Government to face legal challenge over Sizewell C’s nature and water impact
Campaigners supported by Friends of the Earth have begun a legal challenge against the Government’s decision to approve the Sizewell C nuclear power plant, arguing that its potential nature impacts have not been properly considered.
Campaign organisation Together Against Sizewell C (TASC) confirmed the decision to prepare a legal challenge on Monday (8 August), with the support of Friends of the Earth and with Leigh Day providing solicitors services. It has sent a pre-action protocol letter and has begun fundraising for the costs related to the judicial review.
The news comes less than three weeks after Business and Energy Secretary (BEIS) Kwasi Kwarteng has granted development consent for the Sizewell C nuclear power station, pushing the decision forward in the interests of improving energy security amid the price crisis and with the UK’s impending nuclear gap in mind.
In approving the decision, BEIS noted that 3.2GW Sizewell C would generate enough electricity to meet 7% of the UK’s annual demands once operational and argued that there is a “very substantial and urgent need” for the plant in delivering key energy goals. The UK’s Energy Security Strategy envisions up to 25% of the UK’s energy demand in 2050 being met using nuclear.
But the decision to proceed with Sizewell C was swiftly criticised by some green groups and local campaigners.
EDF, the primary funder of the project, submitted a development consent order and planning permission documents in 2020, but received a refusal from Suffolk County Council and the Planning Inspectorate. Refusal was given on the grounds that insufficient information was provided about the project’s impacts on local communities and nature. Particular concerns included procuring water and potential impacts on the local nature reserve.
Opponents, including TASC, will argue that the Government has not yet received a comprehensive, updated assessment of how EDF and other involved parties would ensure a sustainable and permanent water supply for the plant. The Planning Inspectorate has previously stated that “unless the outstanding water supply strategy can be resolved and sufficient information provided to enable the secretary of state to carry out his obligations under the Habitats Regulations, the case for an order granting development consent for the application is not made out”.
This is an issue that is front of mind for the energy sector at present. The French Government has this week granted five nuclear power stations temporary waivers for the discharge of water inro rivers, amid poor nuclear availability due to hot weather and maintenance at other sites. The UK experienced a major heatwave last month and another is on the cards this week.
The TASC legal case will also argue that there are not yet sufficient plans for managing nuclear waste from the site in the 2100s. TASC is pointing out that the UK Government has not identified a site for permanent nuclear waste disposal.
TASC chair Pete Wilkinson said: “Even to consider building a £20bn-plus nuclear power plant without first securing a water supply is a measure of the fixation this Government has for nuclear power and its panic in making progress towards an energy policy which is as unachievable as it is inappropriate for the 21st-century challenges we face.”
The Government has committed to reaching a final investment decision on at least one large nuclear power plant this decade – Sizewell C being the most likely candidate. The Government confirmed a £100m option fee contribution to the £20bn project in January and trade bodies with members in energy are calling for a comprehensive update on financing plans as soon as possible.
The Government’s defence of its decision has been that the need to solve the energy trilemma should come first.
Time will tell whether the High Court decides to hear TASC’s challenge. Earlier this year, it heard challenges to the UK’s Net-Zero Strategy brought by Friends of the Earth and ClientEarth, where it was ruled that the Strategy was unlawful. The next Prime Minister will be in charge of overseeing a required update to the Strategy to ensure measures detailed are aligned with the UK’s Climate Change Act.