A challenge to Boris Johnson’s call to “go nuclear, go large” emerged just a day after his speech on the new nuclear plant at Sizewell C last week when an inspector concluded that Hinkley Point C would kill millions of fish in its cooling system and needs to be redesigned or pay millions in compensation. Sizewell C uses the same technology.
The inspector’s threw out an appeal by by EDF, the French company building Hinkley Point C who argued that they should be allowed to dispense with an acoustic deterrent which they had argued would be dangerous to the divers who would install it in the fast waters of the Bristol Channel.
The inspector, and George Eustice the Environment Secretary who endorsed his conclusions, concluded that before it opens EDF must fit technology to the Hinkley plant to stop the deaths of what experts estimate at 182 million fish which will be killed in the Bristol Channel every year for the 60 years the plant is in operation.
EDF appealed against the Environment Agency’s requirement that they fit acoustic deterrent measures to tunnels. An inquiry into the appeal was held last year. The inspector’s report says the measures are required by law to protect cod, herring, bass and whiting and migratory species such as the Atlantic salmon, allis and twaite shad which would otherwise be drawn into the huge pipes and killed.
The inspector concluded that the magnitude of fish deaths predicted by the objectors was more likely than EDF’s contention that there would be “no adverse effect” on species or the Bristol Channel EDF if technology was not fitted. He also dismissed some of EDF’s arguments which had tried to limit environmental protection to the physical features of the Severn habitat itself rather than the typical species which live on that unique nursery habitat.
The decision is likely to have implications for Sizewell C in Suffolk which uses the same cooling technology (American plants use cooling towers instead of sea water, which protesters say could be an alternative in the case of Sizewell). Some experts say the Sizewell plant will kill 804 million fish a year, but the government simply says academics disagree about how many.
Priyal Bunwaree, a lawyer for the Blue Marine Foundation, one of six groups who opposed EDF’s plans to remove the fish deterrent devices from the Hinkley C plant said: “EDF decided to build the largest engineering project in Europe in the middle of a marine protected area in the Severn estuary and then claimed it would have no adverse effect on the species within it. This was a colossal blunder and they were poorly advised. The company must now find a technical solution to stop killing so many fish or pay compensation which we estimate could run into hundreds of millions.”
Ms Bunwaree added that it was almost inevitable that the same or similar legal issues would be an obstacle to opening Sizewell C, which received development approval this summer but has yet to receive an environmental permit to operate.
“The sad thing about Sizewell is that there has been no proper assessment of damage to the marine environment, so it is likely the same legal issue will arise there,” she added.
Lawyers from the six groups that fought the inquiry say the inspector’s report has set a precedent for the whole of Europe by saying that marine protected areas – protected under regulations that were written while Britain was in the EU – need to be interpreted as protecting all those creatures within them, rather than the named features of the seabed listed in the designation, as EDF’s lawyers had argued.
Tom Appleby, Blue Marine’s Chief of Legal Affairs, said: “We took this on so the government could not use a nuclear power station to weaken protected area legislation by simply ignoring it.
“It is extraordinary that EDF tried to use legal loopholes to escape responsibility for issues which could relatively cheaply have been resolved in the design phase and through proper conversation with local interest groups.”