Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by Stop Hinkley


  Stop Hinkley is a local group campaigning against the operations and potential expansion at Hinkley Point in Somerset. We support energy conservation and renewable energy as means to produce energy and reduce the need for up to one third of energy production in the first place. We are concerned about the risks associated with the industry, both immediate and to future generations, and over safety—to potentially tens of thousands of people and also the health of individuals exposed to the routine daily radioactive discharges from nuclear plants.


  In the Government Energy Review last year, the nuclear option was left open, apparently at the behest of Tony Blair and in the face of Cabinet opposition, as most of the nation was against the idea, tested by various opinion polls. This option is to be reviewed in 2006 and will hinge on the success of renewable energy. Should wind-power fail, in other words, then nuclear is back on the agenda. This unfortunate dynamic sets renewables as an obstacle to more nuclear power and therefore a target for pro-nuclear lobbyists.

  This may be one motive for some vociferous local and national protest groups. Related to a proposed wind-farm at Hinkley Point in West Somerset, key anti-wind campaigners have worked at the Hinkley complex, according to a regional newspaper.


  However advocates of the nuclear technology should recognise that the next generation of nuclear reactors will not be "safer, cleaner and greener" than the current 30 and 40 year old reactors. The Westinghouse AP1000 design vaunted by BNFL, and suggested in the inquiry brief, has had its safety valves, pipes and cables stripped out by 70% to reduce building costs. It may never receive a UK operating licence due to having no secondary containment to protect the public in the event of an accident. Safety systems considered essential to Sizewell "B" have been replaced by a "passive safety" feature that would simply spill a huge tank of water onto the overheating reactor, while operators try to get it under control. Concreting has been reduced by 65% on the Sizewell "B" plant also a Westinghouse, to save costs, rather than increased as a vital defence against terrorism. The Finnish Government seemingly excluded this design due to their concerns about its vulnerability. One nuclear consultant has said a large airliner could slice through the reactor like cutting the top off an egg.


  The supposed carbon-free quality of nuclear power is not entirely a convincing argument as it actually produces four times as much CO2 as wind-power per kilowatt generated. The German EKO Institute found a typical 1,250 megawatt nuclear power station produces up to 1,300 million tonnes of the greenhouse gas in its lifetime, considering all its processes from uranium mining, plant building, generation, decommissioning to the long-term, unresolved problem of dealing with nuclear waste.


  For those concerned about the public costs of wind-power, which although inevitable in a fledgling industry will be relatively minor, the financial track record of the nuclear industry is truly appalling. British Energy's bankruptcy was only avoided by much help from the national Treasury, thousands of hours work at the DTI and costs for fuel and (useless and polluting) reprocessing externalised onto publicly owned, loss-making BNFL. Last year rows were a daily feature between disenfranchised share-holders and BE bosses. Over the decades nuclear has hoovered up much-needed research money for renewables, especially locally popular tidal-power. It would do so again given a chance, thus ruining the future for cleaner technologies. Nuclear decommissioning of plant is currently priced at £55 billion and will probably rise further given the industry's track-record. Dealing with nuclear waste still has no final cost as, even after 50 years, there is no decided route for dealing with this toxic legacy which has half-lives with five-figure numbers.


  In July last year the Environment Agency lambasted the industry's safety and pollution standards with over forty indictments against British Energy. Hinkley "B", our local surviving nuclear power station, suffered countless emergency shut-downs in 2003 forcing its bosses to admit needing to invest millions into improving its reliability and reducing human errors. Hinkley "B" owners, British Energy have acknowledged the existence of cracks in the reactor core graphite which contains and allows the cooling of nuclear fuel rods. A consultant has suggested continuing to run reactors with damaged reactor cores could lead to fuel fires which could escalate, burning for two or three days and contaminating thousands of people. Nontheless BE are planning to extend the lives of their ageing reactors as shown in the Chairman's report last week. But last December their report to shareholders suggested they may need to shut reactors early due to internal damage. The industry's concern for profit may be eroding their judgement over safety margins.


  Perhaps the most worrying aspect is the continued wall of secrecy surrounding the industry. A committee examining cancer risks from radiation was gagged by Government lawyers (Sunday Times 1 August 2004). So the committee's report, warning of greatly increased risks to those living near nuclear power stations, was watered down. Even so, the Committee Examining Radiological Risks from Internal Emmitters (CERRIE) still said there was an error in current health risk calculations "of at least one order of magnitude". Professor Dudley Goodhead, leading the committee said chillingly that all decision-makers should take note, particularly where children in affected local populations could be concerned.

  A more recent COMARE report (Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment) suggested that living within 25 kilometres of nuclear power stations proved no threat to public health. But the report used a crude method circling the plants to a bigger distance than one would expect to find health effects from air and sea-borne radioactive particles, which also encompassed large populations. The net effect was to swamp out any significant figures in blighted towns downwind and downstream from the plants, rendering its conclusions meaningless.

  Our own sponsored research has shown an increased rate of breast cancer, both mortality and incidence, in the nearest large town to Hinkley Point, Burnham-on-Sea. Mortality was double according to Office of National Statistics figures examined by Dr Chris Busby of Green Audit over a five year period. South West Cancer Intelligence Service figures showed breast cancer registrations were 21% higher than expected over a 13 year period to 2002. See for details.


  I recommend we aim for safer, cleaner and greener technology with wind-farms, energy conservation and other renewables and consign the nuclear industry to history.

21 September 2005

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