Author: Paul Brown

About Paul Brown

Paul Brown, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former environment correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, and still writes columns for the paper.

UK’s nuclear plans flounder through muddy dispute

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

Arguments over where to dump huge amounts of potentially radioactive mud are now ensnarling the UK’s nuclear plans.

LONDON, 3 July, 2020 – Vast quantities of mud, which campaigners say may contain radioactive particles, are the latest problem to confront the UK’s nuclear plans for two new reactors under construction in the West of England.

The nuclear industry, which insists that it is a key part of fighting climate change, is no stranger to controversy, and it may be glad that it has experience of arguing for the mud’s harmless character.

The battle concerns campaigners’ attempts to prevent 600,000 cubic metres of mud from the sites of two closed reactors being dumped in the waters of the Bristol Channel, close to where the French nuclear company EDF is building two new reactors at Hinkley Point.

EDF wants to move the mud from where it is now so that it can build the water intakes for the new reactors up to three kilometres offshore.

Relying on tides

The issue is whether the mud contains radioactivity discharged from the old Hinkley Point reactors, and whether dredging it will release dangerous particles to be distributed across the estuary onto Welsh beaches.

Amid much controversy EDF was given permission to dump 300,000 cubic metres of mud from the same site in 2018, but in the end it moved less than half the total to the disposal grounds close to Cardiff, the capital of Wales. The plan is not for the mud to settle on the sea bed but for the powerful tides that scour the Bristol Channel to distribute the mud over much of the estuary.

The campaigners opposing the dumping believe there is a risk that the mud contains plutonium and other highly dangerous radionuclides which can reach the shore in spray or dry in sand on the beaches and then be blown inland.

These particles could be inhaled, they say, and could cause an increase in cancers – particularly child leukaemia and birth defects.

“Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched”

The 34 groups, with members including policy analysts, experts and local authorities, spell out their objections in a letter sent to the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford. They ask for an extended sampling programme, for protection of Welsh people’s health, and for the appointment of an expert group to advise on the dangers.

Natural Resources Wales (NRW), the Welsh government’s environment agency, has received over 150 representations about EDF’s plan and has imposed conditions on the company, requiring it to sample the mud from the area to be dredged, including for plutonium and other radionuclides.

EDF, whose two reactors will cost £22.5 billion (US$27.9bn) by 2025, said the dredging was safe and that claims the mud was toxic were wrong. All the mud dumped already had been tested to international standards, it said, and it was sure it was safe.

At the heart of the argument are the internationally accepted radioactive dose limits for humans. There is an increasing body of evidence of cancer clusters around nuclear installations, but established government scientists reject the idea that there could be a link with radioactivity.

Urgent review

These issues are discussed in a recently published report for Children with Cancer UK. It calls for an urgent scientific reassessment of international standards and says that governments are trying to avoid the evidence of the dangers of low-level radiation.

The report suggests the risk is far greater than officially acknowledged.

Those who wrote to Mark Drakeford supported this view. They said: “Past activities at the Hinkley nuclear site have almost certainly resulted in the dispersal of plutonium and other radioactive substances on land in the Severn Estuary in the area adjacent to the plant.

“These carcinogenic (cancer-causing) materials are highly likely to be present in the mud EDF wants to dump on the north side of the estuary, close to Cardiff, with a population of 350,000 people.”

‘Risk to thousands’

They add that well-documented evidence shows radioactive particles can come ashore, travel long distances on the breeze, “and can easily be ingested or inhaled, adding to the risk of cancer, leukaemia and congenital malformation at far higher rates than government advisors and the nuclear industry admit.

“Disposal of material which has not been adequately assessed for content of plutonium and other alpha-emitting materials is highly irresponsible and represents a potential health risk for thousands of people in Cardiff and beyond.”

Richard Bramhall, from the Low-Level Radiation Campaign, said: “Our message is that the only acceptable reassurance is the assurance that the mud and all its particles will remain untouched.”

EDF denies any danger. Chris Fayers, head of environment at Hinkley Point C, said the second phase of dredging was necessary ahead of drilling six vertical shafts for the cooling water system for the new power station.

More stringent testing

“The mud is typical of sediment found anywhere in the Bristol Channel and no different to sediment already at the Cardiff Grounds [disposal] site”, he said.

“Ahead of the second phase of dredging independent experts will carry out further analysis of the mud and sediment using techniques that are even more stringent than those used in 2017.”

He said NRW had confirmed that independent analysis showed the levels of toxicity were so low as to be not classed as radioactive under UK law, and posed no threat to human health or the environment.

NRW says: “We only grant licences if we’re satisfied that the activity can take place without harming the health of people, wildlife and the environment.” – Climate News Network

Nuclear power uses market fix to stifle wind energy

UK wind energy is forced to shut down to let more expensive nuclear stations go on operating at full power.

LONDON, 18 June, 2020 − The United Kingdom’s nuclear industry is hindering the use of wind energy and pushing up the prices it charges consumers, because its reactors cannot be turned down when electricity production exceeds demand, campaigners say.

A report by a new British group, 100% Renewable UK, says the inflexible nature of nuclear, which means that it normally has to run at full capacity, is no longer suitable for a 21st century electricity supply.

Backed by a large group of local authorities and academic experts, the group says in the report that nuclear power stations, and the notion that they are essential for what is called baseload power, should be consigned to history.

Baseload power, it argues, is no longer needed, and the stations are in fact hindering the development of the flexible grids required in the modern world.

The report particularly studies the wind power compensation payments which the nuclear operators in Scotland had to pay to windfarms in 2017 and 2019.

“This report shows that the goal of 100% renewable energy generation can be realised much earlier than ever thought possible”

The large amounts spent in this way, called “constraint payments”, are triggered when windfarms are asked by the National Grid to shut down production, to stop the electricity network from being overloaded. When supply exceeds demand it threatens the stability of the Grid, which then gives the nuclear stations priority, allowing them to keep running at full power.

Wind farms received compensation for the electricity they would have produced but didn’t: £100 million in 2017 and £130m in 2019.

The report, using data produced by energy consultants Cornwall Insight,  showed that in 2017 94% of the wind power that was “constrained” could have been used had nuclear not been operating, or had it been turned off instead. In 2019 the figure was 77%.

The £230m payment to wind farms for lost production was used by the anti-wind and pro-nuclear lobby to claim that it was excess wind power that was costing consumers money. However, the report argues that it was the inability of the inflexible nuclear plants to turn down their power that should be singled out, saying it would be just as reasonable to blame them for the need for compensation.

What is needed, it says, is a build-up of storage capacity for excess renewable power: large-scale batteries, the use of batteries in electric cars connected to the grid, pump storage and green hydrogen, for example, and the abandonment of nuclear power altogether because it does not suit modern needs.

Wrong culprit

Dr David Toke, from the University of Aberdeen, author of the report, said: “It is wrong for wind power to be blamed by the media for these compensation payments. Inflexible operation of nuclear power plants is switching off wind turbines.

“Essentially, cheaper electricity production from wind farms is being turned off in order to protect production from nuclear power plants, whose output is much more expensive to manage.”

The report also says that the UK government’s support for more nuclear stations will only make things worse, giving priority to much more expensive and inflexible electricity production from new stations, like Hinkley Point C in the West of England, at the expense of much cheaper wind and solar power.

Councillor David Blackburn, chairman of the organisation Nuclear Free Local Authorities, who backs the campaign for 100% renewable energy by 2050, said: “The report confirms to us that the outdated baseload energy model (of nuclear power) is hindering the growth of renewable energy. It is time for a wholesale reform to a decentralised energy model that responds better to public and business needs whilst tackling the climate crisis. “

“This report shows that, with a change of policy direction, the goal of 100% renewable energy generation can be realised much earlier than ever thought possible.” − Climate News Network

UK wind energy is forced to shut down to let more expensive nuclear stations go on operating at full power.

LONDON, 18 June, 2020 − The United Kingdom’s nuclear industry is hindering the use of wind energy and pushing up the prices it charges consumers, because its reactors cannot be turned down when electricity production exceeds demand, campaigners say.

A report by a new British group, 100% Renewable UK, says the inflexible nature of nuclear, which means that it normally has to run at full capacity, is no longer suitable for a 21st century electricity supply.

Backed by a large group of local authorities and academic experts, the group says in the report that nuclear power stations, and the notion that they are essential for what is called baseload power, should be consigned to history.

Baseload power, it argues, is no longer needed, and the stations are in fact hindering the development of the flexible grids required in the modern world.

The report particularly studies the wind power compensation payments which the nuclear operators in Scotland had to pay to windfarms in 2017 and 2019.

“This report shows that the goal of 100% renewable energy generation can be realised much earlier than ever thought possible”

The large amounts spent in this way, called “constraint payments”, are triggered when windfarms are asked by the National Grid to shut down production, to stop the electricity network from being overloaded. When supply exceeds demand it threatens the stability of the Grid, which then gives the nuclear stations priority, allowing them to keep running at full power.

Wind farms received compensation for the electricity they would have produced but didn’t: £100 million in 2017 and £130m in 2019.

The report, using data produced by energy consultants Cornwall Insight,  showed that in 2017 94% of the wind power that was “constrained” could have been used had nuclear not been operating, or had it been turned off instead. In 2019 the figure was 77%.

The £230m payment to wind farms for lost production was used by the anti-wind and pro-nuclear lobby to claim that it was excess wind power that was costing consumers money. However, the report argues that it was the inability of the inflexible nuclear plants to turn down their power that should be singled out, saying it would be just as reasonable to blame them for the need for compensation.

What is needed, it says, is a build-up of storage capacity for excess renewable power: large-scale batteries, the use of batteries in electric cars connected to the grid, pump storage and green hydrogen, for example, and the abandonment of nuclear power altogether because it does not suit modern needs.

Wrong culprit

Dr David Toke, from the University of Aberdeen, author of the report, said: “It is wrong for wind power to be blamed by the media for these compensation payments. Inflexible operation of nuclear power plants is switching off wind turbines.

“Essentially, cheaper electricity production from wind farms is being turned off in order to protect production from nuclear power plants, whose output is much more expensive to manage.”

The report also says that the UK government’s support for more nuclear stations will only make things worse, giving priority to much more expensive and inflexible electricity production from new stations, like Hinkley Point C in the West of England, at the expense of much cheaper wind and solar power.

Councillor David Blackburn, chairman of the organisation Nuclear Free Local Authorities, who backs the campaign for 100% renewable energy by 2050, said: “The report confirms to us that the outdated baseload energy model (of nuclear power) is hindering the growth of renewable energy. It is time for a wholesale reform to a decentralised energy model that responds better to public and business needs whilst tackling the climate crisis. “

“This report shows that, with a change of policy direction, the goal of 100% renewable energy generation can be realised much earlier than ever thought possible.” − Climate News Network

Unanswered questions dog UK’s new nuclear plans

A French company has designs on the United Kingdom: new nuclear plans for more reactors, with British consumers footing the bill.

LONDON, 11 June, 2020 – The French company EDF, a company in a hurry, wants permission to start building two more reactors in the United Kingdom, and it hopes to save money – by arranging for British taxpayers to pay the capital costs of its new nuclear plans.

EDF is already building two reactors at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and it is hoping to transfer workers from that site to Suffolk, on the east coast, believing that will help it to save up to 20% of the construction cost of the two planned reactors, because everyone employed there will know already what to do.

The catch is that EDF has no money itself to finance the construction and wants the UK government to impose a new tax on British electricity consumers so that they will pay the cost through their electricity bills.

The UK has yet to decide whether to go ahead with this tax, euphemistically called a Regulated Asset Base. If adopted, what the scheme means is that the UK consumer will pay EDF’s bills rather than the company having to borrow the money from banks, which are increasingly unlikely to lend money to such expensive schemes because they take so long to build and promise little return.

Anxieties abound

Meanwhile EDF, which has a Chinese nuclear company as its junior partner, promises to create 25,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships during construction, and says 900 full-time jobs will be available when Sizewell C, as the station will be called, is complete.

If all goes to plan the company hopes to start work in 18 months and says the two reactors will take 10 years to build. It expects them to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, enough for six million homes.

There are many objectors. Some say much of the coastline will be badly affected, including internationally important nature reserves. Others fear the site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and therefore a danger to the public.

Local people also fear that the construction site, with its attendant lorry and commuter traffic, will disrupt their lives for a decade, destroying the important tourist trade.

Cheaper options

Other more strategic objections, which might weigh heavier with the government, are that nuclear power is very expensive and much cheaper and less controversial alternatives exist, particularly on-shore and off-shore wind and solar power, and biogas.

More importantly, a drive for energy efficiency, badly neglected in the UK at present, would render the whole project unnecessary.

The problem EDF has is its track record on construction and repairs. The type of reactor it plans to build, the European Pressurised Water Reactor, said by the company to be the most powerful in the world, is proving extremely difficult to build, and till now none has yet been completed outside China.

Construction is running more than 10 years late in both Finland and France, and costs continue to escalate.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors”

EDF’s debts are now huge, so big that the French state is working out how to restructure the company by splitting it into a renewables arm (which is profitable) and a nuclear branch.

There are serious doubts about the reliability of EDF’s claims and timetables for fixing existing power stations and opening new ones. The company currently owns all of the UK’s operating nuclear reactors, most of which are near the end of their lives, and there are serious doubts about whether they are economic and in some cases even safe.

Two reactors at Hunterston in Scotland have serious cracking in the graphite blocks that are part of the control mechanism. The company has spent two years trying to justify continuing to operate the reactors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Similarly, at the other end of the UK, at Dungeness in south-east England, the station is also closed for extensive repairs, an outage that was going to take weeks has now stretched to two years – and the start-up date has just been put back again.

Looking on the bright side

One of the features of all of EDF’s activities is the extraordinary optimism the company seems to have, particularly about when reactors will be finished or ready to restart after repairs. With the Hunterston reactors restart dates have been announced nine times, only to be postponed each time.

This track record led the Climate News Network to ask EDF some searching questions, including why they continued to offer optimistic start-up dates that were repeatedly postponed. We also asked why the company kept the Hunterston and Dungeness stations open at all, since repairing them was costly and they were already near the end of their operating lives.

We asked EDF: “At what point do you cut your losses and close the stations permanently?” After five days of pleading for more time to answer, it sent us already published press releases extolling the virtues of the plan to build Sizewell, and several comments.

On Dungeness B it said: “For the past two years we have undertaken a major investment programme at Dungeness to secure the station’s longer-term future. Since the start of the year we have made great progress in  tackling some of the complex problems our works identified.

Extensive repairs

“However we still have further engineering works to complete, and a detailed safety case to finalise, before we ask for restart approval from our regulator. Our present position for estimated return to service is 11 September for Reactor 22 and 21 September for Reactor 21.”

On Hunterston B, EDF said: “We are continuing to work constructively with the regulator to ensure the work at Hunterston B is done thoroughly and helps inform future decisions. The safety case for Hunterston B, Reactor 3, has been submitted to the ONR for its independent assessment.

“Since the first reactor was taken offline we have carried out the most extensive graphite inspection programme ever undertaken, the results of which have been fed into this case”, referring us to the information the company provides on graphite blocks.

The ONR could not answer for EDF on its estimated reactor re-opening dates, but on Hunterston it said it was looking at the safety case, would not be hurried and would not give permission to restart until it was satisfied it was safe to do so.

Unexpected snags

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the ageing reactors:

“It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems”, he said.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

“It is depressing that ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.” – Climate News Network

A French company has designs on the United Kingdom: new nuclear plans for more reactors, with British consumers footing the bill.

LONDON, 11 June, 2020 – The French company EDF, a company in a hurry, wants permission to start building two more reactors in the United Kingdom, and it hopes to save money – by arranging for British taxpayers to pay the capital costs of its new nuclear plans.

EDF is already building two reactors at Hinkley Point in the West of England, and it is hoping to transfer workers from that site to Suffolk, on the east coast, believing that will help it to save up to 20% of the construction cost of the two planned reactors, because everyone employed there will know already what to do.

The catch is that EDF has no money itself to finance the construction and wants the UK government to impose a new tax on British electricity consumers so that they will pay the cost through their electricity bills.

The UK has yet to decide whether to go ahead with this tax, euphemistically called a Regulated Asset Base. If adopted, what the scheme means is that the UK consumer will pay EDF’s bills rather than the company having to borrow the money from banks, which are increasingly unlikely to lend money to such expensive schemes because they take so long to build and promise little return.

Anxieties abound

Meanwhile EDF, which has a Chinese nuclear company as its junior partner, promises to create 25,000 jobs, including 1,000 apprenticeships during construction, and says 900 full-time jobs will be available when Sizewell C, as the station will be called, is complete.

If all goes to plan the company hopes to start work in 18 months and says the two reactors will take 10 years to build. It expects them to provide 7% of the UK’s electricity, enough for six million homes.

There are many objectors. Some say much of the coastline will be badly affected, including internationally important nature reserves. Others fear the site is highly vulnerable to sea level rise and therefore a danger to the public.

Local people also fear that the construction site, with its attendant lorry and commuter traffic, will disrupt their lives for a decade, destroying the important tourist trade.

Cheaper options

Other more strategic objections, which might weigh heavier with the government, are that nuclear power is very expensive and much cheaper and less controversial alternatives exist, particularly on-shore and off-shore wind and solar power, and biogas.

More importantly, a drive for energy efficiency, badly neglected in the UK at present, would render the whole project unnecessary.

The problem EDF has is its track record on construction and repairs. The type of reactor it plans to build, the European Pressurised Water Reactor, said by the company to be the most powerful in the world, is proving extremely difficult to build, and till now none has yet been completed outside China.

Construction is running more than 10 years late in both Finland and France, and costs continue to escalate.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors”

EDF’s debts are now huge, so big that the French state is working out how to restructure the company by splitting it into a renewables arm (which is profitable) and a nuclear branch.

There are serious doubts about the reliability of EDF’s claims and timetables for fixing existing power stations and opening new ones. The company currently owns all of the UK’s operating nuclear reactors, most of which are near the end of their lives, and there are serious doubts about whether they are economic and in some cases even safe.

Two reactors at Hunterston in Scotland have serious cracking in the graphite blocks that are part of the control mechanism. The company has spent two years trying to justify continuing to operate the reactors to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

Similarly, at the other end of the UK, at Dungeness in south-east England, the station is also closed for extensive repairs, an outage that was going to take weeks has now stretched to two years – and the start-up date has just been put back again.

Looking on the bright side

One of the features of all of EDF’s activities is the extraordinary optimism the company seems to have, particularly about when reactors will be finished or ready to restart after repairs. With the Hunterston reactors restart dates have been announced nine times, only to be postponed each time.

This track record led the Climate News Network to ask EDF some searching questions, including why they continued to offer optimistic start-up dates that were repeatedly postponed. We also asked why the company kept the Hunterston and Dungeness stations open at all, since repairing them was costly and they were already near the end of their operating lives.

We asked EDF: “At what point do you cut your losses and close the stations permanently?” After five days of pleading for more time to answer, it sent us already published press releases extolling the virtues of the plan to build Sizewell, and several comments.

On Dungeness B it said: “For the past two years we have undertaken a major investment programme at Dungeness to secure the station’s longer-term future. Since the start of the year we have made great progress in  tackling some of the complex problems our works identified.

Extensive repairs

“However we still have further engineering works to complete, and a detailed safety case to finalise, before we ask for restart approval from our regulator. Our present position for estimated return to service is 11 September for Reactor 22 and 21 September for Reactor 21.”

On Hunterston B, EDF said: “We are continuing to work constructively with the regulator to ensure the work at Hunterston B is done thoroughly and helps inform future decisions. The safety case for Hunterston B, Reactor 3, has been submitted to the ONR for its independent assessment.

“Since the first reactor was taken offline we have carried out the most extensive graphite inspection programme ever undertaken, the results of which have been fed into this case”, referring us to the information the company provides on graphite blocks.

The ONR could not answer for EDF on its estimated reactor re-opening dates, but on Hunterston it said it was looking at the safety case, would not be hurried and would not give permission to restart until it was satisfied it was safe to do so.

Unexpected snags

Stephen Thomas, professor of energy policy at the University of Greenwich, commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the ageing reactors:

“It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems”, he said.

“It is hard to understand why, when the scale of the problems became clear, EDF did not cut its losses and close the reactors, but continues to pour money into plants to get a couple more years of operation out of plants highly likely to be loss-makers.

“It is depressing that ONR, which has a duty to keep the public informed on such important issues, chooses to hide behind bland statements such as that it will take as long as it takes, and that it will not comment on EDF’s decisions.” – Climate News Network

How dangerous is low-level radiation to children?

A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never been one.

LONDON, 22 May, 2020 − The threat that low-level radiation poses to human life, particularly to unborn children, and its link with childhood leukaemia, demands an urgent scientific reassessment.

This is the conclusion of a carefully-detailed report produced for the charity Children With Cancer UK by the Low-Level Radiation Campaign.

It is compiled from evidence contained in dozens of scientific reports from numerous countries over many decades, which show that tiny doses of radiation, some of it inhaled, can have devastating effects on the human body, particularly by causing cancer and birth defects.

The original reports were completed for a range of academic institutions, governments and medical organisations, and their results were compared by the newest report’s authors, Richard Bramhall and Pete Wilkinson.  They believe they have provided overwhelming evidence for a basic rethink on so-called “safe” radiation doses.

They write: “The fundamental conclusion of this report is that when the evidence is rationally assessed it appears that the health impacts, especially in the more radio-sensitive young, have been consistently and routinely underestimated.”

Ceaseless controversy

The pair concede this is not the first time such a call has been made, but it has never been acted upon. Now they say it must be.

What constitutes safety for nuclear workers and for civilians living near nuclear power stations, or affected by fall-out from accidents like the ones at Sellafield in Cumbria in north-west England in 1957, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, has always been highly controversial.

Bramhall and Wilkinson detail how the debate began in earnest in the 1980s, when a cluster of childhood leukaemia cases, ten times higher than would be expected, was identified around Sellafield.

Government inquiries followed but reached no settled conclusion, and low-level radiation safety has been a scientific battleground ever since.

The official agencies appointed by governments are still using dose estimates based on calculations made in 1943, when Western governments were trying to develop an atomic bomb.

“The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000”

The new report highlights that this was when very little was known about how tiny doses of ingested radiation could affect the body − and when DNA was yet to be discovered.

Despite the fact that international standards are based on these scientifically ancient, out-of-date assumptions, they have not been revised. If they were, the results could be catastrophic for the nuclear industry and for the manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

The report makes clear that if the worst estimates of the damage that low-level radiation causes to children proved anywhere close to correct, then no-one would want to live anywhere near a nuclear power station.

Most would be appalled if they knew even small numbers of children living within 50 kilometres of a station would contract leukaemia from being so close.

It acknowledges that the stakes are high. If the authors’ findings are accepted, then it will be the end of public tolerance of nuclear power.

Revolution needed

Despite this long-lived institutional pushback from governments and the industry, the report says what is needed is a scientific revolution in the way that low-level radiation is considered. It compares the situation with the treatment of asbestos.

It was in the 1890s that the first evidence of disease related to asbestos exposure was laid before the UK Parliament. But it was not until 1972, when the causal link between the always fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma, and human fatality rates was established beyond reasonable doubt, that the use of asbestos was banned.

This delay is why on average 2,700 people still die annually in the UK: they were at some point exposed to and inhalers of asbestos.

Another example, which the report does not quote but is perhaps as relevant today, is air pollution. It has taken decades for the scientific community to realise that in many cities it is the tiniest particles of air pollution, invisible to the naked eye, that are taken deepest into the lungs and that cause the most damage, killing thousands of people a year.

So far governments across the world have not yet outlawed the vehicles and industrial processes that are wiping out their own citizens in vast numbers.

Anxiety not irrational

The report cites many studies, with perhaps the most telling those that compare the actual numbers of cancers and malformations in babies which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident with the numbers to have been expected if the currently accepted and out-of-date risk calculations had been used.

Despite the difficulties of getting information from reluctant governments close to Chernobyl, the report says: “The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000.”

The authors say their object “is to dispel the repeated assertion that public anxiety about the health impact of radioactivity in the environment is irrational.”

Both Wilkinson and Bramhall have considerable experience of dealing with governments, both inside official bodies as members, and as external lobbyists.

They detail how they believe the concerns of both ordinary people and scientists have been swept aside in order to preserve the status quo. Clearly, in sponsoring the report, Children with Cancer UK agrees. − Climate News Network

A rethink on the risks of low-level radiation would imperil the nuclear industry’s future − perhaps why there’s never been one.

LONDON, 22 May, 2020 − The threat that low-level radiation poses to human life, particularly to unborn children, and its link with childhood leukaemia, demands an urgent scientific reassessment.

This is the conclusion of a carefully-detailed report produced for the charity Children With Cancer UK by the Low-Level Radiation Campaign.

It is compiled from evidence contained in dozens of scientific reports from numerous countries over many decades, which show that tiny doses of radiation, some of it inhaled, can have devastating effects on the human body, particularly by causing cancer and birth defects.

The original reports were completed for a range of academic institutions, governments and medical organisations, and their results were compared by the newest report’s authors, Richard Bramhall and Pete Wilkinson.  They believe they have provided overwhelming evidence for a basic rethink on so-called “safe” radiation doses.

They write: “The fundamental conclusion of this report is that when the evidence is rationally assessed it appears that the health impacts, especially in the more radio-sensitive young, have been consistently and routinely underestimated.”

Ceaseless controversy

The pair concede this is not the first time such a call has been made, but it has never been acted upon. Now they say it must be.

What constitutes safety for nuclear workers and for civilians living near nuclear power stations, or affected by fall-out from accidents like the ones at Sellafield in Cumbria in north-west England in 1957, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, has always been highly controversial.

Bramhall and Wilkinson detail how the debate began in earnest in the 1980s, when a cluster of childhood leukaemia cases, ten times higher than would be expected, was identified around Sellafield.

Government inquiries followed but reached no settled conclusion, and low-level radiation safety has been a scientific battleground ever since.

The official agencies appointed by governments are still using dose estimates based on calculations made in 1943, when Western governments were trying to develop an atomic bomb.

“The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000”

The new report highlights that this was when very little was known about how tiny doses of ingested radiation could affect the body − and when DNA was yet to be discovered.

Despite the fact that international standards are based on these scientifically ancient, out-of-date assumptions, they have not been revised. If they were, the results could be catastrophic for the nuclear industry and for the manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

The report makes clear that if the worst estimates of the damage that low-level radiation causes to children proved anywhere close to correct, then no-one would want to live anywhere near a nuclear power station.

Most would be appalled if they knew even small numbers of children living within 50 kilometres of a station would contract leukaemia from being so close.

It acknowledges that the stakes are high. If the authors’ findings are accepted, then it will be the end of public tolerance of nuclear power.

Revolution needed

Despite this long-lived institutional pushback from governments and the industry, the report says what is needed is a scientific revolution in the way that low-level radiation is considered. It compares the situation with the treatment of asbestos.

It was in the 1890s that the first evidence of disease related to asbestos exposure was laid before the UK Parliament. But it was not until 1972, when the causal link between the always fatal lung cancer, mesothelioma, and human fatality rates was established beyond reasonable doubt, that the use of asbestos was banned.

This delay is why on average 2,700 people still die annually in the UK: they were at some point exposed to and inhalers of asbestos.

Another example, which the report does not quote but is perhaps as relevant today, is air pollution. It has taken decades for the scientific community to realise that in many cities it is the tiniest particles of air pollution, invisible to the naked eye, that are taken deepest into the lungs and that cause the most damage, killing thousands of people a year.

So far governments across the world have not yet outlawed the vehicles and industrial processes that are wiping out their own citizens in vast numbers.

Anxiety not irrational

The report cites many studies, with perhaps the most telling those that compare the actual numbers of cancers and malformations in babies which occurred in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident with the numbers to have been expected if the currently accepted and out-of-date risk calculations had been used.

Despite the difficulties of getting information from reluctant governments close to Chernobyl, the report says: “The discrepancy between the number of congenital malformations in babies expected after Chernobyl and the number actually observed was between 15,000 and 50,000.”

The authors say their object “is to dispel the repeated assertion that public anxiety about the health impact of radioactivity in the environment is irrational.”

Both Wilkinson and Bramhall have considerable experience of dealing with governments, both inside official bodies as members, and as external lobbyists.

They detail how they believe the concerns of both ordinary people and scientists have been swept aside in order to preserve the status quo. Clearly, in sponsoring the report, Children with Cancer UK agrees. − Climate News Network

At last: a fair deal for our atomic love affair

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

However you view the argument, nuclear passions run strong. This film gives you a breathless ride through our atomic love affair.

LONDON, 15 May, 2020 – It’s probably hard to imagine a dispassionate account of the West’s atomic love affair, the way so many of us have been beguiled by the notion of both civil and military nuclear power.

And, although it’s taken more than a decade to come to the big screen, the wait has been worthwhile. Anyone interested in nuclear power, politics, or simply how to make a documentary, should watch The Atom: A Love Affair.

It’s hard to beat the New Scientist’s summary of the film (6 November, 2019): “It takes no sides and pulls no punches in its witty and admirably objective archival account of the West’s relationship with nuclear power.”

Vicki Lesley, of Tenner Films, UK, who directed the film, has amassed a remarkable library of clips of scientists, politicians, campaigners, old newsreels and up-to-date interviews, to chart the evolution of nuclear power from the first atom bombs to the present, the start of the so-called nuclear renaissance.

To someone who has used for teaching purposes other excellent but much shorter films directed and produced by Lesley, it seemed likely that this feature-length documentary, running for 90 minutes, might be anti-nuclear. But it is much cleverer than that.

Open approach

In the best traditions of journalism and documentary-making, she has allowed the facts and the people to speak for themselves, with a clever commentary delivered by Lily Cole knitting it all together.

There are people in the film who clearly do not like nuclear power, but equally there are enthusiasts, among them scientists and politicians who saw, and still see, the technology as the answer to humankind’s insatiable energy needs.

Few subjects arouse such strong feelings as nuclear power, and the film’s publicity is right to describe it as a sweeping story of technological obsession, political imperatives and powerful conflicting passions.

For those, like me, who have written extensively about the technology and have come to believe that nuclear power is far too expensive, too slow and too much a waste of resources to help in tackling climate change, it reinforced my views. But whatever your opinion of nuclear power, The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs.

The movie, and the need for nuclear reactors, all began with the atom bomb, and the perceived need for Western powers to make nuclear weapons. The documentary recalls how the first nuclear power stations in Britain were designed to manufacture fissile material, particularly  plutonium.

‘Ludicrous’ pretence

The public, however, could not be told this, so the stations were launched as civil nuclear power plants, producing energy “too cheap to meter”.

This ludicrous claim was based on the fact that the UK’s Ministry of Defence footed the entire bill for the project, because the government wanted the plutonium for nuclear weapons. It could therefore be said that the electricity produced as a by-product of the process and fed into the grid was cost-free. The reality was, however, and still is, that nuclear power is very expensive.

These deceptions, which in the view of some were necessary during the Cold War, ingrained a habit of secrecy into the industry that continued for decades. Many would argue it still persists.

But the movie makes no such judgements. What it does do is remind all those with an interest in the industry of the important milestones in its relatively short life: the many dreams of new types of reactors like fast breeders, which worked but could not be scaled up to work commercially, for instance, and the terrible accidents like Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

But it is not all doomy. There are plenty of jokes, clever interchanges of archive footage to put both sides of the argument, but equally no dishonesty or tricks. There is none of the poor judgement of some TV documentaries when clips are cut to make the participants appear to have made statements that they later qualified.

“The Atom is worth watching, both as a history lesson and to test your own beliefs”

This film captures the mood of the moments in history it is reporting, and sometimes makes you laugh at the naivety of those involved.

It has taken more than a decade to complete the film, mainly because Lesley struggled to finance the production while being a mother and earning a living as a documentary maker for TV companies.

Finally she won the backing of Dartmouth Films, which has organised public viewings. While there have been some private showings already, achieving wider distribution of documentaries, even one as excellent as this, is hard.

However, the film is being shown on Curzon Home Cinema on 15 May, with a Q&A session afterwards with Lesley and Cole.

At a time when millions of people are still locked down by the coronavirus pandemic, it is a perfect moment to launch such an entertaining and educational film. – Climate News Network

Hot rocks can help to cool the warming Earth

Energy from hot rocks below the Earth’s crust will help to replace fossil fuels and speed Europe’s path to carbon neutrality.

LONDON, 8 May, 2020 − The Romans were the first people to exploit Europe’s geothermal energy, using underground springs warmed by hot rocks for large-scale public bathing pools and as central heating for their houses.

Two thousand years later, the European Union is using modern technology to renew its efforts to exploit the same resource to make electricity and provide district heating as part of its plan to replace fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

With wind and solar power and biogas already well-developed, expanding rapidly and already competing with fossil fuels, the EU has decided that geothermal energy should also now be exploited as a fourth major renewable resource.

The European Commission’s Green Deal aims to exploit what officials admit has been the neglect of a potentially large renewable energy industry, which they think should be harnessed to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the Commission is spending €172 million (£151m) on 12 different developments, described in what it calls a Results Pack.

“The cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%”

Some countries in Europe with active volcanoes, notably Italy and Iceland, have been exploiting hot rocks for decades to heat water, produce steam and drive turbines to make electricity. More recently engineers in Iceland, exploring further and drilling down to 4,650 metres (15,250 feet), have reached rocks at 600°C, potentially providing vast quantities of renewable energy.

The EU believes that, with hot rocks found everywhere below the Earth’s crust, it is only a question of boring deep enough. It says the technologies being developed in Europe to exploit this heat can be used anywhere in the world, and have great potential for the international efforts to wean countries off fossil fuels.

Its Results Pack says heating and cooling accounts for about half of all the continent’s energy consumption. Currently about 75% of that is provided by fossil fuels. However, drilling deep enough would mean all Europe’s buildings could be heated and cooled using subterranean energy.

Like wind and solar, the cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%.

Rare metal bonus

One of the most interesting of the 12 examples in the Pack is a way of extracting heat for energy while at the same time obtaining rare and expensive metals from far below the Earth’s crust. This is being developed at the University of Miskolc in Hungary.

Cold water is pumped 4-5 kilometres into a borehole at high pressure. It passes through natural fissures in the hot rock and comes to the surface through another drill hole as hot vapour. This gas is used to produce electricity and for heating.

The rocks with their many cracks form a natural underground heat exchanger, but the scheme offers an added bonus. As the cold water is pumped through the cracks it gradually dissolves the rock, making the cracks larger and the system more efficient, and over time increasing the output of both electricity and heat.

But also important, as a potential resource, is the fact that the return borehole brings up precious metals in the vapour. Using patented gaseous diffusion techniques, the vapour can yield the metals with a near-100% recovery rate. The metals’ market value dramatically improves the return on investment, the paper says. − Climate News Network

Energy from hot rocks below the Earth’s crust will help to replace fossil fuels and speed Europe’s path to carbon neutrality.

LONDON, 8 May, 2020 − The Romans were the first people to exploit Europe’s geothermal energy, using underground springs warmed by hot rocks for large-scale public bathing pools and as central heating for their houses.

Two thousand years later, the European Union is using modern technology to renew its efforts to exploit the same resource to make electricity and provide district heating as part of its plan to replace fossil fuels and become carbon-neutral by 2050.

With wind and solar power and biogas already well-developed, expanding rapidly and already competing with fossil fuels, the EU has decided that geothermal energy should also now be exploited as a fourth major renewable resource.

The European Commission’s Green Deal aims to exploit what officials admit has been the neglect of a potentially large renewable energy industry, which they think should be harnessed to reduce carbon emissions. As a result, the Commission is spending €172 million (£151m) on 12 different developments, described in what it calls a Results Pack.

“The cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%”

Some countries in Europe with active volcanoes, notably Italy and Iceland, have been exploiting hot rocks for decades to heat water, produce steam and drive turbines to make electricity. More recently engineers in Iceland, exploring further and drilling down to 4,650 metres (15,250 feet), have reached rocks at 600°C, potentially providing vast quantities of renewable energy.

The EU believes that, with hot rocks found everywhere below the Earth’s crust, it is only a question of boring deep enough. It says the technologies being developed in Europe to exploit this heat can be used anywhere in the world, and have great potential for the international efforts to wean countries off fossil fuels.

Its Results Pack says heating and cooling accounts for about half of all the continent’s energy consumption. Currently about 75% of that is provided by fossil fuels. However, drilling deep enough would mean all Europe’s buildings could be heated and cooled using subterranean energy.

Like wind and solar, the cost of harnessing geothermal energy has tumbled in recent years, making it far more competitive with coal and gas. Shallow boreholes using heat pumps have cut the cost of harnessing it by 20-30%.

Rare metal bonus

One of the most interesting of the 12 examples in the Pack is a way of extracting heat for energy while at the same time obtaining rare and expensive metals from far below the Earth’s crust. This is being developed at the University of Miskolc in Hungary.

Cold water is pumped 4-5 kilometres into a borehole at high pressure. It passes through natural fissures in the hot rock and comes to the surface through another drill hole as hot vapour. This gas is used to produce electricity and for heating.

The rocks with their many cracks form a natural underground heat exchanger, but the scheme offers an added bonus. As the cold water is pumped through the cracks it gradually dissolves the rock, making the cracks larger and the system more efficient, and over time increasing the output of both electricity and heat.

But also important, as a potential resource, is the fact that the return borehole brings up precious metals in the vapour. Using patented gaseous diffusion techniques, the vapour can yield the metals with a near-100% recovery rate. The metals’ market value dramatically improves the return on investment, the paper says. − Climate News Network

Sea level rise threatens UK nuclear reactor plans

Sea level rise may consign the planned UK site for two large nuclear reactors to vanish beneath the waves.

LONDON, 28 April, 2020 – Controversial plans by the French nuclear giant EDF to build two of its massive new reactors on the low-lying east coast of England are causing alarm: the shore is eroding and local people fear sea level rise could maroon the station on an island.

A newly published paper adds weight to the objections of two local government bodies, East Suffolk Council and Suffolk County Council, which have already lodged objections to EDF’s plans because they fear the proposed sea defences for the new station, Sizewell C, will be inadequate.

EDF, which is currently expecting the go-ahead to start building the station from the British government, says it has done its own expert assessment, had its calculations independently checked, and is satisfied that the coast is stable and the planned concrete sea defences will be adequate.

The argument is whether the coastal banks which prevent storm waves hitting this part of the coast will remain intact for the next 150 years – roughly the life of the station, taking into account 20 years of construction, 60 years of operation and then the time needed to decommission it.

The paper is the work of a structural engineer, Nick Scarr, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, which is an independent, non-profit virtual institute that provides expert research and analysis of nuclear issues.

As relevant, though, is his knowledge of the coastal waters of Suffolk, where he spends time sailing. He believes the coast is inherently unstable.

Catastrophic accident risk

With sea level rise and storm surges, he says, the site will become an island with its defences eroded by the sea well before the station reaches the end of its active life, risking a catastrophic accident, which is why he wrote his report.

He told the Climate News Network: “Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long.

“I was deeply concerned by EDF’s premise that there is micro-stability at the Sizewell site, which makes it suitable for new-build nuclear. It is true if you restrict analysis to recent historical data, but it is false if you look at longer-term data and evidence-based climate science predictions.

“Climate science not only tells us that storm surges have a higher median level to work from, but that they will also render the banks ineffective for mitigating wave power on the Sizewell foreshore (because of reduced friction, as the water depth is greater).”

The longer-term data Scarr mentions are not altogether reassuring. Less than 10 miles from the site are the remains of Dunwich, once a thriving medieval port that disappeared in 1338 because of coastal erosion and a huge storm.

Nick Scarr added: “Note that Sizewell security needs to last at least from now to the year 2150. A shorter period than this, 1868-1992, shown in hydrographic charting, tells us clearly how unstable the offshore banks are over a longer time frame, and that is without sea level rise.”

“Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long”

Sea level rise is expected to be up to a metre on this coast by the end of the century, but that is only part of the problem – the “once in a century” storm surges are expected to occur as often as once a year by 2050.

This is not the first time that ambitious plans by the government to build nuclear power stations on the British coast have been questioned. A proposed station at Dungeness in Kent, on England’s south-east coast,  has already been shelved because the existing station there is in danger from the sea.

The Suffolk site already has two stations. Sizewell A has been closed and is being decommissioned. The second, Sizewell B,  owned by EDF, has been operating since the early 1990s and is due to close some time in the 2030s.

The new reactors, together called Sizewell C, will be built further out to sea than A and B and will rely on an undersea ridge, a coralline crag, as a bastion against storm waves crashing into the station.

EDF’s contention that the site is safe is partly based on a report by engineers Mott Macdonald, compiled in 2014 and based on historical data, which says that this undersea ridge is stable and will continue to be a form of natural coastal defence.

However, East Suffolk and Suffolk County Councils, in their joint response to EDF’s consultation, make it clear that Sizewell C’s development has not in their view been shown to be able to be  protected from erosion or flood risk over the site’s life.

Fuel storage problem

Scarr’s report goes further, concluding: “This threat to the Sizewell foreshore is clearly an untenable risk.”

One contentious issue on nuclear sites, including those at Sizewell, is the need for decades-long storage of large quantities of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel in cooling ponds once it is removed from the reactors. Currently the UK has no such disposal route.

Asked about Starr’s report and the councils’ objections, EDF told the Network: “The design of the power station, including its sea defence and the raised platform it will be built on, will protect Sizewell C from flooding.”

It added: “Sizewell C will safely manage the spent fuel from the station on the site for its lifetime, or until a deep geological repository becomes available.

“Sizewell is located within a stable part of the Suffolk coastline between two hard points and the offshore bank of sediment, the Dunwich-Sizewell bank.  We have undertaken extensive studies of the coastline in developing our plans.

“We have performed a great deal of modelling to forecast potential future scenarios along the Sizewell coast, with and without Sizewell C, to fully assess the effect of the station on coastal processes. We then asked independent experts to critique the forecasts to provide the very best assessment of long-term coastal change.

Dungeness jeopardy

“When built, the permanent sea defences would protect the power station from a 1 in 10,000-year storm event, including climate change and sea level rise. We’ve designed flexibility into our permanent coastal sea defence, meaning it could be raised during the lifetime of Sizewell C if needed.”

Another of EDF’s existing reactors, at Dungeness, which is built on a vast shingle bank, was taken offline seven years ago for five months while an emergency sea wall was built to prevent it being flooded.

For decades the defences of the twin reactors have had constantly to be reinforced because the shingle banks on which they stand are being eroded by the sea.

That station was designed more than 30 years ago, before scientists realised the dangers that sea level rise posed, and apparently without understanding how the shingle constantly moves.

Although it is due to shut later this decade it will still represent a serious danger to the public for another century until it can be safely decommissioned and demolished.

During that time millions of pounds will have to be spent making sure it is not overwhelmed by storms and sea level rise. – Climate News Network

Sea level rise may consign the planned UK site for two large nuclear reactors to vanish beneath the waves.

LONDON, 28 April, 2020 – Controversial plans by the French nuclear giant EDF to build two of its massive new reactors on the low-lying east coast of England are causing alarm: the shore is eroding and local people fear sea level rise could maroon the station on an island.

A newly published paper adds weight to the objections of two local government bodies, East Suffolk Council and Suffolk County Council, which have already lodged objections to EDF’s plans because they fear the proposed sea defences for the new station, Sizewell C, will be inadequate.

EDF, which is currently expecting the go-ahead to start building the station from the British government, says it has done its own expert assessment, had its calculations independently checked, and is satisfied that the coast is stable and the planned concrete sea defences will be adequate.

The argument is whether the coastal banks which prevent storm waves hitting this part of the coast will remain intact for the next 150 years – roughly the life of the station, taking into account 20 years of construction, 60 years of operation and then the time needed to decommission it.

The paper is the work of a structural engineer, Nick Scarr, a member of the Nuclear Consulting Group, which is an independent, non-profit virtual institute that provides expert research and analysis of nuclear issues.

As relevant, though, is his knowledge of the coastal waters of Suffolk, where he spends time sailing. He believes the coast is inherently unstable.

Catastrophic accident risk

With sea level rise and storm surges, he says, the site will become an island with its defences eroded by the sea well before the station reaches the end of its active life, risking a catastrophic accident, which is why he wrote his report.

He told the Climate News Network: “Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long.

“I was deeply concerned by EDF’s premise that there is micro-stability at the Sizewell site, which makes it suitable for new-build nuclear. It is true if you restrict analysis to recent historical data, but it is false if you look at longer-term data and evidence-based climate science predictions.

“Climate science not only tells us that storm surges have a higher median level to work from, but that they will also render the banks ineffective for mitigating wave power on the Sizewell foreshore (because of reduced friction, as the water depth is greater).”

The longer-term data Scarr mentions are not altogether reassuring. Less than 10 miles from the site are the remains of Dunwich, once a thriving medieval port that disappeared in 1338 because of coastal erosion and a huge storm.

Nick Scarr added: “Note that Sizewell security needs to last at least from now to the year 2150. A shorter period than this, 1868-1992, shown in hydrographic charting, tells us clearly how unstable the offshore banks are over a longer time frame, and that is without sea level rise.”

“Any sailor, or lifeboat crew, knows that East Coast banks need respect – they have dynamic patterns, and even the latest charts cannot be accurate for long”

Sea level rise is expected to be up to a metre on this coast by the end of the century, but that is only part of the problem – the “once in a century” storm surges are expected to occur as often as once a year by 2050.

This is not the first time that ambitious plans by the government to build nuclear power stations on the British coast have been questioned. A proposed station at Dungeness in Kent, on England’s south-east coast,  has already been shelved because the existing station there is in danger from the sea.

The Suffolk site already has two stations. Sizewell A has been closed and is being decommissioned. The second, Sizewell B,  owned by EDF, has been operating since the early 1990s and is due to close some time in the 2030s.

The new reactors, together called Sizewell C, will be built further out to sea than A and B and will rely on an undersea ridge, a coralline crag, as a bastion against storm waves crashing into the station.

EDF’s contention that the site is safe is partly based on a report by engineers Mott Macdonald, compiled in 2014 and based on historical data, which says that this undersea ridge is stable and will continue to be a form of natural coastal defence.

However, East Suffolk and Suffolk County Councils, in their joint response to EDF’s consultation, make it clear that Sizewell C’s development has not in their view been shown to be able to be  protected from erosion or flood risk over the site’s life.

Fuel storage problem

Scarr’s report goes further, concluding: “This threat to the Sizewell foreshore is clearly an untenable risk.”

One contentious issue on nuclear sites, including those at Sizewell, is the need for decades-long storage of large quantities of highly dangerous spent nuclear fuel in cooling ponds once it is removed from the reactors. Currently the UK has no such disposal route.

Asked about Starr’s report and the councils’ objections, EDF told the Network: “The design of the power station, including its sea defence and the raised platform it will be built on, will protect Sizewell C from flooding.”

It added: “Sizewell C will safely manage the spent fuel from the station on the site for its lifetime, or until a deep geological repository becomes available.

“Sizewell is located within a stable part of the Suffolk coastline between two hard points and the offshore bank of sediment, the Dunwich-Sizewell bank.  We have undertaken extensive studies of the coastline in developing our plans.

“We have performed a great deal of modelling to forecast potential future scenarios along the Sizewell coast, with and without Sizewell C, to fully assess the effect of the station on coastal processes. We then asked independent experts to critique the forecasts to provide the very best assessment of long-term coastal change.

Dungeness jeopardy

“When built, the permanent sea defences would protect the power station from a 1 in 10,000-year storm event, including climate change and sea level rise. We’ve designed flexibility into our permanent coastal sea defence, meaning it could be raised during the lifetime of Sizewell C if needed.”

Another of EDF’s existing reactors, at Dungeness, which is built on a vast shingle bank, was taken offline seven years ago for five months while an emergency sea wall was built to prevent it being flooded.

For decades the defences of the twin reactors have had constantly to be reinforced because the shingle banks on which they stand are being eroded by the sea.

That station was designed more than 30 years ago, before scientists realised the dangers that sea level rise posed, and apparently without understanding how the shingle constantly moves.

Although it is due to shut later this decade it will still represent a serious danger to the public for another century until it can be safely decommissioned and demolished.

During that time millions of pounds will have to be spent making sure it is not overwhelmed by storms and sea level rise. – Climate News Network

UK plutonium stockpile is a costly headache

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

This story is a part of Covering Climate Now’s week of coverage focused on Climate Solutions, to mark the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Covering Climate Now is a global journalism collaboration committed to strengthening coverage of the climate story.

 

The end of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel has left an expensive UK plutonium stockpile with no peaceful use.

LONDON, 23 April, 2020 − For 70 years Britain has been dissolving spent nuclear fuel in acid, separating the plutonium and uranium it contains and stockpiling the plutonium in the hope of finding some peaceful use for it, to no avail: all it has to show today is a UK plutonium stockpile.

To comply with its international obligations not to discharge any more liquid radioactive waste into the Irish Sea, the United Kingdom government agreed more than 20 years ago under the Ospar Convention on the protection of the north-east Atlantic to shut its nuclear fuel reprocessing works at Sellafield in northwestern England at the end of this year.

As well as 139 tonnes of plutonium, which has to be both carefully stored to prevent a nuclear chain reaction and protected by armed guards as well, to avoid terrorist attack, there are thousands of tonnes of depleted uranium at Sellafield.

The reprocessing plant shut down prematurely as a result of a Covid-19 outbreak among its employees, and most of the 11,500 workers there have been sent home, leaving a skeleton staff to keep the site safe. Whether the plant will be restarted after the epidemic is unknown.

Fewer than half Sellafield’s workers are involved in reprocessing. Most are engaged in cleaning up after decades of nuclear energy generation and related experiments. There are 200 buildings at the massive site, many of them disused. It costs British taxpayers around £2.3 billion (US$2.8bn) a year to run Sellafield and keep it safe.

Solution needed soon

While the British government has been reluctant to make any decision on what to do about its stockpiled plutonium and uranium, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has expressed alarm about the danger it poses.

“The United Kingdom has to find a solution for its plutonium stockpile, and quickly,” its report says.

The scientists point out that there is enough plutonium to make hundreds of thousands of nuclear weapons, and that it is a permanent proliferation risk. The annual cost of £73m to keep the plutonium safe is dwarfed by the much larger cost of trying to make safe the whole site with its thousands of tonnes of nuclear waste.

The Bulletin reports that the original reason for the reprocessing works was to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons. The UK supplied the US at times, as well as producing its own weapons. A 2014 agreement between the British and US governments gives an outline of the nuclear links which then existed between them.

“The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource”

For decades there were also plans to use plutonium in fast breeder reactors and to blend it with uranium to make Mixed Oxide Fuel (MOX) .

This was a time when governments believed that the world’s supply of uranium would run out and that re-using it with plutonium would be a way of generating large amounts of electricity, as a way to avoid burning fossil fuels and as part of the solution to climate change.

MOX was one possible fuel. Using recycled plutonium in fast breeder reactors was another possibility. And a third option was new-style reactors that burned plutonium, theoretically possible but never built.

But uranium did not run out, and MOX did not prove economic. It and the new reactors proved so technically difficult they were abandoned.

Despite these setbacks, successive British governments have continued reprocessing, always refusing to class plutonium as a waste, while still exploring ways of using it in some kind of new reactor. This is likely to remain the official position even after reprocessing ends in December.

The UK’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the agency that runs Sellafield, faced by this indecision, continues to store the plutonium behind three barbed-wire barricades, guarded by the only armed civilian police force in the country.

Here to stay?

One of the tricky political problems is that 23 tonnes of the plutonium is owned by Japan, which sent its spent fuel to be reprocessed at Sellafield but is unable to use the recycled material, which cannot be returned to Japan in its current state because of nuclear proliferation concerns.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has examined all the potential options suggested to put the 139 tonnes of plutonium to some useful peaceful purpose (in other words, to create energy), but concludes that none of them is viable.

It says: “The British government, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, and reactor operators in general should accept that separated plutonium is a burden, not a resource, and authority should again take a closer look at immobilisation options.”

Among the solutions that have been suggested is to mix the plutonium with ceramics to immobilise and stabilise it, so that it can be safely stored or disposed of, not used for weapons. The government has so far rejected that option. − Climate News Network

UK gas plans a carbon-free future with hydrogen

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Committed to a carbon-free future by 2050, the UK gas industry is to switch to green hydrogen and biogas.

LONDON, 20 April, 2020 − A mixture of green hydrogen produced by surplus solar and wind power and bio-methane coming from farms and waste food will ensure the British gas industry a carbon-free future in 30 years, according to the country’s gas network operators.

The ambitious plans for the first carbon-free gas grid in the world have been declared both technically possible and one of the less expensive options in solving the tricky problem of how to heat UK homes, office buildings and factories, said to be the most difficult task in decarbonising the energy system.

The programme, called Gas Goes Green, involves using the existing gas networks that supply 85% of Britain’s homes, as well as business and industry but converting boilers and other appliances to use hydrogen.

Although the plan is ambitious, its authors, the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which includes the transmission and distribution operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland, point out that a similar programme was carried out in the 1970s to convert the entire British gas grid from supplying coal gas to natural gas.

The plan, which involves 23 million properties, will be closely watched across the rest of Europe and in many other developed countries that have extensive gas networks.

“Gas Goes Green will tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy”

Currently Europe depends heavily on Russian natural gas, and there have been a number of disputes about pricing which have led to threats to cut off the supply.

This has led to political pressure to find alternatives, with compressed natural gas imported from the Middle East and the US a candidate to provide a possible alternative supply.

Now the pressure is on to decarbonise the sector entirely. The UK is well placed to do so because it has enormous potential for producing far more electricity than it needs from renewable sources: wind, solar and various tidal and wave schemes.

The aim of going carbon-neutral by 2050 is enshrined in UK law, but the country’s new Conservative government, elected last December, has yet to come up with a plan for achieving this. Clearly, though, the gas industry thinks it has found a solution.

The big argument so far has been that green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from electricity, is too expensive to compete with hydrogen produced from natural gas. However, with electricity from renewable fuels falling in price and becoming ever more plentiful, the economics of green hydrogen are expected to compete with what gas can do, the industry argues.

Potential for transport

There is also increasing interest in using hydrogen for transport, including trains, to avoid the expense of electrifying lines. It has a distinct advantage over electricity: it can be stored for long periods.

ENA commissioned a report from the accountants KPMG which concluded that conversion from natural gas to hydrogen was both technically feasible and one of the cheapest options for the nation’s heating systems.

ENA, whose members pipe gas to 21.5 million UK customers, finally came up with its plan: to switch its networks entirely to hydrogen and biogas.

There are already a number of schemes that inject both fuels into the national network, and there are experiments with closed systems which provide heating and cooking on 100% hydrogen systems. The industry is confident these could be scaled up.

Matt Hindle, head of gas at ENA, told Business Green: “We’re delighted to not only be launching this exciting new programme, but also to be making clear our commitment to creating the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid.

Political impetus

“Gas Goes Green will deliver the greenprint needed to do that, and in doing so tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy.”

The first step will be to work out a plan to switch UK boilers from burning natural gas to a mixture that is mostly hydrogen but contains some bio-methane.

This ambitious plan faces some competition from the advocates of ground-source heat pumps as an alternative for heating homes. The pumps have the advantage of running on green electricity, and cut out the need for gas entirely, but they need to be installed in large numbers.

The pumps’ supporters argue that scaling up green hydrogen production to fulfil the entire needs of the gas network is nearly impossible in the 30 years left until the UK should have reached carbon neutrality.

What is interesting, however, is that a number of competing technologies now exist to decarbonise heating, cooking and transport entirely. All that is still lacking is the political will to press ahead. − Climate News Network

This story is published as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.

Committed to a carbon-free future by 2050, the UK gas industry is to switch to green hydrogen and biogas.

LONDON, 20 April, 2020 − A mixture of green hydrogen produced by surplus solar and wind power and bio-methane coming from farms and waste food will ensure the British gas industry a carbon-free future in 30 years, according to the country’s gas network operators.

The ambitious plans for the first carbon-free gas grid in the world have been declared both technically possible and one of the less expensive options in solving the tricky problem of how to heat UK homes, office buildings and factories, said to be the most difficult task in decarbonising the energy system.

The programme, called Gas Goes Green, involves using the existing gas networks that supply 85% of Britain’s homes, as well as business and industry but converting boilers and other appliances to use hydrogen.

Although the plan is ambitious, its authors, the Energy Networks Association (ENA), which includes the transmission and distribution operators for gas and electricity in the UK and Ireland, point out that a similar programme was carried out in the 1970s to convert the entire British gas grid from supplying coal gas to natural gas.

The plan, which involves 23 million properties, will be closely watched across the rest of Europe and in many other developed countries that have extensive gas networks.

“Gas Goes Green will tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy”

Currently Europe depends heavily on Russian natural gas, and there have been a number of disputes about pricing which have led to threats to cut off the supply.

This has led to political pressure to find alternatives, with compressed natural gas imported from the Middle East and the US a candidate to provide a possible alternative supply.

Now the pressure is on to decarbonise the sector entirely. The UK is well placed to do so because it has enormous potential for producing far more electricity than it needs from renewable sources: wind, solar and various tidal and wave schemes.

The aim of going carbon-neutral by 2050 is enshrined in UK law, but the country’s new Conservative government, elected last December, has yet to come up with a plan for achieving this. Clearly, though, the gas industry thinks it has found a solution.

The big argument so far has been that green hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from electricity, is too expensive to compete with hydrogen produced from natural gas. However, with electricity from renewable fuels falling in price and becoming ever more plentiful, the economics of green hydrogen are expected to compete with what gas can do, the industry argues.

Potential for transport

There is also increasing interest in using hydrogen for transport, including trains, to avoid the expense of electrifying lines. It has a distinct advantage over electricity: it can be stored for long periods.

ENA commissioned a report from the accountants KPMG which concluded that conversion from natural gas to hydrogen was both technically feasible and one of the cheapest options for the nation’s heating systems.

ENA, whose members pipe gas to 21.5 million UK customers, finally came up with its plan: to switch its networks entirely to hydrogen and biogas.

There are already a number of schemes that inject both fuels into the national network, and there are experiments with closed systems which provide heating and cooking on 100% hydrogen systems. The industry is confident these could be scaled up.

Matt Hindle, head of gas at ENA, told Business Green: “We’re delighted to not only be launching this exciting new programme, but also to be making clear our commitment to creating the world’s first zero-carbon gas grid.

Political impetus

“Gas Goes Green will deliver the greenprint needed to do that, and in doing so tackle some of the biggest challenges facing decarbonisation policy.”

The first step will be to work out a plan to switch UK boilers from burning natural gas to a mixture that is mostly hydrogen but contains some bio-methane.

This ambitious plan faces some competition from the advocates of ground-source heat pumps as an alternative for heating homes. The pumps have the advantage of running on green electricity, and cut out the need for gas entirely, but they need to be installed in large numbers.

The pumps’ supporters argue that scaling up green hydrogen production to fulfil the entire needs of the gas network is nearly impossible in the 30 years left until the UK should have reached carbon neutrality.

What is interesting, however, is that a number of competing technologies now exist to decarbonise heating, cooking and transport entirely. All that is still lacking is the political will to press ahead. − Climate News Network

Offshore wind hopes for a livelier future

With more countries realising how offshore wind can help cut carbon emissions, a massive building boom looks likely.

LONDON, 15 April, 2020 − Generating electricity from offshore wind looks like an idea whose time has come, with the emerging technology set to grow at extraordinary speed in the next decade. But despite its great potential, deployment may still not be fast enough to avert the climate crisis.

The prospect that offshore wind energy will grow from 22 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to 177 GW by 2030 is based on predictions from the industry that makes and installs the turbines, with manufacturers taking orders from 12 major markets across the globe. The International Energy Agency has said it expects the sector to become a $1 trillion industry within 20 years.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says there is a staggering compound annual growth rate of 19% in offshore wind faster than any other industry on the planet.

One GW is reckoned to be enough to provide electricity to 500,000 North American homes, so offshore wind will provide enough power for many a coastal city. New offshore turbines currently being developed in Europe are extremely large, generating as much as 10 MW each.

Because of their height and their marine locations, these giant turbines can tap winds that blow at constant speeds. There is almost always some breeze at sea, so their power supply is far more reliable and predictable than smaller installations can manage.

“Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years”

One reason for the renewed interest in offshore technology is that its cost has dropped dramatically. This is partly because of the increased size and improved design of the latest turbines, but also because of the growing experience in building them, both standing in shallow seas and as floating turbines anchored to the sea bottom by cables.

Until now, to encourage offshore wind, governments have guaranteed a price for the electricity produced, but the cost of generation has been falling fast. China expects to remove all subsidies by 2022, in the belief that offshore wind will by then be successfully competing with fossil fuels.

One significant feature of recent developments is that much of the installation expertise is the same as that used in the offshore oil industry. This has given Europe a head start because the North Sea oil industry is in decline and places like Aberdeen, the UK’s offshore oil capital, are repositioning themselves as offshore wind hubs instead.

The bullish predictions for offshore wind were compiled from information provided at a conference, Offshore and Floating Wind Europe 2019, where all the world’s major offshore wind contractors were represented, and are summarised in a conference report published by Reuters Events – New Energy Update.

The report predicts that while currently the UK has the most extensive offshore wind installations in the world, China, which is fast catching up, will overtake it before 2030. Currently the US, which so far has just one 5-turbine, 30-MW wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, is expected to install new turbines in 2021 and to be in third place by 2030. Six states on the US eastern seaboard have found potential sites and are pushing forward developments.

Eastern Europe’s enthusiasts

In western Europe Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark already have established industries and plan more turbines. Both France, which has an extensive windy coastline, and Ireland, with enormous potential, have impressive ambitions for offshore wind, along with several other European countries.

In eastern Europe Poland, currently heavily reliant on coal for its electricity, is expected to take advantage of its coastline on the shallow Baltic Sea to diversify into offshore wind.

But it is in Asia that the largest market is expected to develop. China is already investing heavily, but Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India all have ambitious programmes too.

The US, despite President Trump’s reluctance to take any action on climate change, is seen as a very large potential market. While Texas and California have been taking advantage of cheap onshore wind and solar power, it is the wealthy states on the eastern seaboard that are going for offshore wind. Many have most of their population on the coast. Cities like New York have ambitious targets to reach zero emissions and see offshore wind as vital to achieving that.

These predictions of enormous growth, though, are still not enough to solve the problem of keeping the world temperature to below 1.5°C, which governments around the world have agreed is their ambition.

Pandemic slowdown

The executive chairman of Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar power developer, is Eddie O’Connor. He says: “As an industry, we are not nearly ambitious enough to deal with global warming.

“If we are going to decarbonise in Europe, for instance, we need to build 900,000 MW (900 GW) offshore. Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years.”

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is not clear how much even the predicted developments will be slowed down, let alone the 10-fold increase on current projections that Mr O’Connor thinks is necessary to reach climate targets.

Another European offshore wind conference, due to be held in London in November this year, should hear an update on industry developments, if it takes place. By then it may also be clearer how the pandemic has affected the oil industry (see WindEurope’s COVID-19 Wind Information Hub).

Possibly even more oil executives may think that offshore wind is a more attractive proposition than investing more capital in their own dying industry. It presents European oil companies with an opportunity to redeploy some experienced workers, particularly as in the last few months some oil majors have already spoken of their intention to take climate change seriously. − Climate News Network

With more countries realising how offshore wind can help cut carbon emissions, a massive building boom looks likely.

LONDON, 15 April, 2020 − Generating electricity from offshore wind looks like an idea whose time has come, with the emerging technology set to grow at extraordinary speed in the next decade. But despite its great potential, deployment may still not be fast enough to avert the climate crisis.

The prospect that offshore wind energy will grow from 22 Gigawatts (GW) in 2018 to 177 GW by 2030 is based on predictions from the industry that makes and installs the turbines, with manufacturers taking orders from 12 major markets across the globe. The International Energy Agency has said it expects the sector to become a $1 trillion industry within 20 years.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) says there is a staggering compound annual growth rate of 19% in offshore wind faster than any other industry on the planet.

One GW is reckoned to be enough to provide electricity to 500,000 North American homes, so offshore wind will provide enough power for many a coastal city. New offshore turbines currently being developed in Europe are extremely large, generating as much as 10 MW each.

Because of their height and their marine locations, these giant turbines can tap winds that blow at constant speeds. There is almost always some breeze at sea, so their power supply is far more reliable and predictable than smaller installations can manage.

“Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years”

One reason for the renewed interest in offshore technology is that its cost has dropped dramatically. This is partly because of the increased size and improved design of the latest turbines, but also because of the growing experience in building them, both standing in shallow seas and as floating turbines anchored to the sea bottom by cables.

Until now, to encourage offshore wind, governments have guaranteed a price for the electricity produced, but the cost of generation has been falling fast. China expects to remove all subsidies by 2022, in the belief that offshore wind will by then be successfully competing with fossil fuels.

One significant feature of recent developments is that much of the installation expertise is the same as that used in the offshore oil industry. This has given Europe a head start because the North Sea oil industry is in decline and places like Aberdeen, the UK’s offshore oil capital, are repositioning themselves as offshore wind hubs instead.

The bullish predictions for offshore wind were compiled from information provided at a conference, Offshore and Floating Wind Europe 2019, where all the world’s major offshore wind contractors were represented, and are summarised in a conference report published by Reuters Events – New Energy Update.

The report predicts that while currently the UK has the most extensive offshore wind installations in the world, China, which is fast catching up, will overtake it before 2030. Currently the US, which so far has just one 5-turbine, 30-MW wind farm, off the coast of Rhode Island, is expected to install new turbines in 2021 and to be in third place by 2030. Six states on the US eastern seaboard have found potential sites and are pushing forward developments.

Eastern Europe’s enthusiasts

In western Europe Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark already have established industries and plan more turbines. Both France, which has an extensive windy coastline, and Ireland, with enormous potential, have impressive ambitions for offshore wind, along with several other European countries.

In eastern Europe Poland, currently heavily reliant on coal for its electricity, is expected to take advantage of its coastline on the shallow Baltic Sea to diversify into offshore wind.

But it is in Asia that the largest market is expected to develop. China is already investing heavily, but Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India all have ambitious programmes too.

The US, despite President Trump’s reluctance to take any action on climate change, is seen as a very large potential market. While Texas and California have been taking advantage of cheap onshore wind and solar power, it is the wealthy states on the eastern seaboard that are going for offshore wind. Many have most of their population on the coast. Cities like New York have ambitious targets to reach zero emissions and see offshore wind as vital to achieving that.

These predictions of enormous growth, though, are still not enough to solve the problem of keeping the world temperature to below 1.5°C, which governments around the world have agreed is their ambition.

Pandemic slowdown

The executive chairman of Mainstream Renewable Power, a global wind and solar power developer, is Eddie O’Connor. He says: “As an industry, we are not nearly ambitious enough to deal with global warming.

“If we are going to decarbonise in Europe, for instance, we need to build 900,000 MW (900 GW) offshore. Based upon the current forecasts, it would take around 100 years to build enough offshore wind to decarbonise Europe. We don’t have 100 years.”

With the current Covid-19 pandemic, it is not clear how much even the predicted developments will be slowed down, let alone the 10-fold increase on current projections that Mr O’Connor thinks is necessary to reach climate targets.

Another European offshore wind conference, due to be held in London in November this year, should hear an update on industry developments, if it takes place. By then it may also be clearer how the pandemic has affected the oil industry (see WindEurope’s COVID-19 Wind Information Hub).

Possibly even more oil executives may think that offshore wind is a more attractive proposition than investing more capital in their own dying industry. It presents European oil companies with an opportunity to redeploy some experienced workers, particularly as in the last few months some oil majors have already spoken of their intention to take climate change seriously. − Climate News Network