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Nuclear planning reports fail to mention storm flooding and shutdown

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Three major reports on sea defences for a new nuclear power station do not mention a storm surge which shut down an earlier nuclear plant on the site.

1607 — England's worst natural disaster. Severn estuary has long history of storm surges

A fourth report now says there has been a loss of “corporate memory” about earlier events, the most serious in 1981. And it says, data used by consultants, who did not have local knowledge, goes back only to 1990.

This revelation comes after the uncovering by newspapers of another previously unpublished analysis which puts 12 of 19 nuclear sites in the UK at risk of flooding (Guardian).

A map shows that the risk of flooding at Sizewell, Suffolk, is “high” now and towards the end of the century, as is the erosion risk. The East Anglian Daily Times quotes EDF, which owns the station, saying they were confident the site was adequately protected.

The report, prepared for the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, also considered that the risk of flooding at Hinkley Point in Somerset was currently “low” but would rise to “high” by 2080. The erosion risk there is also “high”.

Hinkley Point A and B stations

Hinkley Point A station on left looks across Bridgwater Bay. Picture: Richard Baker

But events at Hinkley Point on December 13, 1981, have only now been put in the public domain, among the papers for the Planning Infrastructure Commission’s (PIC) inquiry into plans for a “C” station. Preliminary hearings start later this month. The document has the less than informative file name HPS-NNBPA-XX-000-RET-000180.

It was prepared by Dr Rob Kirby, an internationally renowned research scientist (BBC), who has devoted most of his career to the Severn Estuary. His paper was commissioned by Cefas (Centre for Enviroment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science).

He says the three earlier reports were, “largely based on the recent timescale (from 1990) during which Hinkley Point has had a permanent tide gauge. Much greater attention should have been allocated to the various consequences of the 1962 and 1981 storm surges.”

The 1962 surge, inundated the site while the “A” station was being built. In 1981, “The shaft to the deep set pump house just behind the seawall flooded, inundating all 6 electric motors and shutting down the “A” Station for a prolonged period. The “B” Station was unaffected,” says Dr Kirby

I have been waiting 30 years to see confirmation of this in the public domain. I had a cottage in a nearby village but was not there during the storm. A few days later I went into the nearest pub to Hinkley Point and found frightened workers talking about what had happened.

Water, I was told, came over the sea wall and entered the electrical control area. They had to put the plant into emergency shutdown. Newspaper coverage at the time concentrated on the huge flood and storm damage to the Burnham-on-Sea area on the other side of Bridgwater Bay.

Later I talked to journalists (I was not working for newspapers in those days) but their enquiries were met with denials from the Central Electricity Generating Board which then ran the station. They did not gather sufficient evidence to write a story.

With the coming of the internet I have from time to time looked for that evidence but there was none — until this week when I found Dr Kirby’s report. It was written in 2010 but seems to have been put in the PIC site at the start of this year.

It will form part of the written evidence. Most of it is very technical, as its title suggests, Hinkley Point Sediment Transport — Potential Impacts of New Structures.

In his conclusions he says he evaluated “good calibre” reports by Pye & Blott (Ken Pye Associates), Larcombe & Fernand (Cefas) and HR Wallingford, and adds:

The stance taken in these three reports is considered slightly biased in favour of the period 1990-2010 when there has been a tide gauge at Hinkley Point, as well as, in some aspects, an undue theoretical focus at the expense of a longer timescale and local practical perspective. This report attempts to fill these gaps.

I worry that after the 1962 surge, during construction of the “A “station, the sea defences were not increased to defend it from the 100 year storm that came in 1981. Only after that were the defences strengthened.

It is not as if the Bridgwater Bay area does not have centuries’ of history of storm surges. Indeed the country’s “worst natural disaster” (sometimes wrongly described as England’s tsunami) happened here in 1607. Hundreds of square kilometres were flooded. Rising sea levels now increase the danger, although sea defences are much stronger then they were 400 years ago.

And it is a concern that three important pieces of research for the planning of a new “C” station did not consider the site’s history of storms.

A further nuclear station is also being planned for Sizewell which is even more low-lying than Hinkley Point. Both sites are affected by longshore drift.

The Hinkley “C” station would be built on higher ground to the west of the earlier power stations. Both sites are now run by EDF Energy.

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