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Nuclear power stations UK: the new and existing sites at threat of flooding from 2030 amid rising sea levels

NationalWorld investigates how safe the locations of both the current and proposed nuclear power stations are amid rising sea levels

All of the current and proposed locations of nuclear power stations in the UK will be at “significant risk” of being flooded from 2030 due to extreme weather events becoming more frequent, a Greenpeace chief scientist told NationalWorld.

UK seas have risen by over 16.5cm since 1901, bringing into question the safety, security and viability of nuclear power stations on Britain’s coastlines.

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However, in the Government’s latest energy strategy, Boris Johnson ramped up the drive for nuclear energy, proposing plans to build eight new stations with one being approved each year until 2030.

NationalWorld investigates how safe the locations of nuclear power stations are and how much of a threat rising sea levels will be.

Where are the current and proposed locations of nuclear power stations in the UK?

There are eight nuclear power stations currently generating in the UK.

  • Hunterston, a coastal area in Ayrshire, Scotland
  • Torness, east coast of Scotland
  • Hartlepool, located in County Durham
  • Heysham, located in Lancashire
  • Sizewell, located on the Suffolk coast
  • Dungeness, on the coast of Kent
  • Hinkley Point, located in Somerset
  • Wylfa, on the island of Anglesey in Wales

In June 2011, eight sites across Britain were chosen as locations for new nuclear stations.

In the Government’s new energy strategy, announced on 7 April 2022, Boris Johnson confirmed plans for these eight sites:

  • Bradwell B is a proposed new nuclear power station at Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex and is currently in the public consultation stages.
  • Hartlepool in County Durham was confirmed as a ‘designated nuclear site’ in the Government’s 7 April energy strategy. The town’s existing EDF nuclear power station is due to cease production in 2024.
  • Heysham in Lancashire was named in the UK government’s new major energy strategy.
  • The Government has backed the construction of Hinkley C in Somerset, which will be the largest nuclear station in Britain - it is set to open by the end of 2026.
  • Oldbury in south Gloucestershire was mentioned as a candidate for a new nuclear reactor site.
  • Moorside nuclear power station is proposed for a site near Sellafield in Cumbria - it has received full business case approval from the government.
  • There are proposals for a nuclear plant on the coastline of Suffolk called Sizewell C, with ministers throwing in £100m investment to EDF Energy’s £20bn nuclear power station.
  • Small Modular Reactors will form a key part of the nuclear project pipeline, with both Trawsfynydd and Wylfa tipped as sites.

How will rising sea levels affect UK nuclear power stations?

All of the locations of current and proposed nuclear power stations are deemed to be unsafe.

A new interactive tool that looks at flooding risk to coastal regions has revealed the severity of the rising sea level threat to the location of nuclear power stations.

The searchable map from Climate Central, a non-profit organisation focused on climate science, shows the expected rise of sea levels and what areas of the UK are most at risk from flooding.

By 2030, based on the current pollution trajectory, it is clear that the locations of current and proposed stations are at threat from rising sea levels.

The coastlines of these areas, where nuclear stations are located, are at threat of floods from 2030 onwards.

These maps identify places that require deeper investigation of risk and are based on global-scale datasets for tides in addition to sea level rise projections.

Dr Paul Dorfman, Chair of the Nuclear Consulting Group, an independent institute providing expert research and analysis of nuclear issues, told NationalWorld that current and proposed nuclear power stations will be vulnerable to flooding due to rising sea levels and more frequent and severe storms.

He said: “All recent scientific data points to ramping sea-levels, faster, harder, more destructive storms and storm surges – inevitably bringing into question the operational safety, security and viability of UK coastal nuclear infrastructure.

“Existing and proposed new UK reactors are increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise, flooding and storm surges.”

Dr Doug Parr, chief scientist for Greenpeace UK, said: “Water is a key component in all thermal power stations, and particularly in nuclear reactors, which is why they so often end up on the coast to access sea water.

“With extreme events that are rare today becoming the norm in the future, existing risk mitigation measures become obsolete and coastal nuclear installations will be at significant risk.”

East Suffolk Council and Suffolk County Council have already lodged objections to EDF’s plans for Sizewell C, voicing their fears that proposed sea defences will be inadequate.

In 2020, a published paper written by structural engineer Nick Scarr, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, added weight to their objections.

Mr Scarr wrote that the design of the Sizewell C was not future-proofed against the “ramping effects of climate change.”

He also summarised that the coast where the nuclear station will be located is inherently unstable.

How big is the climate threat?

The UK’s sea level has risen by over 16.5cm since 1901, according to the state of the UK Climate Report 2020 published last year by the Met Office.

It also found that 2020 was the third warmest year, fifth wettest and eight sunniest on record.

No other year has fallen in the top 10 for all three variables for the UK.

It also marked the eighth warmest year for UK near-coastal sea-surface temperature in a series from 1870.

Parts of the UK will be at risk of being flooded in 2030 due to rising sea levels and warming temperatures.

Areas at risk of being flooded in 2030 are Portsmouth, East Riding of Yorkshire, Arun (West Sussex), London boroughs on either side of the Thames including Canary Wharf and Fulham, Chichester (West Sussex), Weston-Super-Mare, Cardiff, Great Yarmouth (Norfolk), and West Berkshire (Berkshire) and Worthing (West Sussex), according to Climate Central’s interactive tool.

Dr Scott Kulp, a senior scientist at Climate Central and lead author of the study, said that these maps show the “potential of climate change to reshape cities, economies, coastlines, and entire global regions within our lifetimes.”

He added: “As the tideline rises higher than the ground people call home, nations will increasingly confront questions about whether, how much, and how long coastal defences can protect them.”

Over 1.3 million residential and commercial addresses in Britain will be at risk of flooding by 2050, intelligence provider Gamma has said.

What has the government said?

A spokesperson from the Government’s Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy, said: “Site licence holders in the civil nuclear industry are required to meet robust standards, overseen by independent regulators, including ensuring that sites have the necessary defences in place to protect them against the effects of climate change, such as flooding, rises in sea levels, coastal erosion and drought.”

The spokesperson added: “The Office for Nuclear Regulation and environmental regulators would not allow a nuclear power station to be developed on a site, or to operate, if they judged that it was not safe to do so.”