Senedd to debate new Hinkley Point petition

Published 19/10/2020   |   Last Updated 27/05/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

On Wednesday 21 October, the Senedd will debate a petition calling for an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to be undertaken ahead of any further dredged material from Hinkley Point being disposed of at the Cardiff Grounds disposal site.

The Senedd’s Petitions Committee has previously given detailed consideration to a petition relating to this site and activity, the primary concern being centred around the composition of the materials being dredged and disposed. The Committee published a report of its considerations which was debated in Plenary on 23 May 2018. A summary of the report can be found in a previous Research Service blog.

New proposals

As part of the construction of the new Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, EDF Energy are planning a second phase of dredging mud and sediment from the Somerset foreshore in England in order to install the power station’s water cooling infrastructure.

EDF intends to submit a new marine licence application to dispose of the dredged marine sediment into an established designated disposal site off the coast of Cardiff, called Cardiff Grounds.

EDF previously dredged and disposed of sediment in 2018. The further work at the site, to dredge and dispose a further 470,000m3,is planned for early 2021. Before this can happen, EDF will need Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to approve a sediment sampling plan and grant a marine licence.

NRW and EDF have begun pre-application discussions, with the following notable outcomes so far:

  • June 2020 – NRW provided its pre-application advice to EDF (PDF 954KB) on the content of the sampling plan and its compliance with international guidelines;
  • August 2020 – EDF submitted its final sampling plan for NRW approval; and
  • September 2020 – NRW notified EDF that its sampling plan had been approved.

Given the controversies surrounding the previous sediment disposal, NRW says that it recognises “that people are also concerned about the new disposal plan” and it is:

…committed to inform, communicate and engage with people as we assess whether the disposal can take place. We also understand that EDF intends to undertake their own communication and engagement.

NRW highlights a six-week public consultation held between 5 February and 18 March 2020, which provided “the opportunity for people to comment on EDF’s proposed sampling plan”. 151 responses were received, and NRW says it used them support the pre-application advice to EDF.

Sediment sampling

EDF is required to undertake a chemical and radiological assessment of the sediment at the dredge locations to find out whether it’s suitable for disposal at sea.

NRW has approved (PDF 187KB) the number, location and depth of samples to be taken, what is to be measured, and how EDF will test the sediment. It also considered whether it complied with internationally agreed guidance under the OSPAR Convention and procedure developed by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

NRW says that it is “satisfied that the sediment sampling and analysis is appropriate to support a marine licence application”.

Marine licences

EDF will need three distinct marine licences for activities in Welsh and English waters.

Two licences are required from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in England. Firstly, to collect samples on the dredge sites at Hinkley Point C. These sediment samples will then be independently tested for chemical and radiological material by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The second marine licence is to conduct the dredge of the sediment if it’s deemed safe for disposal at sea following testing.

EDF also requires a marine licence from NRW for the disposal of the sediment in Welsh waters. The application will include the results of the sediment testing. NRW states that:

We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Marine licence applications are assessed for likely impacts on the environment. If these impacts have potential to significantly affect the environment, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be carried out before a licence decision is made.

The requirement for an EIA is set out in the Marine Works (EIA) Regulations 2007 (as amended). The regulations include lists of projects considered to have significant effects on the environment which will always require an EIA (Schedule A1 projects), and projects which require an assessment on the likely significant effects on the environment (Schedule A2 projects), using criteria set out in the regulations.

If there is any uncertainty as to which schedule a project falls into, a screening opinion can be requested. This directs NRW to assess a request (in line with the appropriate legislation and regulations) as to whether the project is likely to have a significant effect on the environment.

On 14 August NRW received a screening opinion request from EDF to consider whether an EIA will be required as part of the new marine licence application.

However, on 2 October, EDF announced its intention carry out a full EIA as part of its marine disposal licence application and formally withdrew its request for an EIA screening opinion from NRW. EDF said that it:

…wants to reassure the public of the safety of this activity and has listened carefully to the concerns and questions that were raised during the first phase of dredging activities.

… believe[s] it is right to go beyond technical arguments to provide the necessary public confidence that all concerns have been addressed.

On 12 October NRW confirmed with EDF that an EIA will be required for the marine licence application. This decision was taken in line with the Marine Works (EIA) Regulations 2007 and is known as ‘requirement of EIA by agreement’.

Next steps

NRW has provided a timeline for the next stages of the marine licence application:

  • Late November / Early December 2020 – submission of EDF’s marine licence application to NRW;
  • Early 2021– public engagement and consultation on the marine licence application; and
  • 2021 – NRWs decision on the marine licence application.

Article by Lorna Scurlock, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament