Sizewell C faces fresh legal action in fall out over water supply

Campaigners opposed to the Sizewell C nuclear plant in Suffolk have launched fresh legal action following concerns about the water supply for the plant.

In July 2022, then business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng granted permission for the 3.2 gigawatt power station being developed by French energy provider EDF to be built alongside the existing Sizewell B nuclear plant, in the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Natural Beauty (AONB).

This was despite the Planning Inspectorate noting that NNB Nuclear Generation, a subsidiary company created by EDF, was unable to identify a permanent water supply for the project, without which it said it “could not be licensed and could not operate”.

In August 2022, campaign group Together Against Sizewell C (TASC), represented by law firm Leigh Day, brought a judicial review against the decision on the grounds that Kwarteng had failed to assess the implications of the project as a whole by ignoring the issue of whether a permanent water supply could be secured – the group argued it is clear a new desalination plant will be required to guarantee supply.

Last month this challenge was dismissed by High Court judge Justice Holgate who found the approach to the water supply was lawful, and that Kwarteng did not need to take into account the impact of the water supply . 

However, TASC has now announced that it is appealing this ruling. Specifically, the group has said that the judge was “wrong” to say that NNB Generation Company Limited was “unable to identify a permanent supply of potable water”. 

“The company could at any time have decided to proceed with a desalination plant but, instead, chose to keep open the option of a supply provided by Northumbrian Water Ltd (NWL). Also, if Sizewell C did rely on NWL for its potable water, the scale and location of the power station would necessitate additional infrastructure and the impacts of this, including harm to European Sites, have not been assessed, let alone ruled out,” the groups lawyers have said. 

The group has also said the judge was “wrong to find there was a rationally sufficient evidential basis to support the conclusion that the power station would contribute to electricity generation by 2035”. TASC says the material on this was “threadbare.”

The group added that the judge did not deal with TASC’s complaint that the site would be clear of nuclear material by 2140, when the evidence showed a much later date.

TASC chair Jenny Kirtley said: “The only way the 2140 deadline could be met at Sizewell C would be to slash its operating life by nearly 30 years, meaning generation stops in 2070, driving a coach and horses through this project's claimed commercial viability and contribution to meeting the UK’s climate change goals."

Campaign group Stop Sizewell C chair Paul Collins voiced his support for the appeal and echoed concerns about the impact of the project on water supply in Suffolk.

He also raised concerns about how rising sea levels may impact the site in the future: “Is it not downright dangerous to have disputed dates about how long Sizewell C would need protection from accelerating rising sea levels, on a Suffolk coastline increasingly subject to erosion?"

Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith said: “We are proud to represent TASC in the local community’s continued fight to help protect Suffolk’s heritage coast and wildlife sites. Our client is understandably disappointed by the High Court’s ruling. 

“We consider that it is legally flawed in a number of respects and are hopeful that the Court of Appeal will grant permission for another hearing into these extremely important issues.”

EDF and the government have been contacted for a comment.