Andrew Blowers argues that Bradwell is not a suitable site for a new nuclear power station.
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