The announcement that Bradwell is on the long list of fifteen sites being considered as a possible site for the UK’s prototype fusion energy plant has gone down like a lead balloon. Chair of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANG) Professor Andy Blowers, described the proposal to develop fusion, essentially the process that goes on inside the sun and in hydrogen bombs, to produce electricity as ‘yet another nuclear fantasy, like the philosophers stone full of golden promise but impossible to realise. Bradwell is not a soft touch for such speculative and dangerous experimentation’.
The Government has committed £400M. to the fusion programme and the UK Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA) put out a call for sites to host STEP (the Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production), the prototype fusion plant. The fifteen sites include the usual suspects, Sellafield, North Wales, Dounreay, together with other nuclear sites, former coal-fired power station sites and, at the end of the list, Bradwell nominated by Belport Ltd., an entrepreneurial property and asset management company.
UKAEA’s announcement gushes with confidence and optimism for fusion which has, for seven decades, been the promised nuclear land, always ten to fifteen years in the future. ‘Fusion has the potential to provide an abundant source of low-carbon energy by copying the processes that power the sun and stars. This exciting new technology will play an important role alongside established renewable technologies such as wind and solar’ (UKAEA PR). It brings high-tech investment, jobs, saving carbon, in short nuclear’s ultimate answer to providing clean energy.
Now for the downsides. Fusion is technologically complex, formidably challenging and incredibly expensive. It requires a temperature of 100 million degrees C, about six times hotter than the sun to create the temperatures and pressures that enable significant fusion reactions in hydrogen. So far none of the experimental reactors have produced more energy than was put into them. The reactor vessels are at risk of structural damage from intense radiation and eventually huge masses of radioactive materials will have to be managed as waste.
The Bradwell site is not suitable for a Fusion experiment any more than it is for Bradwell B, the gigantic fission reactors currently being planned by the Chinese company CGN. Fusion requires large-scale cooling water, and will release large amounts of radioactive tritium into the sea and atmosphere contaminating far and wide. If an explosion or fire occurred the radioactivity released could disastrous. In any case, the long-term integrity of the site must be in doubt as the impacts of climate change take hold as sea levels rise.
It must be said that Bradwell looks an unlikely bet for Fusion whoever is behind the scheme. And it will not be any time soon, the 2040s at the very earliest far too late to save the planet. Even if the experiment goes ahead it is far more likely to go to a more welcoming site. For one thing is sure, the Blackwater communities will not be willing to fight off Bradwell B only for another nuclear fantasy to appear in its place.