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Why it is: Unaffordable - Dangerous - Unnecessary - Bad For The Environment



The risk of existing and proposed nuclear sites being flooded anytime soon, is not hypothetical. It is a real and existential threat. If a nuclear power station were to be flooded, it would not only be a threat to the security of electricity supplies, but could result in loss of life and even catastrophic meltdown. This is not a scare story. This is something that could happen. Read below to see why.


In 2005, NIREX published a document called NIREX Summary-note-for-CoRWM-on-impact-of-rising-sea-levels-on-coastal-sites-with-radioactive-waste-stores-A-Technical-Note-2005.1 The document was the published research into the impact of rising sea levels on nuclear sites. Here are two examples of its findings:


  Flood Risk Storm surge risk Notes
Oldbury Land subject to inundation. Occasional overtopping and flooding beyond 15 years expected. Surges expected to inflict periodic damage. Managed retreat over 100 years possibly inevitable
Sizewell Nearby drained area subject to tidal inundation. These areas likely to flood in future. Storm surges likely to impact on vulnerable areas. Given vulnerability, local planning authority will not permit development of long design life structures.

This seems damning enough. But note the date: published in 2005 it will have used data from 2004 and earlier. But we know now, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that sea levels are rising MUCH faster than was believed back then. In 2012, the Guardian printed an article, taken from the Government's own analysis  that showed that the existing Oldbury NPS site on the Severn Estuary, already at Medium Risk of flooding, will be at High Risk of flooding and coastal erosion by 2080.


But  in the 10 years since that report, climate scientists have again revised their assessment of rising sea levels considerably. 


Scientists' estimates of predicted sea level rises in the next 5O years have risen from less than 30cm to more than 1 metre!


And not only sea level rises, but extreme weather events, storm surges, river flooding etc are all more likely and more severe and more damaging today than 10 years ago.


One of the design requirement of Nuclear Power is that it needs to have access to large amounts of cooling water. Hence virtually all of the UK's nuclear facilites are on the coast, making them very vulnerable to rising sea levels, storm surges  and coastal erosion. The Berkeley Intermediate Waste Facility which lies at the head of the Severn estuary -  which has the second highest tidal range in the world -  is particularly vulnerable. The proposed new Sizewell reactor is sited on the east coast, notorious for its increasing rate of coastal erosion.



According to John Buttivant, Environment Agency Coastal Engineer, Oldbury would have been flooded in February 2022 if storm Eunice had taken its predicted course. Luckily the wind changed direction at the last moment so that the sea surge was not as huge as was predicted. It would have meant personnel would have been unable to reach the Oldbury site. It is not known what would have happened to the radioactive waste on site. Even more severe weather events and accelerating rising sea levels are predicted for the near future, making the Oldbury flood plain completely unsuitable for any sort of construction, let alone nuclear reactors   


Flooding can disable power stations' electrical and cooling systems causing overheating, meltdown and potential release of radioactivity into the environment. In 2011 this happened in Fukushima, and it is still causing radioactive pollution of the sea and surrounding land. In the Ukraine, there have been similar potential problems where The International Atomic Energy Agency fears the war there could lead to cooling water being cut off to nuclear reactors.


The additional cost and time spent on the modelling and feasabilty studies that will need to be done , plus the additional cost of the enormous construction works needed will add even more to the already extortionate cost and very lengthy development time of any proposed nuclear power station.


The time and money spent on mitigating the serious risks of flooding could be better spent on developing renewable and much more immediate forms of energy. 


Below is an illustration we produced many years ago before the full extent of global warming was realised, but with the newly predicted tidal heights added on (thick red line) showing the sea defences overtopped by a considerable amount. Even if it were possible to raise the bund that holds the water back by that amount, it would only make the risk from freshwater flooding even greater. No engineer worthy of the name would ever consider building on this land, which will inevitably one day be a flood plain to prevent disastrous flooding of townships along the estuary.


Frighteningly, the Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Store at Berkely will be virtually in the same situation 


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Footnotes: 1 The web page seems to be no longer available online, but STAND have a PDF copiy of the report you can download if you wish to see the document in it’s entirety.


A photo of Berkeley Nuclear Power Station as it was in 2014 before the containment buildings were removed. The Intermediate Level Radioactive Waste Store can be seen on the left. It houses dangerous radioactive materials for several nuclear facilities around the country. The site will inevitably be inundated by 2080 according to the Government's own figures, but probably much sooner if a high tide and extreme weather conditions coincide.


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Quote from one of our researchers:


I find the more research I do the more incensed I get!