by Julian Cusack, candidate for Aldeburgh and Leiston
I am standing as a candidate for the Green Party in the Aldeburgh and Leiston Ward, which will elect three councillors for the East Suffolk District Council on May 2nd.
I oppose the plan to build two new nuclear power stations on the coast north of Sizewell (Sizewell C). If elected, I will seek to position the Council as an outright opponent of the scheme.
Here are some of the questions and answers that have led me to this point.
Q. Nuclear energy doesn’t emit greenhouse gases – what’s not to like?
A. In the 1980s I opposed Sizewell B because I was concerned about the safety of pressurised water reactors and the risks from storing and transporting nuclear wastes. Back then we didn’t worry about climate change (although we should have done!).
Then the safety record of the nuclear industry improved. Concern about burning fossil fuels came to the fore. Many environmentalists began to think nuclear energy might be the lesser of evils. It can provide a reliable ‘base load’ for the power grid. None of us want the lights to go out.
Here in Suffolk, Sizewell B supports 520 full time workers and over 250 contract partners. EDF say that Sizewell C will provide jobs for thousands of people. So, they say, the nuclear industry is good for the economy of East Suffolk.
Q. Isn’t it true that without fossil fuels and nuclear power we will risk power cuts when the wind doesn’t blow?
A. Well, no. I don’t think so. Generating electricity from wind and from solar panels has become more efficient and cheaper. By spreading renewable generation over the country and connecting to European grids we can reduce the impacts of local weather. But the real game changers are grid level storage and smart grids. Storage can absorb excess power when the wind blows and release it later. Smart grids can use variable pricing to smooth out the usage of power and reduce peak demand.
Q. Suppose the Government is right and we do need new nuclear power stations. Why not put one at Sizewell?
A. The construction site development will include the site itself, a huge fabrication area, massive quarries, car parks for at least 2,500 cars, rail and road freight yards, accommodation for 2,400 workers and 35m high spoil heaps. This amounts to industrialization of a huge area of countryside with severe risks to important wildlife habitats and popular walking routes. EDF say they can ‘mitigate’ these risks by screening, post-construction restoration works and developing off-site replacement habitats. Many of the excellent responses to the Sizewell C Stage 3 Consultation provided by Parish and Town Councils have been sceptical that EDF can truly mitigate the environmental risks. I agree with them.
Q. What about the effects on road traffic?
A. Most of the consultation responses from the Aldeburgh and Leiston area have rightly raised concerns about construction traffic. Eastbridge, Theberton and Middleton, for example, are concerned about lorries thundering along the B1122 between Yoxford and Sizewell. Leiston Town Council is concerned about town centre congestion. Aldeburgh Town Council has raised concerns about pre-construction traffic and air pollution risks. Local people have tried to be constructive with proposals to use the railways more and construct relief roads. But many have concluded that transport of the people and the materials needed will overwhelm the existing infrastructure.
Q. Isn’t it all worth it for the economic benefits?
A/ EDF say that Sizewell C ‘would provide a valuable prospect for economic growth, sustained employment and enhanced skills provision, both for the UK and the East of England’. I agree that successive power station developments at Sizewell have provided good employment and satisfying careers to some of our residents. If the development does go ahead, I will support the proposed provision of education, training and apprenticeship opportunities.
But on closer examination I think that EDF may have over-stated the employment opportunities for local people. The majority of the work force will be drawn from outside the area and occupy temporary accommodation. EDF’s own models suggest that at the peak of construction they will only employ 2030 home-based workers including people travelling from Ipswich, Lowestoft, Felixstowe and parts of Essex and Norfolk.
East Suffolk generally benefits from low levels of unemployment and scarce affordable housing. Many are concerned that Sizewell C will draw skills away from our successful tourism sector.
Q. So why come down against Sizewell C?
A. If they are needed to keep the lights on then I might agree that the national interest favours a new generation of nuclear power stations. In which case building Sizewell C should be allowed – if EDF can prove they can successfully ‘mitigate’ the downsides and provide the forecast economic benefits.
But energy technology and the economics of renewables and storage have developed rapidly since the Government last assessed energy policy. New nuclear power stations are not needed. They provide very expensive electricity compared to most other sources. The environmental and social risks to the people of East Suffolk are very severe. They can’t be effectively mitigated.
Sizewell C should be abandoned.