A long history of arrivals
High Ham Village Hall, not the biggest of buildings, was packed this evening for a talk by Robert Croft, the county archaeologist, on recent archaeology in the county. There was something reassuring in counting over a hundred people at the sort of event which some people might have assumed belonged to a bygone age. Public lectures in village halls were the stuff of the times before television, times long before computers and smartphones and the panoply of electronic devices to be found in many homes.
Robert Croft’s survey of the recent archaeological work included description of the digs undertaken at Hinkley Point, before the construction of the Hinkley Point C Station began. The words have become so synonymous with the nuclear power stations, and the controversies that surrounded the approval of the new development, that one forgets that Hinkley Point for most of history was just a placename, a small headland on the Somerset coast, seemingly as inauspicious as might be possible. Not entirely unnoticed though, for it had a Viking name before the English one, a name meaning “boat place.” It seemed odd to think that the Vikings had landed on that shoreline and walked through that countryside, but then the realisation came: “Viking” meant “Dane,” there were many Danes in the county.
The Danes who had driven Alfred into refuge in the Athelney marshes, the Danes Alfred defeated at Ethandun, the Danes who signed a peace treaty at Wedmore, they knew well the Bristol Channel and the Somerset coast. Hinkley Point had foreign visitors twelve centuries ago.
The thought of longboats pulled up on the shore at the headland seemed strangely reassuring. The new power station, with its two reactors that will generate a significant share of the nation’s energy requirement, seems an ominous place. Its construction budget of £20 billion pounds is huge; its potential for harm in the future is unknown; and it is a foreign arrival. The owners of Hinkley Point C are EDF, the French electricity company, with investment from China. For the next two generations, homes in England will pay their bills to foreign companies.
In Viking times, Danish visitors departed with money from England; for a time, the money was paid on an official basis, the Danegeld being paid by English kings in return for being treated peacefully by their Norse visitors. If the attacks and threats of the Danes could be endured twelve centuries ago, then it is not beyond the wit of people today to deal with the dangers presented by the new plant and to ensure that money remains in the country.
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