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Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk, England


The Sizewell nuclear power stations, run by British and French company EDF Energy, are a cluster of nuclear power stations. Sizewell A, the first set of reactors, was decommissioned in 2006. Sizewell B, for which the proposal was accepted in 1987 and was completed building in 1995, is now the main set of reactors and is currently the UK’s only commercial pressurized water reactor power station. The Sizewell stations have been contentious from the beginning. Plans to build Sizewell C in the same site have been contested, delayed, canceled, and started again many times owing to controversy and interference from antinuclear activists spanning across decades and activists’ entire lifespans [15, 10]. 

The site is located next to the small, rural fishing village of Sizewell along the coast of Suffolk [15]. The area itself is, as described by Philip Ridley, Head of Planning and Coastal Management at East Suffolk Council, surrounded on all sides by almost every kind of protected area, and “If you were looking for a place to build a nuclear power station you could not have chosen a more environmentally sensitive spot” [10]. For example, RSPB Minsmere, a nature reserve run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, is right next door to the north. 

The reserve has a rich ecosystem of reed bed, lowland heath, acid grassland, wet grassland, woodland and shingle vegetation habitats home to a variety of wildlife including marsh harriers, otters, water voles, and bearded tits [14]. To the south and just behind the Sizewell stations, there are also two Special Protected Areas run by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust called the Leiston Sandlings and the Sizewell Marshes. The shingle beach is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, while the entire coastline is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. There's even an ancient monument nearby called Leiston Abbey. Over the past decades, there has been continued habitat loss, noise and light pollution, as well as major hydro and geological system disturbances. Yet the site, despite its clear ecological vulnerability and importance, continues to be extremely attractive to further development owing to hopes that it will bring in a lot of jobs and money [10].

One of the major forces against the initial construction of Sizewell B was Hilda Murrell, a prominent member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) [12]. A highly gifted intellectual since youth and holder of several masters degrees, Murrell was one of the most internationally renowned botanists and rose specialists as well as an avid volunteer in a wide variety of causes before retiring in 1970 and devoting her time and resources instead to environmental activism. As both a prominent researcher and campaigner, she was very keen on bringing more attention to threats she anticipated regarding the growing pollution crises. After having predicted the 1973 oil crisis, Murrell was increasingly concerned by nuclear development in Britain and wrote various papers challenging the economics of the nuclear industry and the radioactive waste problem [7]. The historical context of her activism is significant because, during this time, the government had been very actively surveilling and repressing anti-nuclear opponents, sending special forces such as the MI5 to spy on and harass even housewives accused of involvement in the movement [6]. Indeed, in the 1980s, anyone associated with the anti-nuclear movement was under Police Special Branch surveillance, and those probing deeper or known to recruit other protesters were regularly intimidated by MI5. Murrell herself had been one of the targets of such harassment as a very high-profile campaigner whose research and writing also were deemed dangerous to the state [1]. She continued her work despite being “consumed with anxiety that something was going to happen to her” [4].

When she was in her late 70s, she wrote “An Ordinary Citizen's View of Radioactive Waste Management,” a critique of the proposed-at-the-time Sizewell B power plant that she was scheduled to present at a public planning inquiry about the site [8]. In this report, one of her main arguments against building Sizewell B was owing to the serious danger presented by the lack of planning for what to do with resulting nuclear waste as well as high potential for catastrophic accidents and meltdowns [12].  The Sizewell B inquiry lasted from January 1983 to March 1985 and sat for 340 days, one of the longest inquiries in British history, during which a group of 60 female protesters would sing “we shall overcome” and other songs in the back of the hall very loudly. Over 4,000 people sent objection letters supporting the movement, denouncing the highly irresponsible proposal that was not very convincing economically and in consideration of the high risks [9, 11]. However, Murrell was conspicuously absent from the rest of these demonstrations. 

On March 21, 1984, after concerned friends reported her missing from her home, police investigated Murrell’s house in Shrewsbury to find that somebody had looted it and stolen a small amount of cash. The phone had been disconnected and ripped apart [3]. Her car was missing, and many witnesses reported seeing it in the afternoon being driven erratically through the town and past the police station. The car, a white Renault, was later found abandoned on the side of a country road outside of town [8]. Three days later, a local farmer discovered Murrell’s body naked from below the waist dumped in a thicket of trees nearly 10 kilometers away from her home. An autopsy showed that she was sexually assaulted, beaten, and stabbed six times. Someone had masturbated onto her discarded underwear. She died from hypothermia rather than from the wounds [3, 6]. The now-famous case had remained unsolved for nearly 20 years, during which conspiracy theories quickly proliferated, a good number of them very bizarre and even involving supernatural or occult mysteries [3]. 

In the most popular conspiracy theory, newspaper coverage of the incident immediately suspected British intelligence and security agencies of assassinating her for her involvement in nuclear protests, nicknaming Murrell “the British Karen Silkwood” after another anti-nuclear activist murdered in the United States [6]. Intelligence sources consistently denied these accusations, claiming they never even opened a file on her. Yet many dismissed such claims as being ridiculous because she was very outspoken against nuclear power, which the government was extremely sensitive about [4]. On November 9, 1984, freelance writer Judith Cook released a report exposing various discrepancies in police accounts leading to the conclusion suggesting that Murrell was killed by intruders looking to destroy the paper she was to present at the public inquiry on Sizewell B. In this conspiracy, two different hired groups were hypothesized to have showed up to perform the execution but allegedly ended up arguing over who should do the job [4, 6]. Her work, while it presented some valid suspicions, was also full of false claims and exaggerations [4]. Another popular conspiracy theory appeared on December 19, 1984, when Labour MP Tam Dalyell reported that Murrell was not killed for her connection to the nuclear energy movement, but rather because her nephew, Royal Navy Commander Robert Green, had been suspected of hiding paperwork about a submarine sinking incident at her home. He claimed that agents interrogated her at a safe house that Dalyell found nearby, killed her there but dragging her body to the woods instead and made it look like she was attacked by a sex maniac to cover their tracks. There was not enough credible evidence to support his claims [4]. 

19 years after her death, in June 2003, local laborer Andrew George was arrested after advances in DNA and fingerprinting testing technology linked him to the murder. He had been apprehended for an unrelated crime when his genetic profile matched the semen found on Murrell’s underwear [3]. Prosecutors said that George, who was 16 at the time and living in a children’s group care facility neighboring Murrell’s house, panicked during the robbery before abducting and ultimately killing her. He shouted abuse, sobbing in the dock as he was sentenced to life in prison on May 6, 2005 [2, 4, 5]. The court closed the case to any more appeals, yet various independent investigators claim that they are being intimidated to prevent them from releasing further information challenging what is still widely believed to be a very suspicious, mysterious case with too many unresolved questions. 

Murrell’s nephew, Green, continues to investigate the issue despite constant surveillance, having his tires slashed, mail intercepted, and his house occasionally broken into [5]. Green published a book exposing troubling findings, such as how the circumstances of finding the body were likely fabricated, George did not know how to drive and did not match the description of the original driver of Murrell’s stolen car, there is a lot of evidence of other suspects involved in what was not likely just a burglary, there are informants who are being intimidated to keep silent, and other information withheld from the trial jury.  The court and police maintain that there are no new grounds for investigation, though Green maintains that the secret services were still involved [4, 5, 8].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Sizewell B nuclear power station in Suffolk, England
Country:United Kingdom
State or province:Suffolk
Location of conflict:Sizewell
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Specific commodities:Electricity

Project Details and Actors

Project details

Sizewell B is the UK's only commercial pressurised water reactor (PWR) power station and is operated by EDF Energy. Sizewell B commissioned in 1995, and first synchronised with the National Grid on 14 Feb 1995. It has a thermal power of 3479 MW and an electrical output of 1,195 MWe, though this is dependent on seawater temperature. As with many other PWRs, Sizewell B operates on an 18-month operating cycle, i.e. at or near 100% output continuously for around 18 months, followed by a month's shutdown for maintenance and refuelling. Sizewell B was designed for a commercial life of 40 years (i.e. to around 2035) but similar stations elsewhere have been granted extensions to 60 years (

Project area:100
Level of Investment for the conflictive project232,813,800
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:245,000
Start of the conflict:26/01/1987
End of the conflict:06/05/2005
Company names or state enterprises:Electricité de France (EDF) from France
Relevant government actors:East Suffolk Council
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Artistic and creative actions (eg guerilla theatre, murals)
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Noise pollution, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil erosion
Health ImpactsPotential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Deaths
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Deaths, Assassinations, Murders
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Violent targeting of activists
Project temporarily suspended
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Murrell had been working to prevent the construction of Sizewell B, which was built in 1995 despite the inquiry and still operates today. The antinuclear movement in Suffolk continues to battle the construction of Sizewell C to partial success, but proposals keep coming back.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

East Suffolk Council. Economic impact study on Sizewell (2016)

[2] The Times. Life for killer of nuclear activist Hilda Murrell (Booth 2005)

[3] Independent. Man jailed for peace activist’s murder (Bennetto 2005)

[4] The Guardian. Hilda Murrell murder (Townsend 2012)

[5] BBC. Hilda Murrell: Killer's cell mate says others involved (2012)

[6] The Guardian. Death in the time of conspiracies (Davies 1994)

[7] BBC. Hilda Murrell: A Rose of England (2009)

[14] BBC. Sizewell: RSPB Minsmere nature reserve fears 'environmental impact' on wildlife (2020)

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Song: 'The Rose Grower' by Attacco Decente

Song: Oi Polloi - Resist The Atomic Menace

Campaign to find justice for Murrell's "real killers"

Meta information

Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update06/02/2020
Conflict ID:4937



Hilda Murrell

Photo: BBC

Sizewell B

Photo: Bryn Boice