Sunday 19 August 2018

Explainer: All you need to know about Hinkley Point, the UK's new nuclear power plant

It's the first nuclear reactor to be constructed in Britain in over 30 years

An artist's impression of Hinkley Point C. Photo: HayesDavidson/EDF/PA
An artist's impression of Hinkley Point C. Photo: HayesDavidson/EDF/PA
Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Diggers near to the proposed site of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Sasha Brady

A public consultation is being held today to give Irish people the opportunity to voice their concerns over the Hinkley Point C nuclear power plant currently under construction in the UK.

What is Hinkley Point C?

A nuclear power plant that's currently under construction in Somerset on the south-west coast of the UK, just 240km from Ireland.

The £20bn project was approved by the European Commission in 2013.

An aerial view of the Hinkley Point site. Photo: EDF Energy/PA Wire
An aerial view of the Hinkley Point site. Photo: EDF Energy/PA Wire

It's the first nuclear reactor to be constructed in Britain in over 30 years and is due to begin operating in 2023.

Why is Ireland holding a public consultation over a power plant in the UK?

Hinkley Point's distance from the Irish coastline will be the same as travelling between Dublin and Cork.

Many Irish environmental NGOs, most notably An Taisce, have raised concerns over the implications the development could have on Ireland.

Dr. John Sweeney, Emeritus Professor of Geography at Maynooth University who secured the public consultation, said it is "important" that Irish people have their say.

"It's one of the basic principals of international relations, good neighbours talk to each other about developments which may have serious implications for each other," Dr Sweeney told RTE's Morning Ireland.

A CGI image of Hinkley Point C. Photo: EDF Energy/PA Wire
A CGI image of Hinkley Point C. Photo: EDF Energy/PA Wire

Dr Sweeney said the UK had a "blind spot" when it came to Ireland during their environmental assessment in 2013 and they did not consult the Irish public before approving the development.

How did the public consultation come about?

The public consultation has come about after a five-year legal battle.

In 2013, An Taisce argued that the UK government's decision to approve Hinkley Point C nuclear plant without first consulting the public in Ireland is contrary to international, EU and English law.

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

They took a case to the High Court in London where they subsequently lost out.

The High Court in London found against An Taisce's arguments in December 2013, ruling that there was no need to consult the public in Ireland in the circumstances.

Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth
Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site is seen near Bridgwater in Britain, September 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth

However, as a result of pressure from Germany, Holland and Denmark - who accused the British government of failing to abide by the Aarhus convention that says major projects must consult EU citizens on environmental projects - the UK was instructed by the European Commission to make public consultations available where requested.

Can the public consultation be effective if the project is already under development?

The Irish people won't be have much influence on Hinkley Point but they will be able to raise concerns about future nuclear reactor developments.

Diggers near to the proposed site of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire
Diggers near to the proposed site of Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

There are currently five reactor designs being formally considered by the UK for development along the west coast of Britain, according to Dr Sweeney.

A report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ERSI) estimated that in the unlikely event of a nuclear accident, the worst-case scenario for Ireland would amount to €161bn, subsequently devastating agriculture for years.

"This isn't an argument pro or con nuclear power," Dr Sweeney told RTE's Morning Ireland.

"But as a people we have a right to be consulted as to whether the plans that are being made for these power stations actually are valid and whether they address legitimate concerns which the Irish people might want to express."

An Taisce has suggested a number of considerations such as the "lack of emergency response planning in Ireland" to deal with a nuclear accident.

There is also a concern that when the UK leave the EU they won't be held accountable by the European Court of Justice and Ireland can't rely on EU law as a safeguard.

How can people get involved?

A member of the public may send their concerns or observations in writing to their local planning authority.

The deadline is close of business, Tuesday April 17, 2018.

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