The recent announcement that the go ahead was given to the proposed Hinkley Point nuclear power station will have been met with a collective groan across Mersea Island. While not in, or even near Mersea, this decision has major implications on the proposed power station at Bradwell. Many of the island’s residents will have taken the recent postponing of the Hinkley decision to be a blessing for the island.
It was a sign that the many concerns raised over our national security, we're being acted on. Again, while not the same deal as that which is proposed for Bradwell, the concerns are equally valid with each. For those of you who are not aware of my position on Bradwell, I share the many concerns raised since the plans were announced. I am not anti-nuclear power. Nuclear power is essential to safeguarding our energy production as a nation, complimented by a growing renewable sector. The renewable sector is growing, yet despite this, nuclear remains essential for the foreseeable future if we want to keep the lights on.
But despite this, I cannot support the proposed new build at Bradwell. There remain two major causes for concern over a new power station at Bradwell. First, the security implications of the deal remain a major concern. Secondly, the environmental impact on the estuary would be significant and unacceptable.
In the last year I met nuclear experts, environmental experts, local residents, and politicians. I have put every concern raised with me to the relevant organisations. After all of these meetings, my view remains unchanged. As I explained in my recent article for City AM, a close trading relationship with China is desirable, but one that overlooks our national security concerns is not.
This would be the first Chinese nuclear reactor to be built in a developed country and is seen in China as a major opportunity to promote China’s technological expertise. The Chinese Institute for Statecraft has described China’s investment in other countries as “the single most important tool for strategy”. Here in our House of Commons, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has warned about the “disconnect between the UK’s inward investment policy and its national security policy”. This is enough to set alarm bells ringing.
The ISC was highly critical of the government when it allowed the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to bid for contracts in 2013, saying “the government’s duty to protect the safety and security of its citizens should not be compromised by fears of financial consequences”. Our nuclear sector should progress with an even higher level of caution.
Look at what we have learnt since the Prime Minister initiated the review. The China General Nuclear Power Company has been charged with nuclear espionage in the United States for allegedly developing nuclear material without US approval. In its indictment, the US Justice Department explicitly stated that the company had acted “with the intent to secure an advantage to the People’s Republic of China”. This company has a 33 per cent stake in the Hinkley Point C project. These are red flags that, if anything, raise doubt. Doubts cannot be in play when deciding upon critical parts of our infrastructure.
Though Bradwell itself is not in my constituency, the coastal end of my constituency looks across the Blackwater Estuary at the site. Since the Magnox reactors ceased operating, there has been a dramatic recovery in the marine life in the estuary. I am advised that any new reactors are likely to take between 4-6 times more water than their Magnox predecessors. Pumps are required to circulate the vast quantities of water for cooling the reactors and the process also uses chlorine. This kills a large amount of water born life, including plankton and other single cell life, and small fish and shell fish eggs and larvae
As I told the Secretary of State for Energy last year, there can be no return to the situation that existed before the Magnox reactors ceased operation. This would be completely contrary to all the UK’s national and international environmental obligations. The estuary is now part of a Marine Conservation Zone and is important for our local fishing industry.
Of course, there will be positives to using the site. But, in line with the UK's strict nuclear regulatory requirements, the site should meet every conceivable standard for suitability. It simply does not.
So what now? Well, the decision on Bradwell is not a given by any means. There are many hoops still to jump through before a new power station, particularly of the type and design proposed, could be built. I will continue to press the case I have detailed in this article with the Government and until each of these points is addressed I will remain opposed to any new power station at Bradwell.