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Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Other Beast from the East



The Other Beast from the East

It has been a busy time lately. BANNG has attended a number of meetings and Prof. Andy Blowers has been involved as an expert in the Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) consultation process. And on top of that the weather has thrown a wobbly which has potential implications on the decisions for energy policies.

New sites for old

There have been two important meetings. One concerned the Government’s consultation on reviewing the siting criteria for new nuclear power stations. For all of us concerned about the Government’s headlong rush towards more ridiculous nuclear development it is vital to respond to this consultation. (Please see: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/national-policy-statement-for-new-nuclear-above-1gw-post-2025-siting-criteria-and-process)

Three BANNG representatives (Andy, Varrie and myself) were invited to London for the BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) NGO (Non-Governmental Organisation) Nuclear Forum session to discuss this consultation. Andy Blowers was also asked to represent Colchester Borough Council, which, in contrast to Maldon District Council, is also opposing the Bradwell site.

A number of NGOs were represented, including the NFLA (Nuclear Free Local Authorities), plus groups opposing new nuclear power at Wylfa (Wales), Sizewell B (Suffolk) and Moorside (Cumbria). It is at meetings like these that you can discern the similarities and differences relating to the proximity of a proposed site in your own area.

Clearly the Government is attempting to extend the time period allocated for selecting potential new nuclear sites. The sites included in the previous consultation on the siting criteria in 2008 should have had power stations generating by 2025 and even Hinkley Point C (HPC) has only a remote chance of being up and running by then. So apart from HPC, the Government is carrying all the sites (including Bradwell) forward to 2035. One astonishing admission at this meeting was that the Government has decided, at this stage, not to review, revise and update the energy policy put forward and agreed in 2011. For example, despite the radical changes that everyone knows have occurred, the policy statement on renewable energy will remain unchanged. And yet renewables now contribute more to the energy mix which surely means that the overall energy plan needs to be updated.

Concerns about Bradwell

BANNG also had an important strategic meeting with the Nuclear New Build departments of the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Environment Agency (EA). This event was co-chaired by BANNG’s Andy Blowers and the EA’s Simon Barlow. The meeting was attended by senior representatives from the EA and ONR and 6 from BANNG. Andy Blowers once again was also able to represent Colchester Borough Council.

The EA and ONR opened the meeting with presentations on the Generic Design Assessment (GDA) and outlined the siting criteria procedures, and touched on the problem of managing spent fuel on-site over the long term. There was discussion of specific issues raised by BANNG: the proposals for Bradwell B; marine concerns; Imperative Reasons of Overriding Public Interest (IROPI); transport logistics; and climate change.

During the meeting it became clear that the regulators do have serious concerns around the marine ecology and particularly cooling water insufficiency regarding Bradwell B. However, the BANNG representatives were puzzled by the confidence shown in the reactor design and in the prospect of decommissioning and safely managing nuclear wastes on-site for at least 100 years, which is longer than the industry has even been around.

Reasons to be cheerful?

It was reassuring that our considered logistical and scientific concerns are being taken seriously. However, it was less reassuring to be told that we were the only organisation so far to have requested any sort of meeting or discussion.

I do think there is some room for optimism though. It is possible that at least one or two of the sites listed as potentially suitable for new nuclear development will no longer be able to meet the criteria. Also it is possible, sadly less likely, that the current Government will actually see some fiscal and moral sense not to proceed with such vigour with the new nuclear power stations. It could be they are looking for a way out of the monumental mistake that they are championing.

Significantly, over the extreme weather period last week the lights did not go out even though there were all sorts of issues with the current ageing fleet of Nuclear Power Stations. In fact it was wind power that supplemented the energy needed even though a component from coal fired stations was also called on. The latter supply was principally requested because the gas supplies were being diverted from energy production to domestic heating as the temperatures plummeted.

Which leads to a fear that the Government will just revert to the outdated thinking of requiring ‘base-load’ electricity and use the inclement weather as an excuse to continue to navigate toward nuclear. Let’s hope that wisdom prevails.


Article first appeared in the Mersea Island Courier 17th March 2018

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