Fish Guidance Systems has reacted with disappointment over the UK Government’s decision not to uphold best practice and expert consensus by allowing Sizewell C Nuclear Plant to be built without an Acoustic Fish Deterrent – meaning millions of fish will die every year by being sucked into the plant’s underwater intake.

The Sizewell C twin nuclear reactors, which will be located on the Suffolk coast, will be situated next to the North Sea, which is home to species key to the fishing industry, and the local ecosystem. The plan is part of the government’s long-term energy strategy but the lack of an AFD, in addition to not protecting the nearby RSPB wildlife refuge, leads many to believe that it doesn’t meet the standards of the government’s own environmental policy. 

Further calls to meet these commitments have been highlighted in the last few weeks with the government taking a 20% stake in the project, after issues arose with funding.

Going Against Environmental Agency Advice

The decision goes against the concerns of the Environment Agency who have previously expressed concern over the removal of planned AFD technology in consultations on the project’s cooling water system.

Reports state that direct seawater cooling as the Best Available Technology for the new nuclear plant, with AFDs and fish recovery and return technology working in tandem.  However, if Sizewell C has to rely on the proposed fish recovery and return system alone, fragile pelagic fish including herring, sprat and anchovy have an estimated survival rate of 0%. 

Experts Weigh In

Managing Director of Fish Guidance Systems, Dr David Lambert stated “The decision to not include an AFD within the Development Consent Order will damage the UK’s international reputation on environmental protection.  We know of other countries adopting the UK’s Best Practice for screening of intakes that will now copy the lead of the UK government, so it’s a bad day for the environment. There needs to be a global effort to reduce the human impact on aquatic ecosystems and I would have expected the UK government, with its commitments to protecting the environment, to be leading the way.”

Fish Scientist Dr Andy Turnpenny states “This decision will shape the future of aquatic protections at UK power stations for at least the next 60 years, and almost certainly beyond. We should not let the advances in environmental protection that have been made through careful research and development slip away because the industry prefers to take the easy route.”

What is an AFD and Why is it Needed?

Acoustic Fish Deterrents (AFDs) a network of speakers and other technologies that sit in front of hazardous infrastructure to deter fish from entering and being maimed or killed. In the last few decades they have become the most effective way to guide and deter fish from entering underwater areas such as cooling intakes. Fish Guidance Systems’ (FGS’s) complex proprietary sound signals are tailored with frequencies that maximise the range of species that can be deterred by the AFD. The combination of different technologies depends on the conditions, species and overall requirements but systems have been previously installed at locations around the globe

AFDs help sustain populations and prevent disruption to facilities such as power stations where physical screens are provided primarily to filter out weeds and other debris. Even where fish recovery and return systems are provided to put fish back to sea, only the more robust species are likely to survive.

The majority of fish drawn in by coastal power stations are fragile species that only survive if they can be diverted from the water intake heads. In the case of Hinkley Point C, AFDs are an aspect of the Secretary of State’s Development Consent Order (DCO) and the Environment Agency stated there is “high dependency on the proposed mitigation systems”, which include AFDs.