A well-attended public meeting organised by Tendring Green Party was held at the YMCA Hall in Brightlingsea on 18 May. Those attending were urged to oppose plans for a new nuclear power station to be built by a Chinese state-owned company at Bradwell. Professor Andy Blowers, Chair of the Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG), explained that Brightlingsea was only 8 miles from the proposed new plant and in the front line of risk if anything went seriously wrong. The issue of a new power station should, therefore, be a vital concern for Brightlingsea. Further, the Colne and Blackwater estuaries would be threatened by rising temperatures and discharges of radioactivity.
The plan for Bradwell had been sealed at the very highest level during the Chinese President’s state visit last Autumn. There could be two or three reactors, tall cooling towers and stores for highly radioactive spent fuel if the plan went ahead. ‘In scale the new nuclear plants planned for Bradwell would have at least ten times the generating capacity of the old Bradwell station. The demands for cooling water and the levels of radioactivity on the site would be way beyond the ability of the environment to cope, posing an ever-present threat for generations to come’.
Andy Blowers set out the reasons why the project must be opposed. The Chinese reactor was, as yet, untried and the involvement of the Chinese posed obvious and worrying security risks. The Bradwell site was quite unsuitable. There was insufficient cooling water available, the marine environment, recently accorded protection as a Marine Conservation Zone, would be seriously compromised and dangerous radioactive wastes would be left on a deteriorating site well into the next century, possibly for ever. ‘It is our duty to protect the health and well- being of present and future generations and to prevent the sacrifice of this precious environment’, he said.
Barry Turner, BANNG’s Vice-Chair, spoke of the continuing problems with the old Bradwell power station, which was ‘dead in one sense but alive in others’. It had closed in 2002 but was still discharging radioactivity into the environment. Radioactive waste, in the form of fuel element debris (casings from the spent fuel in the reactors), was being dissolved and some of the radioactive residue discharged into the estuary. Tritium was also being discharged into the atmosphere. The dissolving plant had encountered technical problems and would not now be used at other Magnox sites as originally intended. The problems meant that the continuing discharges would delay the ending of operations at Bradwell. Dissolution was unnecessary since wastes could be packaged and stored as would now happen at other sites. Ironically, dissolution would free up space in the Bradwell intermediate-level nuclear waste store for wastes to be imported from elsewhere. ‘So, Bradwell is being used for an unnecessary and failed experiment that sets a precedent for importing wastes and additional radioactivity from elsewhere’.
A lively debate followed, chaired by Chris Southall, Joint Co-Ordinator of the Tendring Green Party. A number of points were made by members of the audience. The audience agreed that it would like political leadership from Tendring District Council. BANNG had previously held a constructive meeting with the Leader of the Council but, since the Leader had changed, were willing to re-engage with the Council. Brightlingsea was one of the largest communities along with Mersea Island on the Blackwater estuary and the local authorities should be taking an interest.
A Physics teacher told the audience that, in order to highlight the problems with disposal of nuclear waste, he told his students that ‘The oldest man-made structure is Stonehenge. A device that can last ten times the age of Stonehenge will be needed for the storage of nuclear wastes’.
The level of monitoring carried out in the estuaries and environs was questioned. Barry Turner explained that BANNG had met with the Environment Agency (EA) and had supplied monitoring points around the estuary to them. The EA had organised a Habits Survey that had taken place in August and September, 2015 and that had reported 6 weeks previously. A glance through it did not show any major problems. But this was not surprising as from the end of June to the beginning of July, 2015 only two discharges had taken place because of the severe challenges with the dissolution plant and discharges had not recommenced until March, 2016. No discharges had, therefore, taken place during the period of the survey.
There was concern for the marine life in the estuaries if new build went ahead. It was noted that the Blackwater, Colne, Crouch and Roach estuaries had been made a Marine Conservation Zone but this designation had neither stopped the radioactive discharges nor the proposal to build a new nuclear power station at Bradwell. The OSPAR Convention that would come into force in the next few years stated that the amount of radioactivity released into the environment should be close to zero but this did not seem to have any force when it came to nuclear power.
The meeting emphasised the need to oppose the plans for new nuclear. People were urged to support BANNG, to campaign in Brightlingsea and more widely in Tendring, to sign petitions and to encourage the local Councils and Leaders to become more actively involved in preventing an unnecessary ecological disaster on the Essex coast.