Andrew Blowers explains why climate change may spell the end for Bradwell B and big nuclear power projects in the BANNG column for Regional Life November 2020.
Bradwell B – no solution to climate change
In the Foreword to its recent Consultation, the developer, BRB, asserts: ‘Bradwell B would make a vital contribution to meeting the UK’s future need for low carbon, secure and affordable energy’. In a recent article in Town and Country Planning* I argue the opposite: that far from being a ‘solution’ to climate change, Bradwell B and Sizewell C would become ‘victims’ of rising sea-level, storm surges and coastal processes as they deluge and devastate the fragile coasts of eastern England.
Of the original eight sites designated in 2011 by the Government for new nuclear power, only Hinkley Point C has made it – almost – to the starting gate. Bradwell B and Sizewell C, the most vulnerable sites, remain precariously as live propositions.
Development of these faces many obstacles and foreign investors have walked away from other projects, either unable or unwilling to carry the huge costs without substantial subsidy from UK taxpayers and consumers. At Bradwell, Chinese development of the project adds a potential political obstacle to its progress.
The Government’s commitment to new nuclear energy means that many of these obstacles could be overridden in the public interest. The case for nuclear to fulfil that commitment is waning. Growing evidence shows that nuclear energy is not only far more expensive than alternative renewable sources but also that it saves less carbon. Indeed, the operation of Bradwell B and Sizewell C by the mid-thirties would more than double the amount of nuclear power available and would potentially displace much cheaper, lower carbon renewable sources. Nuclear energy from Sizewell C and Bradwell B would be surplus to requirements and could even slow progress towards the achievement of net zero emissions by 2050.
Bradwell B – the victim of climate change
Not only are these two power stations not needed, they are on sites that are not viable in the face of climate change. The Consultation claims that ‘the choice of Bradwell as a potentially suitable site is a matter for Government policy’, and, therefore, not a matter for further consideration. Not so, the site is not a done deal. Rather the question is whether the site as a whole is potentially suitable. BANNG and others, such as Colchester Borough Council, have argued that the site is inappropriate, unsustainable and unacceptable.
BRB must confirm that it can protect the site against flood risk throughout its lifetime, ‘including the effects of climate change’. Beyond doubt, an impossible task. Consider the uncertainties of climate change. If present trends continue, which appears to be the most likely scenario, global warming could increase by 3° to 4°C by the end of this century. Even if it can be held to 2°C or even 1.5°C – levels regarded as necessary to avoid catastrophic impacts – sea levels will rise by at least a metre by 2100. At the more extreme but not improbable level of 5°C, there could be a 2 metre rise. Among the major uncertainties are the disappearance of the Greenland and Arctic Ice Sheets and the instabilities of the West and East Antarctic Ice Sheets which could lead to an unimaginable rise of 7.5metres by 2200, wiping out most of the world’s major coastal cities let alone a quarter of its nuclear power stations.
Even at modest levels of sea-level rise substantial areas of the UK’s sinking East Coast will fall below annual flood levels by 2100 as natural protection is eroded. Bradwell will be defended by a process of ‘managed adaptation’ by surrendering some areas to the sea and mounding up a nuclear island of reactors, generators, spent fuel store and cooling towers, like a sea-girt medieval fortress defended by rock-armoured sea walls.
Such defences may prove resilient, possibly up to the end of the century. But beyond that the situation is unknowable. Decommissioning will take place and dangerous spent fuel will have to be managed, perhaps indefinitely, in unknowable but almost certainly unstable environmental and social conditions. By that time nuclear energy may be a redundant technology requiring continued surveillance by a society already struggling to cope with the existential threat of climate change. It is surely immoral to contemplate development of unnecessary new nuclear power stations now which will leave an unmanageable legacy of spent fuel for future generations.
The contribution of nuclear power to mitigating climate change impacts is fast receding and likely to become an impediment in the long-term. By contrast, the changing climate may deal a final, fatal blow to new nuclear on the low-lying shores of eastern England.