Nuclear new build – getting communities on your side

Horizon Nuclear Power’s first ‘public information surgery’ on plans for a new nuclear power station at Wylfa, Anglesey, UK, could hardly have been better timed. Two days earlier, up to 300 demonstrators had taken to the streets in nearby Llangefni to protest against the project.

This is a guest post by Nuclear Energy Insider Jason Deign.

There is no suggestion the two events were linked. But the incident neatly underscores the need for nuclear developers to tread carefully around the whole issue of community relations and new-build programmes. The Wylfa development is not even particularly contentious.

“We’ve got wide political and public support,” states Leon Flexman, head of communications at Horizon. “Any surveys you care to look at repeatedly show that’s the case, and we are very grateful for that.”

Horizon has two reasons to be thankful, he adds. First, there is already a nuclear plant at Wylfa, which “has done a good job over the last 10 years of building links with the community and employs a lot of people. People understand nuclear and are used to living alongside it.”

Second, the value of these jobs is heightened by the lack of prospects elsewhere in the area.

“Because the economic situation of Angleseyis very difficult in terms of employment, the prospect of a new power station seems a potential major source of long-term investment and jobs,” says Flexman. “For those reasons I think people are very welcoming.”

So why the opposition? “What’s happened recently is that we are now going from the idea in principle into a phase where it starts to feel a lot more real,” Flexman says.

“We’re putting detailed proposals out and I think that is bound to start to focus people’s minds on what it is that we’re doing, and the scale of it. And there will be people who aren’t happy with the proposal. I think that’s always going to be a fact of life with a new nuclear power station.”

Local opposition

Indeed. Horizon also faces some local opposition over its proposal for a new plant at Oldbury-on-Severn, in South Gloucestershire,UK.

At the end of last month the company announced it had purchased land for the development from the UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, but locals fret over the size of the project, claiming the plant’s cooling towers will be the largest in the country.

Flexman is philosophical about these developments. “We’ve been communicating on Anglesey since 2008,” he points out. “We won’t actually be starting construction for a few years yet, so we’ve certainly had a long run-up at this.

“There’s always more you can do. We’re by no means perfect. But there are no fundamental things where I think we really got it wrong. There will always be people who aren’t happy with the way we’ve done things, so we’ll just have to accept that and do the best we can.”

In fact, Horizon and other nuclear operators in the UK are fortunate that the planning process in the country has been re-jigged precisely to root out potential naysayers well in advance of a project being given the green light.

Developers are required to undergo an extended pre-approval consultation period before submitting their plans to the Infrastructure Planning Commission (IPC).

Jonathan Levy, media relations manager for new nuclear build at EDF Energy, which plans to build a two-reactor plant next to the current nuclear power station at Hinkley Point, says: “We had been consulting for three years before we put our proposal to the IPC.

Community engagement

“As part of the consultation for HinkleyPoint C there’s been a huge amount of community engagement, both formal and informal, throughout the whole process.”

Levy adds that community feedback has led EDF to modify many of the details of its proposal, which covers topics as wide-ranging as the location of park-and-ride facilities and the nature of landscaping works.

The company has also established an office in the nearest town, Bridgwater, and issues a regular newsletter to local residents. The latter was introduced as part of the consultation process but is being continued now as a matter of corporate good practice.

And all this, Levy says, “is within the context of running HinkleyPoint B for decades. We’ve always seen ourselves as part of the community.”

Levy reports that, anecdotally, most of the concerns with the new development are “nothing to do with the pros and cons of nuclear. They are to do with the impacts of a project that’s larger than the Olympics.”

On that basis, it is probably unavoidable that new nuclear developments will always face an element of opposition. Even HinkleyPoint C has its detractors; earlier this month EDF served notice to seven protestors occupying a farm building on the development site.

Horizon’s Flexman concludes: “You’re only ever a hair’s breadth from people being unhappy. You’ve got to keep communicating. That’s the bottom line.”

The second Wylfa surgery post is here.

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