Will Hinkley 'C' bring pots of gold – or economic storms?
As Prime Minister David Cameron's helicopter took off from the Somerset coast yesterday it soared above the giant stacks where mankind defies nature to smash atoms and disappeared – past a bright and glittering rainbow – in to the blackest storm clouds seen in months.
As things along this bleak, grey, clay-bound, fossil-filled, security-fenced, littoral go, this was as portentous as any imagery could get.
The announcement Mr Cameron had just made at Hinkley Point signalled the go-ahead for the site, now disappearing below his helicopter, to become the biggest single energy generating installation in the UK – but would the deal brokered by his government bring economic storms or pots of gold to our windswept, energy-dependent, nation?
Some people may have given the question an even more weighty and portentous polarity and asked things about our future energy security being in the hands of distant dictatorial governments, or about tsunamis (like the one that so ruinously swept through this area in 1607), or about long term storage of nuclear waste...
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Only the rain, though, was precipitating on Mr Cameron's party.
This was the kind of day which makes politicians smile in their dreams. The kind of day when they get to stand in front of overalled workers, director-types and journalists and announce something really BIG.
In fact, "BIG" seemed to be Mr Cameron's favourite word as he toured Hinkley Point to announce the go-ahead for the much vaunted C Station yesterday.
"It's important to the whole of our country – not just about energy – it's about thinking BIG here in Britain," he told the assembled nuclear workers and media way up at the top of B Station's humming, atom-smashing, reactors.
Later he informed me: "It sends a really BIG signal that we're serious about nuclear energy; about the technology; and about the jobs; and about welcoming new investors into the industry."
Standing just 30 feet above a nuclear core as hot as an autumn day on the surface of the sun, the Prime Minister exclaimed. "This is a really important day for our country – the day when we have agreed to build a new nuclear power station – I hope that this will be the first of many nuclear power stations here at Hinkley Point."
Hang on... The first of many at Hinkley? Surely one new vast generation complex will be enough for a single bit of coast? C Station will, as Mr Cameron explained, provide a whopping 6% of the nation's energy needs – surely it wouldn't be fair to ask Somerset to play host to the UK's entire nuclear shooting match?
A few minutes after making his speech to EDF staff, Mr Cameron clarified the "first of many at Hinkley" moment to myself and another print journalist by telling us that what he'd meant was "first of many in the UK."
"Obviously, what's next is whether EDF will push ahead with their investment in Sizewell and obviously the potential for nuclear powers stations in Anglesey," said Mr Cameron, adding that yesterday's announcement was a... "Very strong signal that we are capable of doing BIG long term investments in Britain that are capable of paying benefits for many years to come."
In his talk to workers, the Prime Minister had listed some of the BIG things Britain had, or was, achieving – including the high speed rail development which will serve the Midlands and the North, but not the Westcountry.
I put it to Mr Cameron that this hardly seemed fair as now it seemed we'd be producing much of the energy to electrify the lines.
"We are electrifying the Great Western mainline so we are providing better services for the West of England – that's an important point to make," he countered, ignoring the fact the electrified line will stop 35 miles short of Hinkley and 100s of miles east of anywhere really west.
But who were we local journalists to argue with a politician in such an optimistic, ebullient, mood? Especially when a well timed rainbow was strutting prismatic promises across the site that will soon play host to the pot of gold or otherwise that will one day be Britain's largest nuclear reactor.