Sizewell, Power Stations and ‘C’

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.

Front page of FT for Wednesday, 27th October 2021.

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.

The blue of Sizewell ‘B’ has faded since the power station was first synchronised with the national grid on 14 February 1995.

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.

On Sizewell Beach – left me with my parents circa 1975 and right my daughter circa 1995.

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.

Photographs of power stations ‘A’ and ‘B’ and sign about no drones, but regular filming permitted.

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.

Razor wire tops the high walls and fences surrounding the power stations.

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.

Computer Generated Image of the complete Sizewell ‘C’ site – EDF Sizewell Project Team

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.

The planning application for Sizewell ‘C’ stapled to the fence at the corner where the site meets RSPB Minsmere. It is dated 24th June 2020.

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.

The two Sizewell power stations from Minsmere .

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.

Looks like this might be destined to disappear under tonnes of concrete.

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
RSPB Minsmere across to the old to ruins of the original Leiston Abbey built in 1198.

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.

From Sizewell ‘B’ to the white building on Dunwich Heath and Southwold far across the bay.

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’.

 Together Against Sizewell C and Suffolk Coastal Friends of the Earth gathering for a protest at Sizewell. 19 September 2021

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.

From the left – grandfather, mother, grandmother, sister and me. 1976

climate, rain, snails

On Monday of this week the IPCC published a report that has finally shocked our complacent media into taking the climate crisis seriously. Even BBC News has well and truly jumped off the fence of ‘balance’ and stopped giving airtime to climate change deniers such as Nigel Lawson. And, they even posted the headline – Climate report is ‘code red for humanity’.

Dahlia ‘Black Jack’ chewed to bits by slugs and snails.

Of course, for many, many people of this country this wasn’t news, but, sadly, a confirmation of the dire situation humanity faces. Where I live, as yet, the worst we have had has been tropical, monsoon-style heavy showers, but no actual flash flooding. Mind you I do live on a hill towards the top, but my father lives down on Ipswich Waterfront. He has received several flood alerts, but luckily high tides and torrential downpours have not coincided and only the nearby car park has flooded.

Dinner plate dahlia ‘Penhill Watermelon’ (A survivor perhaps because it’s just so big.)

On a lesser issue all this rain and continuous warm damp has provided super optimal conditions for the slugs and snails. My backyard has been invaded and overwhelmed by snails. First they ate all my runner bean plants, then they started on the dahlias (always a favourite with both snails and slugs) and now they have moved on to the lilies. I have been growing lilies for over 20 years and, yes, in the past I have had to fight off the dreaded lily beetle, but this is the first time my lilies have been shredded by snails.

Survival rate of lily blooms about one in three.

Finally, in exasperation last week I went to war against these pests. Now, firstly I didn’t use slug pellets as they are a disaster for the wildlife and, rather incompetently, I had already missed the window of opportunity earlier in the season for deploying nematodes. This has left me with only one option to sally forth in the drizzle at dusk, hunt them down and physically destroy them.

Large slug heading for a feast of dahlia.

It has been very unpleasant and I have wondered how the professional growers of fruit and vegetables produce largely undamaged crops. I know really, mostly they use pesticides, but not for me as I garden organically. In a small, urban space without a pond for frogs or any town-dwelling hedgehogs visiting to snack at the snail bar, my backyard is devoid of predators except for me with my torch and wellies.

In the rain strongly smelling golden fennel, not popular with the local gastropods!

I don’t know about you, but I remember as a child washing mud from locally grown potatoes, picking out tiny slugs whilst preparing lettuce and cutting the odd worm or maggot from an apple. These days we appear to have forgotten the effort and resources that have been used to get near ‘perfect’ fresh food to the shops, but, perhaps this is about to seriously change. Apart from the immediate difficult weather, the climate crisis is already bringing droughts and floods and generally unseasonable weather to other parts of the world, and worryingly there are signs of the beginning of strain on our system of food production.

Seasonal, blemish-free cherries from Kent. (That’s two counties away – can I call that local?)

The IPCC issued another report (not this current ‘Code Red for Humanity’ one), a report that contained an entire chapter about food security back in August 2019 – you hadn’t heard about that? Neither had I. Disappointingly, looking around at all the great and good elected to govern us and lead by example, they too, don’t appear to have heard about it either and, even if they have, they’ve taken no action. Two years on from that report and with COP26 this November and following/despite the publication of the Code Red warning, it’s all still very much business as usual.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse may be on the horizon but let’s instead fret about exam grade inflation, refugees crossing the Channel and propping up the aviation industry as everybody is (apparently) entitled to cheap holiday flights!

The monument and grave of John Bunyan (1628-1688), Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, London.

Here’s a thought regarding climate crisis action “You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you.” John Bunyan (1628-1688).

It’s January, but it’s almost balmy in the park

At the end of last month it didn’t feel very wintry and now, already halfway through January, it is still surprisingly mild with no sign of a true cold snap in the forecasts for East Anglia.

Ornamental grasses are left for winter interest and cover for wildlife.

My local park, Holywells Park, even has a hint of spring about it. Between the dead and drying ornamental grasses I spied long, green blades of recent growth.

Colourful evergreens

There was also the colourful mix of reliable evergreens; ivy, box, holly, euonymous and even the dramatic black ophiopogon planiscapus all looking ‘super’ vibrant and healthy (no signs or blemishes from frost damage as so far no heavy frosts).

The Orangery, the Victorian conservatory in Holywells Park.

Of course, even in this rather mild English winter there are still plants that need to be given full protection from the merest suggestion of frost or even a hint of a chilly breeze. One such specimen is the banana tree. There’s plenty of protected space and a pitched ceiling in the beautifully restored Victorian conservatory to allow this banana tree to thrive.

Tender plants protected in the Orangery.

As I continued through the park, there was a surprise. I walked through this distinctly autumnal scene. There had been a late drop of fronds from an ornamental tree and the amber tones seemed to proclaim, “No winter here, move on, move on, it’s still autumn”.

It occurred to me if there’s a planting of winter evergreens, a flourishing summer banana tree, albeit in a conservatory, a springtime clump of green shoots and an autumnal carpet of brittle orange leaves, then at this moment Holywells Park was a park of all seasons!

We recognise the green shoots of spring or rich autumnal colour as seasonal, as normal for our part of the world, but by the end of this new Climate Crisis decade . . . . what will we witness, what will we be experiencing as seasonal?

For a reflective view of living in a time of Climate Crisis here’s an article by Professor Jem Bendell exploring ideas of resilience, relinquishment, restoration and reconciliation.

Evocative art: The Family of Man, To Give Light and The Siren Installation

Last week I accompanied my father to a summer’s evening concert at Snape Maltings. I am old enough (just) to remember being driven past the old Maltings when it was being converted into a concert venue from 1965 to 1967. It was one of the earliest examples of an industrial building being repurposed for arts use. The whole site has expanded considerably over the intervening five decades. As well as the main concert hall there is now the smaller Britten Studio, rehearsal rooms, cafes, restaurants and bars, holiday accommodation and a variety of retail outlets including the Snape Antiques Centre and The Maltings Gallery.

The Family of Man is an unfinished sculpture by Barbara Hepworth, which was created in the early 70s and unfinished at the time of the artist’s death.

All round Snape Maltings has pitched itself as a cultural centre and as such hosts visiting art installations that are placed amongst permanent works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.

‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms)’ (2018) – Ryan Gander. Close-up of No. 3 Southern Lighthouse Optic (1871)

When I was at the Maltings back in June, for a sublime performance by Vox Luminis as part of the the Aldeburgh Festival, a fitting installation was on display called ‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms) by Ryan Gander.

‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms)’ (2018) – Ryan Gander. Commissioned by BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, as part of Great Exhibition of the North, 2018.

1 Lighthouse lamp (1847) – the gas-powered lamp from the first coal-gas powered lighthouse in England, in Hartlepool
2 Cat’s Eye (1934) – invented by Percy Shaw (1890-1976), born in Halifax
3 Southern Lighthouse Optic (1871) – the optic (lens arrangement) from the first lighthouse to use electricity in Marsden, South Shields
4 Incandescent Light Bulb (1860) – invented by Joseph Wilson Swan (1828-1914), born in Sunderland
5 Geordie Lamp (1815) – miner’s safety lamp invented by George Stephenson (1781-1848), born in Wylam, Northumberland
6 Cloisonné Vase Lamp (1878) – the first lamp to use an incandescent light bulb at Cragside, Northumberland; Cragside was the first house in the world to be lit by hydroelectricity
7 Quick Break Light Switch (1884) – invented by John Henry Holmes (1857-1935), the light switch was designed and patented in Newcastle upon Tyne
8 LED light (1907) – the technology behind LED (light-emitting diode) was first discovered by Captain Henry Joseph Round (1881-1996), born in Staffordshire
9 Flamborough Lighthouse (1674) – built by Sir John Clayton in Yorkshire, the first lighthouse in England
10 Safety Match (1824) – the world’s first friction match
‘To Give Light (Northern Aspirational Charms)’ (2018) – Ryan Gander. The walking couple give you some idea of the scale of this work.

Last week, we saw another art installation had joined ‘To Give Light’. Round the other side of the Concert Hall, near the main entrance, there is a slightly raised mound between the Maltings and the River Alde. Set on the lawn, unmissable and incongruous, currently stands a fisherman’s hut complete with ‘A’ board pavement signs.

The Siren Installation – Roger Hardy. Commissioned for ‘Siren Festival’ Aldeburgh, 2019.

However, there’s nobody selling fish from this hut. Instead, a small crowd of carved people trapped inside the hut gaze out at our world in dismay at the polluted and damaged oceans. (This work was originally sited on Aldeburgh Beach facing out across the North Sea. It had been commissioned for the Siren Festival, Aldeburgh.)

The Siren Installation – Roger Hardy. (2019) Humanity separate, desolate gazing out at the damaged marine environment.

The pavement advertising boards draw our attention to the plight of marine mammals and

The Siren Installation – Roger Hardy. (2019) Announcing marine mammal destruction.

the sign written boards hanging on the hut further detail many of the shocking facts regarding the precarious state of the oceans.

The Siren Installation – Roger Hardy. (2019) Rising sea levels.

‘Siren’ is an ecological art installation that disturbs and informs. It is the type of intriguing and evocative work that affirms a place for visual culture within the wider environmental discourse.