MP Ian Liddell-Grainger: Landmark Hinkley Point decision will keep the lights on
Bridgwater and West Somerset MP Ian Liddell-Grainger says that the decision to approve Hinkley C is a welcome one...
Welcome to the new industrial revolution. The official go-ahead for Hinkley C power station heralds a huge boost to the local, regional and national economy.
It will bring thousands of fresh jobs into Somerset and secure the future of many more elsewhere in the UK. Big name British companies will benefit. Rolls-Royce is just one of the favoured suppliers. But hundreds of smaller firms with specialist expertise in forgings, valves, pumps, cranes, electronics and refrigeration are also in line for contracts.
Hinkley is an infrastructure scheme that dwarfs the London Olympic Games construction. It is the largest project undertaken in Europe. The investment will probably top £14 billion. Small wonder, then, that there are no lavish ceremonies today, no Danny Boyle extravaganzas with music and fireworks. But the fact is that Hinkley’s positive legacy is going to last for a lifetime and stop the nation’s lights going out. Hinkley C is absolutely vital to safeguard Britain’s energy.
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I was just a twinkle in my mother’s eye when the diggers arrived on that windy stretch of land by the Bristol Channel and started to prepare the site for Hinkley A. That was 1957.
Then, as now, there was serious national concern about meeting increasing demands for electricity. Nuclear power provided a timely and cost-efficient answer.
Hinkley A came into operation around my sixth birthday and generated power for 35 successful years.
Many of the technicians who ran the plant still live in the area. Who can blame them? This part of Somerset has a special appeal.
Hinkley B was a more advanced version. It was switched on in 1976 and has been generating ever since. Chances are it will still be going strong until Hinkley C is ready to roll – so it could give well over 50 years of active service.
Such a lifespan is unusual in this day and age. But nuclear power stations are developed to exacting standards and built to last. They have to be. The safety record of Hinkley A and Hinkley B has been exemplary.
The public have good reason to believe that all the risks – and, of course, there are a few – have been painstakingly calculated and intelligently minimised.
Inevitably there are those who will continue to argue against nuclear power. But they are a shrinking minority.
The technology is proven. The dangers are containable. And the high price of installation is evened out by the very long life of every new power plant. What is more, in the case of Hinkley C, the planning process has been exhaustively thorough.
Most people know that “when the sun don’t shine and the wind won’t blow” we cannot rely on so-called “green” technologies of solar and wind power.
There is still unfinished business at Hinkley. The “strike” price to be paid by the Government for electricity that Hinkley C will produce has not yet been fully agreed.
There is also some concern about the way compensation is awarded. Local councils have hammered out an excellent deal under the Town and Country Planning Act (section 106 agreement) which obliges the developers to compensate for disruption caused while Hinkley C is under construction.
But the rules about rewarding local people for the long-term inconvenience of a new power station only apply to renewable energy projects.
I believe nuclear power should also qualify. The Parliamentary Energy Select Committee has just produced a report which says precisely that. But, at present, we are still in the dark about how much money will come our way in “community benefits”.
However this is not a day to quibble. This is a real landmark in the history of Hinkley C.
It is easy to forget that permission was granted for a new power station as long ago as 1990. Back then the old nationalised Central Electricity Generating Board wanted to build a pressurised water reactor. But the Government reckoned it was far too costly.
Instead they privatised the industry and the French company EDF bought all the assets of British Energy, including Hinkley.
“Little Englanders” may be miffed that we are now celebrating a French innovation financed with French money. But the ancient history of Hinkley has some important lessons.
In Neolithic times a tribe, known as the Beaker people, arrived from France and settled on the peninsula. They looked different from us – shorter and more round-headed. But they came with something entirely new: the vital know-how to extract metal from the ground and make it work for mankind.
Today, if you drive out to Hinkley, you can still see Wick Barrow, the Bronze Age burial mound, where the Beaker people’s remains were discovered. The French have been innovating at Hinkley for 4,000 years.