Hardly a week goes by without a new resident action group being formed to stop developers from plonking housing onto areas of outstanding natural beauty. The main problem that the South West of England has, is that these outstanding areas are everywhere.
This time the villain is British Energy Generation Limited, who are part of EDF Energy. They have applied to the National Grid with proposals to connect a new 3600MW nuclear power station to the national electricity transmission network. This power station is to be built close to the existing generating plant at Hinkley Point and is named the Hinkley Point C Connection Project.
This will mean work is needed to reinforce and upgrade the network to accommodate the extra power and will see the construction of a new 400,000 volt overhead line to link a substation in Bridgewater to a substation at Seabank in Avonmouth. Estimated costing for this line is expected to run in at £2 million per mile.
Pylons for these power lines will tower approximately 46.5 meters high along a proposed route of 37 miles in length, which ever route is decided upon.
From the initial environmental studies carried out by the National Grid, two potential ‘route corridors’ have been identified. A route corridor is a width of land along which an overhead line could be routed. The width of the corridor is significantly wider than the actual amount of land needed for the power line.
This route corridor will also help to connect other power generation facilities planned in the area to ‘help the Government meet its renewable energy targets by 2020’.
The first corridor would decommission an existing 132,000 volt overhead electricity line, standing at 26.4 meters in height. This already runs between Bridgewater and Seabank. The same route could be adopted for the new 400,000 volt line. This would mean a new substation would be needed at Churchill, North Somerset and a new 4km length of 400,000 volt overhead line to connect it with the new Bridgewater to Seabank overhead line.
A second option in this corridor is to keep the existing 132,000 volt overhead line and build the proposed 400,000 volt line in parallel.
One option for Corridor Two is to follow a route east of the existing 132,000 line from Bridgewater before joining it up at the Mendips. Then, either run parallel and to the east of the M5 Motorway or follow the existing 32,000 volt line.
Option two in this Corridor will involve possible routes from the Churchill Substation, one to the east of the existing line and one to the west, converging north east of Weston Super Mare. All three possible corridors then involve going past east Nailsea – actually in Wraxall – before rejoining the existing 132,000 volt overhead line near Portishead and on to Seabank.
National Grid hope to make a final application to the Infrastructure Planning Commission in the summer of 2011, with construction to take place between 2012 and 2017.
What does this mean for the town of Nailsea?
The controversial corridor two will run alongside the east side of Nailsea. This is actually in the beautiful countryside of Wraxall, of which its outstanding views can be seen from the historic parks at Tyntesfield. The corridor will run alongside the family filled Elms estate, over the picturesque Wraxall All Saint’s Church, over the popular Wraxall C of E VA Primary School and on over Noah’s Arc Zoo Farm.
Quite apart from the severe damage the 46.5 meter high power line tearing through the beautiful Wraxall countryside is likely to do, there are serious health concerns about the location of high voltage power lines and the effect that their electromagnetic fields (EMFs) have on people, especially children.
EMFs are a form of non-ionising radiation and a physical field which is produced by an electrically charged object. The higher the voltage, the stronger the physical field. Though EMFs do occur naturally such as from the earth’s own magnetic field and electrical storms, these natural EMFs are of a very low strength.
EMFs which have higher frequencies are of more concern. They come from man made objects such as electrical appliances and overhead power lines. A variety of studies have found health risks linked to exposure to these kind of EMFs which include childhood cancers, increased rates of depression and suicide in adults, unexplained tumours, miscarriages and breast cancers. It is believed that high EMFs impair the immune system, affect the central nervous system and influence the body’s control of cell growth.
In 2004, the National Radiological Protection Board recommended that the Government should ‘consider the need for further precautionary measures in respect of exposure of people to EMF’.
The same year the Stakeholder Advisory Group on EMF (SAGE) was set up. SAGE is funded equally by the Department of Health, the energy industry and charity Children with Leukaemia.
In 2007, the SAGE First Interim Assessment was published, identifying a building moratorium as the best way of ‘obtaining significant exposure reduction’. New homes and schools should not be built within 60 metres of existing 275,000 and 400,000 volt power lines.
Children with a birth address within 200m of high voltage power lines had a 70 per cent higher risk of leukaemia compared with those living 600m or more away
Meanwhile, in June 2005, The Draper Report, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) revealed the results of a huge study into childhood cancer and power lines. It was conducted by the Oxford Childhood Cancer Research Group in collaboration with National Grid and funded by the Department of Health.
It used the records of nearly 30,000 children with cancer in England and Wales. The study found that children with a birth address within 200m of high voltage power lines had a 70 per cent higher risk of leukaemia compared with those living 600m or more away. Even living 200 to 600m away from high voltage power lines was found to be a significant risk factor.
“The Save Our Valley Campaign is doing everything we can to alert people to the coming of these 150 feet high metal monsters.”
In October 2007, the Health Protection Agency (HPA) recommended that ‘the attention of local authority planning departments and the electricity companies be drawn to the evidence for a possible small increase in childhood leukaemia which may result from siting new buildings very close to power lines.’
Children with Leukaemia is the charity leading the campaign for a ban on building homes and schools near high voltage overhead power lines, following the release of the Draper Report in 2005.
CEO, Caroline Blakely said: “It is important to remember that we are calling for a building ban as a precaution; an association between childhood leukaemia and living close to high voltage overhead power lines has been found and we need to protect young lives whilst more research is carried out.”
But the houses, schools and communities of North Somerset are already there. Nailsea and Wraxall have not taken the proposal of 400,000 volt power lines in their back yard lightly. As a response to the National Grid corridor two proposal, local residents are aiming to stop the power lines being constructed through unspoilt countryside around Youngwood Lane, Backwell Lake, fields between Nailsea and Backwell and over Wraxall School and Church.
“We need to protect young lives whilst more research is carried out”
At the time of publication, we are still waiting for the National Grid to get back to us with the distance in metres that the power line will run from the edge of the Elms, Wraxall school and All Saints Church. On the National Grid’s website, route corridor study document Figure 5B: Broad Corridors Inset 2 (Mendip Hills AONB, Weston-super-Mare, Yatton, Congresbury and Nailsea), clearly shows one of the proposed corridors to run directly over the Wraxall primary school and the listed All Saint’s church. There are also several households either side that are likely to find themselves just metres away or even directly underneath.
Secretary to the newly formed Save Our Valley campaign, Sue Turner said: “We’re horrified that National Grid are giving us only until 4 January to prove to them that they should drop this idea. Most people in the area haven’t even heard about the plans yet so how can this possibly be a fair
“The Save Our Valley Campaign is doing everything we can to alert people to the coming of these 150 feet high metal monsters.”
Their dismay was only increased after the National Grid excluded Nailsea residents from a series of public consultations held across North Somerset. After bowing to public pressure, an additional public meeting has finally been scheduled for Nailsea more than a month after the first diary of public consultations was announced.
Local Failand resident John Chapman, has a daughter at Wraxall CEVA School. He feels it is ‘preposterous’ to propose a huge pylon line through the scenic Land Yeo valley, particularly as he believes he has not seen technical evidence to justify the need for it.
“The “least worst” option would be that which involves demolishing an existing 132kV pylon line and”recycling” the space for the new 400kV line: there is no valid justification for blighting an unspoilt landscape instead,” John says.
But as well as the damage to the countryside, John is naturally concerned about the health problems associated with high voltage pylons.
John explains: “I believe there is still considerable uncertainty about the health implications of pylon lines. Whether or not to live close to an overhead pylon line should remain a matter of personal choice as far as is possible, based on factors that include personal views about health risks. In most cases now, the presence of pylon lines is known when an individual decides where to live: implementation of a new pylon line where none existed previously should be a last resort where there is no viable alternative. In this case, there is a viable alternative, close to existing Pylon lines: the route that blights new areas (“Corridor 2”) should be rejected.
“Whether or not to live close to an overhead pylon line should remain a matter of personal choice as far as is possible”
“In any event my view is that a new pylon line must not be sited close to a Primary School, such as Wraxall School: I consider that Public Opinion nationally would agree with me. I found no evidence in National Power’s Consultants’ report to show that they recognised the close proximity of their proposed “Corridor 2” to a Primary School at Wraxall: I hope now this proximity has been pointed out to National Power that they will reject any possibility of routing a new pylon line near a Primary School.”
The health issues surrounding high voltage power lines may just be a drop in Bristol Channel for Wraxall compared with the potential national health hazard the line is connecting to.
Campaigning has been going on at Hinkley since the mid-eighties, dedicated to decommissioning of the nuclear reactors on the Bristol Channel and the Severn Estuary.
After vigorous campaigning by protesters against the dangers connected with the running of Hinkley ‘A’, BNFL shut it down permanently in 2000. But according to campaign group Stop Hinkley, the privately owned Hinkley ‘B’ is still contributing to making the Bristol Channel the most tritium-contaminated sea in the world. Though Hinkley ‘B’ was due to close in 2011, British Energy Generation Limited, the company behind the 40,000 volt power line, have indicated that they would like to extend its use for another decade.
For those families who have holidayed in Minehead and Burnham, swimming in the sunny Bristol Channel, it is worth bearing in mind that both areas and the coastal towns in between have increased cancer deaths believed to be linked to the radioactive pollution leaked into the water and air from Hinkley.
In 2003, The South West Cancer Intelligence Service (SWCIS) was asked by the Somerset Coast Primary Care Trust to investigate the incidence of cancer in the wards of Burnham North, Burnham South, Highbridge and Berrow. A high number of cancers of the female breast, kidney and cervix and of leukaemia in the Burnham North population was causing concern.
Though the mortality rate and the number of diagnosis in this area was found to be significantly high, no proven link could be connected to Hinkley’s radioactive discharges. That the muddy blue waters of Brean, Berrow and Burnham is laced with tritium – a raditation hazard when inhaled or ingested by food, water, or absorbed through the skin – should be enough to put most parents off of letting their children paddle innocently along the South West coastline.
Spokesperson for Stop Hinkley, Jim Duffy said: “We are against this very high voltage power line. Health issues have been linked to these power lines, especially for those living close by. Our advisor Professor Chris Busby suggests the electro-magnetic fields make existing radiation more potent thus creating a health effect. Radiation even at low levels is known to be a risk, particularly to vulnerable individuals.
“But it is also wasteful to have so much electricity shifted so far from its source of generation, ultimately out of the region.
“A more ecological scheme used extensively in Denmark and other countries, provides local ‘decentralised’ electricity using lower voltage Direct Current which is more efficient. It allows small electricity generators such as single wind turbines and household generated electricity to go onto a ‘local grid’.
“Electro-magnetic fields make existing radiation more potent thus creating a health effect. Radiation even at low levels is known to be a risk, particularly to vulnerable individuals.”
“It’s more sensible to avoid the health risks and wastage associated with high voltage cables which means reviewing the way we produce our electricity from large centralised power stations to smaller scale local forms of generation. If we allow colossal nuclear reactors like Hinkley C to be built it will lock us into an inefficient, polluting technology for a couple of generations.”
The National Grid have finally organised an ‘additional’ public exhibition in Nailsea on 26 November at the Scotch Horn Centre between 2-4pm and 6-8pm. Members of the project team will be on hand to talk local residents through the proposals and answer their questions. Their delay in involving the town in public consultations has already damaged their relationship beyond repair. Any attempt to push corridor two through the Green Belt Wraxall countryside will bring the campaigners out in strength to stop it destroying all of North Somerset and Greater Bristol’s back yards.
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