Andy Blowers ponders the question, ‘Why, since Bradwell B is such a futile project, don’t the regulators stop it now?’ in the BANNG column for Regional Life, October, 2019
Why is it that so often decision makers fail to see or, perversely, choose to ignore the blindingly obvious? This thought occurred to me during a recent meeting of BANNG with officials from the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Environment Agency (EA) about the Bradwell B site?
There are at least three major ‘showstoppers’ that should have already made Bradwell B, to borrow a phrase, ‘dead in the water’:
1) Cooling water – the Blackwater estuary cannot possibly provide or sustain the volume of cooling water needed to ensure the operation of two gargantuan nuclear reactors capable of producing over 2 GW of electricity, seven times the output of the former power station.
2) Emergency plan – in the event of a serious accident it will be impossible to evacuate the surrounding area in sufficient numbers and time to avoid abandoning a substantial part of the population to its fate.e and vulnerable to rising seas, storms and erosion which will, sooner or later, impact on the power station and its dangerous nuclear waste stores.
3) Climate change – the Bradwell site is fragile and vulnerable to rising seas, storms and erosion which will, sooner or later, impact on the power station and its dangerous nuclear waste stores.
But, alarmingly, despite all the evidence, the regulators persist in the charade of keeping a project on life support that should have died years ago. Tackling the issues is made the more difficult by the fact that the project is a Trojan Horse providing access to sensitive infrastructure to China, an economic predator and potentially hostile power.
Keeping it Cool
According to Barry Turner, BANNG’s Vice-Chair, the cooling system will require intake and outfall pipes up to 7 metres in diameter, the size of a double decker, literally sucking in thousands of fish and heating up the water within a highly protected Marine Conservation Zone. A precious environment, home to the Colchester Native Oyster and fertile with fish, will become depleted, degenerate and, in some areas, reduced to a marine desert.
Cllr. Mark Cory, Leader of Colchester Borough Council, could not comprehend how the regulators were even considering a project which would effectively wipe out a unique environmental asset. ‘Why can’t you stop it now?’ he asked.
Keeping it Safe
Duncan Barley, the ONR’s Principal Inspector on Nuclear Security, outlined the measures that would ensure the power station was secure from physical attack from without and from sabotage or cyber attack from within. The plant would be protected by armed police and defended from external attack from sea or air. I must confess I am not reassured that we have the capability to ensure Bradwell is ‘bomb proof’ against Chinese infiltration. There is the prospect of espionage and interference or weakening of computer systems to pursue commercial or possibly even military goals in the future. This has been well documented in the media and in a recent BBC series on “China: a New World Order”.
On a related matter, Cllr. Peter Banks of West Mersea Town Council, described the impossibility of evacuating people from Mersea Island in the event of a nuclear accident. Steve Graham, the ONR’s Principal Inspector on Nuclear Safety, made it clear that it would be for Essex County Council to determine the offsite emergency planning areas. Varrie Blowers, BANNG’s Secretary, suggested that the County Council should organise a full-scale, real-time demonstration of the evacuation plan now. The idea of creating an exclusion zone on the lines of Chernobyl or Fukushima for half a million people threatened by radioactive fallout and contamination was unimaginable.
Keeping it Away
The ultimate showstopper is climate change. This has become more obvious with recent evidence of Greenland and Arctic ice melt, warming Siberia, burning rainforest, desertification in Africa, hotter summers in Europe, cyclone disasters in America and fears for Antarctica. Predictions of global warming and associated sea level rise threaten agriculture, coastal cities and some countries have already begun to disappear below the waves. Around a quarter of the world’s nuclear power stations are on coastal sites, some of them, like Bradwell, at high risk. The situation at the end of the next century when highly radioactive waste will still be on site are unknowable.
Around a quarter of the world’s nuclear power stations are on coastal sites at high risk. (Photo of Bradwell A by Peter Headford)
The show must (not) go on
The regulators remain wedded to a philosophy of ‘managed adaptation’, ensuring that defences could be strengthened if coastal conditions worsen in future. This approach to regulation leaves the initiative with the developer, in the case of Bradwell, the Chinese state-owned company, CGN, whose mission is to build the reactors. The Environment Agency is put in the position of having to respond to proposals for managed adaptation over timescales of 150 years or so when it is impossible to have any idea of what conditions will be like. If ever there was a case for halting the project in its tracks, this is it.
To return to the question I posed at the outset, it seems the regulators are locked into an ethos of what might be called, ‘constrained independence’. They are diligent and trusted but restrained in what they can realistically achieve. Regulation is facilitative and responsive rather than confrontational and proactive. Hence, when regulators recognise ‘showstoppers’ they do not stop the show immediately but permit the show to go on. Eventually it may be that the constraints or costs imposed through regulation will cause the developer to abandon the project. We must hope, but not expect, the Chinese will do this in the case of Bradwell.