A decision on the future of one of the UK’s most important ecosystems is imminent, with the sustainability of fish populations in the Severn Estuary at stake.
A scientifically proven fish deterrent solution is set to be deployed at the planned Hinkley Point C power station, having been specified by the Development Consent Order for the site.
However, a bid to have the requirement for this deterrent removed is threatening the biodiversity of the estuary.
Natasha Bradshaw, an independent researcher in coastal governance with extensive knowledge of the Severn Estuary, says
the outcome will be felt for decades and set an important precedent for other
nuclear and industrial construction projects in the UK.
“I have lost sleep over the danger to the fish and the risk of devastating the ecosystem of the Severn Estuary,” she says. “There is little proof that fish will survive the journey through 3km of tunnels or what impact returning them (dead or alive) into the estuary will have on the ecosystem.”
“Significant changes” to fish stocks
Hinkley Point C will be the first of a new generation of nuclear power stations and its turbines will be cooled by a system that draws large amounts of seawater from the estuary. Current plans for the station include the installation of a Sound Projector Array, which would use specially calibrated signals to deter fish from entering the large underwater cooling intakes.
Fisheries Scientist Dr Andy Turnpenny has warned species such as protected Atlantic salmon and twaite shad would be at risk if the system was not present, as many fish would be unable to detect and avoid the intakes until it is too late.
“The number of fish the cooling system will hoover up will take away the ability of the stocks to withstand normal environmental pressures and natural setbacks,” he says. “Without the acoustic fish deterrent, we will see significant changes to fish stocks over the 60-year lifespan of the station.”
The Severn Estuary is a Special Area of Conservation and an emergency byelaw intended to protect its stocks of wild salmon was recently extended until the end of 2020.
Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma is expected to make a final decision on the inclusion of an acoustic fish deterrent imminently.