There will be jobs - but who will get them?

Western Morning News, September 26, 2008, 10:00

THE world's last mud-horse fisherman gazes out at one of the richest marine nurseries in Europe and wonders where all the fish have gone.

A landlady opens an envelope in her pub and regards the ominous-looking emergency pills inside.

The organisers of a toddler group listen out for Second World War warning sirens, and a woman who has lived in a village for 70 years recalls the last time an army of specialist builders came and turned the place into a mini Wild West.

Welcome to reactor-land - the Westcountry's forgotten corner - the nuclear zone the world prefers to remain unseen, somewhere out at the lonesome end of God's earth.

Which is one way of describing the rolling clay lands that unfurl north of the Quantocks to reach the primeval Bristol Channel shoreline at Hinkley Point. This is where, for 40 years, one of the nation's largest nuclear generation facilities has hummed and steamed like some vast and eerie complex from a sci-fi movie. Now it looks set to become more vast - and perhaps more eerie still - after this week's news that the French company EDF has been given the go-ahead to acquire British Energy.

EDF immediately announced it would build four new reactors - each costing up to £2 billion - on two existing UK sites, at Sizewell, in Suffolk , and at Hinkley Point.

The denizens of the Westcountry's least visited, most un-touristy corner seem have been greeting the news with a shrug of their shoulders.

Adrian Sellick, who plies his trade within half a mile of the existing nuclear complex and who is generally deemed to be the world's last working mud-horse fisherman, summed up the most hostile end of this mood.

"People want to turn on their lights and have electricity, he said. "They can go down the supermarket and buy fish fingers - they don't need my shrimps."

Which was his way of saying that it is unlikely that any future planning or ministerial inquiry will take a blind bit of notice of a lone voice like his.

As his recently retired father, Brendan, put it: "For 40 years, I've fished alongside Hinkley Point and never once has anyone ever asked for our thoughts on declining fish stocks.

"They come and test the fish for radiation - there's three lots of laboratories that have always done that and they've never found a thing - but no-one is interested that our catch is down 75 per cent in those 40 years."

He looked out across the expanse of Bridgwater Bay at a primeval scene that hasn't - with the exception of the reactor stacks - changed in 10,000 years.

"It'll go ahead," he sighed. "They'll be on about the jobs - and there will be jobs, just like the last time. But who's going to get them?

"If the company is French, will they bring in their own people? Or will they use Polish labour?"

A mile-and-a-half inland, villagers in historic Stogursey were mulling over the news with an equanimity that was perhaps surprising for a community which could become the focal point for a massive jobs rush - not to mention neighbour to one of the biggest nuclear complexes in the country.

"I suppose it will be good for business if a lot of new workers have to come here," smiled the landlady of The Greyhound, now the village's only pub.

"Do people around here worry about nuclear accidents? Not really," continued Nichola Wood. "There are no more deaths around here than anywhere else. People don't think about the radiation."

But she did show us a large padded envelope which had just arrived, containing packages of the iodine pills which are doled out annually to families living within earshot of the warning sirens that are test-blasted monthly at Hinkley Point.

Down the road at the village toddler group I asked Marc and Lucy Vyvyan- Jones if it wasn't a little unnerving for the kids to hear the Second World War-style sirens.

"To be honest, we can't hear it half the time," they laughed. "We've got the iodine pills at home, but we've never had to take one - and never heard of anyone taking one."

They have recently formed an amenities society in the village.

"It's such an historic place," said Marc. "There are buildings dating back to the 15th century on just about every street - as well as the castle and the old well, which is where we still get our drinking water.

"I don't know what effect a large influx of workers would have on the place."

Sylvia Calder does. Back at the pub, she'd been listening to our conversation concerning the possible developments.

"It used to be a bit like the Wild West here when they were building it," she grinned. "They had a work-camp just outside the village and there were fights every Friday and Saturday night. Fight like cats and dogs, they would."

Sylvia, who has lived in the village for 70 years, recalled: "When I was a girl, we used to go down and play on the Pixie Mound (a Bronze Age burial site now within the nuclear compound). Then I worked there in the canteen making the tea. My husband still goes down.

"Everyone in the village has something to do with the place."

Community centre chairman Ron Dyer said: "There is a body of people against, but most villagers would much sooner see a nuclear power station than the wind turbines they were talking about. As far as I'm concerned, I used to go to Nottingham a lot and saw the coal- fired stations and the pollution - down here you've got a nice clean environment - you wouldn't even know they were there."

Mike Maddison, editor of the monthly Stogursey News, said: "A lot of people here are kept alive by the Point. As for accidents, I don't know of anybody who goes around in fear. The iodine tablets are only for very local low-level incidents.

"I understand EDF will be organising some kind of public meeting in the near future, I'll be able to tell you more about the public mood then," he added.

Back on the shoreline, Brendan and Adrian Sellick were explaining that the process of cooling the nuclear reactors with seawater was to blame for the disappearing fish stocks.

"They are pumping it through night and day - they reckon they pump the entire contents of the Bristol Channel though every four years," explained Brendan. "It's the tiny fry that are sucked in past the filters which are killed."

"If they build the new reactors," said his son, "then that's it. A thousand years of mud-horse fishing - gone."

But, as he says, who cares about one fisherman when the world needs its lights to stay on?


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