Andy Blowers looks back over recent events and asks if there are signs that the tide has turned on Bradwell B in the BANNG column for the January 2021 edition of Regional Life magazine.
‘For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,
Seem here no painful inch to gain,
Far back through creeks and inlets making
Comes, silent, flooding in, the main’
(Arthur Hugh Clough)
What a difference a year makes. This time, last year, there was little inkling of the momentous impact of coronavirus in changing our lives through lockdown, social distancing and the brooding anxiety about our health, our economy and, indeed, our very survival.
Yet, at the very moment last March when our lives were turned inward, a cloud, for so long no bigger than a man’s hand on the distant horizon, was transformed into a massive and menacing threat to the health, wellbeing and peaceful surroundings of the Blackwater communities. For, just before lockdown, the plans for Bradwell B were announced and a public consultation began.
High Tide for Bradwell
At a time of coronavirus, with most people’s attention diverted by the effort to cope with their daily lives, BRB elected to forge ahead despite being urged by BANNG and others to withdraw the proposals. BRB maintained its smooth and seductive façade, talking of ‘My Bradwell’ as a much cherished illusion, establishing a Community Forum, developing a Community Fund and, early this year, opening an office in Maldon. All part of a PR exercise to soothe fears and create a sense of mutual commitment to an inevitable outcome.
BRB also put out factoids such as ‘Did you know that one reactor can power 40 million Christmas trees?’ Is this really a good reason to bring danger and destruction to the Blackwater?
The clear strategy was to set Bradwell B up as a done deal. Hadn’t the site been agreed and wasn’t the need for nuclear energy sufficiently urgent to justify turning the Blackwater and Dengie into a national sacrifice area? All that remained to be done was to get feedback from a compliant public on detailed issues of design, options for cooling towers, location of workers’ accommodation, transport arrangements, etc.. The fact that the proposals would put a wide area at risk for generations to come, the environment would be trashed and the site itself might succumb to the ravages of climate change was as nothing compared to the driving necessity for a nuclear monstrosity.
So, BRB placed all its ducks in order – the Chief Nuclear Inspector declared that the Generic Design Assessment was proceeding smoothly, the planning process was on track and the Chinese developer had begun investigations at the site on which they wished to build their reactors – which, incidentally, are not yet in operation anywhere. The strategy was ruthless and single-minded.
The Tide Ebbs
And yet, slowly yet surely, 2020 may be the year when the tide began to turn and the fortunes of the Chinese project began to ebb. The signs of change can be found in three areas:
First, is the area of public and stakeholder reaction. Reaction to the plans was overwhelmingly hostile. BANNG, together with the newly formed Bradwell B Action Network (BAN) provided focus and leadership for the campaign to oppose Bradwell B. Organisations like the RSPB, the Essex Wildlife Trust and even the Environment Agency were scathing in their criticism, emphasising the contrast between the plans’ economic ambitions and the inadequate ambition for the environment and lack of detailed information given by the developer. The public response was uninhibited, a mixture of incredulity and anger, illustrated by this response: ‘To blithely hand over such a development as Bradwell B to a powerful autonomous nation such as China compounds this recklessness to a preposterous level’.
Second, is the local political arena. Initially, all the main local authorities welcomed the power station for the potential jobs and wealth it would bring but making clear support was contingent on environmental protection and improvement. Colchester was the first to break ranks from this consensus declaring ‘This Council objects to new nuclear at Bradwell due to the local environmental impacts and prefers a focus on renewable energy alternatives’. It was followed by Maldon who rejected an application for land investigations and decided ‘to reconsider its position’ on its long-standing ‘in principle’ support for nuclear power.
The third area of change is in the arena of government policy. By the end of the year a long-awaited Energy White Paper gave a less than ringing endorsement of nuclear power indicating the Government would talk with EDF about financing Sizewell C. Beyond that, the Government ‘will remain open to other projects if the nuclear industry demonstrates that it is able to reduce costs and deliver to time and budget.’. On Bradwell B specifically the White Paper is almost silent.
During 2020 the tide for Bradwell B may have begun to ebb. In this coming year the tide of opposition may come ‘flooding in, the main’. Let’s hope so.
From BANNG to everyone, let’s hope 2021 is a healthier and safer year for us all.