Flood risk 'not enough' to stop N-plant

NEW nuclear power stations could be built in flood-risk or “environmentally-protected” areas under proposed rules announced yesterday in an apparent Government attempt to ensure sites such as Sizewell and Bradwell can continue to be considered.

David Green

NEW nuclear power stations could be built in flood-risk or “environmentally-protected” areas under proposed rules announced yesterday in an apparent Government attempt to ensure sites such as Sizewell and Bradwell can continue to be considered.

Environmental safeguards are listed among “discretionary” criteria that ministers intend to use to decide where to put the controversial reactors - not those that would instantly rule out a site.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown is believed to want up to eight new reactors in the UK as part of a global “renaissance of nuclear power”' to help end reliance on fossil fuels.


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Under the Strategic Siting Assessment (SSA) system proposed by Business Secretary John Hutton, nominations for “credible” sites backed by nuclear firms will be invited early next year.

They will then be judged against a list of criteria before being put forward for planning permission - possibly using a controversial planned fast-track approach for major projects.

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Sites at risk of earthquake or near heavily-populated areas would be instantly ruled out according to the planned rules, which are due to be finalised in the coming months after consultation.

But concerns of flood risk, coastal conditions and “environmentally-protected” status would be considered less absolute and could be overridden.

They would be used to “form a balanced view of the site's suitability” for inclusion on a list of "strategically suitable” locations due to be published in 2010.

Studies commissioned by British Energy have shown that there would be no significant risk of flooding to the Sizewell C site which is within a nationally designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty .

But this is disputed by opposition groups who point out the uncertainties surrounding sea level rise and erosion along an ever-changing stretch of coast.

The Government hopes building work on the new nuclear power programme will start by 2013, with the first electricity being produced four years later. Sizewell C - plans for which will include two reactors, both bigger than the B station - is expected to be the first of the new plants, at a cost of £6billion .

Mr Hutton said nuclear power was an essential part of the UK's future energy mix.

“So we must do everything we can to remove any remaining barriers and open up the UK as the most attractive place in the world to invest in nuclear power,” he said.

The Department for Business dismissed reports earlier this month that it had already drawn up a list of new nuclear sites alongside existing reactors at Sizewell, Bradwell, Hartlepool, Heysham, Dungeness and Hinkley Point.

Pete Wilkinson, a Suffolk-based environment consultant and former member of a Government committee on radioactive waste disposal, said the new rules could be contrary to Health and Safety Executive regulations on the siting of nuclear installations.

“This move is a measure of the determination of the Government to ram through the nuclear programme without the checks and balances we are used to in this country.

“It is ironic that while the Government claims it needs nuclear power to combat climate change it is proposing to site the new plants in areas which will be at the forefront of climate change.”

Charles Barnett, chairman of the Shut Down Sizewell Campaign, said: “It takes my breath away to think that the Government should dismiss the very great possibility of flooding at Sizewell. These new stations will be imposed on us because it is clear that public consultations are meaningless.”

Gareth Brett, British Energy spokesman, said: “Today's announcement is a further step forward to securing a future for nuclear power as part of a balanced energy policy in the UK. It provides clarity on the process to be followed for site selection which will in turn lead to a national policy statement for the siting of new nuclear power stations.”

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