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 urged to remove carbon from gas

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

As coal in Europe yields to solar and wind power, UK politicians argue it should remove carbon from gas..

LONDON, 20 February, 2019 − To remove carbon from gas, which is used in vast quantities across Europe for heating and cooking, is one of the great technical difficulties that must be overcome to save the planet from dangerous overheating.

Gas distributed across thousands of miles of pipes has been put forward by oil companies as a necessary interim fuel while governments move away from coal as a power source, replacing it with renewables. But a new report says gas use must also be curtailed, and quickly.

Now come claims that work must start immediately to cut carbon emissions from the gas network if targets are to be met to keep carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to acceptable levels.

Bright Blue describes itself as “an independent think tank and pressure group for liberal conservatism.” It has published a report, Pressure in the Pipeline, which suggests a number of ways that gas use could be reduced and replaced with alternatives that do not involve pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Although it is endorsed by leading members of the ruling  Conservative party, including the minister of state for energy and clean growth, Claire Perry, the report is clear that the government the party supports needs to reform existing legislation and do far more to encourage decarbonising gas if this energy revolution is to happen.

One of the key parts of the report is about the drive to replace natural gas with hydrogen. Currently the UK’s gas supplies are pumped from below the North Sea or piped from as far away as Russia. If the country can manage the transition, it could provide a blueprint for the rest of Europe, which is heavily reliant on Siberian gas and the goodwill of Russia for most of its heating.

“The government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity”

Antoinette Sandbach MP, a member of the House of Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee, said: “This report is a significant contribution to the task of planning Britain’s energy future. Decarbonising our extensive gas network is an important priority. Over 80% of UK homes depend on gas for heating and cooking.”

Although presently hydrogen is mostly produced for commercial use by extracting it from natural gas, which is carbon-intensive, it is equally easy to extract hydrogen from freshwater or seawater using electrolysis − a process that involves passing an electric current through water to obtain hydrogen and oxygen. When the hydrogen is burned it produces only water as waste, and no carbon dioxide.

Currently gas is used to produce hydrogen because it is far cheaper than electricity, but this may change. The UK, with its growth of offshore wind power, is now frequently producing surpluses of electricity at non-peak times, and this “free” power could be used to produce hydrogen to pump into the gas network.

Several trials are already taking place in the UK with existing gas distribution networks to supply homes with a mixture of up to 20% of hydrogen and natural gas, and others are developing networks that can burn 100% hydrogen, the report says.

However, current legislation bans more than 0.1% of hydrogen in the gas network, so the report points out that if either or both of these trials prove successful the government will have to change legislation to allow the schemes to be rolled out to consumers.

No technical bar

The authors cannot see a technical barrier to allowing more hydrogen into the network, since before natural gas was tapped the UK used gas for cooking and heating after deriving it from coal that was more than 50% hydrogen.

Given the right regulations and market incentives, around 60% of the heat supplied to domestic, commercial and industry consumers could come from hydrogen in the gas network by 2050.

To help achieve this the government is urged to improve the energy efficiency of UK homes, where it has had a number of programmes in the past, now abandoned.

The report says that energy efficiency could reduce gas use by a quarter by 2035 in domestic buildings, the largest current user of gas, but that to achieve that the government would need to provide active support.

Apart from the discussion about hydrogen the report details existing progress with gas produced from waste food that is already injected into the network. Much more of this gas, and low carbon gas from other sources, could also be used as a fossil fuel substitute, but again the government needs to change legislation to enable it to work.

New remit needed

The report also says that the independent gas regulator that is supposed to protect consumers, Ofgem, needs to have its remit changed so that it can force companies to include hydrogen and other alternatives to natural gas in supplies to homes.

Wilf Lytton, senior researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, said: “Existing gas regulations that were designed decades ago, and a lack of investment and incentives, are hampering deeper decarbonisation.

“Now, with time running out, the government and Ofgem should approach the task of decarbonising gas with the same fervour as it has applied to delivering low carbon and affordable electricity. It is an urgent priority to ensure that Ofgem’s next price control framework from April 2021 includes stronger incentives and greater investment to support deeper decarbonisation.”

Claire Perry, endorsing the report, said: “Hydrogen and biomethane can help deliver serious climate action through our existing infrastructure, keeping consumers on board and maintaining the flexibility and resilience provided by the gas system.

“The UK has grown its economy whilst cutting carbon faster than any other country in the G7; but if we are going to build on this success, we need to get serious in tackling heat.” − Climate News Network

Growing nuclear waste legacy defies disposal

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Supporters say more nuclear power will combat climate change, but the industry is still failing to tackle its nuclear waste legacy.

LONDON, 7 February, 2019 − The nuclear industry, and governments across the world, have yet to find a solution to the nuclear waste legacy, the highly dangerous radioactive remains that are piling up in unsafe stores in many countries.

A report commissioned by Greenpeace France says there is now a serious threat of a major accident or terrorist attack in several of the countries most heavily reliant on nuclear power, including the US, France and the UK.

The report fears for what may be to come: “When the stability of nations is measured in years and perhaps decades into the future, what will be the viability of states over the thousands-of-year timeframes required to manage nuclear waste?”

Hundreds of ageing nuclear power stations now have dry stores or deep ponds full of old used fuel, known as spent fuel, from decades of refuelling reactors.

The old fuel has to be cooled for 30 years or more to prevent it spontaneously catching fire and sending a deadly plume of radioactivity hundreds of miles downwind.

Some idea of the dangerous radiation involved is the fact that standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute, the Greenpeace report says.

Official guesswork

The estimates of costs for dealing with the waste in the future are compiled by government experts but vary widely from country to country, and all figures are just official guesswork. All are measured in billions of dollars.

To give an example of actual annual costs for one waste site in the UK, Sellafield in north-west England, the budget just for keeping it safe is £3 bn (US$3.9 bn) a year.

It is estimated that disposing of the waste at Sellafield would cost £80 bn, but that is at best an informed guess since no way of disposing of it has been found.

The report details the waste from the whole nuclear cycle. This begins with the billions of tons of mildly radioactive uranium mine tailings that are left untended in spoil heaps in more than a dozen countries.

Then there are the stores of thousands of tons of depleted uranium left over after producing nuclear fuel and weapons. Last, there is the highly radioactive fuel removed from the reactors, some of it reprocessed to obtain plutonium, leaving behind extremely dangerous liquid waste.

Although the environmental damage from uranium mining is massive, the major danger comes from fires or explosions in spent fuel stores, which need constant cooling to prevent “catastrophic releases” of radioactivity into urban areas.

“Standing one metre away from a spent fuel assembly removed from a reactor a year previously could kill you in about one minute”

There are now an estimated quarter of a million tons of spent fuel stored at dozens of power stations in 14 nuclear countries.

The report concentrates on Belgium, Finland, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US. What happens in Russia and China is not open to public scrutiny.

All countries have severe problems, but those with the most reactors that have also gone in for reprocessing spent fuel to extract plutonium for nuclear weapons face the worst.

The report says of France, which has 58 reactors, a number of which are soon to be retired: “There is currently no credible solution for long-term disposal of nuclear waste in France; the urgent matter is reducing risks from existing waste, including spent fuel.”

In the 60 years since the nuclear industry began producing highly dangerous waste, some of it has been dumped in the sea or vented into the atmosphere, but most has been stored, waiting for someone to come up with the technology to neutralise it or a safe way of disposing of it.

Sea dumping outlawed

Since the option of dumping it in the sea was closed off in the 1980s because of alarm about the increase in cancers this would cause, governments have concentrated on the idea of building deep depositories in stable rock or clay formations to allow the radioactivity to decay to safe levels.

The problem with this solution is that high-level waste stays dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, so future generations may be put in danger.

Only two countries, Finland and Sweden, which both have stable rock formations, are building repositories, but in both cases there are still doubts and controversy over whether these schemes will be robust enough to contain the radioactivity indefinitely.

In democratic countries, in every case where a depository has been or is proposed, there is a public backlash from nearby communities. This is true in all the countries studied, many of which have been forced to abandon plans to bury the waste

As a result of this resistance from the public the report says that the US “lacks a coherent policy” and the American Department of Energy suggests that “extended storage for 300 years” is the current plan. − Climate News Network

Pyrenees pipeline veto is setback for gas

The global gas industry’s prospects will suffer from the Pyrenees pipeline veto imposed by regulators, say opponents of fossil fuels.

LONDON, 30 January, 2019 − The Pyrenees pipeline veto announced by regulators in France and Spain, rejecting plans to complete a €3 billion (£2.6 bn) gas link between both countries, is being hailed as a major victory by climate change protestors.

The pipeline, which would have doubled the capacity for transporting natural gas through the mountains on the Franco-Spanish border, was supported by the European Union as a way to reduce its reliance on Russian gas, but the project now appears doomed.

Campaigners in both countries said it was a defeat for the fossil fuel industry and a major step in preventing the EU from continuing to rely on gas instead of renewables.

“MidCat”, as the proposed Midi-Catalunya pipeline was known, would have allowed the flow of gas in both directions across the Pyrenees. Significantly, it would have allowed liquefied gas from terminals in Spain to be pumped north to France to replace an estimated 10% of the gas coming south from Russia.

Energy corporations Enagás and Teréga have been promoting its construction since 2005, and in 2013 the European Commission added the project to its list of favoured “Projects of Common Interest”.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels”

The companies presented the pipeline as a necessary piece of infrastructure to improve Europe’s energy security and to fight against climate change, but protestors said the money should instead have been invested in renewables.

Although it was only one of 90 projects designed to improve the transport of gas in the EU, it was one of the largest. Gas companies have lobbied hard everywhere in Europe to get the Commission and politicians to see gas as an interim step between coal and renewables, but campaigners say the climate cannot afford to burn gas either.

Clemence Dubois, a campaigner at 350.org, said: “All across Europe, we are building a future free of fossil fuels. Together we are making it harder and harder for dirty energy companies to build their pipelines and impose a destructive and outdated model of business.

“We have won an important victory because we have prevented the construction of a major piece of infrastructure that is totally incompatible with a liveable climate.”

Last week the French Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and the Spanish National Commission on Markets and Competition  (CNMC) issued a joint statement rejecting the scheme, not on climate grounds but because they said it was too costly and they could not see a sufficient need for it.

Red card

Antoine Simon, fossil free campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “This dramatic red card to the MidCat gas pipeline marks a major victory in the fight to stop a new climate-wrecking fossil gas project. Activists, NGOs and local communities have been fighting this useless project for years, knowing it’s bad for taxpayers, consumers, local people, and the climate – and today they’ve been proved right.

“This is a major setback for the gas industry, and calls into question the hundred other gas projects that the EU has prioritised for support, all of which are similarly unviable. Gas is a dangerous fossil fuel which is killing the climate.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels.”

Although there has been fierce opposition from environment groups in the region, the pipeline’s future was in doubt from the moment the Spanish Conservative government lost power in June last year and socialists took over the environment ministry.

When last November Spain pledged to switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050 and to become carbon-neutral soon afterwards, it was clear that the new pipeline was unlikely to find favour. − Climate News Network

The global gas industry’s prospects will suffer from the Pyrenees pipeline veto imposed by regulators, say opponents of fossil fuels.

LONDON, 30 January, 2019 − The Pyrenees pipeline veto announced by regulators in France and Spain, rejecting plans to complete a €3 billion (£2.6 bn) gas link between both countries, is being hailed as a major victory by climate change protestors.

The pipeline, which would have doubled the capacity for transporting natural gas through the mountains on the Franco-Spanish border, was supported by the European Union as a way to reduce its reliance on Russian gas, but the project now appears doomed.

Campaigners in both countries said it was a defeat for the fossil fuel industry and a major step in preventing the EU from continuing to rely on gas instead of renewables.

“MidCat”, as the proposed Midi-Catalunya pipeline was known, would have allowed the flow of gas in both directions across the Pyrenees. Significantly, it would have allowed liquefied gas from terminals in Spain to be pumped north to France to replace an estimated 10% of the gas coming south from Russia.

Energy corporations Enagás and Teréga have been promoting its construction since 2005, and in 2013 the European Commission added the project to its list of favoured “Projects of Common Interest”.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels”

The companies presented the pipeline as a necessary piece of infrastructure to improve Europe’s energy security and to fight against climate change, but protestors said the money should instead have been invested in renewables.

Although it was only one of 90 projects designed to improve the transport of gas in the EU, it was one of the largest. Gas companies have lobbied hard everywhere in Europe to get the Commission and politicians to see gas as an interim step between coal and renewables, but campaigners say the climate cannot afford to burn gas either.

Clemence Dubois, a campaigner at 350.org, said: “All across Europe, we are building a future free of fossil fuels. Together we are making it harder and harder for dirty energy companies to build their pipelines and impose a destructive and outdated model of business.

“We have won an important victory because we have prevented the construction of a major piece of infrastructure that is totally incompatible with a liveable climate.”

Last week the French Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) and the Spanish National Commission on Markets and Competition  (CNMC) issued a joint statement rejecting the scheme, not on climate grounds but because they said it was too costly and they could not see a sufficient need for it.

Red card

Antoine Simon, fossil free campaigner for Friends of the Earth Europe, said: “This dramatic red card to the MidCat gas pipeline marks a major victory in the fight to stop a new climate-wrecking fossil gas project. Activists, NGOs and local communities have been fighting this useless project for years, knowing it’s bad for taxpayers, consumers, local people, and the climate – and today they’ve been proved right.

“This is a major setback for the gas industry, and calls into question the hundred other gas projects that the EU has prioritised for support, all of which are similarly unviable. Gas is a dangerous fossil fuel which is killing the climate.

“The gas industry should realise that the party is over and that we can’t keep sinking taxpayer billions into more fossil fuels.”

Although there has been fierce opposition from environment groups in the region, the pipeline’s future was in doubt from the moment the Spanish Conservative government lost power in June last year and socialists took over the environment ministry.

When last November Spain pledged to switch to 100% renewable electricity by 2050 and to become carbon-neutral soon afterwards, it was clear that the new pipeline was unlikely to find favour. − Climate News Network

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

As atomic energy gets ever more difficult to afford and renewables become steadily cheaper, a nuclear sunset awaits plans for new plants.

LONDON, 21 January, 2019 − Once hailed as a key part of the energy future of the United Kingdom and several other countries, the high-tech atomic industry is now heading in the opposite direction, towards nuclear sunset.

It took another body blow last week when plans to build four new reactors on two sites in the UK were abandoned as too costly by the Japanese company Hitachi. This was even though it had already sunk £2.14 billion (300 bn yen) in the scheme.

Following the decision in November by another Japanese giant, Toshiba, to abandon an equally ambitious scheme to build three reactors at Moorside in the north-west of England, the future of the industry in the UK looks bleak.

The latest withdrawal means the end of the Japanese dream of keeping its nuclear industry alive by exporting its technology overseas. With the domestic market killed by the Fukushima disaster in 2011, overseas sales were to have been its salvation.

UK policy needed

It also leaves the British plan to lead an international nuclear renaissance by building ten new nuclear stations in the UK in tatters, with the government facing an urgent need for a new energy policy.

Across the world the nuclear industry is faring badly, with costs continuing to rise while the main competitors, renewables, both wind and solar, fall in price. The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete.

Plans by another Japanese giant, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to build four reactors at Sinop on the Black Sea coast of Turkey in partnership with the French were also abandoned in December because of ever-escalating costs.

These reverses mean that the main players left in the business of building large reactors are state-owned – EDF in France, Kepco in South Korea, Rosatom in Russia, and a number of Chinese companies. No private company is now apparently large enough to bear the costs and risk of building nuclear power stations.

Sole survivor

In the UK only one of the original 10 planned nuclear stations is currently under construction. This is the twin reactor plant at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the West of England being built by EDF, a construction project twice as big as the Channel Tunnel, and at a cost of £20 bn (US$25.7 bn).

Already, almost before the first concrete was poured, and with 3,000 people working on the project, it is two years behind schedule and its completion date has been put back to 2027.

The problem for EDF and Kepco is that both France and South Korea have gone cool on nuclear power, both governments realising that renewables are a cheaper and better option to reduce carbon emissions.

“The cost of new nuclear is now roughly three times that of both wind and solar, and even existing nuclear stations are struggling to compete”

To keep expanding, both companies need to export their technology, which means finding other governments prepared to subsidise them, a tall order when the price is so high.

EDF’s current export markets are China and the UK. In England, in addition to Hinkley Point, EDF plans another two reactors on the east coast. How the heavily-indebted company will finance this is still to be negotiated with the UK government. China has bought two French reactors, but there are no signs of new orders.

Kepco is building four reactors in the United Arab Emirates,  a contract obtained in 2009 and worth $20 bn, but it has obtained no orders since.

That leaves Russia and China as the main players. Since nuclear exports for both countries are more a means of exerting political influence than making any financial gain, the cost is of secondary importance and both countries are prepared to offer soft loans to anyone who wants one of their nuclear power stations.

Growth points

On this basis Russia is currently building two reactors in Bangladesh and has a number of agreements with other countries to export stations. Last year construction started on a Russian reactor in Turkey.

China has been the main engine for growth in the nuclear industry, partly to feed the country’s ever-growing need for more electricity. In 2018 only two countries started new reactors – eight were in China and two in Russia.

Significantly, while China has accounted for 35 of the 59 units started up in the world in the last decade and has another dozen reactors under construction, the country has not opened any new construction site for a reactor since December 2016.

By contrast, in both 2017 and 2018 the Chinese have dramatically increased installation of both solar and wind farms, obviously a much quicker route to reducing the country’s damaging air pollution.

Maintenance problems

While there are 417 nuclear reactors still operating across the world and still a significant contributor to electricity production in some countries, many of them are now well past their original design life and increasingly difficult to maintain to modern safety standards.

There is little sign of political will outside China and Russia to replace them with new ones.

Even in the UK, with a government that has encouraged nuclear power, there is increasing resistance from consumers to new nuclear plants, as they will be asked to pay dearly through their utility bills for the privilege.

Despite the fact that the UK nuclear lobby is strong, its influence may wane when consumers realise that the country has ample opportunities to deploy off-shore and on-shore wind turbines, solar and tidal power at much lower cost. − Climate News Network

Battery boom aids climate change battle

The fastest-expanding industrial sector on the planet is now electricity storage − a battery boom which heralds an end to the need for fossil fuels.

LONDON, 18 January, 2019 − Billions of dollars are being invested worldwide in the developing battery boom, involving research into storage techniques to use the growing surpluses of cheap renewable energy now becoming available.

Recent developments in batteries are set to sweep aside the old arguments about renewables being intermittent, dismissing any need to continue building nuclear power plants and burning fossil fuels to act as a back-up when the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine.

Batteries as large as the average family house and controlled by digital technology are being positioned across electricity networks. They are being charged when electricity is in surplus and therefore cheap, and the power they store is resold to the grid at a higher price during peak periods.

According to Bloomberg, around US$600 billion will be invested in large-scale batteries over the next 20 years to provide back-up to the grid and power for the expected boom in electric cars.

The cost of batteries is also expected to fall by 50% in the next decade, following the same pattern as the drop in cost of solar panels.

“The generally-held belief that there was no way to store electricity has been disproved. The battery boom means it is now just a question of finding the easiest and most economic way of doing it”

It is already financially viable for individual businesses to install batteries to buy electricity when it is cheap, so as to use it during peak periods. Two recent examples are the English premier league club Arsenal FC and a hotel in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

For Arsenal it makes sense to have a giant battery under its London stadium to store cheap power for use when its floodlights are needed during matches which are usually played when electricity prices are at their peak.

In Edinburgh, where there is often a surplus of wind power at night, the batteries provide cheap power for the 200-bedroom Premier Inn hotel in the morning and evening rush. In both cases the capital cost of the batteries is soon repaid in lower power costs.

Currently most large batteries are made of lithium, a relatively scarce and expensive mineral. Large investments are being made to find a way of making lithium batteries cheaper and more efficient, and the search is on for less expensive materials that can also be used to store electricity in battery form.

In Belgium, ironically on the site of a former coalmine, five large experimental batteries have been installed near Brussels to test the best technologies.

New possibilities

One of the latest advances is to use another rare metal, vanadium. Vanadium flow batteries are large static batteries that last for decades and can be charged and discharged completely thousands of times. They are not portable, but last for years without deterioration and are increasingly being deployed by national grids to boost supply during peak demand. A Canadian company, CellCube, has just sold a large battery plant to France.

This has been hailed as one of the most promising technologies in energy storage, but there are many other possibilities under development including high-energy magnesium batteries and lithium-air batteries, which are an advance on the current lithium-ion versions used in electric cars and for grid storage.

There are also new types of chemical batteries under trial as large-scale static installations which allow the grid to pump out more power at peak times.

The key battle for all these technologies is beating rivals on price. This means not just other battery types, but other options under development for storing energy. Surplus energy from renewables is also being used to produce hydrogen, while the surplus from solar power is often stored as heat.

In the first few years of this century the generally-held belief that there was no way to store electricity has been disproved. The battery boom means it is now just a question of finding the easiest and most economic way of doing it, and in doing so making a giant step towards a carbon-free future. − Climate News Network

The fastest-expanding industrial sector on the planet is now electricity storage − a battery boom which heralds an end to the need for fossil fuels.

LONDON, 18 January, 2019 − Billions of dollars are being invested worldwide in the developing battery boom, involving research into storage techniques to use the growing surpluses of cheap renewable energy now becoming available.

Recent developments in batteries are set to sweep aside the old arguments about renewables being intermittent, dismissing any need to continue building nuclear power plants and burning fossil fuels to act as a back-up when the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine.

Batteries as large as the average family house and controlled by digital technology are being positioned across electricity networks. They are being charged when electricity is in surplus and therefore cheap, and the power they store is resold to the grid at a higher price during peak periods.

According to Bloomberg, around US$600 billion will be invested in large-scale batteries over the next 20 years to provide back-up to the grid and power for the expected boom in electric cars.

The cost of batteries is also expected to fall by 50% in the next decade, following the same pattern as the drop in cost of solar panels.

“The generally-held belief that there was no way to store electricity has been disproved. The battery boom means it is now just a question of finding the easiest and most economic way of doing it”

It is already financially viable for individual businesses to install batteries to buy electricity when it is cheap, so as to use it during peak periods. Two recent examples are the English premier league club Arsenal FC and a hotel in Edinburgh, the Scottish capital.

For Arsenal it makes sense to have a giant battery under its London stadium to store cheap power for use when its floodlights are needed during matches which are usually played when electricity prices are at their peak.

In Edinburgh, where there is often a surplus of wind power at night, the batteries provide cheap power for the 200-bedroom Premier Inn hotel in the morning and evening rush. In both cases the capital cost of the batteries is soon repaid in lower power costs.

Currently most large batteries are made of lithium, a relatively scarce and expensive mineral. Large investments are being made to find a way of making lithium batteries cheaper and more efficient, and the search is on for less expensive materials that can also be used to store electricity in battery form.

In Belgium, ironically on the site of a former coalmine, five large experimental batteries have been installed near Brussels to test the best technologies.

New possibilities

One of the latest advances is to use another rare metal, vanadium. Vanadium flow batteries are large static batteries that last for decades and can be charged and discharged completely thousands of times. They are not portable, but last for years without deterioration and are increasingly being deployed by national grids to boost supply during peak demand. A Canadian company, CellCube, has just sold a large battery plant to France.

This has been hailed as one of the most promising technologies in energy storage, but there are many other possibilities under development including high-energy magnesium batteries and lithium-air batteries, which are an advance on the current lithium-ion versions used in electric cars and for grid storage.

There are also new types of chemical batteries under trial as large-scale static installations which allow the grid to pump out more power at peak times.

The key battle for all these technologies is beating rivals on price. This means not just other battery types, but other options under development for storing energy. Surplus energy from renewables is also being used to produce hydrogen, while the surplus from solar power is often stored as heat.

In the first few years of this century the generally-held belief that there was no way to store electricity has been disproved. The battery boom means it is now just a question of finding the easiest and most economic way of doing it, and in doing so making a giant step towards a carbon-free future. − Climate News Network

UK’s dream is now its nuclear nightmare

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.”

Over its lifetime the giant plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, has taken spent fuel from eight countries as well as the UK and succeeded in producing a small mountain of plutonium and uranium of which only a tiny fraction has ever been re-used as intended. Instead most has been stockpiled and is now stored under armed guard with no use or purpose in sight.

White elephant

From the start, THORP was lampooned by cartoonists as a balloon in the shape of a great white elephant hovering over the English Lake District. The UK government maintained then − and still insists − that it was a major foreign currency earner, bringing £9 bn (US$11.4 bn today) to the UK over its lifetime.

There is though no publicly available profit and loss account for the plant. (Most of the prices and costs quoted here are those reported by the owners of THORP in their publicity at the time, but the total of foreign currency earnings and some of the 2018 figures below are new ones provided to the Climate News Network).

All that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs THORP on behalf of the government, will say is that the plant has employed 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. Even after it has closed it will cost £35 million a year to maintain for 10 years while it is cleaned out. Final demolition is set for 2095 with a price tag of £4 billion, a lot more than THORP cost to build.

For its customers back then, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, or rather for their governments, it solved a terrible problem − how to dispose of or store the ever-increasing amounts of spent fuel coming out of their nuclear reactors?

Problems exported

To avoid any anti-nuclear issues at home they were prepared to pay to send the fuel to Britain to be “recycled”. This conveniently postponed for decades the prospect of dealing with the problem of where to deposit the nuclear fuel as waste − well after the time any of the politicians involved would be held to account.

But even as THORP closes and the last load of fuel is dissolved in acid to extract the plutonium and uranium it contains, the problems the plant was designed to solve remain, and new ones have been created.

Every view about the success or failure of the plant is still contested, even its cost. When it opened in 1994 it was said to have cost £2.85 billion, but this week the NDA, its current owner, claims the cost was only £1.4 billion and that all of that was paid for by the foreign governments that wanted to use its services.

In the 1990s British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the government-owned company that built THORP, claimed that the plant would work up to reprocessing 1,200 tons of spent fuel a year and make £500 mn profit in its first ten years of operation. In the first decade its target was to have reprocessed 7,000 tons, but it fell short by nearly 2,000 tons as a result of accidents and leaks which caused a series of shutdowns

“The plant should never have been built, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with”

These failures, which grew worse over time, led to overseas customers losing faith in the running of the plant and to the cancellation of reprocessing contracts by Germany. Perhaps more importantly, no new contracts were signed.

The fundamental issue, however, was THORP’s failure to achieve its purpose. In order to justify its existence the plutonium and uranium should have been re-used for peaceful purposes. Plans for the new generation of fast breeder reactors that could have used the plutonium were abandoned, so in order to show they were using some of the product from the plant BNFL added another factory. This was to make new reactor fuel, made of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium (MOX), using material recycled from THORP.

This project was also mired in controversy, but the government insisted on going ahead. It ended in abject failure because the plant failed to work. Instead of producing 120 tons of MOX fuel a year it made just 13.8 tons in nine years and was abandoned in 2011. A government report into the plant concluded in 2013 that this new factory added to THORP had lost taxpayers £2.2 bn.

Despite the reasons for THORP’s existence being comprehensively undermined, the plant continued. This was principally because it still had unfulfilled contracts from foreign customers to reprocess spent fuel, earning money producing plutonium and uranium that no one has a use for – except perhaps a terrorist.

Embarrassment

So at the end of its life there is a stockpile of uranium and plutonium at Sellafield that is an embarrassment to its owners. According to the contracts signed in the 1980s the reprocessed material has to be returned to the country of origin – along with the nuclear waste created in the process.

But naturally these countries do not want it back, some, like Germany, Italy and Spain, because they have abandoned nuclear power. To help them out the UK is holding on to it, but at a price.

For large but undisclosed sums of money, the ownership of this unwanted uranium and plutonium is gradually being transferred to the UK. Negotiations are still going on with Japan to transfer to UK ownership more than two tons of its reprocessed plutonium that would otherwise have to be returned with no end use.

This complex situation is further muddled by the fact that the UK already has another much older reprocessing plant, in operation since 1952. This still dissolves fuel from even older and long-closed British Magnox reactors. The first few of these power stations were built in the 1950s to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons, and then more were erected, mainly to generate electricity for the grid. The Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield is also due to close in the next two years.

Permanent armed guard

The result of all this reprocessing is a staggering store of 140 tons of plutonium, enough to power 30 never-to-be-built fast breeder reactors or to provide material to make thousands of nuclear missiles. The UK government has had frequent reviews but as yet has no policy on how to deal with the stockpile, which has to be constantly guarded by armed police to prevent terrorist attacks.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact there are more than 100,000 tons of uranium in store across the UK, again with no end use in sight. This consists mainly of waste, depleted uranium left over from making fuel, and uranium from spent fuel left over after reprocessing.

An irony of the whole THORP saga, considering the current frosty relationship between the UK and President Vladimir Putin, is that one beneficiary of reprocessing was Russia. The Russians have a plant capable of re-enriching the uranium recovered from THORP and turning it back into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Taking advantage of this facility, which is not not available in the UK, one of THORP’s overseas customers, believed to be Germany, sent 1,000 tons of its recovered uranium from Britain to Russia over a period of five years to be turned back into fuel.

Rivalling Disneyland

So at least one customer managed to recycle some of THORP’s output. But what will happen to the remaining 9,000 tons of uranium produced by the plant from spent fuel and now stored remains a mystery.

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, who opposed the building of the plant and has monitored its fortunes ever since, summed up: “The plant should never have been built in the first place, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibition to celebrate THORP’s achievements. Its website says: “Thorp’s contribution to the global nuclear industry is a source of great pride for the communities of West Cumbria.

“It was the second reprocessing plant built at Sellafield and, at the time, was one of the largest and most complex construction projects in Europe, rivalled only by the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris.” − Climate News Network

Nobody knows what to do with a vast uranium and plutonium stockpile built up in the UK by reprocessing spent fuel. It is now a nuclear nightmare.

LONDON, 14 December, 2018 − Thirty years ago it seemed like a dream: now it is a nuclear nightmare. A project presented to the world in the 1990s by the UK government as a £2.85 billion triumph of British engineering, capable of recycling thousands of tons of spent nuclear fuel into reusable uranium and plutonium is shutting down – with its role still controversial.

Launched amid fears of future uranium shortages and plans to use the plutonium produced from the plant to feed a generation of fast breeder reactors, the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant, known as THORP, was thought to herald a rapid expansion of the industry.

In the event there were no uranium shortages, fast breeder reactors could not be made to work, and nuclear new build of all kinds stalled. Despite this THORP continued as if nothing had happened, recycling thousands of tons of uranium and producing 56 tons of plutonium that no one wants. The plutonium, once the world’s most valuable commodity, is now classed in Britain as “an asset of zero value.”

Over its lifetime the giant plant at Sellafield in Cumbria, north-west England, has taken spent fuel from eight countries as well as the UK and succeeded in producing a small mountain of plutonium and uranium of which only a tiny fraction has ever been re-used as intended. Instead most has been stockpiled and is now stored under armed guard with no use or purpose in sight.

White elephant

From the start, THORP was lampooned by cartoonists as a balloon in the shape of a great white elephant hovering over the English Lake District. The UK government maintained then − and still insists − that it was a major foreign currency earner, bringing £9 bn (US$11.4 bn today) to the UK over its lifetime.

There is though no publicly available profit and loss account for the plant. (Most of the prices and costs quoted here are those reported by the owners of THORP in their publicity at the time, but the total of foreign currency earnings and some of the 2018 figures below are new ones provided to the Climate News Network).

All that the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), which runs THORP on behalf of the government, will say is that the plant has employed 500 people and costs £70 million a year to run. Even after it has closed it will cost £35 million a year to maintain for 10 years while it is cleaned out. Final demolition is set for 2095 with a price tag of £4 billion, a lot more than THORP cost to build.

For its customers back then, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada, or rather for their governments, it solved a terrible problem − how to dispose of or store the ever-increasing amounts of spent fuel coming out of their nuclear reactors?

Problems exported

To avoid any anti-nuclear issues at home they were prepared to pay to send the fuel to Britain to be “recycled”. This conveniently postponed for decades the prospect of dealing with the problem of where to deposit the nuclear fuel as waste − well after the time any of the politicians involved would be held to account.

But even as THORP closes and the last load of fuel is dissolved in acid to extract the plutonium and uranium it contains, the problems the plant was designed to solve remain, and new ones have been created.

Every view about the success or failure of the plant is still contested, even its cost. When it opened in 1994 it was said to have cost £2.85 billion, but this week the NDA, its current owner, claims the cost was only £1.4 billion and that all of that was paid for by the foreign governments that wanted to use its services.

In the 1990s British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the government-owned company that built THORP, claimed that the plant would work up to reprocessing 1,200 tons of spent fuel a year and make £500 mn profit in its first ten years of operation. In the first decade its target was to have reprocessed 7,000 tons, but it fell short by nearly 2,000 tons as a result of accidents and leaks which caused a series of shutdowns

“The plant should never have been built, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with”

These failures, which grew worse over time, led to overseas customers losing faith in the running of the plant and to the cancellation of reprocessing contracts by Germany. Perhaps more importantly, no new contracts were signed.

The fundamental issue, however, was THORP’s failure to achieve its purpose. In order to justify its existence the plutonium and uranium should have been re-used for peaceful purposes. Plans for the new generation of fast breeder reactors that could have used the plutonium were abandoned, so in order to show they were using some of the product from the plant BNFL added another factory. This was to make new reactor fuel, made of mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium (MOX), using material recycled from THORP.

This project was also mired in controversy, but the government insisted on going ahead. It ended in abject failure because the plant failed to work. Instead of producing 120 tons of MOX fuel a year it made just 13.8 tons in nine years and was abandoned in 2011. A government report into the plant concluded in 2013 that this new factory added to THORP had lost taxpayers £2.2 bn.

Despite the reasons for THORP’s existence being comprehensively undermined, the plant continued. This was principally because it still had unfulfilled contracts from foreign customers to reprocess spent fuel, earning money producing plutonium and uranium that no one has a use for – except perhaps a terrorist.

Embarrassment

So at the end of its life there is a stockpile of uranium and plutonium at Sellafield that is an embarrassment to its owners. According to the contracts signed in the 1980s the reprocessed material has to be returned to the country of origin – along with the nuclear waste created in the process.

But naturally these countries do not want it back, some, like Germany, Italy and Spain, because they have abandoned nuclear power. To help them out the UK is holding on to it, but at a price.

For large but undisclosed sums of money, the ownership of this unwanted uranium and plutonium is gradually being transferred to the UK. Negotiations are still going on with Japan to transfer to UK ownership more than two tons of its reprocessed plutonium that would otherwise have to be returned with no end use.

This complex situation is further muddled by the fact that the UK already has another much older reprocessing plant, in operation since 1952. This still dissolves fuel from even older and long-closed British Magnox reactors. The first few of these power stations were built in the 1950s to make plutonium for the UK’s nuclear weapons, and then more were erected, mainly to generate electricity for the grid. The Magnox reprocessing plant at Sellafield is also due to close in the next two years.

Permanent armed guard

The result of all this reprocessing is a staggering store of 140 tons of plutonium, enough to power 30 never-to-be-built fast breeder reactors or to provide material to make thousands of nuclear missiles. The UK government has had frequent reviews but as yet has no policy on how to deal with the stockpile, which has to be constantly guarded by armed police to prevent terrorist attacks.

Perhaps even more incredible is the fact there are more than 100,000 tons of uranium in store across the UK, again with no end use in sight. This consists mainly of waste, depleted uranium left over from making fuel, and uranium from spent fuel left over after reprocessing.

An irony of the whole THORP saga, considering the current frosty relationship between the UK and President Vladimir Putin, is that one beneficiary of reprocessing was Russia. The Russians have a plant capable of re-enriching the uranium recovered from THORP and turning it back into fuel for nuclear reactors.

Taking advantage of this facility, which is not not available in the UK, one of THORP’s overseas customers, believed to be Germany, sent 1,000 tons of its recovered uranium from Britain to Russia over a period of five years to be turned back into fuel.

Rivalling Disneyland

So at least one customer managed to recycle some of THORP’s output. But what will happen to the remaining 9,000 tons of uranium produced by the plant from spent fuel and now stored remains a mystery.

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, who opposed the building of the plant and has monitored its fortunes ever since, summed up: “The plant should never have been built in the first place, has never worked as planned and has left a legacy stockpile of uranium and plutonium that no-one knows what to do with.”

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is currently sponsoring an art exhibition to celebrate THORP’s achievements. Its website says: “Thorp’s contribution to the global nuclear industry is a source of great pride for the communities of West Cumbria.

“It was the second reprocessing plant built at Sellafield and, at the time, was one of the largest and most complex construction projects in Europe, rivalled only by the Channel Tunnel and Disneyland Paris.” − Climate News Network

Satellites spot waste heat to save fuel

Britons who waste heat and energy by allowing leaks from their buildings face space-based satellite fuel poverty spotters.

LONDON, 14 November, 2018 − People in the United Kingdom who waste heat by failing to ensure their homes, offices and factories are leak-proof will soon have the prospect of spies in the sky to persuade them to mend their ways.

Many scientists agree that energy efficiency is the cheapest and quickest way to combat climate change, but pinpointing the buildings that are wasting most energy is difficult.

Currently buildings in the UK must be visited individually to check on their fuel use and to identify properties that could be insulated or have their heating systems updated to prevent fuel poverty.

But that is about to change. Satellite technology will make it possible to use heat mapping to pinpoint districts and even individual buildings that could be radically improved to save energy instead of wasting it.

“This exciting project is about harnessing the power of space . . . and delivering real change in terms of fuel poverty and carbon emissions”

The European Space Agency (ESA), the energy giant E.ON and the Earth observation specialist Astrosat are combining to use satellite imaging data to identify areas in the UK where energy efficiency improvements are most needed.

Part of their plan is to identify homes and districts where people cannot afford to insulate their homes and suffer fuel poverty as a result, so that the UK government-funded energy efficiency plan ECO can be used to help them.

UK Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “This government-backed technology could boldly go where no technician in a van has gone before, with the potential to pinpoint households in fuel poverty or those at risk.

“Matched with government data, this heat-mapping technology could mean less time spent on the road and more time dedicated to upgrading homes through our £6bn [US$7.8bn] energy efficiency ECO scheme.”

Pinpointing the vulnerable

At the moment it is difficult to locate whole areas or communities that would benefit most from improvements, because residents may be wary of reporting themselves as vulnerable or in need of extra help.

The scheme is to be developed over the next 18 months in various cities in the UK to pinpoint these communities. If it is successful it will be introduced in other parts of Europe.

The idea is to upgrade housing stock and cut carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is one of the key policies of the European Union in trying to reach its climate change targets, but one of the most difficult to implement.

Using government data on deprived areas and information from housing associations and local authorities, researchers will be able to identify the people who will benefit most from better energy efficiency and so help to alleviate the problem of fuel poverty.

Big data

Michael Lewis, E.ON’s UK chief executive, said: “Delivered on the doorstep but driven by big data gathered from Earth orbit, our work with Astrosat, in collaboration with ESA, is about using the almost endless possibilities of space to deliver real benefits on the ground.

“This exciting project is about harnessing the power of space, alongside our experience working with local authorities and delivering real change in terms of fuel poverty and carbon emissions, to help reduce heat loss and unnecessary energy expenditure in regional areas across the UK.

“This is a UK trial at this stage, but all involved have the ambition to prove the benefits across countries and continents to help create a better tomorrow.”

The three partners believe that if the trial is successful the same technology can be used to identify areas suffering from air pollution, making it possible to ease traffic congestion in affected areas. − Climate News Network

Britons who waste heat and energy by allowing leaks from their buildings face space-based satellite fuel poverty spotters.

LONDON, 14 November, 2018 − People in the United Kingdom who waste heat by failing to ensure their homes, offices and factories are leak-proof will soon have the prospect of spies in the sky to persuade them to mend their ways.

Many scientists agree that energy efficiency is the cheapest and quickest way to combat climate change, but pinpointing the buildings that are wasting most energy is difficult.

Currently buildings in the UK must be visited individually to check on their fuel use and to identify properties that could be insulated or have their heating systems updated to prevent fuel poverty.

But that is about to change. Satellite technology will make it possible to use heat mapping to pinpoint districts and even individual buildings that could be radically improved to save energy instead of wasting it.

“This exciting project is about harnessing the power of space . . . and delivering real change in terms of fuel poverty and carbon emissions”

The European Space Agency (ESA), the energy giant E.ON and the Earth observation specialist Astrosat are combining to use satellite imaging data to identify areas in the UK where energy efficiency improvements are most needed.

Part of their plan is to identify homes and districts where people cannot afford to insulate their homes and suffer fuel poverty as a result, so that the UK government-funded energy efficiency plan ECO can be used to help them.

UK Business and Energy Secretary Greg Clark said: “This government-backed technology could boldly go where no technician in a van has gone before, with the potential to pinpoint households in fuel poverty or those at risk.

“Matched with government data, this heat-mapping technology could mean less time spent on the road and more time dedicated to upgrading homes through our £6bn [US$7.8bn] energy efficiency ECO scheme.”

Pinpointing the vulnerable

At the moment it is difficult to locate whole areas or communities that would benefit most from improvements, because residents may be wary of reporting themselves as vulnerable or in need of extra help.

The scheme is to be developed over the next 18 months in various cities in the UK to pinpoint these communities. If it is successful it will be introduced in other parts of Europe.

The idea is to upgrade housing stock and cut carbon emissions. Energy efficiency is one of the key policies of the European Union in trying to reach its climate change targets, but one of the most difficult to implement.

Using government data on deprived areas and information from housing associations and local authorities, researchers will be able to identify the people who will benefit most from better energy efficiency and so help to alleviate the problem of fuel poverty.

Big data

Michael Lewis, E.ON’s UK chief executive, said: “Delivered on the doorstep but driven by big data gathered from Earth orbit, our work with Astrosat, in collaboration with ESA, is about using the almost endless possibilities of space to deliver real benefits on the ground.

“This exciting project is about harnessing the power of space, alongside our experience working with local authorities and delivering real change in terms of fuel poverty and carbon emissions, to help reduce heat loss and unnecessary energy expenditure in regional areas across the UK.

“This is a UK trial at this stage, but all involved have the ambition to prove the benefits across countries and continents to help create a better tomorrow.”

The three partners believe that if the trial is successful the same technology can be used to identify areas suffering from air pollution, making it possible to ease traffic congestion in affected areas. − Climate News Network

Renewable energy ousts diesel for islanders

Hydrogen power and renewable energy offer hope to islanders and others in remote communities who now have to rely on fossil fuels.

LONDON, 26 October, 2018 − Thanks to a project combining the strengths of renewable energy and hydrogen production, there are brighter prospects ahead for many islanders, mountain dwellers and others who live in isolated communities.

The people who live on the world’s 10,000 inhabited islands, and that currently burn diesel to generate electricity, will soon have the opportunity to substitute renewable power and home-made hydrogen to keep the lights on, say researchers involved in an Italian-led project supported by the European Union.

The project leader is the Polytechnic of Turin, a research university which admits 1,000 foreign students annually and is involved in programmes abroad in countries including China, Vietnam, Pakistan and several Latin American states. It is working with ten European partners in the effort to free these communities of the need to import and burn fossil fuels.

Four demonstration projects on remote islands and in mountain regions are being funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme to check that using a combination of renewables to generate electricity and produce hydrogen can make fossil fuels redundant.

“Most of the world’s islands spend a considerable percentage of their income on fossil fuel imports”

There are obvious economic benefits for the communities involved because the electricity produced by wind, sun and wave power will be free, so there will be no more need for constant imports of expensive diesel fuel.

With 750 million people living on islands, mostly isolated from electricity grids, this programme would represent a huge gain for those trying to curb the release of greenhouse gases. It is also likely to be enthusiastically embraced by communities threatened by sea level rise.

Most of the world’s islands have a population range of 1,000 to 100,000 people, and most spend a considerable percentage of their income on fossil fuel imports. In the Mediterranean alone there are 158 populated islands, ranging from 5 million in Sicily to several with a much sparser human presence.

There are for instance two Italian specks: Montecristo in the Tyrrhenian Sea (with two inhabitants) and Asinara, off Sardinia, listed in a 2001 census as home to one man and a herd of albino feral donkeys.

Tiny populations

Nearly half the islands in the Mediterranean are small, with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. They have little chance of being connected to any national grid. Italy alone has 77 marine islands, 23 in lakes and one in a river.

The four demonstration sites the project has chosen are  Ambornetti and Ginostra in Italy, Agkistro in Greece, and Froan Island in Norway. At each site, sufficient renewable energy for their needs will be installed, along with hydrogen production and storage systems.

The idea is to provide “a viable, reliable, cost-effective, and decarbonized alternative to on-site electricity generation through diesel engines.”

Varied environments

The sites have been chosen because they have completely different climates – from hot and sunny southern Europe to cold and windy Scandinavia, and the specific climate of the Italian Alps. In each place solar, wind and in some cases wave renewable energy systems will be installed to take best advantage of the local climate.

Surpluses of electricity at off-peak times will be used to generate hydrogen with electrolysis. This will be stored and used when renewable supplies become intermittent or are not enough to meet demand.

Getting the balance right between the demand for and the output of the various renewable sources and hydrogen production will be managed digitally, and computer development for this is one of the key elements of the pilot projects. − Climate News Network

Hydrogen power and renewable energy offer hope to islanders and others in remote communities who now have to rely on fossil fuels.

LONDON, 26 October, 2018 − Thanks to a project combining the strengths of renewable energy and hydrogen production, there are brighter prospects ahead for many islanders, mountain dwellers and others who live in isolated communities.

The people who live on the world’s 10,000 inhabited islands, and that currently burn diesel to generate electricity, will soon have the opportunity to substitute renewable power and home-made hydrogen to keep the lights on, say researchers involved in an Italian-led project supported by the European Union.

The project leader is the Polytechnic of Turin, a research university which admits 1,000 foreign students annually and is involved in programmes abroad in countries including China, Vietnam, Pakistan and several Latin American states. It is working with ten European partners in the effort to free these communities of the need to import and burn fossil fuels.

Four demonstration projects on remote islands and in mountain regions are being funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme to check that using a combination of renewables to generate electricity and produce hydrogen can make fossil fuels redundant.

“Most of the world’s islands spend a considerable percentage of their income on fossil fuel imports”

There are obvious economic benefits for the communities involved because the electricity produced by wind, sun and wave power will be free, so there will be no more need for constant imports of expensive diesel fuel.

With 750 million people living on islands, mostly isolated from electricity grids, this programme would represent a huge gain for those trying to curb the release of greenhouse gases. It is also likely to be enthusiastically embraced by communities threatened by sea level rise.

Most of the world’s islands have a population range of 1,000 to 100,000 people, and most spend a considerable percentage of their income on fossil fuel imports. In the Mediterranean alone there are 158 populated islands, ranging from 5 million in Sicily to several with a much sparser human presence.

There are for instance two Italian specks: Montecristo in the Tyrrhenian Sea (with two inhabitants) and Asinara, off Sardinia, listed in a 2001 census as home to one man and a herd of albino feral donkeys.

Tiny populations

Nearly half the islands in the Mediterranean are small, with fewer than 1,000 inhabitants. They have little chance of being connected to any national grid. Italy alone has 77 marine islands, 23 in lakes and one in a river.

The four demonstration sites the project has chosen are  Ambornetti and Ginostra in Italy, Agkistro in Greece, and Froan Island in Norway. At each site, sufficient renewable energy for their needs will be installed, along with hydrogen production and storage systems.

The idea is to provide “a viable, reliable, cost-effective, and decarbonized alternative to on-site electricity generation through diesel engines.”

Varied environments

The sites have been chosen because they have completely different climates – from hot and sunny southern Europe to cold and windy Scandinavia, and the specific climate of the Italian Alps. In each place solar, wind and in some cases wave renewable energy systems will be installed to take best advantage of the local climate.

Surpluses of electricity at off-peak times will be used to generate hydrogen with electrolysis. This will be stored and used when renewable supplies become intermittent or are not enough to meet demand.

Getting the balance right between the demand for and the output of the various renewable sources and hydrogen production will be managed digitally, and computer development for this is one of the key elements of the pilot projects. − Climate News Network

China’s action on air quality is saving lives

air quality
air quality

Emissions control policies in China are rapidly proving effective in improving air quality and helping to increase life expectancy.

LONDON, 22 October, 2018 − Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20% reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year.

The figures shows that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result.

The news is also good for climate change because the same policies mean less fossil fuel is being burned and fewer greenhouse gases released.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

Hourly assessments were made of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre (µm), known as PM2.5s.

Dangerous pollutant

Concentrations of PM 2.5s − the most dangerous pollutant − fell by 7.2% a year over the three-year period, and sulphur dioxide by 10.3%.

Low-level ozone, which is produced by sunlight acting on pollution, rose by 5% per year. This increase, which would have caused some extra irritation of the lungs, may have been the result of more sunlight reaching the ground.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, says: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions have led to serious air quality issues across China.

“One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair.

“These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than 1 million deaths across China each year.

“In response, the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

“Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions
have led to serious air quality issues across China”

Ben Silver, study lead author and post-graduate researcher at Leeds, says: “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular, it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Another study, published in Environment International, says that replacing fossil fuels with renewables in China and India will add years to people’s lives.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at the effect of air pollution on the life expectancy of 2.7 billion people who live in the two countries – more than a third of the world’s population.

Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to death in both countries. China is rated as the fourth most polluted country in the world, and India is ranked fifth.

The researchers found that eliminating harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants could annually save an estimated 15 million years of life in China and 11 million years of life in India.

Highest priority

Using local data from the worst-affected regions of the two countries, the researchers could calculate annual changes to life expectancy.

They were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India, due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper, says: “This study shows how modelling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens.

“It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.” − Climate News Network

Emissions control policies in China are rapidly proving effective in improving air quality and helping to increase life expectancy.

LONDON, 22 October, 2018 − Air quality in China has substantially improved over the last three years with a 20% reduction in small particulates, the most dangerous form of pollution that has been causing more than one million deaths a year.

The figures shows that Chinese government policies designed to improve air quality are working, and that life expectancy in the country will increase as a result.

The news is also good for climate change because the same policies mean less fossil fuel is being burned and fewer greenhouse gases released.

The study, published in Environmental Research Letters by the University of Leeds in England, is based on air quality readings taken at 1,600 locations in China from 2015 to 2017.

Hourly assessments were made of concentrations of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ozone (O3), and fine particles measuring less than 2.5 thousandths of a millimetre (µm), known as PM2.5s.

Dangerous pollutant

Concentrations of PM 2.5s − the most dangerous pollutant − fell by 7.2% a year over the three-year period, and sulphur dioxide by 10.3%.

Low-level ozone, which is produced by sunlight acting on pollution, rose by 5% per year. This increase, which would have caused some extra irritation of the lungs, may have been the result of more sunlight reaching the ground.

Study co-author Professor Dominick Spracklen, from the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, says: “Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions have led to serious air quality issues across China.

“One of the most dangerous components of air pollution is fine particulate matter that measures less than the width of a human hair.

“These particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs, causing serious health complications. Exposure to these particles is estimated to cause more than 1 million deaths across China each year.

“In response, the Chinese government introduced policies to reduce emissions and set ambitious targets to limit the amount of particulates in the atmosphere. This is the first detailed assessment as to whether these policies are having an impact.”

“Rapid economic growth and large increases in emissions
have led to serious air quality issues across China”

Ben Silver, study lead author and post-graduate researcher at Leeds, says: “Our work shows rapid and extensive changes in air pollution right across China. In particular, it is encouraging to see that levels of fine particulate matter have fallen rapidly in the last few years.

“While more research is needed to fully assess what is driving the trends we’ve uncovered here, particularly what is causing the widespread increase in ozone concentrations, we can see that China’s emissions control policies seem to be on the right track.”

Another study, published in Environment International, says that replacing fossil fuels with renewables in China and India will add years to people’s lives.

Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences looked at the effect of air pollution on the life expectancy of 2.7 billion people who live in the two countries – more than a third of the world’s population.

Air pollution is one of the largest contributors to death in both countries. China is rated as the fourth most polluted country in the world, and India is ranked fifth.

The researchers found that eliminating harmful emissions from coal-fired power plants could annually save an estimated 15 million years of life in China and 11 million years of life in India.

Highest priority

Using local data from the worst-affected regions of the two countries, the researchers could calculate annual changes to life expectancy.

They were able to narrow down the areas of highest priority, recommending upgrades to the existing power generating technologies in Shandong, Henan and Sichuan provinces in China, and Uttar Pradesh state in India, due to their dominant contributions to the current health risks.

Chris Nielsen, executive director of the Harvard-China Project and a co-author of the paper, says: “This study shows how modelling advances and expanding monitoring networks are strengthening the scientific basis for setting environmental priorities to protect the health of ordinary Chinese and Indian citizens.

“It also drives home just how much middle-income countries could benefit by transitioning to non-fossil electricity sources as they grow.” − Climate News Network

Beer flow threatened by warming climate

beer
beer

The world’s brewers face paying much higher prices for a key ingredient of beer as climate change hits barley crop yields.

LONDON, 16 October, 2018 − Beer will be in short supply and double in price because of the difficulty of growing one of its key ingredients, barley, in a warming world.

Recurrent droughts and increased heat will cause severe reductions in barley yields across the world, forcing a “dramatic” fall in beer consumption, according to a study by the UK’s University of East Anglia (UEA).

Since beer is the world’s most popular drink by volume, this will have significant social and economic effects, according to the scientists.

While barley is used in food, and particularly in animal and chicken feed, around 17% of the highest quality grain is used for malting and making beer. In some countries, barley is grown almost exclusively for beer − for example, 83% in Brazil is used for malting.

It is the various consuming industries competing for the remaining barley that will drive up the cost of grain, and therefore the beer – in some cases, doubling the price of a litre and substantially reducing demand.

Drop in consumption

The study, published in Nature Plants journal, estimates that extreme weather worldwide will reduce the volume of beer drunk by 16% − which equates to 29 billion litres. The drop in beer consumption would be sharpest in countries that currently drink the most, including China, the US and the UK.

While previous climate studies have focused on staple crops such as wheat, maize, soybeans and rice, and consumer goods such as wine and coffee, this is the first to look at the effect of reduced barley yields on beer.

As countries seek to adapt to climate change, governments may decide the priority for crops like barley is to produce food rather than beer. Even without this policy decision, the price of barley will increase as it becomes in short supply.

There is little doubt that, for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury”

Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA’s School of International Development and co-ordinator of this latest research, says: “While the effects on beer may seem modest in comparison to many of the other − some life-threatening − impacts of climate change, there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer.

“It may be argued that consuming less beer is not in itself disastrous, and may even have health benefits. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that, for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury.”

He argues that a sufficient beer supply might help with “the stability of entertainment and communication in society”.

Beer supply and price

The international study, involving researchers from the UK, China, Mexico and the US, identified extreme climate events and modelled the impacts of these on barley yields in 34 world regions. They then examined the effects of the resulting barley crop reduction on the supply and price of beer in each region, under a range of future climate scenarios.

Their findings show that global and country-level barley supply would decline progressively in more severe extreme event years, with the largest mean supply decreasing by 27-38% in some European countries, such as Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany.

It is countries with smaller total beer consumption that face the largest percentage reductions in the amount drunk.

The volume of beer consumed in Argentina would fall by 0.53 billion litres − equivalent to a 32% reduction − during more severe climate events. Even in the least severe climate events, total beer consumption in Argentina and Canada would decrease by 0.27 billion litres (16%) and 0.22 billion litres (11%) respectively. – Climate News Network

The world’s brewers face paying much higher prices for a key ingredient of beer as climate change hits barley crop yields.

LONDON, 16 October, 2018 − Beer will be in short supply and double in price because of the difficulty of growing one of its key ingredients, barley, in a warming world.

Recurrent droughts and increased heat will cause severe reductions in barley yields across the world, forcing a “dramatic” fall in beer consumption, according to a study by the UK’s University of East Anglia (UEA).

Since beer is the world’s most popular drink by volume, this will have significant social and economic effects, according to the scientists.

While barley is used in food, and particularly in animal and chicken feed, around 17% of the highest quality grain is used for malting and making beer. In some countries, barley is grown almost exclusively for beer − for example, 83% in Brazil is used for malting.

It is the various consuming industries competing for the remaining barley that will drive up the cost of grain, and therefore the beer – in some cases, doubling the price of a litre and substantially reducing demand.

Drop in consumption

The study, published in Nature Plants journal, estimates that extreme weather worldwide will reduce the volume of beer drunk by 16% − which equates to 29 billion litres. The drop in beer consumption would be sharpest in countries that currently drink the most, including China, the US and the UK.

While previous climate studies have focused on staple crops such as wheat, maize, soybeans and rice, and consumer goods such as wine and coffee, this is the first to look at the effect of reduced barley yields on beer.

As countries seek to adapt to climate change, governments may decide the priority for crops like barley is to produce food rather than beer. Even without this policy decision, the price of barley will increase as it becomes in short supply.

There is little doubt that, for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury”

Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA’s School of International Development and co-ordinator of this latest research, says: “While the effects on beer may seem modest in comparison to many of the other − some life-threatening − impacts of climate change, there is nonetheless something fundamental in the cross-cultural appreciation of beer.

“It may be argued that consuming less beer is not in itself disastrous, and may even have health benefits. Nevertheless, there is little doubt that, for millions of people around the world, the climate impacts on beer availability and price will add insult to injury.”

He argues that a sufficient beer supply might help with “the stability of entertainment and communication in society”.

Beer supply and price

The international study, involving researchers from the UK, China, Mexico and the US, identified extreme climate events and modelled the impacts of these on barley yields in 34 world regions. They then examined the effects of the resulting barley crop reduction on the supply and price of beer in each region, under a range of future climate scenarios.

Their findings show that global and country-level barley supply would decline progressively in more severe extreme event years, with the largest mean supply decreasing by 27-38% in some European countries, such as Belgium, the Czech Republic and Germany.

It is countries with smaller total beer consumption that face the largest percentage reductions in the amount drunk.

The volume of beer consumed in Argentina would fall by 0.53 billion litres − equivalent to a 32% reduction − during more severe climate events. Even in the least severe climate events, total beer consumption in Argentina and Canada would decrease by 0.27 billion litres (16%) and 0.22 billion litres (11%) respectively. – Climate News Network