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‘Sizewell C? Not for me’ – Bill Turnbull on why he’s opposing huge nuclear project

PUBLISHED: 05:30 14 March 2020

Bill Turnbull on Sizewell beach  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Bill Turnbull on Sizewell beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

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Broadcaster and former BBC Breakfast presenter Bill Turnbull explains why he thinks Sizewell C would be so damaging to a special part of Suffolk.

Bill Turnbull on Sizewell beach  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNBill Turnbull on Sizewell beach Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

You can't escape the shadow of nuclear power on the Suffolk coastline. On the beach at Sizewell, it's right in your face.

But since we moved here four years ago, I've become rather fond of the brutalist architecture of the now decommissioned Sizewell A, built in the 1960s, and particularly its successor 'B' with the distinctive 'golf ball' dome. I know it helps to keep the lights on, and it's employed thousands of local people over the past 30 years. It does a good job.

So far, so good. But what if we were to take those two power stations, and double them in size? That's the plan. The French power company EDF wants to build not one, but two new nuclear reactors right next door, filling the gap between the current buildings and one of our country's most precious natural habitats - the RSPB nature reserve at Minsmere.

That's right, Minsmere. A national treasure, made famous by the BBC Springwatch programme, home at various times to more than 300 different species of bird. Marsh harriers patrol the skies there. Nightingales, Avocets, Stone Curlews and Dartford Warblers are among the rare breeds who've returned to the area, thanks to diligent environmental management. Red deer, otters, rare bats and natterjack toads can also be found among the thousands of plant and animal species.

An artist's impression of what Sizewell C will look like. Picture: EDF EnergyAn artist's impression of what Sizewell C will look like. Picture: EDF Energy

And now, on the doorstep, they want to set up what will be at its peak the largest construction site in Europe. Picture that, for a second. Lorries, lights, cranes, and noise round the clock. For years on end. What, I wonder, will the marsh harriers make of that?

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It's such a sensitive landscape it seems mad even to contemplate building within ten miles of it, let alone next door. Officially designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Minsmere is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation, and a Special Protection Area.

As these titles suggest, it's very fragile indeed. But it's here that they want to build a vast causeway to carry construction traffic across the marshes. The spoil heaps made of soil excavated at the site could be 35 metres high - think eight double decker buses. All this could affect sensitive water levels, and bring the risk of contamination. As the RSPB itself says, 'Sizewell C is not a suitable location for a new nuclear power station'.

An aerial picture of the Minsmere reserve  Picture: Mike PageAn aerial picture of the Minsmere reserve Picture: Mike Page

If you were going to start such a project from scratch, this is surely the most impractical place to do it. Sizewell is more than 70 miles from the nearest motorway, and 10 miles from the nearest 'A' road. To get there, heavy construction traffic would have to trundle along narrow country roads, competing with thousands of vans, buses and cars all heading to the same place. You could hardly choose a more awkward location. Bringing in supplies by sea has been ruled out, and the use of rail seems to be a half-hearted option. So instead, relief roads will be built, slicing through farms and their livelihoods.

And once built, would it be safe? Take a walk along the coast in this part of Suffolk and you can be in no doubt that the sea, not man, is master here. It's not the 'energy coast' as some in government would have us believe - it's the Erosion Coast - a huge issue. No-one knows how much the sea level will rise over the next half century, but a map produced by the Environment Agency shows areas around Sizewell - including the proposed site - are at medium and high risk of flooding. Earlier this year, Sue Roaf, emeritus professor of architectural engineering at Heriot Watt University, told the East Anglian Daily Times that it was madness to build a new power station near flood risk sites. And yet, EDF ploughs on.

It's not just in the wrong place. It's the wrong design. EDF say their EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) at Sizewell should be ready by 2035. But their track record on prediction is not great. Their first EPR at Flamanville in France was originally expected to cost €3.3bn and start operations in 2012. It's currently eight years late, at more than three times the original budget. A similar project at Okiluoto in Finland, has been delayed even further, again with eye-watering cost overruns. EDF's other British site, Hinkley Point was supposed to be producing electricity two years ago. It won't actually be ready until at least 2025 - if there are no more hold-ups. The price tag there rose recently by just under £3 billion, due to 'challenging ground conditions'. It will now cost more than seven times the original estimate.

You could call us Nimbys. It's true. You'd have to be mad to want such long-term disruption on such a massive scale anywhere near where you live. And if you've seen our back yard, you would surely understand why. Our Suffolk shoreline - the Heritage Coast is a jewel on the North Sea, worth £200 million a year in tourism. Slather it with dust, noise, traffic and pollution for more than a decade, and that trade may evaporate. The impact will be felt from Woodbridge to Southwold, east to Aldeburgh and all points between.

The current nuclear reactor on the beach at Sizewell recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. It's doing a great job, and could keep going for another 35 years. But Sizewell B's enough for me.

Building another power station on this site doesn't make sense. Not here. Not like this.


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