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  • Writer's pictureLucy Atherton

Millions of Fish at Risk in Somerset

Environmental campaigners have accused EDF of “deliberately avoiding” installing measures at the Hinkley Point C which would prevent the new nuclear processing plant from killing millions of fish, when it eventually comes into operation.

Groups such as the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and the Somerset Wildlife Trust have fought for four years to insist that EDF installs an acoustic fish deterrent, which it signed up to when the initial planning was granted. This would save the lives of aquatic animals in the Severn Estuary, which would otherwise be trapped and killed in the cooling water systems. Fish under threat include cod and whiting, while migratory species such as Atlantic salmon and shad will have a 90% death rate if trapped in the processing system.

Jo Smoldon of the campaign group Stop Hinkley said: “EDF are refusing to comply with the environmental conditions which they agreed to at the outset, to protect the marine life of the Severn Estuary and its nine great rivers. Why on earth are EDF still not wanting to save the fish? This latest excuse undermines the technology that was put in place to protect the fish. For the last seven years EDF have refused to engage with Fish Guidance Systems, who were asked by EDF to provide the technology which they are now discrediting!”

EDF has repeatedly appealed to the government to revoke the fish guidance element of the planning permission. In 2019 the Secretary of State for the Environment ruled that EDF must install the system, but EDF is now arguing the project would be costly and risky to maintain as the area is tidal and visibility is poor - even though conditions in the estuary have not changed since the original application was agreed. 

EDF now plans to ask for an IROPI (“imperative reasons of overriding public interest) to determine it should not have to pay for the system, as it argues it would further delay the completion of Hinkley and hold up the UK’s net zero plans. It is currently conducting its own consultation, with a view to making a “Material Change Application”. The company wants to look instead at developing salt marshes and wetlands nearby, with the idea that it would attract more fish and also to open up weirs upstream where fish can spawn. However none of these plans have been researched in detail, or agreed with the relevant authorities.

But Dr David Lambert, Managing Director of Fish Guidance Systems which makes the equipment, said: “This in no way compensates for the enormous loss to the environment and ecosystem. ‘Like for like’ replacement is not achievable or scientifically possible. Proposed measures will not replace the lost fish. The Welsh government has previously estimated that 185 million fish a year could be killed - this is utterly unconscionable”.

“Given the January announcement that Hinkley Point C won’t now be up and running until at least 2031, they have plenty of time to explore options which would prevent unnecessary fish deaths and to look at developments in technology, which will absolutely refute all of their arguments.” 

Fish Guidance Systems also has refuted claims by EDF that the acoustic fish deterrent would create a noise “louder than a jumbo jet”. Dr Lambert said it will not impact any residents along the shore of the River Severn, as the system is under water. 

“FGS’s fish deterrent systems use low frequency signals that reduce sound levels very quickly around an intake. When you are above water you can only hear it from a few metres, or tens of metres away if it is a larger system. As we all know, Hinkley’s intakes are located three kilometres offshore. So you will most definitely not hear the systems from anywhere along the banks of the River Severn.”

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Notes for Editors

On 2nd September 2022 the Planning Inspectorate published its inquiry report and Defra wrote to NNB Genco to say that their appeal was rejected, and that the requirement for an acoustic fish deterrent is to be retained.

As part of its planning application, Hinkley Point C proposed a range of measures to protect fish from the plant’s cooling water system. These included a fish return system, special water intakes designed to reduce the number of fish entering the system (compared with older power stations) and an acoustic fish deterrent. The deterrent would use underwater sound to cause some species of fish to swim away from the intakes. Hinkley Point C will install the first two measures but is seeking change to the planning consent allowing it not to install the acoustic fish deterrent. The system is codependent and during the public inquiry in 2022, it was highlighted that the special water intakes would not be effective without the AFD.

The proposal EDF has submitted would have a devastating impact on common and rarer fish species in the region. Species that could be affected include river lamprey, twaite shad, sprat, herring, salmon, cod, anchovy, John dory, crucian carp, silver bream, and sea lamprey. These fish species migrate from the Bristol Channel to nine main rivers in the area, including the Ely, Taff, Rhymney, Ebbw, Usk, Wye, Severn, Avon and Parrett.

The elver migration from the Atlantic is expected to be particularly hard hit. Eels are likely to be sucked into the Hinkley intakes, with only a few making it to the Somerset Levels and other rivers, which would be their homes for the next 20 years before their return journey past the intake heads to travel back to their Sargasso Sea breeding grounds.

The estuary is not only a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC), but it has also been given an internationally important Ramsar site designation. Therefore, the protection of its fish species is of utmost importance.


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