“It has been described as a giant plughole under the sea, sucking in 130,000 litres of water a second along with vast numbers of fish.
The twin inlet tunnels stretching two miles out into the Severn estuary are so big that a double-decker bus could drive through them. The system will cool a new nuclear power station being built at Hinkley Point in Somerset but conservation groups say it will kill up to 250,000 fish a day and must be altered or scrapped.
They say that EDF, the French state-owned energy group, has grossly underestimated the system’s impact on marine life in the estuary, a special conservation area.
A 5mm mesh will be installed to prevent larger fish being swallowed but the groups, including the Blue Marine Foundation, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust and Somerset Wildlife Trust, say many fish will be fatally injured when pressed against it. Small fish, eels and the fry of many species, such as salmon, whiting and cod, will be sucked through the mesh and into the cooling system. The groups say it could damage the population of twaite shad in the UK, a small herring-like fish that used to spawn in the estuary by the millions but has dwindled to tens of thousands.
EDF says the system will kill about 650,000 fish a year. It has asked to vary its original permits and planning permission for the power station to allow it to remove an “acoustic fish deterrent” from the cooling system. It argues that, even without it, the impact of the system on fish populations will still be “negligible”. EDF says fish will be adequately protected by other measures, one which will slow the water entering the system and another which will return to the sea the fish sucked in.
Conservation groups argue that scientific analysis they obtained of the cooling system shows far greater harm to marine life. This analysis is partly based on measurements of fish swallowed by the cooling system of Hinkley Point B, a nearby nuclear power station which consumes a quarter of the sea water that will be extracted to cool Hinkley C. They want the government to reject EDF’s application and, if the company cannot mitigate the damage, force it to use other ways to cool the station, such as cooling towers or ponds.
James Robinson, of the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, said: “The authorities must decide if it’s worth building a giant plughole to suck millions of sea animals to their deaths, in one of our most important protected marine areas, in order to produce electricity.”
Charles Clover, director of Blue Marine Foundation, said the groups would also challenge plans by EDF for a similar system at its proposed new nuclear power station at Sizewell in Suffolk.
Michele Bowe, Somerset Wildlife Trust director of conservation, said: “It is of grave concern that EDF is seeking to cancel one third of the measures originally imposed to protect fish numbers when construction work of the tunnel systems is well under way.”
Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said: “Studies have shown the power station would have a negligible impact on local fish stocks with the proposed fish protection measures in place. These are a fish return system and water intakes specially designed to slow the water coming into the cooling pipes. Hinkley Point C will be the first power station in the Bristol Channel with fish protection measures.”
Source: Times (pay wall)