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Climate change, sea level rise – real and present danger to UK’s Bradwell and Sizewell nuclear sites

Climate Change the big issue for nuclear power on the East coast, 11 September 2021   According to Andrew Blowers, Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at the Open University, Climate Change has become the overriding issue facing the future of the proposed Sizewell C and Bradwell B nuclear power projects on the East Anglian coast. ‘Far from being a solution to the problem of Climate Change, new nuclear power stations like Sizewell C and Bradwell B on the fragile and vulnerable east coast, are likely to become victims of the inevitable, imminent and irreversible consequences of global warming’, he said.

Speaking at a Specific Hearing at the Sizewell C Examination to discuss Policy and Need, Professor Blowers stated that Climate Change was the ‘transformative issue’ of Policy and should be at the very heart of the discussion about building coastal infrastructures like nuclear power stations.

He was disappointed that the Examination Agenda was narrowly framed and the process favoured a legalistic approach. This encouraged a fragmented discussion and a tendency to focus on specific details while losing sight of the bigger picture.

The Examination process must raise its sights from the interminable and obfuscating legalistic debates controlled by developers and give attention to the real and present danger that Climate Change poses for the security and viability of projects in such unsuitable locations. ‘

‘Put simply, there is little justification for these huge structures in terms of need. But, regardless of need, given the threat to the integrity of the sites and the risks to present and future generations and environments, the proposals should be scrapped forthwith’.

The recent Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has spelled out in uncompromising, incontrovertible and unequivocal terms that a rise in global temperatures of 1.50C above pre-industrial levels is already inevitable. It is highly likely that 20C, the level which scientists say may just be manageable, will be reached by the end of the century, and possibly before, if present trends are not arrested. Sea level rise will be around a metre and, as ice melts and oceans heat up, it will continue thereafter. The IPCC states that a sea level rise of 2 metres by 2100 and 5 metres by 2150 ‘cannot be ruled out due to deep uncertainty in ice sheet processes’.

As sea levels rise, the frequency and severity of coastal flooding and erosion will increase and extreme events that occurred once in a century in the recent past are projected, in some scenarios, to occur annually in future. Of course, there is great uncertainty the further forward we look. But, what is certain, is that the impacts of climate change on sea level rise, storm surges and coastal processes could render these east coast sites unviable. This would pose a threat to the security of the highly radioactive wastes remaining stored on site until the latter half of the next century.

At the Hearing, Sizewell C’s developer, EDF relied on governmental polices enshrined in National Policy Statements (NPSs), now ten years old, to claim that the nuclear energy from Sizewell C was necessary. In its more recent pronouncements, the Government is far more equivocal in its support for nuclear energy from such large-scale power stations.

Regardless of whether nuclear is needed at all, Sizewell and Bradwell are manifestly not ‘potentially suitable’ sites as originally indicated in the NPS all those years ago. At both sites the developers claim that the hard defences proposed will be sufficient to protect the nuclear islands against the ravages of climate change.

But, beyond the end of the century, sea level will continue to rise and the impacts become more severe and scenarios for the worst case but plausible change are increasingly uncertain. It becomes impossible to make specific projections and modelling of more extreme coastal conditions is problematic. ‘What possible use will be projections into an unknowable future?’, asks Professor Blowers.

‘It is all too little, too late. I believe we must take the issue of Climate Change seriously and refuse permission to develop these coastal nuclear power stations. It seems inconceivable that the defensive structures can survive intact into the unknown but worsening conditions of continuing sea level rise and extreme events that are inevitable in the future. There can be no possible justification for inflicting this legacy on our coastal communities now and in the future.’

September 14, 2021 - Posted by | climate change, UK

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