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It is the site of two closed Magnox reactors owned by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA). But unusually British Energy also owns land in the vicinity. Bradwell is on the south-side of the River Blackwater estuary opposite Mersea Island.
British Energy held seven public meetings during November 2008 in and around Bradwell to discuss the potential for new nuclear build at the site. The company, the majority of which is owned by EDF Energy, owns land to the east of the Magnox station which it is assessing for potential new nuclear development. The meetings provided updates on the company’s plans and a presentation from Royal Haskoning, an environmental consulting firm carrying out impact assessments for British Energy’s potential new build projects.
EDF Energy also acquired land in the NDA auction of three sites held in early 2009. The Company says it may sell off land it owns at Bradwell, even though it has only just bought some of it from the NDA. The Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group have expressed concern that the site could be big enough for three new reactors. The chances of evacuating Mersea Island, which is only around 2 miles just across the Blackwater estuary from the Bradwell site, also gives cause for concern. The road leading off Mersea Island to the mainland, floods twice a day at the highest tides in Spring and Autumn, sometimes for as much as two hours. Mersea Island has a large additional summer population of perhaps 5,000 tourists, many of whom would be at caravan and camp sites, without the shelter of permanent accommodation. This would further compound the difficulty of implementing an evacuation plan.
Middlesex University Flood Hazard Research Centre looked at the effect of expected sea level rises and increases in storm surge over the next 200 years at Bradwell and concluded the site appears to be under significant threat. Defending the site is "likely to become economically unsustainable". It cannot be considered a suitable location for a new reactor.
Local group: Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group
Andrew Blowers argues thatBradwell is not a suitable site for a new nuclear power station.
New Nuclear at Bradwell is not Inevitable
The publication of draft strategic siting criteria for new nuclear power stations has been portrayed as a green light for the go-ahead at Bradwell. It is being suggested by British Energy that no criterion applied to Bradwell would eliminate it as a potential site. It could equally be argued that, taken together, the criteria suggest that Bradwell would be an extremely poor choice for a power station and its associated wastes that are likely to remain on site for well over a hundred years.
A careful reading of the criteria strongly suggests that far from being developed on a strategic basis they have been drawn up with specific sites already in mind.
Take the so-called ‘exclusionary’ criteria, those which rule out a site altogether. Not surprisingly there aren't many of these, only four in fact. And Bradwell does not pass these with flying colours. ‘Seismic risk’ and ‘capable faulting’ are two of these criteria and Bradwell is within an area that was the epicentre of the country's biggest earthquake in 1884.
Another criterion is population density and within 4km of the site is West Mersea (8000 - doubling in summer) and not far away, in the path of prevailing winds, is Colchester itself with well over 100,000 people. It’s hard to fathom how such a location would, as the government puts it in a recent consultation document, ‘limit the radiological consequences in the unlikely event of a serious nuclear accident’ (ref. 1).
Proximity to military activities is also an exclusionary criterion and it might well be thought that the Foulness bombing range, the Fingringhoe ranges and the garrison at Colchester are too close for comfort.
When we come to the ‘Discretionary’ criteria the case for a nuclear plant at Bradwell becomes extremely dubious. It's difficult to understand why ‘flooding, tsunamis, storm damage and coastal processes’ shouldn't automatically rule out a site. The government claims that ‘marine civil engineering works and coastal management activities can limit the risks to an acceptable level’. What can that mean when evidence strongly suggests that sea level rise and storm surges on the level of the 1953 floods (before the first Bradwell was built) will be the inevitable consequences of climate change (and coastal sinking) during the next century? Who, in their right mind, would even consider building such a hazardous activity as a nuclear power station on the lowest lying of all the proposed sites where, one report states, ‘direct inundation is a possibility’ and which is ‘vulnerable to subsidence, rising sea level and rollover of the Blackwater estuary’ (ref. 2). Even if it proves possible at great expense to protect Bradwell, the resulting impacts on the surrounding coasts could be catastrophic.
Bradwell also fails to meet several other criteria. The site is next to the first power station which remains a ‘site of hazardous industrial facilities and operations’. Bradwell also has ‘proximity to civil aircraft movements’. It is on an estuary with both ‘internationally and nationally designated sites of ecological importance’. Moreover, there is limited cooling water availability and limits on abstraction capacity and the site is poorly connected to the grid which will require upgrading.
It becomes increasingly clear that the strategic siting criteria are merely another stage in clearing the pathway for the imposition of new nuclear power stations on existing sites. Far from being the best, or even acceptable locations, these sites are the soft political option. They are in nuclear friendly ownership with British Energy and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority desperate to sell them. They are in areas already blighted by nuclear activity with local communities allegedly longing for the jobs and investment new nuclear might bring.
So, having already chosen its sites, the government is now busily setting out criteria by which it hopes to justify its selection. A more detailed and critical examination will reveal just how preposterous it is to put new power stations and nuclear waste stores on sites on crumbling coastlines.
1. Dept. of Business Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, Towards a Nuclear National Policy Statement: Consultation on Strategic site Assessment Process and Siting - Criteria for New Nuclear Power Stations in the UK, July, 2008
2. Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) Local Options - Potential Effects of Coastal Erosion and Seawater Inundation on Coastal Nuclear Sites, Document 1625
Andrew Blowers is Professor of Social Sciences at the Open University and was a member of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management. He is Chair of Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group (BANNG)and a member of Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates
Last Updated 9 June 2009
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