Four days of action by anti-nuclear protesters culminated in a mass trespass at Hinkley Point power station in Somerset on October 8.
Activists occupied common land close to the power station, securing a protest camp site and erecting a tin-roofed wooden headquarters and solar panels overnight. Kitchen, campfire and a direct action training space were set up, and around 70 protesters moved onto the site.
A march and rally in neighbouring Bridgwater attracted locals who are against the building of the proposed new Hinkley C reactor. Hinkley A was closed in 2000 after a Stop Hinkley campaign, while Hinkley B is still operational despite cracks in its reactor core. Stop New Nuclear supporters from London and Glastonbury travelled by coach to take part in the action. Speeches by an electrical engineer who used to work on the existing Hinkley plant, and by a British man who was living near Fukushima with his Japanese family during the 2011 earthquake and subsequent nuclear meltdown, were described by participants as moving, frightening and galvanising.
Zoe Smith of campaign group South West Against Nuclear (SWAN) said that this protest was significant because “French energy company EDF are preparing to build a new reactor here but it’s not a done deal. They’ve been trashing the countryside in preparation for the build, but they don’t actually have planning permission yet. Bear in mind that EDF are having their own economic crisis. We can win this one if we keep up the pressure.”
Barrels symbolising toxic waste were rolled through the streets followed by a ‘die in’ during which activists lay in the road, blockading the main gates to the power station. The arguments against new nuclear were expounded, with a focus on financial as well as safety aspects. Between serving meals and hot drinks to protesters, the Stop Hinkley kitchen crew explained that wind power is now cheaper than new nuclear so it is becoming harder for the government to justify nuclear subsidies; meanwhile, investors are pulling out of nuclear.
Non-violent direct action training was followed by overnight reconnaissance missions prior to the mass trespass aiming to ‘Reclaim Hinkley’ on October 8. Activists faced eight foot high fences topped with barbed wire and patrolled by G4S security teams with guard dogs. Having announced the action in advance – in order to obtain maximum publicity – those planning to trespass knew that G4S were on high alert. Approximately 50 police officers were also in attendance.
Despite the high levels of security, 30 protesters scaled or cut through the fence and succeeded in entering the proposed Hinkley C site. Affinity groups carried out a variety of actions while trespassing, some collecting soil samples while others locked on to the fence, hung banners, re-opened footpaths, planted wildflowers, sang, prayed or played hide and seek with G4S. Diversionary tactics by those remaining outside the fence helped in the success of the action and work at Hinkley B was disrupted by an early morning blockade of the main gates.
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett spoke to trespassers through the fence, voicing her support for their cause. “In the case of Hinkley, it is deeply disturbing that earthworks have already started even though funding is not yet in place. The whole situation shows real contempt for the democratic process,” she said.
Six activists were arrested and one suffered a suspected broken arm. Minor cuts and grazes were sustained by a number of trespassers but during a debrief back at the tin-roofed barn after the action, the mood was jubilant. Freshly empowered young activists and veteran peace campaigners alike expressed determination to continue the fight against new nuclear.
Camilla Berens, acting as press officer, described the trespass as a major success, while expressing sympathy for those hurt or arrested. “To have around 50 people prepared to put their liberty on the line was truly impressive,” she said. “A generation has been sold the lie that nuclear is clean energy but we will keep putting pressure on the government. Investment is drying up and it is time to face the facts.”
By Emma Fordham