ENVIRONMENTAL organisations have been questioning the ethics of sucking up thousands of tonnes of water and fish into cooling tunnels at Hinkley C nuclear power station.

Concerned environmental organisations including the Angling Trust, Blue Marine Foundation, Bristol Channel Federation of Sea Anglers, Severn Rivers Trust, Somerset Wildlife Trust and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust have issued a joint statement calling for a rethink.

They say up to 250,000 fish each day will be sucked into the 3.3km intake tunnels big enough to drive a double decker bus down, although EDF dispute these figures.

The organisations say the extent of marine damage has emerged due to EDF applying for permission to change the design of its cooling system which will draw water directly from the sea.

Construction at Hinkley C has already begun on two tunnels in the seabed.

The joint statement from the environmental organisations says: “If permitted, it will give a green light to the nuclear industry to kill millions more fish in UK waters in order to draw seawater to cool reactors, including at Sizewell in Suffolk and potentially Bradwell in Essex.

“Although a mesh will stop larger fish being sucked into the Hinkley C itself, this serves only to protect the machinery.

“Many fish will die either pressed against the mesh, or in the system of buckets and chutes which will return injured fish, along with the dead, back to sea.”

EDF say the Fish Return System will kill an estimated 650,000 a year.

EDF had received permission in 2013 to construct the system, on the promise of installing Acoustic Fish Deterrent (AFD) speakers which would keep up to 90 per cent of specialist hearing fish away from the intakes.

Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley C, said: “Studies have shown that the power station would have a negligible impact on local fish stocks with the proposed fish protection measures in place.

“These are a fish return system and water intakes specially designed to slow the water coming into the cooling pipes.

“The total amount of fish estimated to be killed has been predicted by Cefas to be around 56 tonnes in a year, equivalent to one small fishing trawler’s annual catch.”

An EDF spokesman added: “Installing and maintaining dozens of sound projectors underwater two miles offshore is dangerous and poses risks to divers that are unacceptable.

“There is poor visibility and one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.

“That danger cannot be justified for a system that will have almost no benefit.

“Many power stations have taken cooling water from the Bristol Channel in the past with no detrimental impact on fish populations. Hinkley C will be the first to include fish protection measures.”

The environmental organisations say those figures “grossly underestimate” fish losses.

They are urging the Environment Agency to reject the application to remove the AFD speakers and, if marine damage is too high without them, to insist that other cooling methods are explored.

When the original planning consent was given, the Environment Agency placed ‘a high dependency on the proposed mitigation measures’.

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust director of conservation James Robinson said: “This is a landmark moment for the UK’s energy and its environment.

“The authorities must decide if it’s worth building a giant plughole to suck millions of sea animals to their deaths, in one of our most important protected marine areas, in order to produce electricity?

“The obvious answer is alternatives exist and are used elsewhere, so if they accept this cheap and most damaging option, the UK will be a global environmental embarrassment.”