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Siting new nuclear power stations — an unsustainable geography 16 May 23 ‘The government’s ambition to achieve energy and environmental security by ramping up the development of nuclear power stations faces a significant obstacle — the lack of sites on which to build them.

As Andrew Blowers points out in the latest issue of Town & Country Planning, the Journal of the Town and Country Planning Association, the need for suitable and acceptable sites on which to deploy a variety of new nuclear power stations, ranging from big GW (gigawatt) behemoths to Small (or not so small) Modular Reactors (SMRs), is a pressing, although much neglected issue.

There is a presumption in government and the nuclear industry that sites in suitable locations will be available and ready for development. But, in reality there are only a handful of sites, eight to be precise, deemed ‘potentially suitable’ in the government’s outdated and unrevised National Policy Statement of 2011. And only one of these, Hinkley Point, has secured all the necessary planning and environmental permits and regulatory licences necessary for its go-ahead.

In truth, the geography of nuclear power has barely changed, frozen in aspic since it was first established over half a century ago. There is an increasing disjunction between the ring of coastal sites on which the early generations of big power stations were built and the present-day absence of sites that are suitable for the varied fleet of nuclear stations in prospect in an era of climate change.

Without a new siting strategy. there is a severe danger that new nuclear power stations with attendant radioactive waste stores will be located in places that are wholly unsuitable and unsustainable during the century or more that dangerous radioactivity will remain on sites.

n the article, Andrew Blowers, Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at the Open University and former member of the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM), traces the history of nuclear siting in Britain from its origins shrouded in military secrecy in obscure locations, notably Sellafield in West Cumbria and Dounreay in the far north of Scotland. The age of civil nuclear energy was ushered in by the White Paper A Programme of Nuclear Power in 1955. The first generation of Magnox stations was constructed during the 1950s and 1960s at coastal sites providing cooling water, suitable land and remoteness.1 By 1971, with Wylfa in North Wales coming on stream, there were 11 stations, all bar one in coastal and estuarial locations.

This pattern was reinforced and slightly extended by the second-generation AGR (Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor) stations completed mainly during the 1970s, either alongside Magnox stations or at new but still coastal sites (Hartlepool, Heysham, and Torness). By the end of the 1970s the geography of nuclear power in Britain was complete.
Since then only one station, Sizewell B, has come on stream. The abortive ‘nuclear renaissance’ proclaimed by Tony Blair gave birth to one solitary project, the controversial, expensive and late-running Hinkley Point C. By 2020 the programme for development on eight ‘potentially suitable’ existing sites had begun to look dead in the water. But, once again nuclear is rising Phoenix-like in the form of a truly enormous and quite unattainable programme for 24GW of electricity from nuclear power stations large and small conjured up by Boris Johnson.

Nuclear operators have been eyeing up existing sites. But there is no overall plan, there are no sites immediately available, and several of the existing sites identified as ‘potentially suitable’ face trenchant opposition or are quite unsuitable.

Four observations can be made. First, existing sites were established long ago at a time when environmental concerns were subordinate. Second, the attempts to revive nuclear power during this century have confirmed the existing pattern of sites. Third, the criteria of site selection require fundamental revision in the light of the dire prospects for several existing sites in an era of accelerating impacts of climate change. But, fourth and most perversely, attempts at strategic site planning have proved no constraint on the prospects for existing sites to be appropriated by government and the nuclear industry.

In short, strategic siting of nuclear power stations is a case of retrospective legitimation of sites selected under quite different economic, technical and, above all, environmental conditions to those pertaining today. It is possible that sites that reflect a bygone age may yet survive into the unmanageable conditions of the future.’

Note 1: The Magnox stations were at Calder Hall and Chapel Cross (dual-use military and civil) and Bradwell, Sizewell, Dungeness, Berkeley, Oldbury, Hinkley Point (in England), Wylfa (Wales) and Hunterston (Scotland). Trawsfynydd in Snowdonia was the only inland location.

Links to related articles……….


May 18, 2023 - Posted by | climate change

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