Green group writes to Ed Miliband expressing concern E.ON could be pre-empting planning decision with work at nuclear site
The government's plans to accelerate the rollout of a new fleet of nuclear power stations are facing further difficulties after Greenpeace signaled that it could undertake a second legal action over concerns with the planning approval process.
The green group confirmed that it has written to energy and climate change secretary Ed Miliband expressing concern that preparatory work being planned by E.ON at the Oldbury site in Gloucestershire could prejudice the ongoing planning processes in favour of the energy giant.
A spokesman for the green group said it would be premature to say that it is preparing legal action against E.ON over the preparatory work, but he said that the case was being followed closely by its lawyers and that it did not want to take the possibility of legal action "off the table".
Greenpeace has already successfully taken legal action against the government's nuclear consultation exercise, forcing it to repeat the process after a court ruled that the original one had been biased in favour of nuclear developers.
E.ON is planning to begin work next week to drill some bore holes at the site in order to assess local seismic activity. EDF is reportedly considering undertaking similar work at its proposed new nuclear site at Bradwell in Essex.
But anti-nuclear campaigners are concerned that any preparatory work could increase the likelihood of planning approval eventually being granted by making it harder for authorities to reject a planning application once work has commenced at a site.
In the letter to Miliband, Greenpeace executive director John Sauven said the group was "concerned to ensure that any decision to carry out preparatory work does not affect or pre-judge the regulatory or democratic process". He added that if the government failed to provide assurances that this was the case, then it "should ensure that no work goes ahead unless and until it has been formally permitted, including through any decision on justification".
A spokeswoman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change said that Greenpeace's concerns were unfounded.
"Any decision by a new-build firm to start work on site is a commercial matter, but Greenpeace can be assured that nothing is being pre-judged," she said, adding that companies would need to secure planning permission to begin construction on the site and that any preparatory work would have "absolutely no bearing" on the consent decision.
A spokesman for E.ON similarly sought to downplay concerns about the work, insisting that it was limited to drilling a few holes to check the seismic suitability of the proposed site.
"There's no question of us making a start on building a nuclear power station until we have approval to do so," he said. "It makes sense to check that the site is suitable, but we are not starting foundation work or anything like that. "
However, Greenpeace insisted its concerns were justified, particularly given the recent history of the Sellafield Mox nuclear fuel reprocessing facility, which was given planning permission prior to the formal justification process being completed and has subsequently been plagued by technical difficulties.
"The track record of the government for moulding the law to fit the nuclear industry's interests, means we are justified to keep a close eye on it," said the Greenpeace spokesman.
Any legal action from Greenpeace could lead to further delays to the government's high-profile plans to roll out a new fleet of nuclear power plants with the first coming online as early as 2017.
However, the spokesman for E.ON expressed confidence that the government's proposed "nuclear renaissance" could be delivered, despite Greenpeace's opposition.
"Greenpeace has succeeded once in putting the process back slightly," he said. "But the government is committed to using nuclear as a low-carbon base-load power source in the future, and we absolutely agree with that strategy."
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