The hearings raise the question of employment: nuclear or tourism?


Public hearings during the development authorization process for Sizewell C have useful lessons for follow-up factories, reports Janet Wood

Above: The Purple Heather on Dunwich Heath, approximately 2 miles north of the proposed Sizewell C site

EDF ENERGY’S DECISION on June 7 to close and empty its Dungeness B nuclear power plant – ahead of its recent schedule, but well beyond its initial lifespan as main AGR – highlighted the UK’s new nuclear build. The UK’s ambitious decarbonization strategies generally assume that the contribution of nuclear will remain constant, even though it will represent a smaller proportion of electricity consumption, as mobility and heating increase the demand for electricity.

The Hinkley Point C two-unit EPR is the first newly built plant since Sizewell B and is under construction and undergoing serious scrutiny, not least because it is the model for a second two-unit plant, Sizewell C , opposite (east coast. The next step for Sizewell C is to obtain development approval. Detailed plans for the plant, local effects of construction and management of the environmental impact of the project are currently underway. reviewed by the National Infrastructure Planning, which will report and make a recommendation to the Secretary of State of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the decision maker of development consent.

The Sizewell C process will provide important experience for a third new station, planned for Bradwell in Essex. It will also be on the east coast, although further south, and is adjacent to the existing Bradwell A plant (which ceased operations in 2002 and has been in the service and maintenance phase since 2018).

The Bradwell project is in preliminary discussions with National Infrastructure Planning, but has not yet indicated when it will enter the formal process – the Chinese design of the HPR1000 to be used has only recently entered its authorization process at the Office. for Nuclear Regulation. But scoping documents suggest that construction of the proposed development will take 9 to 12 years and will require facilities for around 4,500 temporary workers. The document also notes that within 10 km of the main development site, there are 14 sites that are internationally and 11 that are nationally designated (usually for wildlife or landscape value), eight of which are at the inside or very close to the main development site. A number of heritage assets are located in the main development site, including three listed monuments.

These are not insurmountable objections, but they are important, both nationally and in gaining local support for a project, as revealed by a selection of comments from recent public hearings held as part of the review. Sizewell C. The four days of hearings – online rather than in person, due to Covid restrictions – were largely a forum for local people to voice their concerns, so they naturally saw local issues raised, rather than concerns about nuclear safety or waste, although several speakers raised specific nuclear concerns. Among these, witnesses believed that the design of the reactor was too powerful and that its use had not been proven, that it was slow to build and that the site was vulnerable to sea level rise. .

They also asked if the larger process had been properly taken into account, and more specifically if EDF should have the financing model in place before applying for development authorization. The funding model is currently under review by the government and is expected to be based on some form of regulated asset.

What are the objections to Sizewell C?

Some objections to the plant, which is a major development in a largely rural area with small towns, have focused on the effect on the relatively sparse local infrastructure and the loss of access to natural amenities such as beaches. While the effects on both were recognized to be largely temporary, the construction schedule of a decade or more was nonetheless seen as “long term” for parents concerned about children or retirees who had moved into the city. the region due to its rural nature.

An argument that the project would bring long-term, highly skilled jobs to the region, as well as construction jobs – a key positive for supporters of the plant – has been countered by fears about existing jobs in the area. region. A witness said that “the tourism industry was certainly on the last figures with around 40,000 jobs and growing at 5% per year”. The permanent jobs offered by the new factory represent only “about a year of tourism growth,” they said.

One of the reasons tourism has grown in recent years is the large bird sanctuaries and other important local wildlife areas, and here fears about local jobs have coincided with concerns about the how the plant would affect these habitats. Likewise, there were fears regarding the loss of local amenities such as trails, degradation of the local environment such as water pollution and full access.

“We spoke to a lot of people in the village about the recreational use of the Suffolk coast. And no one wants to lose access to that, ”one commenter said.

There was more general skepticism about “bonus” jobs. One said: “Very few jobs will be truly local” and “Development will just overwhelm the local economy”.

As always, in the event of development requests, fears were expressed as to the effect on traffic, both because of the workers – one commenter said “EDF defines the premises as being less than 90 minutes by car “, which is very high for the region – and the transport of” huge volumes of materials “to and from the site. The materials issue was not helped by a recent NIP-accepted “change request” (changes once the review process has started are strictly limited) which saw the amount of material required for construction. Sizewell C increase by 20% compared to the original. application. But it also reveals the diversity of viewpoints that must be balanced in the consent process. Some speakers wanted to see as much freight carried by train as possible, while others objected that they would be affected by a sharp increase in rail freight, especially outside working hours. And while road movements were not welcome, permanent improvements to local roads (and potentially rail) were not.

Energy rating?

Sizewell C is a very large project in itself, but it is only one of a series of energy projects that will affect the region. This redoubled local concerns. One speaker said, “I don’t think anyone is considering the assault on the energy projects that are now being proposed,” and “If Sizewell C is approved by the Secretary of State at the end of this review, it will be the biggest of the eight energy projects. infrastructure projects on the heritage coast ”.

Another said: “The cumulative effect of all the power plants in the industry will inundate this region of outstanding natural beauty and undermine daily life and the key economic activity of tourism, providing jobs and pleasure in the city. region. “

Other projects include landing from offshore wind farms or power interconnections, and possible hydrogen production plants. Supporters saw this as a boost to the region bringing jobs and investment and called it an “energy coast”, but feelings are mixed about it. One speaker said the build-up “has led to efforts to rename the South Coast Energy Coast. It is not welcome. Another said: “it is a heritage coast, it is not an energy coast”.

Next steps

The experiment at a potential new site, at Wylfa Newydd in Wales, gave opponents a boost as development permission was not granted. One commenter explicitly asked the inspector to follow “the relevant and important precedent … given the similarities between this scheme and Sizewell”.

National Infrastructure Planning must complete its review of Sizewell C by October 14. It must prepare a report on the request to the relevant Secretary of State, including a recommendation, within three months of closure.

The Secretary of State then has three months to make the decision to grant or deny development permission, but there have been cases where the decision has been delayed – multiple times, in the case of a park. offshore wind.

Once a decision has been made by the Secretary of State, there is a six-week period during which the decision can be appealed to the High Court.

There are clearly lessons from Sizewell C for Bradwell’s team. They should not underestimate the importance of local issues and the cost of not fully integrating them from the start.

A first Bradwell ‘scoping’ report of the NIP reveals some areas where local activists might suggest a lack of local engagement, such as planning to exclude roads where pedestrians are not allowed from its initial assessment. As in Sizewell, the project is located in a rural area where pedestrians or cyclists use roads without dedicated facilities. NIP said he would expect traffic planning to take this into account from the start.

Bradwell can also expect national concerns to be raised locally, as happened during the Sizewell hearings. Several speakers expressed concern about China’s role in the project. They mentioned that the UK had recently banned the use of other Chinese equipment, from Huawei, in parts of the UK telecommunications network and that the Chinese government-owned China General Nuclear (CGN) had been listed. black by the US Department of Commerce. They also expressed concern over the widely reported human rights violations by the Chinese government in Xinjiang and noted that the British government itself has recently imposed sanctions on officials in China on the matter.

Despite China’s important role, the Sizewell C has been positioned quite successfully as a “copy” of Hinkley Point C. With China in the lead at Bradwell, it is already clear that it cannot skimp on the national or local commitment if the project is to continue.

Author: Janet Wood, Expert Author on Energy Issues

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