Category Archives: Energy

Cool your home, save money, chill the atmosphere

Feeling too hot? Then turn the thermostat down and cool your home − a good start to cooling the planet.

LONDON, 8 September, 2020 − Rescuing battered economies in the wake of the coronavirus onslaught often demands building anew, but it doesn’t have to mean altogether different ways of life, transformed industries and modern buildings: just cool your home for a start, because new ways to heat our houses could save money, improve health − and help the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Housing, at least in temperate northern countries, could provide much better living conditions while doing much less environmental damage. A new approach in the Netherlands, known in Dutch as Energiesprong, is one answer.

It can cut the fossil fuel used for heating (or cooling) a house, offering occupants affordable, comfortable lives and helping to solve an urgent problem. And it can do it all in days, a fraction of the time energy retrofits usually need.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change). It thinks the built environment looks set for a long-overdue makeover.

Energiesprong involves some basic rethinking, about how much comfort we need. In 1970 the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research on how warm people like to feel. His work still influences the designed-in temperature of modern buildings and their energy use.

“A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic consumption”

So, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we usually work seated in a space heated or cooled to 21-22℃. Engineers and architects also factor in assumptions about what the supposedly typical occupant will be wearing: a man’s business suit  (trousers, a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt).

Fanger’s equation therefore locks in assumptions that apply only to a male, suited minority, ignoring more than half of humanity: women, people who don’t wear suits, those with different metabolisms. It also locks in a level of the carbon emissions which stoke the climate emergency.

A 2012 study commissioned by the UK government looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that lowering central heating temperatures worked best.

A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

Day-to-day energy use currently accounts for about 28% of global emissions annually. A massive increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is needed to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing UK building stock each year.

Slow progress

Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to “negative” emissions, resulting in an overall reduction.

For most older houses especially, this can prove costly, disruptive and time-consuming; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. Even in countries claiming to be climate leaders, like the UK, progress has been slow.

Energiesprong offers integrated refurbishment, regulatory change and financing. Its retrofits leave net zero energy buildings, generating all the energy they need for heating, hot water and electrical appliances by using new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. A complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a single day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread, and experts say it needs to be. It has to be set against the predicted doubling in global building space by 2060, when two thirds of the expected global population of 10 billion people will live in cities.

That will need the equivalent of an entire New York City to be added to the global built environment every month for the next 40 years. The energy used simply to construct buildings before they are used constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today.

Killer homes

The budget for an Energiesprong renovation or new build is reckoned as future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the next 30 years. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  the built environment’s energy intensity − how much energy a building uses − will have to improve by 30% by 2030.

Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5% annually, but this is more than offset by the number of new buildings. Global floor area is growing by about 2.3% annually, and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 on present trends.

Making houses less energy-hungry also improves social justice. Most of the UK’s housing – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas – are leaky and cold, and often damp. Many people simply can’t afford to heat them, which can put a decision to cool your home in a different perspective.

A 2018 briefing paper by researchers from two UK groups, E3G and National Energy Action, said the UK had the sixth highest long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries, with 9,700 deaths attributable that winter to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. Another estimate puts the 2018 figure at 17,000.

As well as the Netherlands, there are Energiesprong initiatives in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on local solutions in New York state and California. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Feeling too hot? Then turn the thermostat down and cool your home − a good start to cooling the planet.

LONDON, 8 September, 2020 − Rescuing battered economies in the wake of the coronavirus onslaught often demands building anew, but it doesn’t have to mean altogether different ways of life, transformed industries and modern buildings: just cool your home for a start, because new ways to heat our houses could save money, improve health − and help the planet by cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Housing, at least in temperate northern countries, could provide much better living conditions while doing much less environmental damage. A new approach in the Netherlands, known in Dutch as Energiesprong, is one answer.

It can cut the fossil fuel used for heating (or cooling) a house, offering occupants affordable, comfortable lives and helping to solve an urgent problem. And it can do it all in days, a fraction of the time energy retrofits usually need.

The Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) is a UK-based group which argues that humankind must undertake “widespread behaviour change to sustainable lifestyles … to live within planetary ecological boundaries and to limit global warming to below 1.5°C” (the more stringent limit set by the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change). It thinks the built environment looks set for a long-overdue makeover.

Energiesprong involves some basic rethinking, about how much comfort we need. In 1970 the Danish scientist Povl Ole Fanger published his research on how warm people like to feel. His work still influences the designed-in temperature of modern buildings and their energy use.

“A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic consumption”

So, despite all of us having different metabolisms and body shapes and sizes, we usually work seated in a space heated or cooled to 21-22℃. Engineers and architects also factor in assumptions about what the supposedly typical occupant will be wearing: a man’s business suit  (trousers, a jacket and a long-sleeved shirt).

Fanger’s equation therefore locks in assumptions that apply only to a male, suited minority, ignoring more than half of humanity: women, people who don’t wear suits, those with different metabolisms. It also locks in a level of the carbon emissions which stoke the climate emergency.

A 2012 study commissioned by the UK government looked at potential energy savings from small behaviour changes. It concluded that lowering central heating temperatures worked best.

A reduction from 20°C to 18°C across the British housing stock would save the equivalent of 33 TWh of electricity − about two thirds of Portugal’s domestic electricity consumption in 2019 of 48 TWh.

Day-to-day energy use currently accounts for about 28% of global emissions annually. A massive increase in the rate of existing building energy efficiency is needed to meet the emissions reduction targets set by the Paris Agreement. But building renovations currently affect only 0.5-1% of the existing UK building stock each year.

Slow progress

Governments are variously funding schemes to insulate inefficient old buildings and to remove polluting systems such as gas boilers in favour of renewables. All these efforts are chasing the target of “net zero” carbon emissions and beyond to “negative” emissions, resulting in an overall reduction.

For most older houses especially, this can prove costly, disruptive and time-consuming; without government assistance or incentives, few people are willing or able to undertake the challenge. Even in countries claiming to be climate leaders, like the UK, progress has been slow.

Energiesprong offers integrated refurbishment, regulatory change and financing. Its retrofits leave net zero energy buildings, generating all the energy they need for heating, hot water and electrical appliances by using new technologies such as prefabricated facades, insulated rooftops with solar panels, smart heating, and ventilation and cooling installations. A complete home makeover can be finished in less than 10 days, and some have been done in as little as a single day.

It’s an approach that could become much more widespread, and experts say it needs to be. It has to be set against the predicted doubling in global building space by 2060, when two thirds of the expected global population of 10 billion people will live in cities.

That will need the equivalent of an entire New York City to be added to the global built environment every month for the next 40 years. The energy used simply to construct buildings before they are used constitutes an additional 11% of global emissions today.

Killer homes

The budget for an Energiesprong renovation or new build is reckoned as future energy cost savings plus the cost of planned maintenance and repairs over the next 30 years. To meet the goals of the Paris Agreement,  the built environment’s energy intensity − how much energy a building uses − will have to improve by 30% by 2030.

Globally, the energy intensity of the building sector is improving by about 1.5% annually, but this is more than offset by the number of new buildings. Global floor area is growing by about 2.3% annually, and carbon emissions related to buildings are expected to double by 2050 on present trends.

Making houses less energy-hungry also improves social justice. Most of the UK’s housing – and particularly rental properties and those in poorer areas – are leaky and cold, and often damp. Many people simply can’t afford to heat them, which can put a decision to cool your home in a different perspective.

A 2018 briefing paper by researchers from two UK groups, E3G and National Energy Action, said the UK had the sixth highest long-term rate of excess winter mortality out of 30 European countries, with 9,700 deaths attributable that winter to the avoidable circumstances of living in a cold home. Another estimate puts the 2018 figure at 17,000.

As well as the Netherlands, there are Energiesprong initiatives in the UK, France, Germany and Italy. In the US, groups inspired by Energiesprong are working on local solutions in New York state and California. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

The Rapid Transition Alliance is coordinated by the New Weather Institute, the STEPS Centre at the Institute of  Development Studies, and the School of Global Studies at the University of Sussex, UK. The Climate News Network is partnering with and supported by the Rapid Transition Alliance, and will be reporting regularly on its work. If you would like to see more stories of evidence-based hope for rapid transition, please sign up here.

Do you know a story of rapid transition? If so, we’d like to hear from you. Please send us a brief outline on info@climatenewsnetwork.net. Thank you.

Eat an orange and save an old lithium-ion battery

You could reclaim a lithium-ion battery with help from orange peel and juice – or make fuel directly from sunlight and air.

LONDON, 4 September, 2020 – Singapore scientists have found a way to recover valuable metals from a discarded lithium-ion battery – with minimal waste and serious help from old orange peel and a solution of citric acid.

And in Great Britain researchers have tested a simple solar reactor that can turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into the raw material for synthetic fuel.

Neither technology is anywhere near ready for commercial exploitation. But each could be scaled up.

The first confronts two global challenges: the devastating burden of uneaten food and the alarming build-up of electronic waste each year. The second improves on an idea from nature and turns sunlight and atmosphere directly into energy without the lengthy business of growing and burying forests and waiting 100 million years before they turn into fossil fuels.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better”

And each is a reminder of the startling levels of ingenuity and resource in the world’s laboratories, in the search for solutions to the seemingly intractable challenge of climate change, and the shift to clean energy.

Right now, batteries surrender their valuable component metals by being heated to 500°C, or dissolved in strong acids, or in solutions of hydrogen peroxide: there are secondary pollutants and health and safety risks at each stage.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that they made a kind of paste of crushed batteries, mixed it with powdered orange peel and added citric acid – almost any citrus fruit produces the stuff naturally – and at a temperature of 100°C recovered around 90% of the cobalt, lithium, nickel and manganese from the waste without producing any further new waste that could be toxic.

To make their point, the researchers then used those recovered metals to make new lithium-ion batteries.

Cellulose the key

By 2026, the market for the batteries in smartphones, notebooks, cameras, medical devices and electronic vehicles is expected to reach US$139bn (£105bn).

In Europe, only about 5% of the waste from these batteries is recycled. The key to the success of the experiment, the researchers say, proved to be the cellulose in the orange peel. It turned to sugar under heat during the reaction process, to help leach the important metals from the waste slurry.

The world is not short of disposable cellulose. Humans generate 1.3bn tonnes a year in the form of food waste. The world also generates 50 million tonnes of electronic waste every year. The Singapore studies suggest the real possibility of a circular economy with zero waste: so far, an environmentalist’s dream.

Another recurring environmentalist dream has been to steal a leaf from nature’s book and turn sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into stored energy. Carbon dioxide is a building block of all fuels.

Minimal waste

There have been repeated experiments to develop an “artificial leaf”. Researchers in the UK have announced a variant approach. They report in Nature Energy that they have tested a set of photo-catalysts on sheets made up of semi-conductor powders, to convert carbon dioxide and water to formic acid, which is a precursor to a range of possible synthetic fuels.

Sunlight delivers the power. There is no electric current involved, no wiring, no chemical reagents that have to be deployed, and the only waste is atomic oxygen. Right now, the test unit is only 20cms square. It could however be scaled up to several metres to produce clean fuel on energy farms.

“We were surprised how well it worked in terms of its selectivity – it produced almost no by-products,” said Qian Wang, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better.” Climate News Network

You could reclaim a lithium-ion battery with help from orange peel and juice – or make fuel directly from sunlight and air.

LONDON, 4 September, 2020 – Singapore scientists have found a way to recover valuable metals from a discarded lithium-ion battery – with minimal waste and serious help from old orange peel and a solution of citric acid.

And in Great Britain researchers have tested a simple solar reactor that can turn sunlight, carbon dioxide and water into the raw material for synthetic fuel.

Neither technology is anywhere near ready for commercial exploitation. But each could be scaled up.

The first confronts two global challenges: the devastating burden of uneaten food and the alarming build-up of electronic waste each year. The second improves on an idea from nature and turns sunlight and atmosphere directly into energy without the lengthy business of growing and burying forests and waiting 100 million years before they turn into fossil fuels.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better”

And each is a reminder of the startling levels of ingenuity and resource in the world’s laboratories, in the search for solutions to the seemingly intractable challenge of climate change, and the shift to clean energy.

Right now, batteries surrender their valuable component metals by being heated to 500°C, or dissolved in strong acids, or in solutions of hydrogen peroxide: there are secondary pollutants and health and safety risks at each stage.

Researchers from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore report in the journal Environmental Science and Technology that they made a kind of paste of crushed batteries, mixed it with powdered orange peel and added citric acid – almost any citrus fruit produces the stuff naturally – and at a temperature of 100°C recovered around 90% of the cobalt, lithium, nickel and manganese from the waste without producing any further new waste that could be toxic.

To make their point, the researchers then used those recovered metals to make new lithium-ion batteries.

Cellulose the key

By 2026, the market for the batteries in smartphones, notebooks, cameras, medical devices and electronic vehicles is expected to reach US$139bn (£105bn).

In Europe, only about 5% of the waste from these batteries is recycled. The key to the success of the experiment, the researchers say, proved to be the cellulose in the orange peel. It turned to sugar under heat during the reaction process, to help leach the important metals from the waste slurry.

The world is not short of disposable cellulose. Humans generate 1.3bn tonnes a year in the form of food waste. The world also generates 50 million tonnes of electronic waste every year. The Singapore studies suggest the real possibility of a circular economy with zero waste: so far, an environmentalist’s dream.

Another recurring environmentalist dream has been to steal a leaf from nature’s book and turn sunlight and carbon dioxide directly into stored energy. Carbon dioxide is a building block of all fuels.

Minimal waste

There have been repeated experiments to develop an “artificial leaf”. Researchers in the UK have announced a variant approach. They report in Nature Energy that they have tested a set of photo-catalysts on sheets made up of semi-conductor powders, to convert carbon dioxide and water to formic acid, which is a precursor to a range of possible synthetic fuels.

Sunlight delivers the power. There is no electric current involved, no wiring, no chemical reagents that have to be deployed, and the only waste is atomic oxygen. Right now, the test unit is only 20cms square. It could however be scaled up to several metres to produce clean fuel on energy farms.

“We were surprised how well it worked in terms of its selectivity – it produced almost no by-products,” said Qian Wang, a chemist at the University of Cambridge, who led the study.

“Sometimes things don’t work as well as you expected, but this was a rare case where it actually worked better.” Climate News Network

Fossil fuels face rapid defeat by UK’s wind and sun

The cost of UK energy from renewables like wind and sun continues to plunge, beating British official expectations.

LONDON, 31 August, 2020 – The costs of producing renewable electricity in the United Kingdom from wind and sun have dropped dramatically in the last four years and will continue to fall until 2040, according to the British government’s own estimates.

A report, Energy Generation Cost Projections, 2020, by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, shows that wind power, both on and offshore, and solar energy will produce electricity far more cheaply than any fossil fuel or nuclear competitor by 2025.

Costs have fallen so far and so fast that the department admits it got its 2016 calculations badly wrong, particularly on offshore wind farms. This was mainly because the turbines being developed were much larger than it had bargained for, and the size of the wind farms being developed was also much bigger, bringing economies of scale.

The new report avoids any comparison with the costs of nuclear power, leaving them out altogether and merely saying its cost assumptions have not changed since 2016.

Nuclear costs are a sensitive issue at the department because the cost estimates its report used for nuclear power in 2016 were optimistic, and although the report does not comment there have already been reports that they are expected to rise by 2025.

“For offshore wind, significant technological improvements (for example, large increases in individual turbine capacity) have driven down costs faster than other renewable technologies”

This is at a time when the government is yet to decide whether to continue its policy of encouraging French, Chinese and Japanese companies to build nuclear power stations in the UK, with their costs subsidised by a tax on electricity bills.

Although all the figures for renewable prices quoted are for British installations, they are internationally important because the UK is a well-advanced renewable market and a leader in the field of offshore wind, because of the large number of wind turbines already in operation.

The fact that large-scale solar power is cost-competitive with fossil fuels even in a not particularly sunny country means that the future looks bleak for both coal and gas generators across the world.

The prices quoted in the report are in pounds sterling per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity produced.

For offshore wind the department now expects the price to be £57 MWh in 2025, almost half its estimate of £106 for the same year made in 2016. It expects the price to drop to £47 in 2030, and £40 by 2040. Onshore wind, estimated to cost £65 MWh in 2016, is now said to be down to £46 in 2025 and still gradually falling after that.

Nuclear cost overruns

Large-scale solar, thought to cost £68 in 2016, is now expected to be £44 MWh in 2025, falling to £33 per MWh in 2040. The output of the latest H class gas turbines is estimated by the department to cost £115 a MWh in 2025, although this is a newish technology and may also come down in price.

The 2016 report says nuclear power will be at £95 MWh in 2025, and although this year’s report says the prices remain the same Hinkley Point C, the only nuclear power station currently under construction in the UK, has already reported cost overruns and delays that put its costs above that estimate.

The 2020 report says: “Since 2016, renewables’ costs have declined
compared to gas, particularly steeply in the case of offshore wind. Across the renewable technologies, increased deployment has led to decreased costs via learning, which then incentivised further deployment, and so on.

“For offshore wind, significant technological improvements (for example, large increases in individual turbine capacity) have driven down costs faster than other renewable technologies (and will continue to do so).”

By coincidence, on the day the report was released, it was reported that two of the UK’s largest wind farms, off the east coast in the North Sea, are to double in size.

Better storage available

The energy giant Equinor agreed to lease 196 square kilometres of the seabed for extensions to the Sheringham and Dudgeon wind farms to double their capacity to 1,400 megawatts, enough to power 1.5 million homes.

Since the BEIS published the 2016 report the arguments about renewables have changed. Although the report does not say so, the intermittent nature of renewables is less of an issue because large-scale batteries and other energy storage options are becoming more widespread and mainstream.

Also, both the European Union and the British government are investing in green hydrogen – hydrogen from renewable energy via electrolysis – which could be produced when supplies of green energy exceed demand, as they did in Britain during the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year.

In future, instead of this excess power going to waste, it will be turned into green hydrogen to feed into the gas network, to power vehicles or to be held in tanks and burned to produce electricity at peak times.

According to analysis by the research firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd, reported in Energy Voice, the cost of green hydrogen will drop by 64% by 2040, making it competitive with fossil fuels for industry and transport. – Climate News Network

The cost of UK energy from renewables like wind and sun continues to plunge, beating British official expectations.

LONDON, 31 August, 2020 – The costs of producing renewable electricity in the United Kingdom from wind and sun have dropped dramatically in the last four years and will continue to fall until 2040, according to the British government’s own estimates.

A report, Energy Generation Cost Projections, 2020, by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, shows that wind power, both on and offshore, and solar energy will produce electricity far more cheaply than any fossil fuel or nuclear competitor by 2025.

Costs have fallen so far and so fast that the department admits it got its 2016 calculations badly wrong, particularly on offshore wind farms. This was mainly because the turbines being developed were much larger than it had bargained for, and the size of the wind farms being developed was also much bigger, bringing economies of scale.

The new report avoids any comparison with the costs of nuclear power, leaving them out altogether and merely saying its cost assumptions have not changed since 2016.

Nuclear costs are a sensitive issue at the department because the cost estimates its report used for nuclear power in 2016 were optimistic, and although the report does not comment there have already been reports that they are expected to rise by 2025.

“For offshore wind, significant technological improvements (for example, large increases in individual turbine capacity) have driven down costs faster than other renewable technologies”

This is at a time when the government is yet to decide whether to continue its policy of encouraging French, Chinese and Japanese companies to build nuclear power stations in the UK, with their costs subsidised by a tax on electricity bills.

Although all the figures for renewable prices quoted are for British installations, they are internationally important because the UK is a well-advanced renewable market and a leader in the field of offshore wind, because of the large number of wind turbines already in operation.

The fact that large-scale solar power is cost-competitive with fossil fuels even in a not particularly sunny country means that the future looks bleak for both coal and gas generators across the world.

The prices quoted in the report are in pounds sterling per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity produced.

For offshore wind the department now expects the price to be £57 MWh in 2025, almost half its estimate of £106 for the same year made in 2016. It expects the price to drop to £47 in 2030, and £40 by 2040. Onshore wind, estimated to cost £65 MWh in 2016, is now said to be down to £46 in 2025 and still gradually falling after that.

Nuclear cost overruns

Large-scale solar, thought to cost £68 in 2016, is now expected to be £44 MWh in 2025, falling to £33 per MWh in 2040. The output of the latest H class gas turbines is estimated by the department to cost £115 a MWh in 2025, although this is a newish technology and may also come down in price.

The 2016 report says nuclear power will be at £95 MWh in 2025, and although this year’s report says the prices remain the same Hinkley Point C, the only nuclear power station currently under construction in the UK, has already reported cost overruns and delays that put its costs above that estimate.

The 2020 report says: “Since 2016, renewables’ costs have declined
compared to gas, particularly steeply in the case of offshore wind. Across the renewable technologies, increased deployment has led to decreased costs via learning, which then incentivised further deployment, and so on.

“For offshore wind, significant technological improvements (for example, large increases in individual turbine capacity) have driven down costs faster than other renewable technologies (and will continue to do so).”

By coincidence, on the day the report was released, it was reported that two of the UK’s largest wind farms, off the east coast in the North Sea, are to double in size.

Better storage available

The energy giant Equinor agreed to lease 196 square kilometres of the seabed for extensions to the Sheringham and Dudgeon wind farms to double their capacity to 1,400 megawatts, enough to power 1.5 million homes.

Since the BEIS published the 2016 report the arguments about renewables have changed. Although the report does not say so, the intermittent nature of renewables is less of an issue because large-scale batteries and other energy storage options are becoming more widespread and mainstream.

Also, both the European Union and the British government are investing in green hydrogen – hydrogen from renewable energy via electrolysis – which could be produced when supplies of green energy exceed demand, as they did in Britain during the Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year.

In future, instead of this excess power going to waste, it will be turned into green hydrogen to feed into the gas network, to power vehicles or to be held in tanks and burned to produce electricity at peak times.

According to analysis by the research firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd, reported in Energy Voice, the cost of green hydrogen will drop by 64% by 2040, making it competitive with fossil fuels for industry and transport. – Climate News Network

Calling time on UK’s ageing nuclear power plants

Local authorities demand the closure of all the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants to protect both safety and the economy.

LONDON, 13 August, 2020 – Four of the UK’s ageing nuclear power reactors, currently closed for repairs, should not be allowed to restart, in order to protect public health, says a consortium of 40 local authorities in Britain and Ireland.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the local government voice on nuclear issues in the United Kingdom, then wants all the rest of the country’s 14 ageing advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) shut down as soon as possible, with the power they produce replaced by renewables and a programme of energy efficiency.

The four reactors they want closed immediately are two at Hunterston in Scotland and two at Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England. Of the other five power stations (each with two reacttors) which the NFLA wants shut down as soon as possible, one is at Torness, also in Scotland.

Three more are in the North of England – one at Hartlepool in County Durham and two at Heysham in Lancashire and one at Dungeness in south-east England.

Faster wind-down

To protect the jobs of those involved, the NFLA calls in its report on the future of the AGRs for a “Just Transition”: retraining for skilled workers, but also an accelerated decommissioning of the plants to use the nuclear skills of the existing workforce.

The report details the dangers that the reactors, some more than 40 years old, pose to the public. Graphite blocks, which are vital for closing down the reactor in an emergency, are disintegrating because of constant radiation, and other plants are so corroded that pipework is judged dangerous.

If the two Hunterston reactors were restarted and the graphite blocks failed, a worst-case accident would mean both Edinburgh and Glasgow would have to be evacuated, the report says.

The reactors are owned by the French nuclear giant EDF, which hopes to keep them going until the power they produce can be replaced by a pair of new reactors the company is building with Chinese support at Hinkley Point C. This plant was due to be completed by 2025, but cost overruns and already acknowledged delays make that unlikely.

“The NFLA urges the UK Government to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions”

EDF has already spent £200 million to try to repair the off-line AGR reactors – some now 44 years old – but has so far failed to persuade the UK Government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that it is safe to do so.

The report says it would be simpler and cheaper to replace the reactors’ output with renewable energy rather than to keep repairing them – by coincidence a point also made by the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission on the same day.

Apart from detailing the fears of independent engineers and campaigners about the gradual disintegration of the reactors because of constant bombardment by radiation, the NFLA also criticises the ONR for not taking a stronger line on safety.

The ONR has promised to “robustly challenge” EDF Energy, to ensure that it “remains safe”. But NFLA Scotland’s convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton, is not satisfied. He says councils will press the ONR “to forensically scrutinise what look like significant weaknesses in the EDF safety case.”

Repeat postponements

This criticism is based partly on the EDF habit of setting dates for the restart of reactors, only to postpone them repeatedly. This has happened as many as eight times in the case of Hunterston since it first shut down for a routine inspection in 2018, and six times for Dungeness.

In both cases this has just happened again, Dungeness being delayed from September to December this year.

Professor Stephen Thomas of the the University of Greenwich in London commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the reactors. He said: “It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems.

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

Relying on blandness

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

Councillor David Blackburn, who chairs the NFLA’s steering committee, called for the closure of all EDF’s AGRs as soon as possible. He said: “The NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions.

“There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”

The problem for the Government and EDF is not that the lights will go out if the nuclear stations are closed.

Covid prompts slump

Three stations are closed down at the moment for repairs, and the newest to open, a pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B on the east coast of England (not covered by the current report) is operating at 50% power because demand for electricity has slumped during the Covid pandemic. In fact EDF is being paid to keep it shut by consumers through their bills.

The problem is the economic mess that closing the reactors will create. EDF UK will be technically bankrupt if and when it closes its nuclear stations which will go from being assets on its balance sheet to liabilities.

The French state-owned company is already so heavily in debt and severely stretched in building new plants that it will be unable to help its British subsidiary. Asked to comment on this report, it did not answer the question.

The government of the day also has to face the difficulty of how much it will all cost. There is £9.4 billion in the ring-fenced government Nuclear Liabilities Fund to decommission the UK’s AGR stations and eventually the Sizewell station as well, but it will soon be clear this is nowhere near enough and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill. The estimate for the liabilities is currently around £20.4 billion. – Climate News Network

Local authorities demand the closure of all the UK’s ageing nuclear power plants to protect both safety and the economy.

LONDON, 13 August, 2020 – Four of the UK’s ageing nuclear power reactors, currently closed for repairs, should not be allowed to restart, in order to protect public health, says a consortium of 40 local authorities in Britain and Ireland.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA), the local government voice on nuclear issues in the United Kingdom, then wants all the rest of the country’s 14 ageing advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) shut down as soon as possible, with the power they produce replaced by renewables and a programme of energy efficiency.

The four reactors they want closed immediately are two at Hunterston in Scotland and two at Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England. Of the other five power stations (each with two reacttors) which the NFLA wants shut down as soon as possible, one is at Torness, also in Scotland.

Three more are in the North of England – one at Hartlepool in County Durham and two at Heysham in Lancashire and one at Dungeness in south-east England.

Faster wind-down

To protect the jobs of those involved, the NFLA calls in its report on the future of the AGRs for a “Just Transition”: retraining for skilled workers, but also an accelerated decommissioning of the plants to use the nuclear skills of the existing workforce.

The report details the dangers that the reactors, some more than 40 years old, pose to the public. Graphite blocks, which are vital for closing down the reactor in an emergency, are disintegrating because of constant radiation, and other plants are so corroded that pipework is judged dangerous.

If the two Hunterston reactors were restarted and the graphite blocks failed, a worst-case accident would mean both Edinburgh and Glasgow would have to be evacuated, the report says.

The reactors are owned by the French nuclear giant EDF, which hopes to keep them going until the power they produce can be replaced by a pair of new reactors the company is building with Chinese support at Hinkley Point C. This plant was due to be completed by 2025, but cost overruns and already acknowledged delays make that unlikely.

“The NFLA urges the UK Government to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions”

EDF has already spent £200 million to try to repair the off-line AGR reactors – some now 44 years old – but has so far failed to persuade the UK Government’s safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR), that it is safe to do so.

The report says it would be simpler and cheaper to replace the reactors’ output with renewable energy rather than to keep repairing them – by coincidence a point also made by the UK Government’s National Infrastructure Commission on the same day.

Apart from detailing the fears of independent engineers and campaigners about the gradual disintegration of the reactors because of constant bombardment by radiation, the NFLA also criticises the ONR for not taking a stronger line on safety.

The ONR has promised to “robustly challenge” EDF Energy, to ensure that it “remains safe”. But NFLA Scotland’s convenor, Councillor Feargal Dalton, is not satisfied. He says councils will press the ONR “to forensically scrutinise what look like significant weaknesses in the EDF safety case.”

Repeat postponements

This criticism is based partly on the EDF habit of setting dates for the restart of reactors, only to postpone them repeatedly. This has happened as many as eight times in the case of Hunterston since it first shut down for a routine inspection in 2018, and six times for Dungeness.

In both cases this has just happened again, Dungeness being delayed from September to December this year.

Professor Stephen Thomas of the the University of Greenwich in London commented on the constantly postponed start-up dates for the reactors. He said: “It is clear, given that shutdowns expected to take two months are now expected to take two years or more, that EDF has found huge unanticipated problems.

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

Relying on blandness

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

Councillor David Blackburn, who chairs the NFLA’s steering committee, called for the closure of all EDF’s AGRs as soon as possible. He said: “The NFLA urges the UK Government in particular to move its energy policy from new nuclear and focus on delivering renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage solutions.

“There is ample evidence these can be delivered quickly and in the quantity that is required for future energy policy. It is time to move from nuclear and focus on renewables.”

The problem for the Government and EDF is not that the lights will go out if the nuclear stations are closed.

Covid prompts slump

Three stations are closed down at the moment for repairs, and the newest to open, a pressurised water reactor (PWR) at Sizewell B on the east coast of England (not covered by the current report) is operating at 50% power because demand for electricity has slumped during the Covid pandemic. In fact EDF is being paid to keep it shut by consumers through their bills.

The problem is the economic mess that closing the reactors will create. EDF UK will be technically bankrupt if and when it closes its nuclear stations which will go from being assets on its balance sheet to liabilities.

The French state-owned company is already so heavily in debt and severely stretched in building new plants that it will be unable to help its British subsidiary. Asked to comment on this report, it did not answer the question.

The government of the day also has to face the difficulty of how much it will all cost. There is £9.4 billion in the ring-fenced government Nuclear Liabilities Fund to decommission the UK’s AGR stations and eventually the Sizewell station as well, but it will soon be clear this is nowhere near enough and the taxpayer will have to foot the bill. The estimate for the liabilities is currently around £20.4 billion. – Climate News Network

Global offshore wind industry takes huge strides

The global offshore wind industry is booming, rapidly growing in size and earning vastly more across the globe.

LONDON, 12 August, 2020 − Despite Covid-19’s grim effects on many industries, the orders for the global offshore wind industry have increased dramatically in the first half of 2020, totalling US$35 billion (£26bn), up 319% on 2019.

Although this already makes it the fastest-growing industry in the world, it seems likely to be only the start of an extraordinary boom in a business that is still improving its technology, and because of that the prices for the electricity it produces are tumbling.

Europe was a pioneer of the industry, since its many square kilometres of shallow sea in the continental shelf meant there were many locations ideal for driving piles into the seabed to anchor the turbines, which happily were close to markets in major coastal cities.

As the technology has improved, so the size of the turbines being installed has increased, now reaching 10 megawatts (MW) and heading soon for 12.

“Offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 18 times global electricity demand today”

And as the turbines have grown bigger, the cost of the electricity they produce has come down, and offshore farms now not only compete with fossil fuels but are far cheaper than nuclear energy. The Far East, China and Taiwan have already become huge markets, and the US is beginning to invest heavily too.

Designs by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are already available for 15 to 20MW turbines. These will be 150 metres high, with rotor diameters of 240m, longer than two football pitches.

The extraordinary size of these models allows them to take advantage of the higher and more constant wind speeds available further out to sea, which provides a more reliable output.

While the boom in wind farms fixed to the seabed develops, a new surge is also expected in floating farms. These use what are basically identical turbines mounted on rafts anchored by cables to the seabed, allowing them to operate in much deeper water.

Costs head downwards

Floating wind farms have already been in operation and have exceeded output expectations, but like all prototypes they were expensive. As with all successful renewable energy technologies, though, the price of installation and operation will continue to fall as the industry gains experience and confidence.

Only 20 years ago turbines producing 3MW of electricity were considered giants. Today’s engineers are already considering whether models able to generate more than 20MW are feasible.

The International Energy Agency said in 2019 that the European Union (then including the UK), the US, Japan, India and even China had enough offshore wind potential to cover all their electricity needs. That was before the latest designs for even bigger turbines had been unveiled.

Its report said: “Today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 TWh per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.” − Climate News Network

The global offshore wind industry is booming, rapidly growing in size and earning vastly more across the globe.

LONDON, 12 August, 2020 − Despite Covid-19’s grim effects on many industries, the orders for the global offshore wind industry have increased dramatically in the first half of 2020, totalling US$35 billion (£26bn), up 319% on 2019.

Although this already makes it the fastest-growing industry in the world, it seems likely to be only the start of an extraordinary boom in a business that is still improving its technology, and because of that the prices for the electricity it produces are tumbling.

Europe was a pioneer of the industry, since its many square kilometres of shallow sea in the continental shelf meant there were many locations ideal for driving piles into the seabed to anchor the turbines, which happily were close to markets in major coastal cities.

As the technology has improved, so the size of the turbines being installed has increased, now reaching 10 megawatts (MW) and heading soon for 12.

“Offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 18 times global electricity demand today”

And as the turbines have grown bigger, the cost of the electricity they produce has come down, and offshore farms now not only compete with fossil fuels but are far cheaper than nuclear energy. The Far East, China and Taiwan have already become huge markets, and the US is beginning to invest heavily too.

Designs by the US National Renewable Energy Laboratory are already available for 15 to 20MW turbines. These will be 150 metres high, with rotor diameters of 240m, longer than two football pitches.

The extraordinary size of these models allows them to take advantage of the higher and more constant wind speeds available further out to sea, which provides a more reliable output.

While the boom in wind farms fixed to the seabed develops, a new surge is also expected in floating farms. These use what are basically identical turbines mounted on rafts anchored by cables to the seabed, allowing them to operate in much deeper water.

Costs head downwards

Floating wind farms have already been in operation and have exceeded output expectations, but like all prototypes they were expensive. As with all successful renewable energy technologies, though, the price of installation and operation will continue to fall as the industry gains experience and confidence.

Only 20 years ago turbines producing 3MW of electricity were considered giants. Today’s engineers are already considering whether models able to generate more than 20MW are feasible.

The International Energy Agency said in 2019 that the European Union (then including the UK), the US, Japan, India and even China had enough offshore wind potential to cover all their electricity needs. That was before the latest designs for even bigger turbines had been unveiled.

Its report said: “Today’s offshore wind market doesn’t even come close to tapping the full potential – with high-quality resources available in most major markets, offshore wind has the potential to generate more than 420,000 TWh per year worldwide. This is more than 18 times global electricity demand today.” − Climate News Network

The poor pay for the grim legacy of uranium mining

Uranium mining costs humans dearly. The nuclear industry prefers not to discuss the price paid by miners and their families.

LONDON, 31 July, 2020 – The scars left on barren landscapes by uranium mining are rendered more frightening in many countries – in the former Soviet bloc, for example – by the signs warning would-be visitors of their presence, decorated with little more than a skull-and-crossbones.

The signs use few words to explain that vast areas of land, containing small mountains of mine tailings, will be dangerous to intruders for billions of years, by which time the deadly alpha particles in the dust should have decayed.

But the terrible price paid by the poor miners and indigenous peoples who have had their lands torn apart to get at the uranium ore is now laid bare  in a new publication, The Uranium Atlas, Facts and Data about the Raw Material of the Nuclear Age. It is the work of a band of researchers from around the world, first published in German and now updated in English.

The central message of the Atlas is uncompromising: “The price for keeping the nuclear power stations in South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU and USA online is paid by the people in the mining regions: their health and livelihoods are destroyed.”

The particles inhaled by uranium miners bring lung cancer, and the dust carried back to their homes endangers their families, even unborn children. Although uranium is everywhere, even in seawater, extracting it for use in nuclear power stations is a messy business.

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided”

The Atlas shows how extracting uranium from the ore is carried out in remote locations, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, for example in Canada, Australia and the US. More recently, though, two African states, Namibia and Niger, have joined the list of prime examples.

At the mines large quantities of rock have to be crushed and treated with chemicals to leach out the uranium. For a uranium content of 0.1%, 10,000 tonnes of ore must be mined to yield one tonne of uranium.

The ore is then ground down and the uranium chemically extracted, producing a form of powdered concentrate called yellowcake, totalling 7.11 kgs of usable material left over from the original 10,000 tonnes of ore.

The yellowcake then has to be transported long distances to the countries which use nuclear power so that they can extract the fissile material needed to fuel power stations and make nuclear weapons – uranium-235.

Little European mining

The point the “Atlas” is making is that supposedly civilised and crowded countries that rely on nuclear power to keep the lights on will not allow uranium mining at home because of the destruction it causes and the danger to the health of their citizens.

The authors write: ”At the start of 2020 there were still 124 nuclear power plants in operation in the EU, making it the world’s largest consumer of uranium. The nuclear fuel is imported from outside the EU and there is strong opposition to any new uranium mining in Europe.”

With maps and diagrams the Atlas traces the history and current operations of the uranium mining business, but comments: “The exact pathway of uranium is hard to follow: the mining companies do not disclose where they deliver the uranium and the power plant operators do not reveal where the uranium for their power plants comes from.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that nuclear power has no place in the modern world, and that renewable technologies are both cheaper and safer than power from uranium.

They say: “One kilogram of uranium-235 contains enough energy to generate 24 million kilowatt hours of heat; one kilogram of coal can generate only eight. As a result the nuclear industry has always promoted nuclear power as a better alternative to fossil fuels, and is now using the climate crisis to justify its continued – and expanded – use.

High subsidies

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided.

“For almost 70 years the nuclear industry has been highly subsidised and has never been able to stand on its own two feet economically.

“From cleaning up the damage caused by uranium mining, to routine operations, to decommissioning and final storage of nuclear waste, the industry has neither calculated the real costs of its activities nor has it adequately disclosed its financial conditions.

“Viewed as an essential component of the construction of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets, the nuclear power industry has always been a steady recipient of generous state subsidies.” – Climate News Network

Uranium mining costs humans dearly. The nuclear industry prefers not to discuss the price paid by miners and their families.

LONDON, 31 July, 2020 – The scars left on barren landscapes by uranium mining are rendered more frightening in many countries – in the former Soviet bloc, for example – by the signs warning would-be visitors of their presence, decorated with little more than a skull-and-crossbones.

The signs use few words to explain that vast areas of land, containing small mountains of mine tailings, will be dangerous to intruders for billions of years, by which time the deadly alpha particles in the dust should have decayed.

But the terrible price paid by the poor miners and indigenous peoples who have had their lands torn apart to get at the uranium ore is now laid bare  in a new publication, The Uranium Atlas, Facts and Data about the Raw Material of the Nuclear Age. It is the work of a band of researchers from around the world, first published in German and now updated in English.

The central message of the Atlas is uncompromising: “The price for keeping the nuclear power stations in South Korea, China, Japan, Russia, the EU and USA online is paid by the people in the mining regions: their health and livelihoods are destroyed.”

The particles inhaled by uranium miners bring lung cancer, and the dust carried back to their homes endangers their families, even unborn children. Although uranium is everywhere, even in seawater, extracting it for use in nuclear power stations is a messy business.

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided”

The Atlas shows how extracting uranium from the ore is carried out in remote locations, often on the lands of indigenous peoples, for example in Canada, Australia and the US. More recently, though, two African states, Namibia and Niger, have joined the list of prime examples.

At the mines large quantities of rock have to be crushed and treated with chemicals to leach out the uranium. For a uranium content of 0.1%, 10,000 tonnes of ore must be mined to yield one tonne of uranium.

The ore is then ground down and the uranium chemically extracted, producing a form of powdered concentrate called yellowcake, totalling 7.11 kgs of usable material left over from the original 10,000 tonnes of ore.

The yellowcake then has to be transported long distances to the countries which use nuclear power so that they can extract the fissile material needed to fuel power stations and make nuclear weapons – uranium-235.

Little European mining

The point the “Atlas” is making is that supposedly civilised and crowded countries that rely on nuclear power to keep the lights on will not allow uranium mining at home because of the destruction it causes and the danger to the health of their citizens.

The authors write: ”At the start of 2020 there were still 124 nuclear power plants in operation in the EU, making it the world’s largest consumer of uranium. The nuclear fuel is imported from outside the EU and there is strong opposition to any new uranium mining in Europe.”

With maps and diagrams the Atlas traces the history and current operations of the uranium mining business, but comments: “The exact pathway of uranium is hard to follow: the mining companies do not disclose where they deliver the uranium and the power plant operators do not reveal where the uranium for their power plants comes from.”

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that nuclear power has no place in the modern world, and that renewable technologies are both cheaper and safer than power from uranium.

They say: “One kilogram of uranium-235 contains enough energy to generate 24 million kilowatt hours of heat; one kilogram of coal can generate only eight. As a result the nuclear industry has always promoted nuclear power as a better alternative to fossil fuels, and is now using the climate crisis to justify its continued – and expanded – use.

High subsidies

“Any mention of the health risks of uranium mining, the possibility of a nuclear meltdown, and the still unsolved issue of the ‘permanent disposal’ of highly radioactive nuclear waste is studiously avoided.

“For almost 70 years the nuclear industry has been highly subsidised and has never been able to stand on its own two feet economically.

“From cleaning up the damage caused by uranium mining, to routine operations, to decommissioning and final storage of nuclear waste, the industry has neither calculated the real costs of its activities nor has it adequately disclosed its financial conditions.

“Viewed as an essential component of the construction of nuclear weapons and the maintenance of nuclear submarine fleets, the nuclear power industry has always been a steady recipient of generous state subsidies.” – Climate News Network

World’s nuclear fusion dream takes a leap forward

The biggest science experiment on Earth could avert climate change. But is there still time for nuclear fusion to work?

LONDON, 29 July, 2020 – Nuclear fusion is the most ambitious project in the world, recreating on Earth the complex heat-producing reactions of the sun in the hope of making unlimited carbon-free electric power.

The world’s first fusion machine, ITER, under construction in Provence in southern France, is extraordinary as well because it is a collaboration between the scientists, engineers and politicians of the planet’s 35 richest and most powerful countries – states that on other matters frequently disagree.

But the potential prize of harnessing the power of the sun on our own planet to make unlimited electricity is enough to make all these nations bury their differences and combine to share their secrets and their engineering skills in the hope that all will benefit from this potential energy bonanza.

28 July was chosen as the day to celebrate the start of the assembly of ITER, a machine that will be the prototype for a generation of much larger successors on the road to possible commercially viable nuclear fusion. They, it is hoped, will signal the end of the use of fossil fuels and save the world from the worst of climate change.

“Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet”

French President Emmanuel Macron and leaders from the European Union countries and China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States met virtually on 28 July to declare the start of a new energy era. Each of the 35 countries has made some components and helped to pay part of the costs of ITER, the world’s largest science project.

Its total cost is unknown, since countries are paying their share in kind by producing one-of-a-kind engineering feats like giant magnets weighing many tonnes, to tolerances of two millimetres, some of them with the precision of a Swiss watch.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fusion: how it works

  • A few grams of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen) gas are injected into a huge, donut-shaped chamber, called a Tokamak. 
  • The hydrogen is heated until it becomes a cloud-like ionized plasma.
  • The ionized plasma is shaped and controlled by 10,000 tons of superconducting magnets. 
  • Fusion occurs when the plasma reaches 150 million degrees Celsius—ten times hotter than the core of the Sun.
  • In the fusion reaction, a tiny amount of mass is converted to a huge amount of energy (E=mc2). 
  • The ultra-high-energy neutrons from fusion escape the magnetic cage and transmit energy as heat.
  • Water circulating in the walls of the Tokamak absorbs the escaped heat and makes steam. In a commercial plant, a steam turbine will generate electricity.
  • Hundreds of Tokamaks have been built; but ITER will be the first to achieve a “burning” or self-heating plasma.

– By ITER

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To get some idea of its complexity, ITER uses three closely integrated types of magnets to contain, control, shape, and pulse the plasma it holds – at 150°C million.

But if the prototype could be made to work, then the idea would be to build other versions with a slightly increased size of plasma chamber. Each of these machines would then produce a staggering 2,000 megawatts, enough for more than two million homes.

Reliability testing

Bernard Bigot, director-general of ITER, hopes that construction will be finished by December 2025 and the scientists and engineers on site will then launch “First Plasma,” the initial event to demonstrate that the machine actually works and can generate electricity.

The question then will be to step up trials to see whether ITER can be made to work consistently and reliably. Then, if successful, the consortium of nations needs to decide whether it can be scaled up – and how long it will take to build other machines, this time large enough to make a difference to climate change.

It is a difficult and as yet unanswered question. On the plus side, fusion in theory provides clean, reliable energy without carbon emissions. It is said to be safe, with minute amounts of fuel and no physical possibility of a runaway accident through a meltdown.

The fuel for fusion is found in seawater and lithium. It is abundant enough to supply humanity for millions of years. A pineapple-sized amount of this fuel is the equivalent in energy terms of 10,000 tonnes of coal.

Ready by 2045?

On the minus side, though, fusion has been around as a concept since the 1950s. It has taken 14 years of international effort to get to this stage of the project – and it will be another four before it can be powered up. It will probably take at least 20 years or so more, even if it works as hoped, for a full-scale fusion machine to be built and commissioned.

Dr Bigot says: “If fusion power becomes universal in complement to renewable energies, the use of electricity could be expanded greatly, to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and industry.

“Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet.”

But with the planet already heating at an unprecedented rate and the danger threshold of temperatures of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels already close, there may not be enough time left for the fusion dream to be realised. – Climate News Network

The biggest science experiment on Earth could avert climate change. But is there still time for nuclear fusion to work?

LONDON, 29 July, 2020 – Nuclear fusion is the most ambitious project in the world, recreating on Earth the complex heat-producing reactions of the sun in the hope of making unlimited carbon-free electric power.

The world’s first fusion machine, ITER, under construction in Provence in southern France, is extraordinary as well because it is a collaboration between the scientists, engineers and politicians of the planet’s 35 richest and most powerful countries – states that on other matters frequently disagree.

But the potential prize of harnessing the power of the sun on our own planet to make unlimited electricity is enough to make all these nations bury their differences and combine to share their secrets and their engineering skills in the hope that all will benefit from this potential energy bonanza.

28 July was chosen as the day to celebrate the start of the assembly of ITER, a machine that will be the prototype for a generation of much larger successors on the road to possible commercially viable nuclear fusion. They, it is hoped, will signal the end of the use of fossil fuels and save the world from the worst of climate change.

“Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet”

French President Emmanuel Macron and leaders from the European Union countries and China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States met virtually on 28 July to declare the start of a new energy era. Each of the 35 countries has made some components and helped to pay part of the costs of ITER, the world’s largest science project.

Its total cost is unknown, since countries are paying their share in kind by producing one-of-a-kind engineering feats like giant magnets weighing many tonnes, to tolerances of two millimetres, some of them with the precision of a Swiss watch.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Fusion: how it works

  • A few grams of deuterium and tritium (hydrogen) gas are injected into a huge, donut-shaped chamber, called a Tokamak. 
  • The hydrogen is heated until it becomes a cloud-like ionized plasma.
  • The ionized plasma is shaped and controlled by 10,000 tons of superconducting magnets. 
  • Fusion occurs when the plasma reaches 150 million degrees Celsius—ten times hotter than the core of the Sun.
  • In the fusion reaction, a tiny amount of mass is converted to a huge amount of energy (E=mc2). 
  • The ultra-high-energy neutrons from fusion escape the magnetic cage and transmit energy as heat.
  • Water circulating in the walls of the Tokamak absorbs the escaped heat and makes steam. In a commercial plant, a steam turbine will generate electricity.
  • Hundreds of Tokamaks have been built; but ITER will be the first to achieve a “burning” or self-heating plasma.

– By ITER

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

To get some idea of its complexity, ITER uses three closely integrated types of magnets to contain, control, shape, and pulse the plasma it holds – at 150°C million.

But if the prototype could be made to work, then the idea would be to build other versions with a slightly increased size of plasma chamber. Each of these machines would then produce a staggering 2,000 megawatts, enough for more than two million homes.

Reliability testing

Bernard Bigot, director-general of ITER, hopes that construction will be finished by December 2025 and the scientists and engineers on site will then launch “First Plasma,” the initial event to demonstrate that the machine actually works and can generate electricity.

The question then will be to step up trials to see whether ITER can be made to work consistently and reliably. Then, if successful, the consortium of nations needs to decide whether it can be scaled up – and how long it will take to build other machines, this time large enough to make a difference to climate change.

It is a difficult and as yet unanswered question. On the plus side, fusion in theory provides clean, reliable energy without carbon emissions. It is said to be safe, with minute amounts of fuel and no physical possibility of a runaway accident through a meltdown.

The fuel for fusion is found in seawater and lithium. It is abundant enough to supply humanity for millions of years. A pineapple-sized amount of this fuel is the equivalent in energy terms of 10,000 tonnes of coal.

Ready by 2045?

On the minus side, though, fusion has been around as a concept since the 1950s. It has taken 14 years of international effort to get to this stage of the project – and it will be another four before it can be powered up. It will probably take at least 20 years or so more, even if it works as hoped, for a full-scale fusion machine to be built and commissioned.

Dr Bigot says: “If fusion power becomes universal in complement to renewable energies, the use of electricity could be expanded greatly, to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, buildings and industry.

“Enabling the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet.”

But with the planet already heating at an unprecedented rate and the danger threshold of temperatures of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels already close, there may not be enough time left for the fusion dream to be realised. – Climate News Network

South Korea backtracks on green promise

For South Korea, it seems, climate care is a case of going green at home – and doing the opposite overseas.

LONDON, 17 July, 2020 – After a landslide victory in South Korea’s national elections earlier this year, President Moon Jae-in and his Democratic Party of Korea announced a major plan to tackle climate change.

A package, known as the Green New Deal, aimed to transform what is one of the world’s most dynamic economies: emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases would be sharply reduced over coming years and totally eliminated by 2050.

There were also promises of big public investments in renewable energy and a commitment to phase out state support for overseas coal projects. Coal is by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Moon Jae-in’s administration is now backtracking on many of its green promises.

Environmental groups are particularly concerned by an announcement late last month that South Korea’s largest state-owned electricity company – along with state banks – is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a coal-fired power plant in Indonesia.

More to come

The Indonesian project – called Java 9 &10 – is at the giant Suralaya plant at Cilegon, near Jakarta.

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the South Korean and Indonesian state authorities, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) will invest US$51 million (£40m) in adding two power units to the Cilegon plant.

In addition, South Korea’s state banks will make further investments amounting to more than $1billion, while Kepco will offer loan guarantees.

The Cilegon project is highly controversial: the plant is already one of the main sources of pollution in the densely populated area surrounding Jakarta.

Energy analysts and opponents of the project say that the additional power the plant will provide is not needed. They say enlarging the plant not only runs counter to South Korea government policy but also conflicts with the Indonesian government’s policies on tackling climate change: Jakarta recently announced ambitious plans to dramatically increase the use of solar power.

“By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”

“Kepco’s decision to continue the Java 9 &10 project in the midst of a pandemic has shown the true face of the South Korean government and proves it is concerned with short-term profits rather than humans and the environment”, said Didit Haryo Wicaksono of Greenpeace Indonesia.

Elsewhere in the region, Kepco is involved in discussions on a multi-million dollar expansion of the coal-fired Vung Tau power plant in Vietnam.

Kepco shareholders have voiced concerns about both the Indonesia and Vietnam projects, saying that worries about pollution might lead to the loss of millions invested.

South Korea is not alone in touting green policies at home while seeking to make money from polluting projects overseas.

China is making efforts to clean up its once notorious urban pollution hot spots. It is the world’s biggest producer and also consumer of coal: many coal-fired enterprises have been shut down or converted to other energy sources.

Green deal undermined?

Yet China continues to promote coal-fired projects overseas. It is building and financing several coal-fired power plants in Pakistan and in the Balkans, as well as supporting the expansion of coal projects in various African countries. Japan is another large financier of overseas coal projects.

South Korea is among the world’s top ten emitters of greenhouse gases,  much of the pollution caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants, which generate more than 40% of the country’s electricity.

Under the terms of Seoul’s new green deal it’s planned to phase out the use of coal by 2030. In the aftermath of the Indonesia coal plant deal, there are doubts that South Korea will put a halt to its overseas coal projects.

Jessica Yun of the South Korea climate group Solutions For Our Climate,  quoted in the Eco-Business journal, says that if the government refuses to stop financing coal projects, the whole green deal will be undermined. “By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”, Yun said.

“That would just push dirty air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions abroad – the height of hypocrisy and irresponsibility.” – Climate News Network

For South Korea, it seems, climate care is a case of going green at home – and doing the opposite overseas.

LONDON, 17 July, 2020 – After a landslide victory in South Korea’s national elections earlier this year, President Moon Jae-in and his Democratic Party of Korea announced a major plan to tackle climate change.

A package, known as the Green New Deal, aimed to transform what is one of the world’s most dynamic economies: emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases would be sharply reduced over coming years and totally eliminated by 2050.

There were also promises of big public investments in renewable energy and a commitment to phase out state support for overseas coal projects. Coal is by far the most polluting of fossil fuels.

Moon Jae-in’s administration is now backtracking on many of its green promises.

Environmental groups are particularly concerned by an announcement late last month that South Korea’s largest state-owned electricity company – along with state banks – is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in a coal-fired power plant in Indonesia.

More to come

The Indonesian project – called Java 9 &10 – is at the giant Suralaya plant at Cilegon, near Jakarta.

Under the terms of an agreement reached between the South Korean and Indonesian state authorities, the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) will invest US$51 million (£40m) in adding two power units to the Cilegon plant.

In addition, South Korea’s state banks will make further investments amounting to more than $1billion, while Kepco will offer loan guarantees.

The Cilegon project is highly controversial: the plant is already one of the main sources of pollution in the densely populated area surrounding Jakarta.

Energy analysts and opponents of the project say that the additional power the plant will provide is not needed. They say enlarging the plant not only runs counter to South Korea government policy but also conflicts with the Indonesian government’s policies on tackling climate change: Jakarta recently announced ambitious plans to dramatically increase the use of solar power.

“By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”

“Kepco’s decision to continue the Java 9 &10 project in the midst of a pandemic has shown the true face of the South Korean government and proves it is concerned with short-term profits rather than humans and the environment”, said Didit Haryo Wicaksono of Greenpeace Indonesia.

Elsewhere in the region, Kepco is involved in discussions on a multi-million dollar expansion of the coal-fired Vung Tau power plant in Vietnam.

Kepco shareholders have voiced concerns about both the Indonesia and Vietnam projects, saying that worries about pollution might lead to the loss of millions invested.

South Korea is not alone in touting green policies at home while seeking to make money from polluting projects overseas.

China is making efforts to clean up its once notorious urban pollution hot spots. It is the world’s biggest producer and also consumer of coal: many coal-fired enterprises have been shut down or converted to other energy sources.

Green deal undermined?

Yet China continues to promote coal-fired projects overseas. It is building and financing several coal-fired power plants in Pakistan and in the Balkans, as well as supporting the expansion of coal projects in various African countries. Japan is another large financier of overseas coal projects.

South Korea is among the world’s top ten emitters of greenhouse gases,  much of the pollution caused by emissions from coal-fired power plants, which generate more than 40% of the country’s electricity.

Under the terms of Seoul’s new green deal it’s planned to phase out the use of coal by 2030. In the aftermath of the Indonesia coal plant deal, there are doubts that South Korea will put a halt to its overseas coal projects.

Jessica Yun of the South Korea climate group Solutions For Our Climate,  quoted in the Eco-Business journal, says that if the government refuses to stop financing coal projects, the whole green deal will be undermined. “By not ending public coal financing, Korea’s Green New Deal would not be green at all”, Yun said.

“That would just push dirty air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions abroad – the height of hypocrisy and irresponsibility.” – Climate News Network

Powerful backers support a UK nuclear future

Insulating homes and installing renewable energy are the cheapest answers to climate change. Yet powerful backers urge a UK nuclear future.

LONDON, 15 July, 2020 – You may think a UK nuclear future, given the bright prospects for wind and solar power, is a dream that has finally died. Perhaps. But don’t be too sure.

If you watched BBC television in the 1980s, you might well have seen the Blackadder comedy series, one of whose stars was the hapless dogsbody Baldrick. However dire the plight into which the scriptwriters had plunged him and his companions, Baldrick unfailingly reassured them: he would save the day with his latest “cunning plan”, a phrase now hallowed as a guarantee of doom.

Leap forward 30 years to the present day, where one of the most influential figures involved with the UK government of prime minister Boris Johnson is his senior special adviser (an unelected figure), Dominic Cummings. He too has a plan, it’s said. But this is no comedy: the plan is serious, and it’s nuclear.

It envisages a massive expansion of the United Kingdom’s nuclear industry, prompting a reputed joke by civil servants that Cummings’ plan is little different from one of Baldrick’s.

The Cummings plan involves three elements: building several large nuclear reactors in the UK, plus dozens of prefabricated ones, called small modular reactors or SMRs, and investing heavily in research for what are called Generation IV nuclear reactors – technologies planned for deployment around 2030.

Rescue in sight?

Dominic Cummings is not alone in his enthusiasm. Donald Trump, President Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping all favour this approach.

His plan is also backed by the British company Rolls-Royce. It is suffering badly from its heavy involvement in the aviation industry, and it sees government investment in a new generation of reactors as a lifeline. The company is already building small reactors for the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet.

Backing for Cummings has come from a government-funded thinktank, Catapult Energy Systems. In a report, Nuclear For Net Zero, Catapult envisages using SMRs for district heating schemes and advanced reactors for producing hydrogen. This would be used for transport in cars, lorries and trains, or for storing energy for peak electricity production.

Although it is described as independent Catapult is largely funded by Innovate UK, itself funded by the government, and has as its strategy and performance director Guy Newey, previously an adviser to energy ministers in previous Conservative administrations when successive governments were aggressively pushing pro-nuclear policies.

Catapult’s report appears to mirror Dominic Cummings’ desire for imaginative solutions to climate problems. He is said to regard the idea of insulating millions of homes to reduce electricity bills and to improve health as “boring.”

“Only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to finance the nuclear stations’ construction”

His attitude, in turn, appears to reflect Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for grandiose projects like a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland – and other projects, now abandoned, such as a new airport in the Thames estuary and a garden bridge across the Thames further upstream in central London, which Johnson championed when he was the capital’s mayor.

The problems that this nuclear agenda faces are both financial and political. The cost of developing such a programme is astronomical. Two reactors currently being built at Hinkley Point in the West of England are costing more than £10 billion (US$12.5bn) each. That price is likely to be exceeded for each of the eight further reactors proposed for the current building programme.

The second problem is that only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to stump up the cash in the form of a levy or tax on electricity bills to finance the nuclear stations’ construction.

Since the French and Chinese companies are both state-owned it might be politically difficult for the UK government to impose a tax on British consumers to enrich them. There is also a lot of disquiet among UK Members of Parliament about Chinese involvement in vital services like electricity supply and nuclear energy.

As for the SMRs, the idea is to build dozens in factories and then erect them on-site in prefabricated form. Apart from the fact that the technology is unproven and the expense of the electricity unknown (but likely to be high), the problem of where to site them does not seem to have been addressed.

Hydrogen’s appeal

It seems unlikely, given past public opposition to siting nuclear power stations close to centres of population, that they would be welcomed in cities, even if they did provide district heating.

The Generation IV reactors are still on the drawing board. Their development time is always quoted as more than a decade away.

In the meantime, while politicians make their plans, there is increasing business enthusiasm and an economic case for making green hydrogen from surplus wind and solar power, because it is much cheaper. The electricity needed will be surplus to grid requirements and therefore virtually free.

There is also a vast public and business appetite for building very competitive new onshore and offshore wind projects and small and large-scale solar installations. Finance would be no problem, because they are profit-making and quick to build.

Given a helping hand by government, many experts think the United Kingdom could be 100% powered by renewables by 2050, without any need for a Cummings plan. – Climate News Network

Insulating homes and installing renewable energy are the cheapest answers to climate change. Yet powerful backers urge a UK nuclear future.

LONDON, 15 July, 2020 – You may think a UK nuclear future, given the bright prospects for wind and solar power, is a dream that has finally died. Perhaps. But don’t be too sure.

If you watched BBC television in the 1980s, you might well have seen the Blackadder comedy series, one of whose stars was the hapless dogsbody Baldrick. However dire the plight into which the scriptwriters had plunged him and his companions, Baldrick unfailingly reassured them: he would save the day with his latest “cunning plan”, a phrase now hallowed as a guarantee of doom.

Leap forward 30 years to the present day, where one of the most influential figures involved with the UK government of prime minister Boris Johnson is his senior special adviser (an unelected figure), Dominic Cummings. He too has a plan, it’s said. But this is no comedy: the plan is serious, and it’s nuclear.

It envisages a massive expansion of the United Kingdom’s nuclear industry, prompting a reputed joke by civil servants that Cummings’ plan is little different from one of Baldrick’s.

The Cummings plan involves three elements: building several large nuclear reactors in the UK, plus dozens of prefabricated ones, called small modular reactors or SMRs, and investing heavily in research for what are called Generation IV nuclear reactors – technologies planned for deployment around 2030.

Rescue in sight?

Dominic Cummings is not alone in his enthusiasm. Donald Trump, President Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping all favour this approach.

His plan is also backed by the British company Rolls-Royce. It is suffering badly from its heavy involvement in the aviation industry, and it sees government investment in a new generation of reactors as a lifeline. The company is already building small reactors for the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet.

Backing for Cummings has come from a government-funded thinktank, Catapult Energy Systems. In a report, Nuclear For Net Zero, Catapult envisages using SMRs for district heating schemes and advanced reactors for producing hydrogen. This would be used for transport in cars, lorries and trains, or for storing energy for peak electricity production.

Although it is described as independent Catapult is largely funded by Innovate UK, itself funded by the government, and has as its strategy and performance director Guy Newey, previously an adviser to energy ministers in previous Conservative administrations when successive governments were aggressively pushing pro-nuclear policies.

Catapult’s report appears to mirror Dominic Cummings’ desire for imaginative solutions to climate problems. He is said to regard the idea of insulating millions of homes to reduce electricity bills and to improve health as “boring.”

“Only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to finance the nuclear stations’ construction”

His attitude, in turn, appears to reflect Boris Johnson’s enthusiasm for grandiose projects like a bridge between Northern Ireland and Scotland – and other projects, now abandoned, such as a new airport in the Thames estuary and a garden bridge across the Thames further upstream in central London, which Johnson championed when he was the capital’s mayor.

The problems that this nuclear agenda faces are both financial and political. The cost of developing such a programme is astronomical. Two reactors currently being built at Hinkley Point in the West of England are costing more than £10 billion (US$12.5bn) each. That price is likely to be exceeded for each of the eight further reactors proposed for the current building programme.

The second problem is that only the French and Chinese appear to have the wish or expertise to build the reactors. But both these builders want British consumers to stump up the cash in the form of a levy or tax on electricity bills to finance the nuclear stations’ construction.

Since the French and Chinese companies are both state-owned it might be politically difficult for the UK government to impose a tax on British consumers to enrich them. There is also a lot of disquiet among UK Members of Parliament about Chinese involvement in vital services like electricity supply and nuclear energy.

As for the SMRs, the idea is to build dozens in factories and then erect them on-site in prefabricated form. Apart from the fact that the technology is unproven and the expense of the electricity unknown (but likely to be high), the problem of where to site them does not seem to have been addressed.

Hydrogen’s appeal

It seems unlikely, given past public opposition to siting nuclear power stations close to centres of population, that they would be welcomed in cities, even if they did provide district heating.

The Generation IV reactors are still on the drawing board. Their development time is always quoted as more than a decade away.

In the meantime, while politicians make their plans, there is increasing business enthusiasm and an economic case for making green hydrogen from surplus wind and solar power, because it is much cheaper. The electricity needed will be surplus to grid requirements and therefore virtually free.

There is also a vast public and business appetite for building very competitive new onshore and offshore wind projects and small and large-scale solar installations. Finance would be no problem, because they are profit-making and quick to build.

Given a helping hand by government, many experts think the United Kingdom could be 100% powered by renewables by 2050, without any need for a Cummings plan. – Climate News Network

UK’s nuclear plans flounder through muddy dispute

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

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

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

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

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

Relying on tides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urgent review

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

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

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

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

‘Risk to thousands’

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

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

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

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

More stringent testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Relying on tides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urgent review

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

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

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

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

‘Risk to thousands’

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

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

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

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

More stringent testing

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

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

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

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