Somerset awaits nuclear reactor decision

By Ed Crooks in Shurton, The Financial Times, September 24 2008

In a picture-postcard landscape of farms and villages at the foot of the Quantock hills, Hinkley Point on the north Somerset coast is an unlikely setting for a revolution in British energy policy.

But it is here that the first new nuclear power station in Britain for more than two decades is likely to be built, following the £12.4bn ($23bn) takeover of British Energy by EDF . The takeover is expected to be announced on Wednesday. In Shurton, the nearest village to Hinkley Point, new investment in nuclear power is a sensitive issue. One man says he is reluctant to talk about it for fear of angering friends and neighbours .

"This is a volatile place and I don't want to stir up bad feeling," he says. "It is a lovely place to live and it could become quite divisive."

On balance, people seem generally supportive of new nuclear construction and the jobs and investment it will bring. A wind farm proposed here a few years ago was blocked by local opposition, but the reactors may face less resistance.

No decisions have yet been taken about where new reactors will be built, but Hinkley Point is EDF's pick of British Energy's sites. It hopes to build two pressurised water reactors here, each generating about 1,600 megawatts. By the 2020s, the site could be supplying almost 5 per cent of Britain 's electricity.

With two more reactors at Sizewell, Suffolk , the other most attractive site, EDF would be able to fulfil its ambition of building four nuclear power stations in Britain , with the first opening by 2017. Land at Bradwell in Essex and Dungeness in Kent , two other British Energy sites, is expected to be sold for other companies to build on.

John Lucas, a retired resident who has lived in Shurton village for 35 years, says there is "a hint of apprehension" about EDF - an unknown quantity compared with British Energy, which has always been a "good neighbour ".

But he adds that the local communities are generally supportive.

"We've got a pub, we've got schools, we've got local shops, and without Hinkley Point we would not have any of that," he says.

About 690 staff and contractors are employed at the Hinkley Point B site, and about 375 more work on the clean-up of the adjacent A site, which held two old Magnox reactors. There is no other significant industrial employer.

Peter Watts, another retired resident who worked for two decades at Hinkley, says the country needs new nuclear power stations.

"We live in an industrialised world, and people start complaining when the power goes off," he says.

But a short way down the lane from Mr Watts's house, Ralph Hammond, a member of the Green party, argues that the area should be backing the wind farm instead.

"I'm not convinced that the industry has solved the issue of nuclear waste," Mr Hammond says.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008


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