Category Archives: Energy

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

Clean ships needed now to cut polluting emissions

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

The vessels plying the world’s oceans release huge volumes of polluting emissions. Existing fleets badly need a clean-up.

LONDON, 25 June, 2020 − The shipping industry is in urgent need of a makeover: while limited attempts are being made to lessen polluting emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the road transport and aviation sectors, shipping lags even further behind in the clean-up stakes.

Maritime traffic is a major source of emissions, each year belching out thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and other pollutants. “If the sector were a country, it would be the 6th highest emitter [of GHGs] in the world, ranked between Germany and Japan”, says a study in the journal BMC Energy.

Involving researchers at the Tyndall Centre and the University of Manchester in the UK, the study says reducing emissions in the shipping industry has tended to focus on the introduction of new, low-carbon vessels.

The researchers point out that ships have a comparatively long life span: in 2018 the average age of a ship being scrapped was 28 years.

The study says ageing ships are a major source of pollution: in order to cut global emissions of CO2 and other gases and meet the targets set in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, the world’s existing shipping fleet must undergo a substantial revamp.

“There must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target”

The shipping industry cannot wait for the arrival of new, low-carbon ships, says the study.

“Policies to cut shipping CO2 must focus attention on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, rather than rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary carbon reductions”, it says.

Shipping is the lifeline of world trade: tens of thousands of vessels crisscross the oceans each year, carrying between 80% and 90% of global goods traffic. At any one time about 90,000 vessels are at sea.

Most vessels – both trade and cruise ships − burn low-grade, polluting forms of fuel. These emit not only GHGs but large amounts of sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulates which are seriously damaging to health.

A 2018 report in the journal Nature Communications estimated that sulphur-rich shipping emissions account for up to a quarter of a million deaths and more than six million cases of childhood asthma around the world each year.

Sluggish action

The International Maritime Organization has set various climate change targets, including a reduction of at least 50% in GHG emissions by 2050, compared with levels in 2008.

There’s been little action so far. A report by Transport and Environment, a Brussels-based non-governmental organisation, says shipping emissions – in both the transport and cruise ship sectors – have been largely unregulated and subject to very few financial penalties.

A review of the shipping sector by the analysis groups the New Climate Institute and Climate Analytics says the industry is nowhere near reaching its targets and, on present projections, shipping emissions will continue rising.

“There is tremendous potential for the international shipping industry to decarbonise completely and reach zero emissions by 2050, yet there is very little sign of this sector moving anywhere near fast enough and certainly nowhere near a Paris Agreement pathway”, says Climate Analytics.

The University of Manchester/Tyndall Centre study highlights some of the ways ships can cut emissions, such as travelling at slower speeds to reduce fuel consumption, connecting to the local grid for electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures such as Flettner rotors to help propulsion.

Delay unaffordable

“This research highlights the key role existing ships play in tackling the climate crisis”, says James Mason, a researcher at the Tyndall Centre.

“We must push for quick action for these ships, whether through speed reductions or other innovative solutions such as wind propulsion.”

Dr John Broderick, a climate change specialist at the University of Manchester, says time is of the essence.

“Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

Shipping industry analysts say bringing about wholesale change in the sector is a formidable task. The industry is extremely diffuse, involving multiple countries, ship owners and transport companies, while overall governance is weak. − Climate News Network

Nuclear power uses market fix to stifle wind energy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong culprit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrong culprit

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

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

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

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

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

Markets reel as oil major opts to downgrade itself

It’s all change as one oil major writes down its assets, seeing a possible 30-year slump ahead in global demand.

LONDON, 16 June, 2020 – This week, BP, one of the so-called super oil majors, said it was writing down or reducing the value of its assets by between US$13 billion (£10.35bn) and US$17.5bn (£14bn). BP’s shares fell by 5.4% after the news was announced, making it one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 share index.

For several years climate scientists and others have been saying that fossil fuels must be left untapped in order to tackle the dangers posed by climate change: such resources, described as “stranded assets”, should not be included in the fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets.

In an announcement sending shock waves through the oil industry and rattling global stock markets, BP said that it was not only downgrading its own value but, as part of a review of the company’s activities, it was also rethinking future exploration plans, hinting at leaving some of its worldwide fossil fuel investments in the ground.

BP says the main reason for its action is the Covid pandemic – energy demand is slack and oil prices will likely remain at their present relatively low level for years to come. But the company also acknowledges its revaluation is a reflection of moves towards a low carbon future.

“It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less ”

“BP now sees the prospect of the pandemic having an enduring impact on the global economy, with the potential for weaker demand for energy for a sustained period”, said a company statement.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy.”

All this will be heartening news to those trying to prevent the world from veering toward climate catastrophe.

The oil majors have known the impact of their activities on the climate for decades but, in the pursuit of profits, chose to ignore reality. Multi-million dollar public relations campaigns have “greenwashed” their operations – and deliberately misinformed the public.

In the past BP has emphasised its green credentials, making a commitment to tackling climate change and, at one stage, labelling itself as a “beyond petroleum” company.

Net zero aim

But then came the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, when an explosion on a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers: thousands of tonnes of oil leaked into the sea in what was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

In recent times, under Bernard Looney, its new chief executive, BP has laid out plans to become what’s termed a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

Looney says he wants BP to be a more diversified, resilient and low carbon company in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. This means reducing its focus on oil and gas and enlarging BP’s role in renewable projects.

Because of falling energy demand BP recently announced plans to reduce its global workforce by about 15% – a loss of 10,000 jobs.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobbying group, said BP’s revaluation would make a “huge dent” in its corporate balance sheet. “It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less … BP must protect its workforce and offer training to help people move into sustainable jobs in decommissioning and offshore wind”, it said. – Climate News Network

It’s all change as one oil major writes down its assets, seeing a possible 30-year slump ahead in global demand.

LONDON, 16 June, 2020 – This week, BP, one of the so-called super oil majors, said it was writing down or reducing the value of its assets by between US$13 billion (£10.35bn) and US$17.5bn (£14bn). BP’s shares fell by 5.4% after the news was announced, making it one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 share index.

For several years climate scientists and others have been saying that fossil fuels must be left untapped in order to tackle the dangers posed by climate change: such resources, described as “stranded assets”, should not be included in the fossil fuel companies’ balance sheets.

In an announcement sending shock waves through the oil industry and rattling global stock markets, BP said that it was not only downgrading its own value but, as part of a review of the company’s activities, it was also rethinking future exploration plans, hinting at leaving some of its worldwide fossil fuel investments in the ground.

BP says the main reason for its action is the Covid pandemic – energy demand is slack and oil prices will likely remain at their present relatively low level for years to come. But the company also acknowledges its revaluation is a reflection of moves towards a low carbon future.

“It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less ”

“BP now sees the prospect of the pandemic having an enduring impact on the global economy, with the potential for weaker demand for energy for a sustained period”, said a company statement.

“The aftermath of the pandemic will accelerate the pace of transition to a lower carbon economy.”

All this will be heartening news to those trying to prevent the world from veering toward climate catastrophe.

The oil majors have known the impact of their activities on the climate for decades but, in the pursuit of profits, chose to ignore reality. Multi-million dollar public relations campaigns have “greenwashed” their operations – and deliberately misinformed the public.

In the past BP has emphasised its green credentials, making a commitment to tackling climate change and, at one stage, labelling itself as a “beyond petroleum” company.

Net zero aim

But then came the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, when an explosion on a BP-leased rig killed 11 workers: thousands of tonnes of oil leaked into the sea in what was one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

In recent times, under Bernard Looney, its new chief executive, BP has laid out plans to become what’s termed a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

Looney says he wants BP to be a more diversified, resilient and low carbon company in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. This means reducing its focus on oil and gas and enlarging BP’s role in renewable projects.

Because of falling energy demand BP recently announced plans to reduce its global workforce by about 15% – a loss of 10,000 jobs.

Greenpeace, the environmental lobbying group, said BP’s revaluation would make a “huge dent” in its corporate balance sheet. “It has finally dawned on BP that the climate emergency is going to make oil worth less … BP must protect its workforce and offer training to help people move into sustainable jobs in decommissioning and offshore wind”, it said. – Climate News Network

Unanswered questions dog UK’s new nuclear plans

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

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

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

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

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

Anxieties abound

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

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

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

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

Cheaper options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking on the bright side

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

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

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

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

Extensive repairs

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

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

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

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

Unexpected snags

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxieties abound

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

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

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

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

Cheaper options

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking on the bright side

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

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

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

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

Extensive repairs

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

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

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

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

Unexpected snags

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

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

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

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

How dangerous is low-level radiation to children?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceaseless controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolution needed

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety not irrational

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ceaseless controversy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Revolution needed

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety not irrational

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

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

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

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

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