The landscape of the West changed irrevocably yesterday as the Government made it the hub of the UK’s nuclear future.
The region is the only part of the country that will host two new nuclear power plants, ratcheting up to boiling point the already high tension between the opposing camps.
Energy Secretary Chris Huhne gave the green light to eight new reactors, including ones at both Hinkley Point in Somerset and Oldbury in South Gloucestershire.
His decision paves the way for a clash between delighted supporters of the projects, who say they will secure thousands of jobs and pump billions into the economy and appalled anti-nuclear campaigners.
They are using the worldwide spotlight on the Glastonbury Festival, which kicks off today as a focus for their opposition.
Stop Hinkley spokesman Crispin Aubrey said rather than allowing more nuclear development, the Government should follow Germany and other European countries in abandoning it, following the Fukushima disaster in Japan.
Mr Aubrey said: “After Fukushima, major European countries are showing the way towards a non-nuclear future.
“Germany is abandoning nuclear expansion plans, and going strongly for renewables, and Italy has voted by a massive majority against more nuclear plants.”
He said the arguments against include:
It will leave nuclear waste on the site for up to 160 years, adding to the stockpiles from previous nuclear plants for which there is no final resting place.
Nuclear power runs the risk of a catastrophic accident, radiation leaks and damage to local people’s health.
Nuclear power has always proved more expensive than planned, requiring massive state subsidies. The cost of Hinkley C is £8 billion and rising.
Communities round Hinkley Point will be blighted for 10 years or more by noise, construction traffic and a scarred coastline.
Britain does not need nuclear to keep the lights on and can meet future electricity demand by a mixture of cutting energy consumption, major investment in renewable sources and cleaner fossil fuel generation.
The Glastonbury Festival site is only 24 miles from Hinkley Point and it has always had a strong anti-nuclear stance – at one time it raised money for CND.
Stop Hinkley activities this year include a campaign stall encouraging festival-goers to sign a petition and support a blockade at the power station on October 3.
Reg Illingworth, who is campaigning against Oldbury, told the Daily Press: “It is far too premature to determine the full effects of Fukushima and the potential disasters that could still emanate from there.”
“The disaster in Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant was caused, not by the tsunami or earthquake, but by the human beings who built a nuclear power station close to an earthquake zone.
“Our Government risks building nuclear power plants in areas of amazingly high flood risk in a country that is, sadly, prone to significant terrorist risks without due consideration for the many generations to come.”
Anti-nuclear campaigners are targeting Hinkley as their main battle, as energy giant EDF has already submitted a planning application to West Somerset District Council for preparatory work.
Andreas Speck from Stop New Nuclear, an alliance of groups opposed to all eight new plants backed by the Government, said they would step up their campaign, targeting the blockade. He said if EDF could be forced to abandon plans at Hinkley, it hoped work at all the other planned sites would also be stopped.
EDF said yesterday’s announcement was a key step in the planning process, and it now looked forward to a Parliamentary vote before Summer Recess next month.
The firm, which is also planning for new nuclear at Sizewell in Suffolk, said they were encouraged by the broad cross-party support.
“These steps are important as we and our partner Centrica progress plans for new build at Hinkley Point and Sizewell. As we do so, safety is our number one priority.
“In turn, that will drive growth in jobs, rejuvenate the UK supply chain and help drive economic recovery.”
Alan Rayment of Horizon Nuclear Power said: “Oldbury is an excellent site for nuclear new build and a new power station here can bring hundreds of jobs and millions of pounds of investment into the area.”
“New nuclear developments can provide the UK with a clean, secure and sustainable energy future.”
Energy Minister Charles Hendry said up to 5,000 jobs could be generated at Hinkley Point alone by the construction of a new nuclear power station.
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