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Sizewell: What does the future hold for Suffolk’s nuclear plant?

11:52 13 November 2012

Julian Roughton

Julian Roughton

IT is a project which would create thousands of jobs, boost the economy of east Suffolk and help plug a forthcoming gap in the UK’s energy supply.

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But it is also a project which would generate thousands more lorry journeys, extend an existing industrial “eyesore” in a protected landscape area and, potentially, threaten a nationally important wildlife site.

Later this month detailed proposals by EDF Energy to build a twin-reactor Sizewell C nuclear power station are due to be put before the public and local authorities for comment.

There is plenty at stake. For the application which goes to the Planning Inspectorate next year will, if approved, have a huge impact on life in east Suffolk for generations.

The workforce at Sizewell C would peak at nearly 6,000 during the construction period and 700 staff would be needed to run the power station when completed. Dozens of contracts would be placed with local firms.

But a go-ahead for the nuclear plant would also bring thousands more vehicles on to the road network, many of them heavy lorries carrying aggregates and other cargoes to the coastal site.

Hundreds of migrant workers would move into the area, men and women needing housing and medical services and, for those with families, schools and childcare facilities.

Construction and operation of Sizewell C poses a potential threat to wildlife because the neighbouring land is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, home to rare and uncommon species.

Sizewell beach, itself a rich wildlife habitat, is destined to see the building of a temporary jetty so that exceptionally large loads can be brought in by sea.

The residents of Sizewell and Leiston have seen it all before. In the late 1980s and early 90s, when Sizewell B was being constructed, the local economy boomed but there were also problems with traffic congestion as well as pressure on schools and GP services and increased social problems, including prostitution and drug use.

Sizewell C is expected to generate electricity for 60 years and, even after closure, there will be jobs for at least decades as the plant is decommissioned and its radioactive waste either removed or kept in storage on site.

The big issues during the imminent public consultation are likely to include heavy lorry impact on villages and towns, the siting of worker accommodation and the route of a new cross-country access road to serve the nuclear site. Proposals to store radioactive waste on site will also be controversial.

The district and county councils have adopted a stance where they are not challenging the Government’s decision to support a new round of nuclear power development.

Instead they are focused on getting the best deal for east Suffolk and not only in the provision of training to help local young people get jobs on the nuclear site.

The local authorities are looking for “joined-up thinking” for the construction phase; an improved road and rail network which can cope with cargo and worker transport and housing blocks which can be re-used by the community after construction.

Top of the wanted list is an undertaking from EDF Energy to help finance bypasses for four villages on the A12 construction traffic route – Marlesford, Little Glemham, Stratford St Andrew and Farnham – and for money to restore the passenger rail service from Saxmundham to Leiston.

EDF is thought to be planning a new access road to the north of the nuclear site, over grazing marshes. One idea to minimise impact on wildlife is to build it on stilts but this will inevitably raise the question of impact on the landscape.

However, yet another row over new pylons in the Suffolk countryside will be averted because no extra ones will be needed to transfer electricity from the C station into the national grid.

Accommodation blocks for Sizewell B construction workers were built on site and demolished after the building work was completed.

For Sizewell C the local authorities are looking for accommodation which can be used post-construction and one of the ideas which have been discussed is to site development near to University Campus Suffolk for ultimate use by students.

This would, of course, depend on a road and rail service which could get the Sizewell C workers to and from Sizewell efficiently.

Another idea is to build log cabins in the Sizewell area - properties which could be used for holiday lets in the future.

Guy McGregor, Suffolk’s transport and roads chief and chairman of the joint local authority panel which will scrutinise EDF’s plans, said the councils were focused on making sure that Suffolk was not “short-changed” by the Sizewell C development.

Councillors are well aware that their counterparts in Somerset succeeded in negotiating a £100million community package from EDF and the target in Suffolk will be similar.

“The project is of huge significance to Leiston but the impact will be felt throughout east Suffolk, not least on the roads.

“We cannot accept that the building of Sizewell C does not justify the four villages’ bypass scheme coming forward,” Mr McGregor said.

“For housing workers we are looking for something like the Olympic Games legacy – homes which can be used by people into the future.

“Building and operating a nuclear power station involves very skilled work and we want to see the skill levels of Suffolk youngsters improved so they can apply for the jobs which will be created,” he added.

Julian Roughton, Suffolk Wildlife Trust director, said conservation groups would be looking for measures to protect habitat and species from damage and disturbance.

“We are looking to EDF to come forward with a comprehensive environmental impact assessment,” he said.

Meanwhile, EDF hopes of attracting the investment needed to build Sizewell C and Hinkley Point C in Somerset have been boosted by agreement with the Government on a minimum price – thought to be in the region of £100 per megawatt hour – for the electricity which will be generated by the plants.

Nuclear power’s critics claim this amounts to a subsidy – in contravention of assurances given last year that new nuclear would get no taxpayers’ subsidy.

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