Sizewell C nuclear power plant approval faces legal challenge

Campaigners have started a legal challenge against the government’s decision to greenlight the Sizewell C nuclear power station amid warnings that Britain’s nuclear power stations will be on the front line of climate breakdown.

Citing threat to water supply in an area officially designated as water critical, threats to coastal areas from climate change and environmental damage, the challenge is the first step in a judicial review of planning permission .

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng overruled the Independent Planning Inspectorate to grant permission for the new Suffolk nuclear reactor in July. Kwarteng is advancing government plans to approve one new nuclear reactor a year as part of an energy strategy to boost the UK’s nuclear capacity, hoping that by 2050 up to 25% of the projected energy demand will come from it.

But Sizewell C has faced stiff opposition from local activists and environmental groups for both its cost and environmental impact.

In a letter to Kwarteng outlining their legal challenge, Together Against Sizewell C (TASC) argues that government permission for the plant was given illegally. Represented by lawyers for Leigh Day and supported by Friends of the Earth, the group says there has been a failure to assess the implications of the whole project, ignoring the question of whether a permanent supply of water could be assured, a failure to assess the environmental impact of this project and the suggestion that the site would be free of nuclear materials by 2140, which has not been confirmed by evidence showing that the highly radioactive waste should be stored on site until a much later date.

The Planning Inspectorate had rejected the project saying “unless the outstanding water supply strategy can be resolved and sufficient information is provided to enable the Secretary of State to carry out his obligations under the Habitats Regulations, the case for an order granting development permission for the application is not established”.

Sizewell C nuclear power plant project.
£20 billion Sizewell C nuclear power station project. Campaign groups say there is a failure to assess the implications of the whole project and its impact on the environment. Photography: EDF

Pete Wilkinson, Chairman of TASC, said: ‘The case against Sizewell C is overwhelming, as has been carefully documented throughout the investigation stage and found by the Planning Inspector to be founded.

“Even considering building a £20bn+ nuclear power station without first securing a water supply is a measure of this government’s fixation on nuclear energy and its panic to make progress towards a policy energy that is both unachievable and inappropriate for the 21st century challenges we face.

The risk to Britain’s nuclear facilities from climate change has been described by Dr Paul Dorfman, an academic at the University of Sussex’s Science Policy Research Unit and chairman of the Nuclear Consulting Group. It warns that the UK’s coastal nuclear facilities are on the front line of climate breakdown and some may have to be abandoned in the face of the threat. Dorfman said: ‘It is clear that the Suffolk coastline near the proposed Sizewell C nuclear power station is fragile, vulnerable to weather-induced erosion and storm surge. It appears that the site will be almost completely cut off by flood waters at least once a year, and much sooner than predicted by the models. »

Sizewell C is expected to cost £20bn and would be paid for with a surcharge on customers’ energy bills as well as £1.7bn of taxpayers’ money.

Nuclear waste disposal experts who advise the government say no new nuclear power plants should be built until a permanent disposal landfill has been constructed. But a site for a permanent waste management facility has yet to be identified and is unlikely to be ready before the late 2040s at the earliest, if there is agreement on its location.

Rowan Smith, Solicitor representing TASC, said: “We are proud to represent TASC in the local community’s ongoing fight to help protect Suffolk’s heritage coastline and wildlife sites. Our client is understandably shocked that the Secretary of State went against the considered and reasoned opinion of the Independent Planning Inspectorate and granted development permission in a potentially legally wrong way. TASC is very concerned that the environmental impacts of Sizewell C have not been properly assessed. If the Secretary of State does not see the error in his ways, then we intend to do everything possible to bring this to the attention of the court.

The government said in granting permission for Sizewell C that a very significant and urgent need to build the plant outweighed the environmental damage.

EDF worked with Chinese state-backed nuclear specialist CGN on the first phase of the project. But the British government is keen to ease the CGN due to concerns over Chinese involvement in sensitive assets. Boris Johnson’s government has already put in place £100million this year to support its development.

Barclays bankers have been hired to secure new financial support for the project alongside EDF and the UK government.

This article was last modified on August 8, 2022. Dr Paul Dorfman is based at the University of Sussex; he is not a professor at University College London, as an earlier version stated.

Sizewell C nuclear power plant approval faces legal challenge

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