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Hinkley Point C: One of the UK’s biggest actions on climate change

Chris Fayers

Chris Fayers

EDF’s Head of Environment at Hinkley Point C

In this feature Chris Fayers explains how the nuclear power station will be key in helping the UK fight climate change, and how the environment is at the heart of its construction.

Hinkley Point C, the project to build a new nuclear power station in Somerset, is needed now more than ever.

The UK is facing its biggest energy crisis in 50 years, with households and businesses facing increasingly expensive bills driven by the cost of gas. Once operational, Hinkley Point C will generate home-grown low carbon electricity for 6 million homes and do it in a very small space. This will help us become more self-sufficient, making us less dependent on gas imported from overseas. It will be crucial in helping us fight another battle: climate change.

Climate Crisis

Gas isn’t just expensive, it’s also one of the causes of global warming. Countries across the world are trying to reduce their use of fossil fuels, like gas and coal, which release significant quantities of harmful carbon dioxide. The UK has set a target to be carbon-neutral by 2050.  Nuclear power will be crucial to achieving this, alongside other green energy sources, such as wind and solar along with new storage solutions such as large-scale batteries.  

Hinkley Point C will bring about huge environmental benefits. During its lifespan, the new power station will help us avoid the emission of around 9 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. New analysis has also confirmed that the lifetime CO2 emissions from its electricity will be even lower than wind and solar power.

Sustainability and environmental protection is also a key part of the construction process itself. Although the amount of carbon saved during the power station’s 60 years of operation far outstrips the impact of construction, reducing construction based emissions is an important focus. A team of around 50 environmental engineers and ecologists work constantly to reduce our footprint, with new techniques that could become standard in the future. The team is also focussed on helping to enhance local biodiversity and habitats, helping nature to thrive on land that had previously been intensively used in agriculture.

We are also using new, innovative techniques to increase efficiency and increase carbon savings. This has been achieved by focussing on two of our most widely used materials – concrete and steel. Firstly, we are using a more sustainable cement substitute to reduce the environmental impact of concrete production. So far, we have used some 230,000 tonnes of recycled ground granulated blast furnace slag. Each tonne used cuts the CO2 in the concrete by around 850kg, compared to using traditional cement. The project requires around 280,000 tonnes of steel to ensure the reactor buildings are some of the most robust structures on earth. To reduce the environmental impact, 98% of Hinkley Point C’s requirement is from recycled steel sourced in the UK. This means the CO2 impact is around a quarter of using new, imported material.

We have also made our logistics and transport network greener. Ships are being used for our deliveries via our jetty, which means 100,000 lorry loads will be taken off local roads. We are also refurbishing a wharf nearby, where large components are delivered. This strategy is cutting congestion on roads and reduces carbon emissions by half compared to transporting freight using lorries.

We are also increasing the use of electric vehicles on site– something that is new to the construction sector. Our main civil engineering contractor is operating electric vans on site, and they’re also being used by our own security teams.

Biodiversity

But it’s not just our construction site that’s important. Nuclear sites around the country have always included space for nature.

At Hinkley Point C, we have recently restored an area for nature on the site’s southern boundary. We also work with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust at the neighbouring Steart Marshes reserve, where the project funds a warden and has helped in the building of new hides.

The creation of the Steart Reserve has made an impact on bird numbers, which have increased from 19,000 birds and 29 species in 2014, to more than 30,000 birds and 53 species today. Steart Marshes also has a critical role to play in carbon storage. The Saltmarsh collects as much carbon over four years as just over one million new trees grown for 10 years.

So far, the project has supported local environmentally focussed projects with over £500,000 of financial support. We are also working closely with other environmental partners such as the Somerset Wildlife Trust’s Brilliant Coasts project, which works to encourage people to look after the coastline.

Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta
Marsh lands are essential to birds like the avocet Photo credit: Charles Sharp

Skills legacy

But it’s not just the environment that’s important to long-term sustainability. The project is working to leave a broader long-term legacy to the area and brings huge socio-economic benefits to people and businesses from across the South West and UK as a whole.

More than 3,800 British companies from every part of the country are part of the project’s supply chain and more than £4 billion has already been spent directly with companies based in the South West. The project has created thousands of jobs and will soon beat the initial target for training 1,000 apprentices. Millions of pounds have also been invested in new training facilities, which are helping people re-train, up-skill and start careers in areas that are essential to the country delivering the low-carbon infrastructure of the future.

These opportunities will increase as the project enters a new phase of construction. The installation of many miles of electrical cables, pipes and systems will bring around 4,000 new people to the site. Progressive agreements with trades unions and work with education partners have made these jobs accessible to local people – helping them start new carers and learn life-long skills. This is helping increase prosperity in areas of the South-West which have lagged behind the rest of the Britain.

In the years ahead, using expertise and learnings from Hinkley Point C, we are also planning to build a near-identical nuclear power station at Sizewell C in Suffolk. It will build on our success; protecting the environment, creating regional prosperity, and boosting British jobs and skills. Like Hinkley Point C, it will be crucial in helping us kick our dependency on fossil fuels. Together, both power stations will help protect the UK’s energy supply, and the future of our planet.

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