Andy Blowers questions if doing so is in the public interest in the BANNG column for Regional Life June 2020 (no May edition)
Coronavirus provides a shock requiring immediate and profound changes in the way we live. Travel is suspended, gatherings forbidden, the economy paused and society is in lockdown while we stay apart and at home supporting the heroic efforts of hospitals, carers, drivers, food suppliers, refuse workers, cleaners and the myriad support staff of all kinds in the effort to keep people alive and ensure the economy somehow survives.
The toll of disease and death and the economic loss are terrible to contemplate and to experience. ‘Non-essential’ businesses close, some possibly forever. Yet there are exceptions. One of these is the new nuclear industry. Work at Hinkley Point C, pouring concrete for the base of its reactors, continues despite the high risk of the virus to workers and local communities. Arrangements for Sizewell B’s planning application are being reviewed but not deferred. And the Chinese company planning Bradwell B is carrying on with its Stage 1 public consultation replacing live, face-to-face meetings with a programme of virtual experiences and phone-ins.
Pressing ahead when the country is plunged into coping with the virus is surely unrealistic and thoughtless at a time when most people will be distracted with basic issues of survival. Indeed, most people will be confined to their homes and, amid competing demands, unlikely to have time or inclination to give any priority to plans for a nuclear power station that will not be built for many years.
Not in the public interest
So, what possible justification can there be to carry on regardless? According to BRB, Bradwell B ‘is a nationally significant project for which there is an urgent need and it is in the public interest, including in light of the COVID crisis, that consideration of this proposed development is not indefinitely or even substantially delayed.’
This statement is incomprehensible. It is debatable whether there is a need for such a project at all, let alone ‘an urgent need’. Bradwell B will not be running, if at all, until well into the 2030s so cannot be relevant to the immediate coronavirus crisis. In terms of the long timescales for the project even a substantial delay (six months? a year?) is immaterial. In the longer term the reshaping of the economy post-coronavirus crisis will accelerate the transition to a net zero renewable energy system in which new nuclear has no part. It is definitely not in the public interest to continue with this unneeded and unwanted project.
Nevertheless, BRB is persisting with the consultation, albeit in a reshaped form. The programme of public exhibitions where the public get an opportunity for in-depth, face-to-face interaction with the BRB team was suspended with only five of fifteen places visited. In place of the remaining exhibitions, online documents, interactive materials and ‘pre-booked telephone surgeries’ have been introduced. Where there are no exhibitions people are denied access in person to question the company’s staff; equally, the company’s staff are not exposed to the feelings and emotions that their proposals provoke.
Now is the time to withdraw
Among the ten locations without exhibitions are Mersea, Tollesbury and Brightlingsea, places which have, over the years, expressed strong opposition to the idea of a new nuclear power station at the Bradwell site.
Where exhibitions were held, on the southern side of the Blackwater, the public reaction was alarm, despondency and outright disbelief at the scale and impact of the proposals for two mega reactors, associated turbines, transmission lines and long-term radioactive waste stores. On the Dengie people are dismayed at the noise, traffic, workers’ settlements and destruction of environment and property that will be caused during ten years of construction and the prospect of a dangerous radioactive behemoth in their midst for generations to come.
At the same time as launching its consultation BRB has applied to Maldon District Council for permission to undertake ground investigations, load test and associated works connected with the proposed new power station. At the time of writing, this had drawn a massive 120 comments from the public, 118 of which objected and none supported. Objectors argued that the application should be refused because it would pave the way for a massive and dangerous nuclear power station creating disturbance and destruction to a significant environment. BANNG also submitted objections.
Public reaction both to BRB’s Stage 1 public consultation and to the planning application for ground investigations indicates intense opposition to a nuclear plant that will be surplus to requirements if it is ever built. At the time of coronavirus, when attention is diverted to more immediate concerns, it is unwise to persist with these plans. Far better to take the opportunity to put a brake on by withdrawing the proposals.