For the 55 years that Tim Fox has worshipped at St Peter-on-the-Wall, his only neighbours have been a farm and a birdwatchers’ shelter.
Now, the tranquil surroundings of the salt marsh and the Essex sea wall at Bradwell-on-Sea are threatened by a new arrival: a sprawling nuclear power station, Bradwell B.
If all goes to plan, the Grade I-listed St Peter-on-the-Wall, built in an abandoned Roman fort in about 660 during the Saxon settlement of Britain, will be an ideal place to watch 10,600 construction workers building the nuclear reactor. “My parents brought me here in 1965 when I was four years old and I can’t remember not coming,” Fox said. “If they build the power station, it would have a devastating effect on us – I don’t think we’d be able to survive the construction.”
Fox is a member of an obscure Christian community called Othona, founded by an RAF chaplain after the second world war, and named after the Roman fort that the chapel was built on, although most of the ruins have been swallowed by the seas around the Blackwater estuary.
“We have about 700 members in Essex,” Fox, Othona’s centre manager, said. “There’s no hierarchy and no restrictions. Anyone who wants to lead can take the daily service. That might be reading a bit of poetry or meditating – anything as long as it’s not inciting hatred or bigotry. It’s open to people of all faiths and none.”
Although Othona is welcoming to visitors, that generosity is not extended to EDF Energy and China General Nuclear Group (CGN), the Franco-Chinese consortium behind the Bradwell B project. “I know this has to be on somebody’s doorstep, but it seems to me that nuclear power isn’t the way to go,” Fox said. “Renewable energy is getting cheaper and there are two wind farms here. This is the driest part of England – you could put a solar farm here.”
Bradwell B was part of David Cameron and George Osborne’s vision of a string of six new nuclear power stations. Hinkley Point C in Somerset is under construction and in December when the government published its energy white paper, it said ministers would reach a decision on “at least one large-scale nuclear project” by 2024.
Although most attention has focused on Sizewell C in Suffolk, Bradwell B could be ready for approval next year. Earlier this month the Environment Agency told CGN that it needed to make at least six changes to the reactor design.
“My view, like a lot of the community, is that we shouldn’t be taking money from the Chinese government,” Fox said, citing the Hong Kong crackdown on opposition politicians and the Chinese government’s genocidal campaign against Uighur Muslims.
Radiation and nuclear waste are other concerns. Further along the Blackwater estuary is Bradwell A, an old Magnox reactor that has been decommissioned.