The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) calls today for the suspension of all work by contractors of EDF Energy at the Hinkley Point C proposed new nuclear reactor site, due to the concerns of an infection spread from the public health emergency sparked by the covid-19 outbreak.
Earlier this week, the UK Government called on the general population to observe social distancing rules amidst a tight ‘lockdown’ of all but essential services. This has led to millions of people now working from home and sadly considerable amounts of people losing their employment – though the government is seeking to provide most of them with 80% of their current income.
However, the government’s advice to the construction industry has been contradictory to say the least, and has led to considerable confusion. As the BBC reports:
- Taylor Wimpey, which builds over 10,000 homes a year, said this week that it was closing all of its sites “because we believe it is the right thing to do”.
- Barratt said it would close 400 sites and offices to prioritise “the health and safety of customers and employees”.
- Persimmon said it would stop all but essential work.
- The majority of HS2 sites had “paused or are pausing construction works”.
- The Crossrail building project in London has been suspended due to the government’s guidelines.
- Cairn Construction, which built 2,200 homes last year, though was among a number of construction companies to say it would keep its sites open. They said: “Aligned to government guidelines, construction activity continues across each of our active sites under extensive health and safety protocols”.
- The National Federation of Builders, representing small-to-medium sized contractors, said builders could work on sites if they followed safety guidelines.
- The Federation of Master Builders though said contractors should only operate if it relates to emergency work. Their CEO, Brian Berry said: “While we accept the government’s advice to keep sites open, we have concerns about how this would be applied in practice.”
Amidst all this confusion is the EDF Energy Hinkley Point site, which had 4,500 contract workers on site preparing it for the development of new nuclear reactors. Perhaps due to its operation coming to light in the media (2) that the site was continuing under enhanced cleaning guidance, it was announced by EDF Energy on the 24th March that they were reducing the amount of contractors on site to around 2,000. (3) A photograph published in the local and national media from the staff canteen of the site clearly showed contractors in close proximity to each other though. (4)
The NFLA Secretariat has been in touch with the Office of Nuclear Regulation on the matter and they have responded that they are aware of the reduction of staffing taking place in a ‘staged and controlled manner’ and that enhanced measures are in place from EDF to manage the risk and limit the spread of the virus, in line with government advice. They will continue to monitor the site.
NFLA believe the government’s advice on construction sites is providing a great deal of confusion and it needs to come into line with all other areas of the economy, which have had to close or be significantly reduced in order to ensure social distancing rules take place and the covid-19 infection is brought under control. The next few weeks are absolutely critical to this endeavour. NFLA believes many construction workers will be very worried about continuing to work in such circumstances.
NFLA also notes comments made on the BBC ‘Newsnight’ programme by Ian Duncan-Smith MP and the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham calling for a clarification of the rules and a reduction on such construction work to emergency projects only. Mr Duncan-Smith said: “I think the balance is where we should delete some of those construction workers from going to work and focus only on the emergency requirements.” Mr Burnham, said the decision to allow non-essential work appeared to have been made for “economic reasons”. “When you’re in the middle of a global pandemic, health reasons alone really should be guiding all decision-making,” he said. NFLA agrees with both comments.
NFLA calls on EDF to suspend all work onsite at Hinkley Point. If it does not, NFLA calls on the Office for Nuclear Regulation to enforce such an action for the sake of public safety. In addition, NFLA calls on the UK Government to clarify rules on social distancing in reference to construction sites, permitting only emergency work, such as the development of temporary hospitals in our towns and cities. The health of construction workers and the local community around Hinkley Point and across the country is much more important than the economic needs of any company.
NFLA Chair, Councillor David Blackburn said:
“NFLA have been greatly concerned to learn that construction work at Hinkley Point C is continuing in the middle of the worst public health emergency this country or the world has ever faced. EDF should be following the example of Crossrail and HS2 to suspend all works at the present time until it is safe to resume. If they do not, the independent nuclear regulator should intervene. The UK Government has provided some very harsh, but necessary guidance to other parts of the economy to close, such as non-essential shops, pubs, restaurants and suchlike. Construction should be part of that decision as such workers are just as prone to be infected by covid-19 as anyone else. Social distancing on a building site is almost impossible to prevent. Many lives are at direct risk in the next few critical weeks, so it is incumbent that no opportunity for further infection is allowed. As a result, Hinkley Point C operations should stop immediately.”
Ends – for more information please contact Sean Morris, NFLA Secretary, on 00 44 (0)161 234 3244.
Notes for Editors:
(1) BBC News, 25th March 2020
(3) EDF Energy Media Release, 24th March 2020
(4) This is the West Country, 24th March 2020
(5) See footnote (1)