A group of anti-nuclear Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and the UK & Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) remain highly alarmed that construction at the Hinkley Point C proposed new nuclear power station site is continuing, despite the extensive public lockdown and social distancing rules brought in across the UK. These groups call for construction at Hinkley Point C to be reduced to control and maintenance operations only until the Covid-19 public health emergency is under full control.
This repeated call comes from the NGOs and NFLA following intensive lobbying of the UK Government, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) and the Somerset local authorities responsible for the Hinkley Point C site by many of these groups, including the local Stop Hinkley group. It follows early photos from the site showing a crowded staff canteen and a lack of social distancing at bus queues and at entry and exit points.
NGO representatives and the NFLA have actively raised their concerns in meetings with senior officials of the UK Government and the Office for Nuclear Regulation, as well as with the UK Government Office for Nuclear Development. The Stop Hinkley group have also been in liaison with the local authority. A detailed letter was sent by the NGO Co-Chairs of the BEIS NGO Forum, the ONR NGO Forum and the NFLA on the 31st March when the photographs were first made public. (1)
The NGOs and NFLA welcome the efforts made by EDF Energy and the ONR to reduce the staffing on the site from over 4,500 to just under 2,000, and suggestions this will further reduce to around 1,000. There have been improved efforts as well to enforce social distancing, though it remains to be seen if earlier poor practice in this area on and around the site could lead to increased infection rates in North Somerset and areas where the workforce originate from, such as South Wales and the Bristol area.
At the meeting with the ONR, NGOs and the NFLA concluded with the following core points:
- Whilst recognising the recent endeavour that was being made to protect workers and the public, the efforts being made to keep construction going at Hinkley Point C carries an ongoing public health risk.
- Why is the nuclear industry being given such a privileged state during this outbreak? This is at a time when almost all other parts of the economy are in abeyance in order to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
- NGOs and the NFLA do not believe construction (beyond control and maintenance works) needs to continue, or should be allowed to continue, at Hinkley Point C.
- NGOs and the NFLA encourage ONR to use its influence on government and EDF to ensure any work on the Hinkley Point C site is only related to control and maintenance operations.
- NGOs and the NFLA also call for the correspondence between the ONR and EDF on these matters to be made public as soon as possible, and is disappointed this matter has been converted into a Freedom of Information request, which will take much longer to provide.
NGOs and the NFLA are aware that construction at the comparable Flamanville-3 new nuclear plant has been reduced to control and maintenance levels only – the same should happen for Hinkley Point C.
It remains an anomaly of the current lockdown and social distancing rules in the UK and Ireland that construction plants are allowed to continue in operation. The NGOs and NFLA call on the UK Government to remove this anomaly, given the concern that it may be putting at risk members of the public and the workforce to infection, however tight social distancing rules on the site may be.
This statement has been agreed by the following groups:
- Stop Hinkley
- UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities
- Nuclear Consulting Group
- Blackwater Against New Nuclear Group
- Together Against Sizewell C
- Pobl Atal Wylfa-B / People Against Wylfa B
- Low Level Radiation and Health Conference
- CND Cymru / Wales
This statement is being sent to the Office for Nuclear Regulation, the Office for Nuclear Development in the UK Government’s Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Department, the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the local and national media.
For further information and comments on this statement –
Professor Andrew Blowers BEIS NGO Forum Co-Chair 07930 800253
Dr Jill Sutcliffe ONR NGO Forum Co-Chair 01403 700395
NFLA Secretariat 07771 930196
(1) Text of letter from BEIS NGO Forum and ONR NGO Forum Co-Chair and NFLA Secretariat
31st March 2020
Closure of Hinkley Point C construction site
We are writing as representatives of NGOs and Local Authorities concerned about the implications of the Covid-19 epidemic for the workforce and local communities around the Hinkley Point C construction site. We believe that the continued operation of the site is inconsistent with HM Government guidelines on coronavirus and poses an unnecessary and unjustifiable danger to workers and the local population. Accordingly, we consider that construction should cease immediately.
Although Hinkley Point C may be regarded as critical national infrastructure, its construction during this national emergency cannot be justified. The project will not be completed for many years and halting it now will have a marginal impact on its commissioning several years hence. The point is working on the site now is not a critical necessity at a time of crisis.
The site operators have understood the risk of continuing working, hence the decision to reduce the numbers on site. However, the remaining workforce is still substantial and so the peril persists. As is evident from photos, it is almost impossible for such a large workforce to maintain the rules on social distancing while in canteens, signing on, in travel to the site and on the site itself. And, as local people have insisted, the proximity of workers living within communities that are in lockdown makes containment of the virus very difficult. The dispersal of the workers risks spreading infection across north Somerset. The health of both workers and communities is being put at risk by the unnecessary continuation of construction.
The Government/BEIS has responsibilities for the health and safety of construction workers and for ensuring that risk to the population of the south west is minimised by implementing its coronavirus guidelines. The regulator, ONR, has the responsibility of minimising risk during this period and of ensuring safety and security at nuclear sites. In this instance that responsibility should be exercised by closing down all operations except essential maintenance.
We recognise the economic imperative to secure the country’s infrastructure but operations at Hinkley Point C cannot be said to be essential at this point. Any risk to the economy is by far outweighed by the risk to public health of continuing operations. Therefore, we urge you to exercise your powers and responsibilities to close operations at Hinkley Point C until such time as work can be safely resumed.
Professor Andrew Blowers, BEIS NGO Forum Co-Chair
Dr Jill Sutcliffe, ONR NGO Forum Co-Chair
Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary