Greenpeace threatens E.ON with legal action over nuclear reactors
• Move triggered by reports of preparatory bore holes
• EO.N claims work is to ‘make sure the ground is suitable’
The move has been triggered by reports that preparatory bore holes for new reactors will start to be drilled for E.ON on 3 August at Oldbury in Gloucestershire. EDF is said to be considering similar work.
A Greenpeace spokesman said its lawyers were reviewing a situation which made a mockery of a whole raft of hurdles that were meant to be overcome before the government starts official licensing in 2013.
The environmental campaigning group said there has not yet been a final national policy statement on nuclear, an official “justification” process for building more stations as needed by law, or an assessment of reactor designs by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).
The green group has sent a letter to the government telling it to put a brake on E.ON. “Greenpeace is concerned to ensure that any decision to carry out preparatory work does not affect or pre-judge the regulatory or democratic process. Alternatively, the government should ensure that no work goes ahead unless and until it has been formally permitted, including through any decision on justification,” says John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace, in the letter to Miliband.
“The justification process, involves (among other things) weighing the economic disbenefit against any benefit from a new nuclear practice. The problems inherent in permitting building to go ahead without first carrying out the justification process are clear from the experience of the (troubled) Sellafield Mox plant,” he adds.
The Mox fuel reprocessing facility cost £500m to build and a further £100m to commission but has been plagued with problems and produced only a fraction of the fuel promised. Mox was built before the formal justification process was undertaken and the government decided that it should go ahead anyway because the construction costs had already been “sunk.”
Greenpeace has already successfully challenged in the courts a “sham” public consultation process by the government, which has been forced to repeat the exercise. The Guardian recently revealed that the head of the NII had proposed giving a waiver to some parts of the design assessment and coming back to them later in a bid to speed up the introduction of new nuclear.
Ministers are in a rush because they know Britain faces an energy crunch after 2015 when many existing nuclear and coal-fired stations will reach the end of their lives or need to be phased out because they do not meet pollution standards. Nuclear companies have said they can get a first new plant up and running by 2017, but only if there are no delays of any kind.
The moves come amid reports from Canada that the Ontario government has put its nuclear power plants on hold because the only bid from Atomic Energy of Canada, the only “compliant” one received, came in at more than three times more than the province expected to pay.
The first nuclear reactor built in Western Europe for three decades – in Finland – has also been attracting negative publicity with some politicians saying the cost overruns put a question mark over whether any further plants should be constructed.
E.ON denied last night that it was jumping the gun. “We will do nothing of a serious nature until the government gives the green light. This is just preparatory seismic work to make sure the ground is suitable. We are not preparing the foundations or anything like that,” said the company spokesman.
EDF said it was doing various studies at sites such as Hinkley Point in Somerset ahead of putting in a formal planning application next year. “Any permits that are necessary for preparatory work have been obtained,” said a company spokesman.