By Linda Pentz Gunter
An urgent campaign is underway in the UK to save the Severn Estuary from the prospect of more dredging and dumping of radioactive mud from the Hinkley C two-reactor construction site. The Severn Estuary is a marine protected area that lies between the Somerset coast in England and south Wales.
Hinkley C is a project of the French energy giant, Électricité de France (EdF), which has scored an electricity strike price guarantee from the UK government to get the project done that will gouge British ratepayers at rates three times the current costs.
EdF say the dredge and dump operations are needed in order to make way for a water-cooling system for the two unneeded, expensive and dangerous Hinkley C reactors — the flawed Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) design now suffering massive delays and cost-overruns at sites in France and Finland, and dangerous technical flaws that caused the shutdown of an operating EPR in China.
The water-cooling system, already banned in other countries, would draw seawater into a 7-metre diameter tunnel, destroying billions of fish in the process each year. These include eels, for which the Severn is an internationally important breeding ground. The system has already been vigorously opposed by wildlife and marine conservation groups. However, EdF has refused to install a fish deterrent system to reduce these impacts, citing cost issues.
In 2018, EdF dumped radioactively contaminated mud and sediment off the coast of Cardiff in Wales against wide and vigorous objection and a legal challenge in court. The mud was dumped into the “Cardiff Grounds” disposal site less than two miles from the Welsh coast in Cardiff Bay, quickly nicknamed “Geiger Bay” (a play on the old local name, Tiger Bay).
The 2018 opposition created significant media coverage and intense opposition, eventually driving EdF to reconsider. Perhaps hoping to avoid further opposition and negative media attention, the company is now looking to dump the mud off Portishead, Bristol, considering it a new, ‘soft touch’ location. Portishead is about 40 miles up the coast from the Hinkley site, close to the mouth of the storied River Avon.
Such a move would send millions of tonnes of contaminated mud and sediment on their way to the waters and beaches used by local communities and where children play, threatening the health of families and animal life. It would also potentially harm a protected marine environment, dispersing and depositing radioactive isotopes around the shores and beaches of the Severn.
As EdF continues to ignore legal safeguards, an independent and scientifically-led coalition — Save The Severn (Cofiwch Môr Hafren) – has secured a day in court, aiming to stop the mud dumping. On Thursday, March 8, 2022, Save The Severn will challenge the legality of the license granted by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in a Judicial Review hearing.