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U3A Writing: Nuclear Power At Bradwell Once Again

Ray Harman recalls the buoyant days when nuclear power was first supplied to Britains's national grid.

I couldn't help but read with some interest and perhaps a little nostalgia of the possibility of a new power station at Bradwell. I spent the last 24 years of my working life at the now decommissioned plant, arriving there during its construction stage in the late Fifties when nuclear power was very much in its infancy and the Bradwell locality just a quiet peaceful backwater. It was not surprising that much opposition prevailed from the local inhabitants. Bradwell village hall was packed to the doors, standing room only!

Public figures such as Tom Driberg complained that it would spoil the view of the Blackwater whilst Sir John Betjeman expressed concerns over the loss of the aesthetic qualities of the Estuary. Both were instrumental in starting a petition against the project.

However local people recognised the employment potential, and the possible influx of money to the area, not to mention improvements to the infra-structure of the region, all at Central Electricity Generating Board's expense. The inquiry process lasted just eight months. On January 1st, 1957, the contractors moved in and preparation work began.

It took five years to build the station at a cost of 60m. It fed electricity into the national grid in July, 1962, no mean feat in those early days when there were still many unkowns about nuclear technology. Bradwell was one of the six initial nuclear plants which provided 20 per cent of the UK's electricity supply. All of them have now been decommissioned.

Those six stations were often referred to as Expensive White Elephants which should never have been built. Admittedly they were expensive, but their operational advantages over conventional fossil fuel kept the lights burning during miners strikes, and also when there were difficulties with fossil fuel supplies.

During its 40 years of service Bradwell supplied the National Grid with 60 billion units of electricity worth about 1.5 billion at today's prices. The station employed thousands of people, resulted in millions of pounds being ploughed into the Essex economy, and had a safety record second to none.

Those early Magnox stations were the pioneers of nuclear power at a time when this country led the world in nuclear technological skills and nuclear energy offered a bright future. This dream came to an end with the cancellation of Sizewell C in the late 1970s. No further stations were built. A golden opportunity was lost.

Since then Governments have dithered over energy policies, assuming that such sources as wind generators and the conservation of energy would fill the gap caused by the decommissioning programme. Too late, this has been seen to be an illusion and and nuclear power is once more in favour. The construction period for a modern nuclear station is about eight years. This means that in the not too distant future we will be dependent on Russian gas for our energy supplies, with all the insecurities that implies.

History may repeat itself with another nuclear station at Bradwell, and the Ffrench may build it for us. Will we ever learn?

The future of our energy supplies is anybody's guess, but one thing is certain. Bradwell-On-Sea will never again be the peaceful backwater it once was.

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