Public hearings during the approval process for Sizewell C have useful lessons for secondary plants, reports Janet Wood
Above: The Purple Heather in Dunwich Heath, about 3 km north of the planned site Sizewell C
A DECISION BY EDF ENERGY on June 7th to shut down and defuel the Dungeness B Nuclear Power Plant – earlier than the most recent schedule but well in excess of its original life expectancy as a leading EGR – has brought great relief to the UK’s new nuclear build. The UK’s ambitious decarbonisation strategies generally assume that the contribution of nuclear energy will remain constant, although it will account for a smaller proportion of electricity consumption as mobility and heat increase electricity demand.
The EPR with two blocks in Hinkley Point C is the first new building since Sizewell B and is under construction and is being intensively examined – not least because it is the model for a second system with two blocks, Sizewell C, on the opposite side ( The next step for Sizewell C is to obtain the development permit. Detailed plans for the power plant, the local impact of the construction and the management of the environmental impact of the project are now being examined by the National Infrastructure Planning, which is the Foreign Minister of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Energy and Industry Strategy will report and make a recommendation to the decision maker on the building permit.
The Sizewell C process will provide important experience for a third new station planned for Bradwell in Essex. This will also be on the east coast, but further south, and is adjacent to the existing Bradwell A facility (which ceased operations in 2002 and has been in the care and maintenance phase since 2018).
The Bradwell project is in early talks with national infrastructure planning but has not yet indicated when it will enter the formal process – the Chinese HPR1000 design to be used has only recently had its approval process with the Nuclear Regulatory Agency run through. However, the framework documents suggest that the planned development will take 9 to 12 years to build and will require facilities for around 4,500 temporary workers. The document also states that within 10 km of the main development area there are 14 areas designated internationally and 11 nationally (generally for wildlife or landscape value), eight of which are within or in close proximity to the main development area . A number of cultural assets are located within the main development area, including three planned monuments.
These are not insurmountable objections, but they do matter at both national and local levels, as evidenced by a selection of comments from recent public hearings for the Sizewell-C exam. The four-day hearings – online rather than in person due to Covid restrictions – were largely a forum for locals to raise concerns, particularly nuclear concerns. Among these, witnesses believed that the reactor design was too powerful and not proven in use, construction was slow, and the site was prone to sea level rise.
They also asked whether the broader process had been properly considered, and in particular whether EDF should have the funding model prior to obtaining development approval. The funding model is currently under review by the government and is expected to be based on some type of regulated asset.
What are the objections to Sizewell C?
Some objections to the facility, which is a significant development in a largely rural area with small towns, have centered on the impact on relatively sparse local infrastructure and the loss of access to natural facilities such as beaches. Although it was recognized that the effects on both were largely temporary, the construction period of a decade or more was viewed as “long-term” for parents concerned about children or retirees who had moved to the area for its rural nature.
The argument that the project would also bring highly qualified jobs to the region with construction jobs in the long term – a decisive plus point for the proponents of the plant – was countered by fears about the existing jobs in the region. A witness said, “The tourism industry certainly had around 40,000 jobs at the latest figures and was growing by 5% a year”. The permanent jobs that the new plant offers represent only “about a year of growth in tourism,” they said.
Part of the reason that tourism has increased in recent years is because of the major bird sanctuaries and other important local wildlife sanctuaries, and it is here that fears for local jobs met with concerns about the plant’s impact on these habitats. There were also fears about the loss of local amenities such as footpaths, local environmental degradation such as water pollution and unrestricted access.
“We spoke to many people in the village about recreational use of the Suffolk coast. And nobody wants to lose access to it, ”said a spokesman.
There was more general skepticism about the job “bonus”. One said: “Few jobs will really be local” and “Development will simply overwhelm the local economy”.
As always with development proposals, there have been concerns about the impact on traffic, both because of the workers – a spokesman said “EDF defines local as within a 90-minute drive,” which is very high for the region – and the transportation of “huge Material quantities ”to and from the location. The material issue was not supported by a recently NIP approved “Change Request” (changes after the review process started are strictly limited) which increased the amount of material required for the Sizewell C construction by 20% compared to the original application . But it also shows the variety of views that have to be weighed in the approval process. Some speakers wanted as much freight as possible to be transported by rail, while others argued that they would be affected by a sharp increase in rail freight transport, especially outside working hours. Road movement was undesirable, but permanent improvements to local roads (and possibly railways) were not.
Sizewell C is a very large project in its own right, but it is only one of a number of energy projects that will impact the area. That doubled local concerns. One speaker said, “I don’t think anyone envisions the onslaught of energy projects that are being proposed now,” and “If Sizewell C is approved by the Foreign Minister at the end of this review, it will be the largest of eight energy projects” infrastructure projects at the Heritage Coast “.
Another said: “The cumulative effect of all industrial energy systems will inundate this area of outstanding natural beauty, undermining daily life and the main tourism industry, creating jobs and enjoyment in the area. “
Other projects include landings from offshore wind farms or power lines, as well as potential hydrogen production facilities. Proponents have seen this as a boost to the region that will bring jobs and investment, calling it the ‘energy coast’, but sentiments are mixed. A spokesman said the buildup had “led to efforts to rename the south coast the Energy Coast. That’s not welcome. ”Another said,“ This is a heritage coast, it’s not an energy coast ”.
The experience with the potential new development site at Wylfa Newydd in Wales has given the opponents a boost as no building permit has been granted. One speaker urged the inspector to follow “the relevant and important precedent … given the similarities between this scheme and Sizewell”.
National infrastructure planning must complete the Sizewell C review by October 14th. It must prepare a report on the application to the responsible foreign minister, including a recommendation, within three months of its completion.
The foreign minister then has three months to decide whether to grant or reject the building permit, but there have been cases where the decision was delayed – several times in the case of an offshore wind farm.
Once a decision is made by the Secretary of State, there is a six week period within which the decision can be appealed to the High Court.
There are clearly lessons to be learned from Sizewell C for the Bradwell team. You must not underestimate the importance of local issues and the costs if they are not fully considered from the start.
An early Bradwell “scoping” report from NIP highlights some areas where local activists may indicate a lack of local engagement, such as: As with Sizewell, the project is in a rural area where pedestrians or cyclists use roads with no special facilities. NIP expects traffic planning to take this into account from the start.
Bradwell can also expect national concerns to be raised locally, as was the case at the Sizewell hearings. Several speakers expressed concern about China’s role in the project. You mentioned that the UK recently banned the use of other Chinese Huawei devices in some parts of the UK telecommunications network and that China General Nuclear (CGN), owned by the Chinese government, has been blacklisted by the US Department of Commerce became. They also raised concerns about widespread human rights abuses by the Chinese government in Xinjiang and noted that the UK government itself recently sanctioned officials in China on the matter.
Despite China’s important role, Sizewell C has positioned itself quite successfully as a “copy” of Hinkley Point C. With China at the helm at Bradwell, it is already clear that it cannot save on commitment at the national or local level if the project is to continue.
Author: Janet Wood, specialist writer on energy issues