Costly and dangerous’ – Brideshead Revisited actress Diana Quick on why she opposes Sizewell C

Read online, by Andrew Papworth, 16 August  2020

She is one of the country’s best-loved, Bafta-winning actresses, famous for starring in some of the nation’s favourite television and theatre shows such as the legendary ITV drama Brideshead Revisited.

But now, Suffolk resident Diana Quick is perhaps taking on one of her most important roles yet – as a leading campaigner against a £20billion nuclear power station on the county’s coast.

Having moved to Suffolk in the 1980s, Ms Quick – also a writer and director – quickly took an interest in plans for Sizewell B which, at that stage, were being considered by a planning inspector.

“I thought if it was going to be in my back yard, then I want to find out about it,” she said.

Despite a forensic three-year hearing which was, at that time, the longest and most expensive public inquiry in British history, opponents lost that battle.

Yet during the process Ms Quick, now 73, said: “I became absolutely convinced that it was not the answer to our energy needs.”

And now, after EDF Energy submitted a planning application in May this year to build a new twin nuclear reactor at the historic fishing village, Ms Quick is a leading campaigner in the Stop Sizewell C movement to prevent it from ever being built.

‘Consequences are very grave indeed’

EDF says nuclear energy is a “national imperative” for the future, with Paul Morton – project lead for Sizewell C and former Sizewell B station manager – saying: “I don’t believe the lights will stay on without it.”

Ms Quick said: “It may be, in the short-term, we need small-scale reactors.”

But she said of Sizewell C: “My main objection is the scale and the location.”

She argued there are “lots of ways to deliver the energy we need” which have not been fully considered.

She also said it would be more energy efficient to have smaller scale units powering local areas, rather than giant stations providing electricity to vast populations.

While Mr Morton accepts that “renewables will play a big part” in providing the UK’s electricity, he believes: “That will get nowhere near being able to fulfil the needs of the nation.

“When the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, we still need to be able to power our homes, pump our water, produce our food.”

EDF Energy also argues that Sizewell C’s “footprint is much smaller than for many other low carbon projects” and that, with low wind recently, the country has had to rely on gas for 40% to 50% of its electricity.

However, Mrs Quick says claims nuclear power provides clean and safe energy are “very far from the case”.

She added: “It has become very clear that, if something goes wrong, the consequences are very grave indeed.

“The present generation has seen that, with the terrible consequences of what’s happened in Japan and Chernobyl.

“The important thing for people to remember is that what a nuclear reactor does is generate a lot of heat to turn a turbine.

“It all seems to me an unnecessary, costly and dangerous way of generating electricity at a time when there are all sorts of exciting alternatives.

“The money could be much better spent exploring other avenues. It is very significant that Germany has not built any new installations, and that the US nuclear comeback has stalled.”

When asked previously about the risks of a Chernobyl-style accident at Sizewell B, Mr Morton bluntly said: “With the levels of design, attention to detail, the way in which the plant is operated and the level of legislation, it’s not going to happen.”

Jon Yates – currently acting station manager at Sizewell B – says the introduction of human performance technology, which focuses on eliminating mistakes at all levels, has vastly cut down the chances of even the easiest to make errors.

Engineers and technicians reportedly “touch talk” – resting their finger on the switch and saying out loud what they are about to do – to make themselves stop and think before pressing something by accident.

However, Ms Quick said: “No matter how many safety measures there are, in most of the events that have happened a key factor has been human error.

“You cannot legislate for that.”

EDF also says that: “Chernobyl was a very different nuclear power station which was operated in a very different political and regulatory climate.”

It says Sizewell C “is a much safer reactor design and the UK regulatory system is one of the toughest in the world”.

However, Ms Quick believes that large-scale nuclear power stations are still “not safe enough”.

She added: “There have to be smaller and safer ways which have less danger for the world.”

Suffolk economy will be ‘severely compromised’

EDF Energy believes Sizewell C will bring at least £125million a year to the local economy during construction, creating thousands of jobs.

It says it wants to ensure as many Suffolk residents as possible benefit from those opportunities. For example, it has launched a new youth employment hub in Leiston with Access Community Trust.

However, Ms Quick said: “I would like to see facts and figures on exactly what these job opportunities are,” with questions over how many senior roles will go to local people.

She added: “Some of these job opportunities could instead be in alternative ways of generating electricity.”

She also believes other sectors, such as tourism and the arts, could be “severely compromised” by the impact of building Sizewell C.

“I’m very aware of how the arts and tourism are very big generators of income in this part of the country,” she said.

“All that will be severely compromised if Sizewell C goes ahead.

“It will be very difficult for tourists to even get to the area, because of the volume of traffic on the roads.”

EDF Energy says 40% of construction materials will be moved using rail and sea.

It said its studies show the majority of tourists will still visit – but added: “We are proposing a Tourism Fund to promote the area and its many attractions.”

However, Ms Quick said: “Although there has been a lot of talk of bringing work and money into the area with one hand, with the other it is going to be taking away a significant portion of income.”

‘We owe it to our grandchildren’ to protect wildlife

The RSPB, which manages the nearby Minsmere nature reserve, and has warned Sizewell C could be “catastrophic for wildlife”.

Part of the Sizewell Marshes Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) could be built over to make way for Sizewell C, although EDF says: “Where we are using land for Sizewell C, we are creating replacement habitats to compensate.”

It has already created 67 hectares of new heathland and wetland at nearby Aldhurst Farm, which it says “will provide a net increase in the amount of land for wildlife compared to the current position”.

Yet Ms Quick feels those mitigating plans are “completely inadequate”, saying: “It’s not going to be the same as destroying a unique habitat.

“In the long-term, we do owe it to our country, to our children and our grandchildren to think about destroying a very unique site.

“If they are going to go ahead and destroy it, it will be impossible to restore it.”

‘EDF need to rethink the scale of what they’re doing’

Ms Quick also questioned the involvement of China General Nuclear Power Corporation (CGN), which has a 20% stake in the £20billion scheme, amid rising tensions with the country.

“I still think there’s a very big question mark about allowing them to have any access to a nuclear facility,” she said.

“Why would we give them any kind of leverage over our nuclear installations?”

She also fears the building costs will spiral out of control, ultimately at the expense of the UK taxpayer.

Building a £20billion nuclear power station anywhere in the UK is, arguably, always likely to generate some opposition.

However, Ms Quick believes the consultation and engagement with the public so far has been “risible”.

“There are no proper answers,” she said. “The information is inadequate.

“EDF need to rethink the scale of what they’re doing.”