Diary of an engineer: The other side of the blockade

Submitted by AWL on 12 October, 2021 - 4:17 Author: Emma Rickman
Engineering plant

The manager announces in the morning meeting that Extinction Rebellion have planned a day of action against incineration, and so the plant needs to prepare for a blockade. I’m surprised, I haven’t heard anything about this coming from the local group.

V: “Where is this coming from?”

G: “It’s on their website, and we’ve been warned by other sites. The council are considering closing the roads. But...” — he smiles and slaps the table — “we’ve got enough waste to keep us going for a two days at least.”

D: “Got too much waste.”

V: “So they’d be doing us a favour, in effect?”

G: “If we can secure the tipping hall and the pit, we can keep burning while turning deliveries away. Secure doors, gates — lock everything down. No problems.”

N: “If we’re locking the main doors we’ll need an alternative fire evacuation plan.”

Me: “How about just using the metal back stairs? They’re already signposted. Shall I send a message out?”

G: “Yes that’d be great.”

D: “I’ll get [the doors and security contractor] in to do a check of the site and get the pedestrian gates fixed.”

V: “What about us getting in and out? Are they going to glue/lock themselves onto the gates? We can’t open them if they’re attached to them.”

M: “Well, we can open them.” (laughter)

Me: “Look, the XR actions I’ve seen in town are small, theatrical stuff targeting banks. I’m not sure about this...”

G: “Just in case, everyone should park off-site so they don’t get stuck. All deliveries and visits to site should be rescheduled.”

M: “You mean we can’t run them over?”

V: “The ash bay is full of metal.”

Me: “I’ll ring [the haulage company] and get them to empty it early.”

G: “I’ve hired security guards on site for a week — and we can always get out the water-cannons...” (smiles)

M: “If they’re glued to the gate we can just take shots at them.”

N: “I suppose we’ll find out next week — if they show up on Saturday, then they’ve got jobs. If they show on Friday, they’re unemployed”

D: “Just bored retired people.”

Later on my manager sends round a print-out of the large XR publication that explains potential action and legal advice. Every day that week he’s in online meetings discussing it. D watches videos of XR activists interviewed on TV: “This woman just doesn’t want a bad smell in her back yard.”

N and the operators confuse XR with Insulate Britain:

“Have you seen that Sheffield doctor sat on the M25? Does he really give a damn about human health if he’s doing something that dangerous?”

“That activist who got interviewed basically admitted he hadn’t insulated his own home.”

“Houses in this country are designed to be draughty for burning coal fires — you might save money in winter, but in summer you’ll be boiling.”

“In Slovakia it’s the same with this cheap insulation — you insulate, you get very hot in summer.”

I ring the haulage contractor and explain the potential blockade.

“Oh we know how you feel,” the coordinator explains, “we had them on the M25 last week — caused a right mess. We can get your bay emptied no problem.”

Feeling useless, I do a walk of the perimeter fence looking for anything that might hurt someone climbing over. One of the district heating engineers smiles and calls: “Are your mates [the activists] coming to the gates this weekend?”

Me: “Nah I think they would’ve told me!”

• XR Zero Waste are protesting the construction of new energy from waste plants across the country; capacity is set to double. The full report is worth a read.

• Emma Rickman is an engineer at a Combined Heat and Power plant

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