This coming weekend sees the beginning of the COP26 in Glasgow. And, as many of you may already have been reading there’s an ongoing debate about the role of nuclear power in the energy mix in order for the UK to meet any future commitments on CO2 emission targets. Apparently, an announcement regarding the proposed ‘Sizewell C’ is likely in the near future and in the press yesterday’s FT front page led with an article about new funding models for nuclear plants.
Sadly, instead of a sincere, focussed debate on whether nuclear power is the way forward or not, the Government has instead managed to make Chinese investment in nuclear projects the bone of contention.
Earlier this year my daughter, her boyfriend and I visited Sizewell to film the power stations and surrounding area for his project about family and loss.
I know visiting the site of a now decommissioned magnox power station and the newer Sizewell ‘B’ pressurised water reactor may seem a strange place for making such a film, but the backdrop of the power stations appears in photos showing three generations of our family. And, as some of you may know my mother’s ashes were dispersed on the Suffolk breeze at Sizewell a decade ago.
It was a long day and we were mostly lucky with the weather. There were plenty of warning signs around the site about no access, danger and trespassers etc, but there was no indication that we couldn’t film or photograph.
However, a 4×4 police vehicle did slowly cruise by along the sandy track to check us out. They were part of the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, a special UK armed police force formed in 2005 numbering about 1500 police. Their remit is the protection of nuclear industry installations from the threat of terrorism. As they crawled past we all felt rather uncomfortable. My childhood family holidays here were so quiet and the beach so often virtually empty we could never have imagined an armed police patrol would one day become a routine occurrence.
As the day progressed we discussed the notion of loss in a wider context and in particular considered loss of habitats due to human activity. This was a natural response to the two large power stations and the current proposal for a third new one, Sizewell ‘C’. The area for Sizewell ‘C’ will be slightly less than the combined sites of both Sizewell ‘A’ and ‘B’ together and bring disruption and destruction close to its immediate neighbour, the nature reserve RSPB Minsmere.
The Sizewell Estate shares a border with this very special area of Suffolk. As well as being famous for a wide-range of visiting birds, RSPB Minsmere also includes four national conservation priorities: reedbeds, lowland wet grassland, shingle vegetation and lowland heath. On our filming day we walked along to Minsmere passing the final fenced off part of the Sizewell Estate where the new power station might be built. The boundary limit now displays the latest planning application stapled to a fence post.
I can’t begin to imagine the impact on the local environment of such a massive construction project that will last nine to twelve years and employ perhaps as many as 25,000 people.
In actual fact the site for the new proposed Sizewell ‘C’ has long been fenced off and when ‘B’ was completed in 1995 many saplings were planted in this section. However, we were surprised at the neglected condition of the area. The trees were not thriving in the very dry conditions and had been left to fend for themselves against deer attack with tree guards strewn across the undergrowth.
It occurred to me that since 2009, EDF the operator of the site has had little interest in preserving the wooded area as they believe it will all disappear under the tonnes of concrete for the new power station.
There are many environmental concerns regarding the building of another nuclear power station here at Sizewell even before the more general ‘nuclear power good or bad’ question is considered. For example there’s the serious issue of coastal erosion, a point raised by Suffolk Wildlife Trust when giving their response to the proposed nuclear power station.
The local coastline is incredibly dynamic and it is hard to predict future levels of erosion and deposition. However, a new power station located further forward than Sizewell A and B, is likely to increase erosion north and south. This will impact on Minsmere frontage and the sluice, which is needed to control water levels at RSPB Minsmere and across Sizewell Belts SSSI. There appears to be limited clarity on how future management will adapt and indeed, how this will be paid for if Sizewell C does cause increased erosion.Proposed Sizewell C Nuclear Power Station – Extract from Summary of our Concerns‘, Suffolk Wildlife Trust
As we walked back from Minsmere the police 4×4 drove slowly passed again adding to our already despondent mood as we discussed the broader environmental ramifications of the seemingly relentless climb of CO2 levels.
In the end we concluded that we should not be adding more deep-rooted problems for future generations, specifically dealing with the long-term storage of radioactive nuclear waste. All in all we decided that we are not in favour of building Sizewell ‘C’.
Like many youngsters of their generation my daughter and her boyfriend have mixed feelings about the Climate Crisis. On good days they are optimistic for more technical advancements in the production and storage of clean energy. And, at the same time they are willing world leaders to embrace a degrowth economy moving to a sustainable way of living. On a bad day they mourn the loss of a shiny, promising future. That would be the kind of future that I and the rest of my family had once carelessly believed we had and assumed that future generations would have too.