The things you learn when working for Greenpeace. Today, I found out how to collect several litres of rainwater using a banner, two hard hats, a hollow cross-member of a crane and a CamelBak water bag - while 80 metres up in the air, hanging onto a crane.
The person who taught me this fine new skill was Nick Cobbing, the photographer who took the pic above (published in the Guardian's Eyewitness today - yay!). We spoke on the phone after he came down from the crane, and he told me a bit about what's been going on in Finland this week.
Here's the story: in the early hours of Monday morning, a group of Greenpeace volunteers made their way towards Olkiluoto nuclear power plant on the west coast of Finland, where a new and very troubled construction project is underway to build a nuclear reactor (you can see the construction site in the photo).
They were travelling by inflatable canoe, in the not-quite-darkness of a far-northern European night. While some volunteers blockaded the entrance to the construction site, six of them climbed 80 metres up the tallest crane on the site. Here’s the film:
On direct actions that can stretch over several days, the question of supplies is always important. Getting yourself, your banners and your climbing / safety gear 80 metres up a crane is a logistical challenge; there's not much room for luxuries. So it's usually a matter of muesli bars and water rations (hence the joy of inventing elaborate rainwater collecting systems).
So yesterday, Nick and three of the climbers made the long climb down, to leave extra supplies for the other three. They're planning to stay up there at least until the EU Energy Commissioner's visit, scheduled for tomorrow.
I've just heard while writing this that the energy minister is prepared to meet them. I'd like to be a fly on the wall (or crane...) during that discussion; the building of this reactor has turned into a financial and political nightmare for Finland. Eighteen months into construction, there've already been well over a thousand reported breaches of safety standards. The construction is already 18 months behind schedule. And it's already €700 million over budget (and expected to end up at least €1.5 billion over the original estimate). And because all this money has been poured down the almost bottomless nuclear hole, Finland’s renewables industry has been left to wither on the vine. (We best not even talk about how Finland is now way off hitting its Kyoto targets.)
What makes this particularly interesting for us here in the UK is that the reactor being built is the world’s first third-generation “European Pressurised Reactor” (EPR). It's the reactor that's promoted by industry as the future of nuclear power. It's also the reactor that big energy companies like EDF want to build here in the UK.
In terms of safety problems, profligate expense and delays, the much vaunted EPR doesn't seem to be any different from any other nuclear construction project - which, on average, finishes four years late and 300 per cent over budget.
Maybe there's a lesson for the UK in all this?
UPDATE: We met with the EU Energy Commission on the 1st June, and he agreed there should be more transparency and openness. The last three activists have come down and are safe. Find out more on our Making Waves blog.