With Welsh nuclear plant “on hold”, 300 years of tradition is saved
By Linda Pentz Gunter
There is a crowd of people at the top of the garden path wondering where to go next. They were led up there by Horizon, a subsidiary of Hitachi, which had dangled the promise of local jobs and an economic boom in front of a low income community eager for new opportunities.
That opportunity was supposed to consist of two new Japanese-built advanced boiling water reactors, known as Wylfa B or, in Welsh, Wylfa Newydd. They would have gone up adjacent to the closed two-reactor Wylfa A site on the north coast of Anglesey in Wales. But on January 17, Hitachi got financial cold feet and “froze” the project.
Of course the whole thing was always a chimera. The “local” jobs were arguably scant. Horizon said it would build housing for a workforce of 4,000, indicating the bulk of workers would come from elsewhere. The price for the electricity Wylfa B would generate was never articulated by the company. The local council gave Horizon permission to begin clearing the proposed site even though the company did not yet have the Development Consent Order necessary for the nuclear plant to proceed.
The damage the 2,700 MW Wylfa B nuclear plant would have done to the landscape, environment, wildlife, culture and language, just in the construction phase alone, would never have been compensated by any minimal gains in local employment.
If the reactors had ever opened — and they are not yet completely off the table — the downsides would have risen by orders of magnitude, the routine radioactive releases harming human health and contaminating the air and water. And always, there would have been the perpetual risk of a catastrophic accident, with no realistic escape — the island has just two bridges across to the Welsh mainland. And, of course, the radioactive waste.
Nevertheless, almost every farmer who owned land on the prospective new Wylfa B site sold it to Horizon. All, that is, except one. Richard Jones and his wife Gwenda refused steadfastly to sell their farm to be torn up for the nuclear site. It had been in the family for 300 years.
“They could have offered us a billion pounds an acre and we wouldn’t have sold,” said Richard when we met in their cosy farmhouse kitchen last year, drinking warm mugs of tea and eating three kinds of homemade cake.
Richard pulls out a map that shows all the farms sold off around him. “Churchill said something like ‘you cannot reason with a tiger when your head is in its mouth,’” he said. His farm is positioned like the head inside the tiger’s mouth, surrounded on three sides by lands sold to Horizon. But he and Gwenda did more than reason with Horizon, they defied and challenged the company and its frequent emissaries to their farm.
Richard and Gwenda were children when Wylfa A was built and, like many then and now, did not pay much attention to the radiological risks the nuclear plant presented. “Until it affects them, people don’t really get involved,” Richard said. “And I’m ashamed to say we were one of them.”