Hinkley C - not a site for sore eyes
Once a month, EdeF lay on a visit to the HPC site for the general public. SH member Roy Pumfrey joined the December group.
There were supposed to be 13 of us but only eight braved a dismal morning. My bus pass was sufficient photo ID to get me on the Tour. In EdeF's Bridgwater office, it was like security at an airport. Had we got any guns, explosives, drugs, sharp implements? As if the site we're visiting, if completed, won't present more hazards than any we could possibly take there.
Before setting off, some background info. EdeF supplies 20% of UK electricity and, through its nuclear reactors and surprisingly extensive wind farms, half of the low carbon electricity. It has 15,000 UK employees.
Hinkley A took from 1957 - 65 to build, generated from 1965 - 2000 and will 'mostly' be decommissioned by 2026. Currently requires 430 staff.
Hinkley B was built from 1967 - 1975 and started generating on 5 February 1976. Potentially, it will keep going until 2023, long past its sell-by date. About 785 people work there.
No figures (these were old slides) for Hinkley C, apart from construction starting 2016, generating 7% of UK electricity, providing 25,000 jobs during construction with 900 to run the finished station. No one knows why the site is so big compared to B or A. There is no mention of the highly radioactive waste generated or that it will have to be stored on site.
The official Edef Guides are trained for visits to Hinkley B, so we were in the hands of our minibus driver. Small world that it is, I used to work with this guy! He takes lots of visitors to HPC - VIPs, MPs, and Councillors as well as lots of EdeF staff. Indeed, there is an EdeF guy in the back hitching a ride with a couple of other folk who talks to them at the same time as the driver is talking to us.
En route, the driver talks about Traffic Management of the thousand and more HGVs that will converge on the site on a daily basis. The roads are clogged now. HPC will be late simply because the lorries can't get there.
We go through more security to get onto the site. It is vast, the equivalent of 350 football pitches, and a sea of mud as far as the eye can see. It's hard to reconcile what's there today with the wooded site dotted with old farmsteads which SH members occupied back in 2012. A case of 'shock and awe’. Let's remember how the last 'shock and awe' turned out - a war in Iraq that created so many more problems than it solved.
The first thing to see was that the Asbestos Remediation (asbestos waste from Hinkley A dumped and covered for 50 years and now being removed to make way for HPC) is still not complete. A Planning Application made in 2011, overrunning by at least four years. A taste of things to come.
Our tour continues towards the beach. The driver points out the site of the water intakes/outfalls that will go up to 3.3 km into the Bristol Channel. Work has begun on the Decoupling Wall to protect the building of the new sea wall that will supposedly protect the site from sea level rises.
There is more to see around the Concrete Batching Plants at the end of where the jetty will be. There are two and there will be two more. They will produce 'nuclear grade' concrete and have the capacity for 72 hour pours at peak. Continuous pouring is supposed to prevent the variable concrete quality that has bedevilled Olkiluoto in Finland. Surprisingly, the driver concurs that first concrete will be poured in Quarter 1 of 2017. This is what we’ve recently heard elsewhere from EdeF. It’s hard to believe bearing in mind all that has to be done before any concrete is poured. Turns out this is only concrete to make the ‘galleries’, the miles of underground service tunnels carrying cabling etc
Supposedly, 80% of the aggregates required to make all the concrete will come by sea from the Port of Bristol at Avonmouth. Of course, they’ll have to come by road from the Mendip quarries to get to Avonmouth and by road across Wales to get to ports on the Welsh coast. The first steps in making the jetty for unloading the sea-borne aggregates involve a ‘Wave Walker’ barge that can come up the beach to drive piles for the jetty.
Spray concrete is also required to support the sides of new structures and we see one of the batching plants for this.
We trundle past the ‘Bat House’, another token gesture of environmental concern, close to the Green Lane across the site. This ancient trackway will become the southern boundary of the HPC site, if it’s ever completed. Everything south of it on EdeF’s glossy pamphlet diagrams – site operations building, a welfare block and the massive hostel blocks – will be cleared and ‘returned to original use’. One other punter asks what use it will have. The driver is unsure as ‘farmland’ seems highly unlikely. I express disappointment that all of the accommodation at the site and in Bridgwater will disappear when the project ends. The EdeF guy at the back of the bus chips in that it will be dismantled and used at Sizewell. Not much help in a locality, just like most places, short of housing.
My neighbour on the minibus turns out to be someone I know from Cannington. His surprise is the hilly nature of the site – he was expecting more of a plateau – and the work EdeF has to do to level it. The whole of the Holford Valley, after the brook there has been put in a culvert, will be filled in with more than five million cubic metres of earth cum spoil.
Water management is also a huge issue for the project and we see the site of the silt lagoons that will be used to separate water from soil.
We pass Doggetts Farm, just outside the site boundary. The driver tells us that the owners wouldn’t sell but didn’t want to stay, so EdeF are renting the property for the duration of the project. Other people in Shurton, the hamlet closest to the southern boundary bund, haven’t fared so well. EdeF has bought 14 properties – some say at low valuations – and other residents are desperate to get away.
There are lots of 100 tonne dumpers building roadways for big Abnormal Indivisible Loads to get around the site with bridges over them for ‘normal’ vehicles. Still, there are hardly a lot of people in evidence. That’s because, of the thousand people currently working at the site, at least half are office based.
The tour doesn’t take long – less than an hour. It doesn’t answer any of the fundamental questions about HPC. EdeF are busy building the bodywork of their hugely expensive ‘car’ before they’ve got the engine, the fiendishly complicated European Pressurised water Reactor, to work. Relatively speaking, it’s been easy to start e project but may be impossible to finish. I’ll put myself down for another visit in a year or so and we’ll see how they’re getting on.
Roy Pumfrey December 2016