the UK in 1995. Adjoining it at the northern end of the site is an area, larger than A and B combined, designated for Sizewell C, after Hinkley Point C in Somerset, the second of the new nuclear reactors under development by the foreign, state-backed companies, EDF of France and CGN of China.
The partnership has a third project, a proposed new nuclear power station at Bradwell: Bradwell B. Although presently some way behind Sizewell, the Bradwell developers are ramping up the project with a view to operating by the early 2030s. It is a project backed by the China/UK ‘Golden Handshake’ in 2015, welcomed by Maldon District Council for the jobs it might bring and opposed by communities around the estuary, fearful of the risks to security, safety and public health that it will inevitably bring. Above all there is the environmental devastation that will be inflicted on present and future generations.
The Hinkley Point C site
What is happening at Sizewell could be in store for Bradwell
What has happened at Hinkley , and what is happening at Sizewell could be in store for Bradwell, if the project is allowed to continue. There are several parallels between Sizewell and Bradwell.
Similarities between Sizewell and Bradwell
- Bradwell and Sizewell are, at this time, the only sites where nuclear development is in progress. This puts enormous pressure on decision makers to progress and approve development.
- They are broadly similar in scale comprising large reactors, highly radioactive waste stores and other buildings, roads, transmission, landing facilities, intake and outfall pipelines and other infrastructures.
- Both sites are hemmed in by areas of environmental significance with national and international designations for protection and conservation.
- Sizewell and Bradwell are vulnerable to coastal processes: in the case of Sizewell, erosion; and at Bradwell flooding and storm surges which will only get worse as rising sea levels wreak havoc on the fragile and low-lying east coast.
Once built, these stations will operate for at least sixty years and once shut down the detritus of highly radioactive wastes, including spent fuel, will be left to decay until removed or engulfed by the rising oceans.
As the Sizewell project reaches its final stages of decision making the population has, at last, woken up to the terrible misfortune that awaits this precious part of Suffolk. The population, from those living in nearby Leiston to those in villages further afield, to those who have chosen this attractive area in which to live or retire, including a host of celebrities and artists, are all campaigning against the devastation to precious environments this massive behemoth will bring. Even the developers recognise that the development ‘would not be able to take place without some significant impacts’.
The developers led by EDF are presently consulting on their proposals for the third time. The local public and those living further away, together with the local councils are horrified at what will be: the destruction of habitats; the influx and accommodation needs of workers; the noise and amenity damage of construction; the invasion of traffic including lorries day and night; and the absence of credible evacuation plans in the case of a major incident. Most worrying of all is the lack of plans for coastal management to defend the nuclear complex from the ravages of climate change into the next century and beyond. It is surely ethically indefensible to impose potentially calamitous risks on future generations who have no voice and no interest in the present proposals.
All this may well be in store for Bradwell in a few years time. The Dengie’s rural,
low-lying and undemonstrative landscape and its wild, spiritual isolation could be lost for ever. Surrounded by mudflats and salt marshes, creeks and inlets and the broader expanse of the rich marine ecology of the Blackwater, North Sea and Crouch, this is a land where big skies, running seas and waterlands, where tides and weather provide an ever-changing drama.
‘A land of big skies, running seas and waterlands’
The threat to this unique and irreplaceable area is profound. Already the land and the surrounding waterways are being explored and monitored to check their suitability for the new power station. Decision makers in China and the UK are planning the destruction of the Dengie and the Blackwater. All is deceptively calm and the calamity seems far off. Even so, the project is making its slow, invisible but relentless progress before its proposals are unleashed on an unsuspecting public. The time to act is now or else, like the communities of Hinkley Point and Sizewell, we may find it is too late.