In the shadow of the Quantock hills the rain is coming down, rolling in from grey clouds stretched out across the Bristol channel.

Here in this picturesque corner of west Somerset the French nuclear juggernaut has arrived.

“That barn dates back to 1840 — that will be dismantled,” says Andrew Painter, a contractor for EDF, the Paris-based energy giant that bought the site last year.

Gesturing down to an area of woodland scheduled for demolition he says: “The reactor would be just the other side of that hill and the substation will be just here.”

If all goes according to EDF's plan, in six months' time this 400-acre plot of muddy fields and hedgerows beside Hinkley Point nuclear power station will be the biggest construction site in Europe — with workers building Britain's first new nuclear plant in almost 25 years.

As well as being a €10 billion (£8.5 billion) showcase for France's state-owned nuclear industry, by the time that two European pressurised reactors are due to enter service here in 2019 Hinkley C will be Britain's second biggest power station — exceeded in electrical output only by Drax, the coal-fired plant in Yorkshire.

Seated in EDF's comfortable Somerset headquarters, a terraced Georgian townhouse in Bridgwater, Richard Mason, EDF's director of external affairs, can barely conceal his excitement. “It is a fantastic amount of energy,” he says. “We believe it is the right thing to do. Hinkley C is going to produce 3,300 megawatts — about 6 per cent of the country's electricity. ”

With one third of Britain's existing power stations set to close by 2015 to meet EU emissions rules, Hinkley is a central plank of Britain's plans to revamp its ageing energy infrastructure — avoiding the risk of blackouts while decarbonising its electricity supply with reliable nuclear electricity.

“The country urgently needs new generation,” Mr Mason says. “Otherwise the outlook is quite alarming.”

That explains why in the next few days the British Government is set to announce a shake-up of Britain's energy market designed to make this project — and others like it — profitable. Operators of fossil fuel stations such as Drax will be penalised with a fixed levy on carbon emissions, with a string of sweeteners awarded for wind and nuclear power. Without such measures, EDF claims that Hinkley would be uneconomic to build.

Certainly, there is no doubting the huge scale of the investment.

The project to build twin nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point and two more at Sizewell in Suffolk is twice the size of the London Olympics.

Although Hinkley's two EPR reactors will be the centrepiece, they are just the biggest piece of a decade-long construction programme which at its peak will involve more than 5,000 workers. To ship in new components — some of which weigh more than 550 tonnes — EDF is preparing to build a new jetty and port facilities at nearby Combwich.

A restaurant capable of feeding 2,000 people at one sitting, leisure facilities, football pitches and accomodation for thousands of workers are also planned.

Amid all of this activity, though, noise, traffic and disruption are looming. It is no surprise, then, that not everyone in this peaceful corner of the West Country is convinced by Mr Mason's nuclear evangelism.

“It's going to be a wasteland,” says Lesley Flash, a resident of Shurton, whose house lies a few hundred yards from the site's perimeter. “They might as well just bulldoze us.”

Chris Morgan, a 53-year-old district councillor who has lived in the area since he was a teenager, complains of EDF's high-handed approach, its arrogance and refusal to take the community's views seriously.

“The consultation process is no more than a desktop, box-ticking exercise,” he says, adding that so far Somerset has been offered only £1 million in compensation by EDF — equivalent to the amount the French company is spending on a programme to resettle local badgers, which he scorns as a PR exercise.

Mr Mason says that EDF is listening to its neighbours and claims that support in the surrounding area outnumbers opposition by four to one. “We recognise the needs of local people ... The community right next to the plant is most affected and we are being very sensitive to their requests,” he said.

He adds that a package of measures is being assembled to help ease resident's concerns and emphasises the positive benefits of the project at a time of public sector budget cuts.

“This is a fantastic injection into the Somerset economy. It will be £100 million per year during construction and £40 million during operation. That is a huge opportunity and people largely recognise that.




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Mr magical molecule by Seize the Day
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Seize The Day are a Somerset-based radical English acoustic band with global roots.
They write songs to celebrate, inspire and support the liberation of life.

































Page Updated 25-Nov-2010