Andy Blowers, social scientist and Chair of BANNG, considers the social transformation that Bradwell B could bring in the July 2020 column for Regional Life.
We live in strange times. Just as the coronavirus began its lethal spread, the plans for a new nuclear power station at Bradwell were launched. For the past four months communities facing an immediate peril in lockdown, have also had to face a project which could destroy their environment and affect their wellbeing in the not-too-distant future.
Bradwell B is, quite clearly, an environmental disaster but, less obvious, is the fundamental change it will bring to people’s lives and wellbeing. It is not just an environmental issue; it is a social issue, too.
Artwork by Anna Webb, photograph Peter Banks
Although the plans had long been anticipated, people, including BANNG, were horrified at the scale, impact and danger imposed on the Dengie Peninsula and its surroundings. The huge twin reactors and turbines with cooling towers at 60m. high and 165m. wide will stand like a medieval castle fortified on its raised platform, surrounded by massive sea defences set to repel the invading waters during the decades of sea-level rise and battering by storms. Large tunnels will take cooling water from the estuary and their discharges will heat and pollute the water, damaging fish stocks and disturbing the oyster beds..
Bradwell B can only be achieved by replacing the peaceful, low profile, rural, marshland estuarine landscape with an alien, unbeautiful and unnecessary industrial colossus.
The social and psychological impact of Bradwell B is as frightening as its awesome and sinister physical presence. The security and safety risks are evident, including the possibility of cyber attacks (after all this is a Chinese project and their efforts to infiltrate through control of technology are well documented) and terrorist attacks. The possibility of a serious accident, though remote, is nonetheless real and, if it occurs, could have catastrophic consequences. The presence of nuclear reactors and highly radioactive spent fuel until the end of next century, on a site vulnerable to long-term destruction, will be a continuing source of anxiety down the generations. Should a major incident occur, it must be recognised there could be no escape.
The developer, CGN, stresses the positive benefits of employment, construction jobs and investment in the local economy. In this contest between jobs and environment, the proclaimed winner is the economy. But are the economic benefits, beneficial? During construction, a period lasting a decade or so, there will be around 10,000 workers on site. The noise, traffic, amenity damage, light pollution and general disturbance every day for years on end will wreak unimaginable harm to the health and wellbeing of the quiet villages of the Dengie and, across the narrow estuary, of Mersea Island, Tollesbury and places beyond.
The young, mainly male and essentially transient workers will need housing and services. Only 3,000 jobs will be local, the rest of the workers will be housed in caravan parks, bed and breakfasts while almost half (4,500) will be accommodated in six storey campus-style accommodation close by the power station and Bradwell village. This workforce will put pressure on services and the changing demographics of the area will raise issues of social integration.
An enterprise so huge will have profound impacts on the local economy. The idea of development based on investment, infrastructure, employment and growth being an unmitigated good does not bear serious examination. The present economy is reasonably balanced and resilient, with services, tourism and small and medium sized industries. It would be replaced by a major industry dominating and distorting the economic landscape and introducing inequalities in wages, markets and existing activities.
BANNG believes it is essential that a Social Impacts Assessment be undertaken to try to understand the true social costs and benefits of the project. The mantra ‘Bradwell is good for you’ is no more than empty prating, unsupported by evidence.
There is so much that will be forever lost, should Bradwell go ahead. The economic gains are doubtful and the social and psychological impacts largely negative. And yet, this precious landscape, environment and settled and peaceful communities could be sacrificed to the relentless ambition of a potentially hostile, foreign power.
The physical and social transformation that Bradwell B will bring, for long unthinkable, has, in these dark times, become the new normal. The almost universal disbelief and outrage it has provoked will reinforce the determination to be rid of this unwanted and unnecessary intruder.