September 10, 2019 - 10:12am

For a moment, let’s imagine a fantastical scenario in which a controversy other than Brexit becomes a big thing in British politics.

If I were the minister responsible, I’d look nervously to Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. Widely regarded as the most important wildlife reserve in the country, it’s also right next door to Sizewell B nuclear power station.

The mismatched neighbours rub along. But according to David Rose of the Mail, the proposal to build two new reactors (i.e. Sizewell C) threatens major disruption:

“Locals say years of discussions between the firm, environmentalists and local residents had been positive until EDF this year scrapped its plan to build a special half-mile-long jetty so most of the millions of tons of materials needed to build the power plants could be delivered by sea.

“Instead, the firm is now suggesting three alternative ways to bring in materials by road and rail.

“Campaigners say each would involve a huge increase in traffic and could involve up to 1,150 38-ton lorry movements in and out of the Sizewell site every day, which would disturb the delicate ecosystem that allows wildlife to thrive.”

One of the golden rules of British politics is not to annoy the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – an organisation with over a million members.

But the RSPB is now mobilising in defence of Minsmere. TV’s Chris Packham is on the case and now the legendary Bill Oddie has weighed in:

“The RSPB Reserve at Minsmere is as iconic as the Houses of Parliament, or Trafalgar Square. Neither has a nuclear power station. Plans to build one at Minsmere are sacrilege. If ever a reserve should be totally protected it is Minsmere. Protest and support.”

Make no mistake, nature-loving Middle England is gearing up for war on this one – a conflict that would make Extinction Rebellion look like a minor skirmish.

Can’t EDF just spend what it takes to assuage concerns? Well, it could – but the credibility of the nuclear new build programme depends on delivering at a lower cost than the eye-wateringly expensive Hinkley Point C (currently under development in Somerset).

As for alternative new build projects in less environmentally sensitive locations, those are in doubt right now – leaving Sizewell C as, ahem, critical to the future of nuclear in the UK.

Another way forward would be to abandon this dinosaur technology altogether, but then that would nuke the government’s energy strategy – forcing a major rethink.

One final consideration: if Boris ever delivers Brexit then some kind of peace’ offering to the other half of the county will be desperately needed. Environmental policy provides a golden opportunity to reach out to liberal Britain.

But if Ministers decide to sacrifice the jewel in the RSPB’s crown, they can forget it.

The Government should be warned. Minsmere could be their nightmare.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.