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Flooding and ‘extreme’ storms won’t put Sizewell C in danger, experts say

PUBLISHED: 07:45 06 August 2020 | UPDATED: 11:55 06 August 2020

A CGI of what the Sizewell C nuclear power station will look like  Picture: EDF Energy

A CGI of what the Sizewell C nuclear power station will look like Picture: EDF Energy

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Coastal erosion won’t jeopardise plans for a massive nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast - even if nightmare worst case scenarios for flooding come true, environmental experts have said.

Drone pilot Sara Stones at Sizewell B nuclear power station. Cefas is monitoring coastal erosion in the area. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHDrone pilot Sara Stones at Sizewell B nuclear power station. Cefas is monitoring coastal erosion in the area. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Surging sea levels due to climate change have sparked fears that Sizewell C could be cut off by the water, effectively becoming a so-called “nuclear island”.

Sizewell itself is above the flood level, with data showing that the coastline there moves backwards and forwards by very small amounts - resulting in a near-zero net annual change.

However, many surrounding areas are projected to be at greater risk in the years ahead.

MORE: Rising sea levels could turn new Sizewell power station into ‘nuclear island’

Cefas' regular assessments, using hi-tech drones, assess the likelihood of coastal erosion around Sizewell in the future. Picture: MIKE PAGECefas' regular assessments, using hi-tech drones, assess the likelihood of coastal erosion around Sizewell in the future. Picture: MIKE PAGE

One map, from US-based Climate Central, showed that swathes of Suffolk’s coasts and estuaries could be below the annual flood level by 2050 - although its predictions do not take into account future flood defence strategies and barriers.

Now, the Lowestoft-based Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), which has been monitoring coastal erosion in the area for years and has data going back to the 1800s, said: “Really comprehensive data shows this section of the coast has been very stable.”

The government agency, which is part of the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said that even “extreme climate change and an extreme storm, with the biggest possible waves” would only lead to a “very small amount of water” coming over the defences planned to keep the station safe.

Such storms only happen once every 10,000 years, it added.

Drone pilot Sara Stones and engineer Matt Eagle prepare to fly the drone to monitor coastal erosion at Sizewell. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHDrone pilot Sara Stones and engineer Matt Eagle prepare to fly the drone to monitor coastal erosion at Sizewell. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

Tony Dolphin, senior coastal scientist at Cefas - which has been commissioned by EDF Energy to carry out regular monthly assessments of coastal erosion, using drones and hi-tech modelling - said that was “nothing the station can’t handle”.

And although he said that other places - such as Minsmere Sluice and Dunwich cliffs - are more at risk, there would be no danger to the operations of the nuclear power station if surrounding areas did flood.

Such assurances have failed to persuade opponents, with Paul Collins, from Stop Sizewell C and Minsmere Levels Stakeholder Group, saying: “We will take a lot of convincing that Sizewell C’s twin reactors and spent fuel will be secure on Suffolk’s ‘soft and erodible’ coastline for 200 years, especially as climate change and sea level rise may affect coastal processes in unpredictable ways.”

MORE: EDF ‘pleased’ as Sizewell C plans cleared for next phase

Climate Central's mapping predicts that areas around Sizewell will be below annual flood level by 2050. However, these do not take into account any future flood defences built. Picture: CLIMATE CENTRAL/GOOGLEClimate Central's mapping predicts that areas around Sizewell will be below annual flood level by 2050. However, these do not take into account any future flood defences built. Picture: CLIMATE CENTRAL/GOOGLE

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dr Dolphin said that while Cefas does look far ahead into the future, it is generally only possible to predict detailed changes to the coastline over the next 10 years.

“We can try and predict as much as we like, but almost every prediction in the very long-term has no certainty around it,” he added.

Opponents say the unpredictability of future flooding makes building a nuclear site with a lifespan of more than 100 years risky, with Mr Collins saying: “The Sizewell sea defences cannot be fully assessed because EDF has not published a complete design, so it is not clear how any ‘adaptive’ approach could - Canute-like - keep the sea from their door.

Drone pilot Sara Stones at Sizewell beach. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHDrone pilot Sara Stones at Sizewell beach. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

“The potential of a hard coastal defence accelerating erosion at Minsmere to the north and Thorpeness to the south cannot be ruled out.”

Mr Collins’ concerns were echoed earlier this year by Sue Roaf, emeritus professor of architectural engineering at Heriot Watt University, who said: “It’s ridiculous the government is even considering another power station on the coast.

“You can downplay the future risk, but even by conservative estimates sea levels will have risen by a metre by 2100, potentially making Sizewell a nuclear island during storm surges.”

However, dr Dolphin said Cefas and EDF Energy energy would continue to monitor coastal erosion to miniscule detail in the future - allowing it to respond quickly to any sudden changes.

Professor Sue Roaf has raised concerns about the effect of rising sea levels on Sizewell C Picture: SUE ROAFProfessor Sue Roaf has raised concerns about the effect of rising sea levels on Sizewell C Picture: SUE ROAF

Drones flown over the area every month are able to photograph every 3cm square of the coastline, producing digital 3D maps of any changes after comparing it to historical data.

He also assured people that “climate change predictions used by EDF go above and beyond what’s actually going to happen”.

Coastal radar equipment at Sizewell A nuclear power station, also operated by EDF Energy, provides constant data on coastline changes.

EDF lodged its proposal for a new nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast with the Planning Inspectorate in May.

Sara Stones and Matt Eagle check the drone before it takes off to monitor coastal erosion at Sizewell. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTHSara Stones and Matt Eagle check the drone before it takes off to monitor coastal erosion at Sizewell. Picture: ANDREW PAPWORTH

The plans been deemed to be satisfactory by communities secretary Robert Jenrick, meaning the public now has a chance to examine the documents before a detailed, final proposal is revealed.

MORE: Sizewell C plans move one step forward following planning decision

EDF said its assessments of flood risk already took into account extreme high tides and sea-level rises and that its sea defences could adapt, if needed.


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