Nuclear Regulation News

Hinkley Point C: Update on environmental permits

Nuclear Regulation News Hinkley Point C: Update on environmental permits Illustrative graphic of Hinkley Point C. Copyright EDF
Our role
The Environment Agency is responsible for regulating environmental protection at nuclear sites, ensuring that people and the environment are properly protected.  

New application to change the Water Discharge Activity (WDA) permit
We have received an application to vary the operational Water Discharge Activity (WDA) permit, to remove conditions that relate to an Acoustic Fish Deterrent (AFD) and add a waste stream for discharge from the Fish Recovery and Return system (FRR).  
A similar application was made in 2019, however this was deemed to be refused by the applicant in 2020, before our assessment had concluded. This was then appealed by the applicant in 2020, which the Secretary of State dismissed in 2022. The applicant had indicated they would challenge this decision by Secretary of State through Judicial Review. 
The original WDA permit application (submitted in 2011) included three mitigation measures in the design of the cooling water system: an Acoustic Fish Deterrent, Low Velocity Side Intakes and a Fish Recovery and Return system. The existing permit, issued in 2013, allows the cooling water system to operate as described in the application. The condition requires the applicant to submit reports to the Environment Agency describing how their proposed AFD will operate and demonstrate that it will be optimised to minimise impacts on fish. These conditions are now requested for removal as the applicant no longer wishes to put the AFD in place as part of the variation application.   
We recognise that the duplication of a similar requirement in the Development Consent Order (DCO) regarding AFD optimisation has led to a potential overlap of regulation across planning and permitting regimes. In consultation with Natural England and the Marine Management Organisation we have concluded that the most appropriate mechanism for regulating the cooling water intake sits with the DCO regime and within the DCO. This brings our approach in line with our approach to Sizewell C’s WDA permit application.  
When considering the revised application, we will assess the impact of removing the requirement for an AFD on aspects relating to the potential for water pollution and/or effects on habitat and species directly affected by the discharge from the fish recovery and return outfall. 
­ Next steps
We will be consulting on this permit application for 20 working days. This consultation is likely to begin towards the end of January 2023. We may also consult on our proposed decision and draft permit if there is significant public and stakeholder response to this consultation.  
We will inform you when the consultation begins.
We will also organise an online engagement meeting with Hinkley stakeholders early in 2023.
– February 2019: We received an application for a permit variation from NNB Generation Company (HPC) Limited. The company wanted to change how Hinkley Point C nuclear power station takes and discharges cooling water from the Severn Estuary. They wanted to remove reference to one of the fish protection measures in the existing permit – the Acoustic Fish Deterrent (AFD) from the intake pipes for the cooling water. Together with other measures, this is intended to reduce the number of fish which could be drawn into the cooling water system and killed.
March – July 2019: We held a public consultation to seek comments on the permit application. We drafted a Habitats Regulations assessment (HRA) as part of the permit determination process. We were unable to conclude that removing the AFD would have no adverse effect on the protected habitats and species in the Severn Estuary. EDF deemed that we had refused their permit variation because we had not finished ‘determining’ their application.
September 2020: The company appealed to the Secretary of State for the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) normally hears and makes decisions on permit appeals. In this instance, the Defra SoS decided he would make the final decision.
June 2021: PINS led the appeal inquiry which took place from 8 to 24 June. The PINS inspector produced a report presenting recommendations for final determination by the Defra SoS.
September 2022: The Defra SoS dismissed NNB Generation Company (HPC) Limited’s appeal to remove the acoustic fish deterrent (AFD) conditions from the original permit.
– The Sizewell C WDA cooling water system is of similar design to HPC, albeit in a different environmental setting. The application design did not include an AFD and already incorporated a waste stream for the discharge of water and dead or moribund fish from the FRR system. We consulted on our proposed decision and draft permit in Summer 2022. The new application from HPC effectively presents the same cooling water design system with no AFD and a new waste stream.  

You can:
– read the SoS’s decision letter and the PINS inspector’s report
– read about the original permit application and appeal on our consultation website
– read documents about the public inquiry, including the programme, on the Defra file sharing service
– watch recordings of the inquiry (APP/EPR/573 – Hinkley Point C, Bridgwater) on YouTube
– Read about our Sizewell C consultation.