LONDON, May 4, 2021 The high fatality rate which the cooling systems of two British nuclear power stations may impose on marine life is worrying environmentalists, who describe the heavy fish toll they expect as “staggering”.

What the completed Hinkley Point C plant will look like: Handy for extracting cooling water from Bridgwater Bay. Image: Courtesy of EDF

The two stations, Hinkley Point C, under construction on England’s west coast, and Sizewell C, planned for the eastern side of the country, will, they say, kill more than 200 million fish a year and destroy millions more sea creatures. But the stations’ builders say their critics are exaggerating drastically.

Objectors to the fish kill had hoped that the UK government agency tasked with conserving fish stocks in the seas around Britain, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), would be on their side.

They have been disappointed to learn that Cefas is a paid adviser to the French nuclear company EDF, which is building the stations, and would raise no objections to the company’s method of cooling them with seawater.

“Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace”

In a detailed rebuttal of the objectors’ arguments, Cefas denies any conflict of interest between advising EDF about the damage the stations would do to the marine environment and its own duty to protect fish stocks – and it claims that the loss of millions of fish would not affect stocks overall.

The Hinkley Point C twin nuclear reactors being built in Somerset, in the West of England, which are due for completion by 2026, will kill about 182m fish a year by some estimates, although EDF says it is doing its best to reduce the problem with modified cooling water intakes and an acoustic method of deterring fish from approaching the intakes. The green groups fear the proposed Sizewell C plant in Suffolk on the east coast will kill another 28.5m fish annually.

Using figures taken directly from EDF’s own planning documents, the opponents of the Suffolk plant calculate that 560m fish will be slaughtered in a 20-year period through being sucked into its cooling systems. They say the fish will be unable to avoid the pipes, which take in 131 cubic metres of seawater every second.

Peter Wilkinson, chairman of Together Against Sizewell C, said: “Even this staggering figure hides a grim truth. It represents only a percentage of the overall impact on the marine environment inflicted by nuclear power.

Corporate impunity

“Unknown millions of eggs, marine crustaceans, larvae and post-larval stages of fish fry, along with other marine biota, are entrained [dragged] through the nuclear plant cooling systems every year, adding to the toll of those impinged [caught] on the mesh of the cooling intakes and the decimation of fish stocks.”

Among the scores of species that will be killed are several protected fish, including bass, Blackwater herring, eels and river lampreys, as well as fish under special conservation measures to allow depleted stocks to recover.

The existing nuclear power station on the Suffolk coast, Sizewell B, already kills 800,000 bass a year. The planned station is expected to kill 2m more. Someone fishing from the beach at Sizewell could be prosecuted for catching a single bass: EDF will be allowed to kill millions with impunity. A heavy fish toll appears to be inevitable.

Wilkinson added: “This carnage is wholesale, inhumane and unacceptable and flies in the face of the government’s so-called ‘green agenda’. We expect Cefas to condemn this level of impact.

Not many fatalities

“This marine life will be sacrificed for the purposes of cooling a plant which is not needed to keep the lights on, which will do nothing to reduce global carbon emissions, which will be paid for from the pockets of all UK taxpayers and bill-paying customers, leaving future generations with a lasting legacy of an impoverished environment. Continued official silence on these issues will be a dereliction of duty and a national disgrace.”

In a statement to the Climate News Network, Cefas denied any conflict of interest, saying it was paid by EDF to give objective and rigorous scientific advice to ensure that both new stations were environmentally sustainable. It advised where possible how to reduce the fish kill.

“Where impacts do occur, such as the mortality of fish on power station intake screens, we assess these against other sources of mortality … and the ability of the population to withstand such losses.  Compared to the natural population size, relatively few fish will be impacted . . . ”, the statement said.

Cefas would not say how much it was paid by EDF, saying its fees were less than 10% of its annual income and so it was not obliged to do so. It added: “There is no scientific evidence that the proposed new nuclear developments will cause large-scale destruction of marine life or impact protected species.” −

Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.