Category Archives: Energy

Pyrenees pipeline veto is setback for gas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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we are making it harder and harder for dirty energy companies to build their pipelines and impose a destructive and outdated model of business.

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

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

Red card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red card

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

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

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

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

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

Junk fossil fuel plants and stay below 1.5°C

The world could yet contain global warming to 1.5°C – but only if governments act now to junk fossil fuel plants and ditch all those smoking power stations.

LONDON, 24 January, 2019 British scientists have worked out how to make sure of a better-than-even chance that 195 nations can fulfill a promise made in Paris in 2015 to stop global warming at 1.5°C by the end of the century: junk fossil fuel plants.

The answer is simple: phase out fossil fuel hardware as soon as it reaches the end of its effective life. Scrap the old petrol-powered car and buy electric. Shut down the coal-burning power generator and get electricity from the wind or the sunlight. Find some renewable fuel for jet planes. Deliver transoceanic cargoes with a marine fuel that isn’t derived from oil or coal.

There is a catch. Those 195 nations should have already started doing all these things by the end of 2018. To delay a start until 2030 could mean failure, even if – little more than a decade from now – the world then accelerated its escape from fossil fuel addiction.

“Although the challenges laid out by the Paris Agreement are daunting, we indicate 1.5°C remains possible and is attainable with ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors”, the researchers say in the journal Nature Communications.

Long working life

Their study is based on the match of climate models and a range of possible scenarios and is focused on energy generation, transport and industry: these account for 85% of the carbon dioxide emissions that have begun to warm the planet and change the climate, and for which researchers have the most reliable lifetime data.

“All fossil fuel infrastructure, such as coal power plants, carries a climate change commitment. A new coal plant will emit carbon dioxide for roughly 40 years across its lifecycle which in turn affects global warming,” said Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who worked with colleagues from Britain, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Canada to model a huge range of possibilities to identify a timetable strategy with a probability of success of 64%.

“Investments into carbon-intensive infrastructure and their development and maintenance lock us in to the associated carbon emissions and make the transition to lower-carbon alternatives more difficult.

“Our research found that the current amount of fossil fuel infrastructure in the global economy does not yet commit us to exceeding the 1.5°C temperature rise limit put forward by the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change policy does need some good news, and [the] message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet”

“We may have missed starting the phase-out by the end of 2018, but we are still within the margin of achieving the scenario the model put forward.”

The implication is that no new oil wells should be drilled, or mines opened; no more coal-burning or oil-burning power plant commissioned. Infrastructure in use now will be retired when it reaches the end of its life, perhaps 40 years from now.

The scientists don’t discuss how feasible – in political, economic and development terms – such a step will be. Their point is that, to keep the Paris promise, the world must start now.

And their assumption does not incorporate any of the much-feared and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future, as ice caps melt and permafrost thaws to release vast quantities of carbon trapped in once-frozen Arctic soils, and make global warming accelerate.

Series of warnings

The study is not the first to warn that the time available for ending fossil fuel dependence and switching to renewable energy resources is limited. Almost as soon as the world made its historic agreement in Paris many scientists warned that on the basis of pledges made at the time the target would be difficult or impossible to achieve.

The planet has already warmed by 1°C since the Industrial Revolution began to release ever greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One study forecast that a world already at least 1.5°C warmer than it had been for most of human history could arrive by 2026.

Other scientists have welcomed the Leeds research. “Climate change policy does need some good news, and their message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet,” said Phillip Williamson of the University of East Anglia.

“If from now on the greenhouse gas-emitting power plants, factories, cars, ships and planes are replaced by non-polluting alternatives as they reach the end of their lifetimes, then the threshold of 1.5°C warming might not be crossed. Yet that is a very big ‘if’.” – Climate News Network

The world could yet contain global warming to 1.5°C – but only if governments act now to junk fossil fuel plants and ditch all those smoking power stations.

LONDON, 24 January, 2019 British scientists have worked out how to make sure of a better-than-even chance that 195 nations can fulfill a promise made in Paris in 2015 to stop global warming at 1.5°C by the end of the century: junk fossil fuel plants.

The answer is simple: phase out fossil fuel hardware as soon as it reaches the end of its effective life. Scrap the old petrol-powered car and buy electric. Shut down the coal-burning power generator and get electricity from the wind or the sunlight. Find some renewable fuel for jet planes. Deliver transoceanic cargoes with a marine fuel that isn’t derived from oil or coal.

There is a catch. Those 195 nations should have already started doing all these things by the end of 2018. To delay a start until 2030 could mean failure, even if – little more than a decade from now – the world then accelerated its escape from fossil fuel addiction.

“Although the challenges laid out by the Paris Agreement are daunting, we indicate 1.5°C remains possible and is attainable with ambitious and immediate emission reduction across all sectors”, the researchers say in the journal Nature Communications.

Long working life

Their study is based on the match of climate models and a range of possible scenarios and is focused on energy generation, transport and industry: these account for 85% of the carbon dioxide emissions that have begun to warm the planet and change the climate, and for which researchers have the most reliable lifetime data.

“All fossil fuel infrastructure, such as coal power plants, carries a climate change commitment. A new coal plant will emit carbon dioxide for roughly 40 years across its lifecycle which in turn affects global warming,” said Christopher Smith, of the University of Leeds, who worked with colleagues from Britain, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and Canada to model a huge range of possibilities to identify a timetable strategy with a probability of success of 64%.

“Investments into carbon-intensive infrastructure and their development and maintenance lock us in to the associated carbon emissions and make the transition to lower-carbon alternatives more difficult.

“Our research found that the current amount of fossil fuel infrastructure in the global economy does not yet commit us to exceeding the 1.5°C temperature rise limit put forward by the Paris Agreement.

“Climate change policy does need some good news, and [the] message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet”

“We may have missed starting the phase-out by the end of 2018, but we are still within the margin of achieving the scenario the model put forward.”

The implication is that no new oil wells should be drilled, or mines opened; no more coal-burning or oil-burning power plant commissioned. Infrastructure in use now will be retired when it reaches the end of its life, perhaps 40 years from now.

The scientists don’t discuss how feasible – in political, economic and development terms – such a step will be. Their point is that, to keep the Paris promise, the world must start now.

And their assumption does not incorporate any of the much-feared and potentially catastrophic changes in the near future, as ice caps melt and permafrost thaws to release vast quantities of carbon trapped in once-frozen Arctic soils, and make global warming accelerate.

Series of warnings

The study is not the first to warn that the time available for ending fossil fuel dependence and switching to renewable energy resources is limited. Almost as soon as the world made its historic agreement in Paris many scientists warned that on the basis of pledges made at the time the target would be difficult or impossible to achieve.

The planet has already warmed by 1°C since the Industrial Revolution began to release ever greater levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. One study forecast that a world already at least 1.5°C warmer than it had been for most of human history could arrive by 2026.

Other scientists have welcomed the Leeds research. “Climate change policy does need some good news, and their message is that we are not (quite) doomed yet,” said Phillip Williamson of the University of East Anglia.

“If from now on the greenhouse gas-emitting power plants, factories, cars, ships and planes are replaced by non-polluting alternatives as they reach the end of their lifetimes, then the threshold of 1.5°C warming might not be crossed. Yet that is a very big ‘if’.” – Climate News Network

Nuclear sunset overtakes fading dreams

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

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

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

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

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

UK policy needed

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

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

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

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

Sole survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth points

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

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

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

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

Maintenance problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UK policy needed

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

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

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

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

Sole survivor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Growth points

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

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

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

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

Maintenance problems

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

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

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

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

Battery boom aids climate change battle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New possibilities

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

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

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

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

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

Swedes top climate change resisters’ league

Some governments take global warming seriously, while others defy the science and virtually ignore it. The climate change resisters’ league names names.

LONDON, 8 January, 2019 – There are countries that are in earnest about the way humans are overheating the planet, the climate change resisters; and there are others that give what is one of the most fundamental problems facing the world only scant attention.

Annually over the past 14 years a group of 350 energy and climate experts from around the globe has drawn up a table reflecting the performance of more than 70 countries in tackling climate change.

Together this group of nations is responsible for more than 90% of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In the just published index looking at developments in 2018, Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania are the top performers in combatting global warming. At the other end of the scale are Iran, the US and – worst performer by a significant margin – Saudi Arabia.

The analysis – called the Climate Change Performance Index, or CCPI – is published by German Watch and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany, plus the Climate Action Network, which has its headquarters in Lebanon.

“No country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C”

The CCPI compares the various countries’ performances across three categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. The index also evaluates the progress made by nations in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Morocco comes in for particular praise in the index. “With the connection of the world’s largest solar plant and multiple new wind farms to the grid, the country is well on track for achieving its target of 42% installed renewable energy capacity by 2020 and 52% by 2030.”

India has risen up the performance league and is praised for its moves into renewable energy, though concerns are expressed about the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UK and the EU as a whole score reasonably highly in the index, but the CCPI compilers issue several caveats and leave the top three places in the league table blank.

Poor Saudi record

“This is because no country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement,” they say.

Russia, Canada, Australia and South Korea all score badly in the CCPI, with the US just one place off the bottom spot.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the US being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has over the years repeatedly come bottom of the CCPI.

“The country continues to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator on emissions, energy use and renewable energy.”

Mid-East’s heightened risk

The Saudis are also strongly criticised for their obstructionist tactics at climate negotiations.

At a recent international meeting on climate change held in Katowice in Poland, Saudi Arabia – together with the US, Russia and Kuwait – was accused of holding up proceedings and of refusing to acknowledge the vital importance of taking action on global warming.

The Middle East, and North Africa and the Gulf region in particular, are considered by scientists to be among the areas which are likely to feel the most serious impacts of climate change in the near future.

Already the region is being hit by ever-rising temperatures; climate researchers say that before too long it’s likely that people working outside in the intense summer heat in population centres such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – including those repairing air conditioning and water systems, or overseeing emergency services – could be putting their lives at risk. – Climate News Network

Some governments take global warming seriously, while others defy the science and virtually ignore it. The climate change resisters’ league names names.

LONDON, 8 January, 2019 – There are countries that are in earnest about the way humans are overheating the planet, the climate change resisters; and there are others that give what is one of the most fundamental problems facing the world only scant attention.

Annually over the past 14 years a group of 350 energy and climate experts from around the globe has drawn up a table reflecting the performance of more than 70 countries in tackling climate change.

Together this group of nations is responsible for more than 90% of total climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In the just published index looking at developments in 2018, Sweden, Morocco and Lithuania are the top performers in combatting global warming. At the other end of the scale are Iran, the US and – worst performer by a significant margin – Saudi Arabia.

The analysis – called the Climate Change Performance Index, or CCPI – is published by German Watch and the New Climate Institute, both based in Germany, plus the Climate Action Network, which has its headquarters in Lebanon.

“No country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C”

The CCPI compares the various countries’ performances across three categories – GHG emissions, renewable energy, and energy use. The index also evaluates the progress made by nations in implementing the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

Morocco comes in for particular praise in the index. “With the connection of the world’s largest solar plant and multiple new wind farms to the grid, the country is well on track for achieving its target of 42% installed renewable energy capacity by 2020 and 52% by 2030.”

India has risen up the performance league and is praised for its moves into renewable energy, though concerns are expressed about the country’s plans to build new coal-fired power plants. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel.

The UK and the EU as a whole score reasonably highly in the index, but the CCPI compilers issue several caveats and leave the top three places in the league table blank.

Poor Saudi record

“This is because no country has yet done enough in terms of consistent performance across all the indicators required to limit global warming to well below 2°C, as agreed in the Paris Agreement,” they say.

Russia, Canada, Australia and South Korea all score badly in the CCPI, with the US just one place off the bottom spot.

“The refusal of President Trump to acknowledge climate change being human-caused, and his dismantling of regulations designed to reduce carbon emissions, result in the US being rated very low for its national and international climate policy performance.”

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, has over the years repeatedly come bottom of the CCPI.

“The country continues to be a very low performer in all index categories and on every indicator on emissions, energy use and renewable energy.”

Mid-East’s heightened risk

The Saudis are also strongly criticised for their obstructionist tactics at climate negotiations.

At a recent international meeting on climate change held in Katowice in Poland, Saudi Arabia – together with the US, Russia and Kuwait – was accused of holding up proceedings and of refusing to acknowledge the vital importance of taking action on global warming.

The Middle East, and North Africa and the Gulf region in particular, are considered by scientists to be among the areas which are likely to feel the most serious impacts of climate change in the near future.

Already the region is being hit by ever-rising temperatures; climate researchers say that before too long it’s likely that people working outside in the intense summer heat in population centres such as Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha – including those repairing air conditioning and water systems, or overseeing emergency services – could be putting their lives at risk. – Climate News Network

China’s cities face sobering cooling costs

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

As the Earth warms humans will reach for the air conditioning, meaning more electricity demand and higher household bills in China’s cities.

LONDON, 2 January, 2019 – China’s cities now have a better idea of what global warming is going to cost. New research warns that for every rise of one degree Celsius in global average temperatures, average electricity demand will rise by 9%.

And that’s the average demand. For the same shift in the thermometer reading, peak electricity demand in the Yangtze Valley delta could go up by 36%.

And the global average rise of 1°C so far during the last century is just a start. By 2099, mean surface temperatures on planet Earth could be somewhere between 2°C and 5° hotter. That means that average household electricity use – assuming today’s consumption patterns don’t change – could rise by between 18% and 55%. And peak demand could rise by at least 72%.

“Household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040”

Governments, energy utilities and taxpayers must plan for an uncertain future. The latest study in the needs of the fast-developing economy of China, now one of the world’s great powers, and the biggest emitter of the greenhouse gases that drive global warming, would be necessary even if there were no climate change: that is because even without the factor of climate change driven by profligate combustion of fossil fuels almost everywhere in the world, household electricity consumption in China is expected to double by 2040.

And climate change brings severe additional problems. Chinese scientists already know that climate change within the country is a consequence of human-induced global warming. They know that average warming worldwide means more intense and more frequent extremes of heat and drought. And they have just learned that by the century’s end, levels of heat and humidity could become potentially lethal,  particularly so in the north China plains.

Most responsive

So researchers from Fudan University in Shanghai and Duke University in North Carolina report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they built up a picture of how householders respond to weather shifts by examining data from 800,000 residential customers in the Pudong district of Shanghai between 2014 and 2016, and then tested their findings against various projections of global climate change in this century.

Residential power demand makes up only about a quarter of the total for the Shanghai metropolis, but the scientists focused on individual householders because these were most responsive to fluctuations in temperature.

To nobody’s great surprise, home usage of electricity went up during the days of extreme cold, early in February, and the days of extreme heat, usually around the end of July and early August.

Clear link

They found that for every daily degree of temperature rise above 25°C, electricity use shot up by 14.5%. Compared with demand during the household comfort zone of around 20°C, on those days when temperatures reached 32°C, daily electricity consumption rose by 174%.

The implication is that more investment in air conditioning is going to drive even more global warming: other research teams have already identified the potential costs of heat waves and repeatedly warned that demand for air conditioning will warm the world even further. In the US, there are already signs that power grids may not be able to keep up with demand in long spells of extreme heat.

Shanghai is a bustling commercial powerhouse of a city: other parts of China have yet to catch up. The study found that higher-income households reached for the thermostat in cold weather. But in hot weather – and the Yangtze delta region, which is home to one fifth of the nation’s urban population and produced one fourth of China’s economic output, can get very hot – all income groups turned on the air conditioning.

“If we consider that more provinces would become ‘Shanghai’ as incomes rise, our results may ultimately be more broadly applicable,” said Yatang Li, a PhD student at Duke University, who led the research. – Climate News Network

UK’s dream is now its nuclear nightmare

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

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

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

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

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

White elephant

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

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

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

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

Problems exported

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embarrassment

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

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

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

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

Permanent armed guard

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

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

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

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

Rivalling Disneyland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White elephant

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

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

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

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

Problems exported

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embarrassment

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

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

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

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

Permanent armed guard

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

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

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

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

Rivalling Disneyland

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

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

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

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

Renewable energy ousts diesel for islanders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny populations

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

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

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

Varied environments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny populations

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

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

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

Varied environments

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

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

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

Weakened hurricanes may be wind farm bonus

When high winds meet tall sails in the right place, something’s got to give. Offshore wind farms may lead to weakened hurricanes.

LONDON, 23 October, 2018 − US scientists have identified yet another wonder of that icon of renewable energy, the offshore wind farm: they may result in weakened hurricanes. Turbines in the right place could not just take the heat out of a hurricane, they could reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding as well.

The prediction is based entirely on computer simulation: the US so far has just one 30MW commercial wind farm in operation with just five turbines, off the coast of Rhode Island.

But the reasoning begins from the basic laws of physics, and the answer delivers yet another argument for investment in renewable sources of energy, if only because the ferocity and destructive power of US hurricanes is set to increase with ever-greater emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, and consequent ever-greater global warming.

Cristina Archer, a scientist at the University of Delaware, has already studied the ideal placing of wind turbines to extract maximum energy from the world’s winds, and more recently confirmed, with other researchers, that any hurricane that blew over a big enough marine wind farm would shed energy and hit the land with less destructive power.

“If you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland”

It is an axiom of physics that energy is always conserved: if a turbine’s sails generate electrical energy from wind, then some of the kinetic energy of the wind must be surrendered.

Professor Archer and her colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they took, among others, the case of Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 deposited almost two thirds of a metre of rainwater on Houston, Texas, to cause devastating floods. They tested the behaviour of the simulated hurricane as it blew across a hypothetical barrier of from zero to 74,619 turbines.

When strong winds hit the turbines, they slow down. Wind scientists call this convergence. Winds slow, and are more likely to dump the water they hold, and then rise. Then the winds speed up again, a phenomenon known as divergence.

“Divergence is the opposite effect. It causes a downward motion, attracting air coming down, which is drier, and suppresses precipitation. I was wondering what would also happen when there is an offshore farm”, she said.

Multiple simulations

The researchers modelled a range of simulations with hypothetical wind farms staggered along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Hypothetical hurricanes caught up in a pattern of convergence would drop their rain before they hit the coast, and then begin divergence, which would mean that even less rain would be carried to landfall.

“By the time the air reaches the land, it’s been squeezed out of a lot of moisture,” Professor Archer said. “We got a 30% reduction of the precipitation with Harvey simulations. That means, potentially, if you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland if the farm is there.”

This doesn’t mean that wind farms can always take the heat out of a hurricane: important factors include the hurricane’s precise track and the distance offshore of the turbines. There are no wind farms anywhere in the world with the tens of thousands of turbines modelled in the simulation: one of the world’s biggest, off Anholt Island, Denmark, has only 111 turbines.

“The more windfarms you have, the more impact they will have on a hurricane,” Professor Archer said. “By the time a hurricane actually makes a landfall, these arrays of turbines have been operating for days and days, extracting energy and moisture out of the storm. As a result, the storm will be weaker. Literally.” − Climate News Network

When high winds meet tall sails in the right place, something’s got to give. Offshore wind farms may lead to weakened hurricanes.

LONDON, 23 October, 2018 − US scientists have identified yet another wonder of that icon of renewable energy, the offshore wind farm: they may result in weakened hurricanes. Turbines in the right place could not just take the heat out of a hurricane, they could reduce the risk of catastrophic flooding as well.

The prediction is based entirely on computer simulation: the US so far has just one 30MW commercial wind farm in operation with just five turbines, off the coast of Rhode Island.

But the reasoning begins from the basic laws of physics, and the answer delivers yet another argument for investment in renewable sources of energy, if only because the ferocity and destructive power of US hurricanes is set to increase with ever-greater emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuel combustion, and consequent ever-greater global warming.

Cristina Archer, a scientist at the University of Delaware, has already studied the ideal placing of wind turbines to extract maximum energy from the world’s winds, and more recently confirmed, with other researchers, that any hurricane that blew over a big enough marine wind farm would shed energy and hit the land with less destructive power.

“If you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland”

It is an axiom of physics that energy is always conserved: if a turbine’s sails generate electrical energy from wind, then some of the kinetic energy of the wind must be surrendered.

Professor Archer and her colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they took, among others, the case of Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 deposited almost two thirds of a metre of rainwater on Houston, Texas, to cause devastating floods. They tested the behaviour of the simulated hurricane as it blew across a hypothetical barrier of from zero to 74,619 turbines.

When strong winds hit the turbines, they slow down. Wind scientists call this convergence. Winds slow, and are more likely to dump the water they hold, and then rise. Then the winds speed up again, a phenomenon known as divergence.

“Divergence is the opposite effect. It causes a downward motion, attracting air coming down, which is drier, and suppresses precipitation. I was wondering what would also happen when there is an offshore farm”, she said.

Multiple simulations

The researchers modelled a range of simulations with hypothetical wind farms staggered along the coasts of Texas and Louisiana. Hypothetical hurricanes caught up in a pattern of convergence would drop their rain before they hit the coast, and then begin divergence, which would mean that even less rain would be carried to landfall.

“By the time the air reaches the land, it’s been squeezed out of a lot of moisture,” Professor Archer said. “We got a 30% reduction of the precipitation with Harvey simulations. That means, potentially, if you have arrays of wind turbines in the areas where there are hurricanes, you will likely see a reduction in precipitation inland if the farm is there.”

This doesn’t mean that wind farms can always take the heat out of a hurricane: important factors include the hurricane’s precise track and the distance offshore of the turbines. There are no wind farms anywhere in the world with the tens of thousands of turbines modelled in the simulation: one of the world’s biggest, off Anholt Island, Denmark, has only 111 turbines.

“The more windfarms you have, the more impact they will have on a hurricane,” Professor Archer said. “By the time a hurricane actually makes a landfall, these arrays of turbines have been operating for days and days, extracting energy and moisture out of the storm. As a result, the storm will be weaker. Literally.” − Climate News Network

UK nuclear industry has a sinking feeling

Officially the UK nuclear industry is going ahead with building a new generation of power stations. But it can’t find anyone to pay for them.

LONDON, 4 October, 2018 – The future of the UK nuclear industry looks increasingly bleak, despite the Conservative government’s continued insistence that it wants to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations.

One of the flagship schemes, the £15 billion ($19.5bn) Moorside development in Cumbria in north-west England, made 70 of its 100 staff redundant in September because the current owners, Toshiba, are unable to finance it and cannot find a buyer.

Tom Samson, the managing director of NuGen, the company set up to construct the power station, said he was fighting “tooth and nail” to save it but that there was “a real danger” the whole idea would be abandoned.

With renewable electricity becoming much cheaper than new nuclear power in the UK, the proposed stations have the added disadvantage that they are remote from population centres and would need expensive new grid connections.

There seem to be two main reasons for the government’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power – the need to keep the nation’s nuclear weapons properly maintained, and political considerations about providing new jobs in remote areas where there are already nuclear installations that are being run down or decommissioned.

Need for jobs

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, said: “I have never thought that Moorside would go ahead. It was always about sustaining jobs at Sellafield where the nuclear reprocessing works are all being closed down. The place is the wrong end of the country from where the electricity is needed.”

Moorside was to be taken over by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), “the preferred bidder”, and the company is still in talks with Toshiba, but has lost support from the South Korean government and is unlikely to proceed.

A similar affliction of lack of financial backers is affecting plans by another Japanese giant, Hitachi, to build an equally ambitious project at Wylfa on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. This is also a remote site with an existing but redundant nuclear station and, coincidentally, a marginal constituency where voters badly need new jobs.

Again, finding a company, or even a country, with deep enough pockets to help build this power station is proving difficult, even though the UK government has offered to underwrite part of the cost.

The only project that is going ahead so far is at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England, where the French nuclear company EDF is set to build two of its new generation reactors.

Double problem

More than 3,000 people are already working on the site, but its future still remains in doubt. This is because of the difficulties both of building what appears to be a troublesome design, and of the French state-owned company’s own debts.

In France EDF has 58 ageing reactors in its fleet, most of which need upgrading to meet safety requirements, with others more than 40 years old due for closure. The costs of the upgrades plus the decommissioning will create an even bigger debt problem, making investment in new reactors virtually impossible.

This financial hurdle may yet halt construction of Hinkley Point’s twin reactors, effectively killing off nuclear new build in Britain. Officially, however, the Chinese are still hoping to build a reactor at Bradwell, east of London, and EDF two more reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, further east on the coast of England.

Already there are doubts about these, and in any case they are years away from construction starting. Other proposed projects have disappeared from sight entirely.

At the heart of the problem is the immense amount of capital needed to finance the building of reactors, which typically double in cost during lengthy construction periods, with completion delays, in the case of the French design, stretching to ten years or more.

“The industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power”

Faced with the fact that even the largest companies with plenty of money are reluctant to invest in nuclear power, many countries have abandoned their nuclear power programmes. The exceptions are countries that have nuclear weapons, or perhaps aspire to have them in the future.

After 40 years of denials Western governments have openly admitted in the last two years that their ability to build and maintain their nuclear submarines and weapons depends on having a healthy civil reactor programme at the same time.

The military need highly skilled personnel to keep their submarines running and to constantly update their nuclear weapons, because the material they are made of is volatile and constantly needs renewing. Without a pool of “civilian” nuclear workers to draw on, the military programme would be in danger of crumbling.

Phil Johnstone, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, UK, who has researched the link between civil and nuclear power, said: “A factor in why the UK persists so intensely with an uneconomic and much-delayed new nuclear programme and rejects cheaper renewable alternatives, seems to be to maintain and cross-subsidise the already costly nuclear submarine industrial base.

“After a decade of the rhetorical separation of civil and military nuclear programmes by industry and governments, recent high-level statements in the USA, the UK, and France highlight that the industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power.”

Concern for democracy

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology at the Science Policy Research Unit at the same university, added: “Given the remarkable lack of almost any discussion that a key driver for civil nuclear is supporting the costs of the defence nuclear programme – either in official UK energy policy or formal scrutiny by official bodies – this raises significant concerns about the state of UK democracy more broadly.”

Despite these setbacks the nuclear industry is still pushing the idea that new stations are needed if the world, and particularly the UK, are to meet their climate targets. The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), a British think tank funded by the nuclear industry, has produced a report saying that only with new nuclear stations could the UK hope to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

Tim Yeo, chairman of NNWI, said: “We often hear that new nuclear build is expensive. It turns out that, in fact, if all hidden costs are factored in, abandoning nuclear comes at an even higher price.

“Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments.

“If the UK is to successfully meet the challenges faced by its power sector, the world’s only source of low-carbon baseload power generation – nuclear – must feature strongly in its ambitions.” – Climate News Network

Officially the UK nuclear industry is going ahead with building a new generation of power stations. But it can’t find anyone to pay for them.

LONDON, 4 October, 2018 – The future of the UK nuclear industry looks increasingly bleak, despite the Conservative government’s continued insistence that it wants to build up to 10 new nuclear power stations.

One of the flagship schemes, the £15 billion ($19.5bn) Moorside development in Cumbria in north-west England, made 70 of its 100 staff redundant in September because the current owners, Toshiba, are unable to finance it and cannot find a buyer.

Tom Samson, the managing director of NuGen, the company set up to construct the power station, said he was fighting “tooth and nail” to save it but that there was “a real danger” the whole idea would be abandoned.

With renewable electricity becoming much cheaper than new nuclear power in the UK, the proposed stations have the added disadvantage that they are remote from population centres and would need expensive new grid connections.

There seem to be two main reasons for the government’s continued enthusiasm for nuclear power – the need to keep the nation’s nuclear weapons properly maintained, and political considerations about providing new jobs in remote areas where there are already nuclear installations that are being run down or decommissioned.

Need for jobs

Martin Forwood, from Cumbrians Opposed to a Radioactive Environment, said: “I have never thought that Moorside would go ahead. It was always about sustaining jobs at Sellafield where the nuclear reprocessing works are all being closed down. The place is the wrong end of the country from where the electricity is needed.”

Moorside was to be taken over by the Korean Electric Power Corp. (Kepco), “the preferred bidder”, and the company is still in talks with Toshiba, but has lost support from the South Korean government and is unlikely to proceed.

A similar affliction of lack of financial backers is affecting plans by another Japanese giant, Hitachi, to build an equally ambitious project at Wylfa on the isle of Anglesey in Wales. This is also a remote site with an existing but redundant nuclear station and, coincidentally, a marginal constituency where voters badly need new jobs.

Again, finding a company, or even a country, with deep enough pockets to help build this power station is proving difficult, even though the UK government has offered to underwrite part of the cost.

The only project that is going ahead so far is at Hinkley Point in Somerset in the west of England, where the French nuclear company EDF is set to build two of its new generation reactors.

Double problem

More than 3,000 people are already working on the site, but its future still remains in doubt. This is because of the difficulties both of building what appears to be a troublesome design, and of the French state-owned company’s own debts.

In France EDF has 58 ageing reactors in its fleet, most of which need upgrading to meet safety requirements, with others more than 40 years old due for closure. The costs of the upgrades plus the decommissioning will create an even bigger debt problem, making investment in new reactors virtually impossible.

This financial hurdle may yet halt construction of Hinkley Point’s twin reactors, effectively killing off nuclear new build in Britain. Officially, however, the Chinese are still hoping to build a reactor at Bradwell, east of London, and EDF two more reactors at Sizewell in Suffolk, further east on the coast of England.

Already there are doubts about these, and in any case they are years away from construction starting. Other proposed projects have disappeared from sight entirely.

At the heart of the problem is the immense amount of capital needed to finance the building of reactors, which typically double in cost during lengthy construction periods, with completion delays, in the case of the French design, stretching to ten years or more.

“The industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power”

Faced with the fact that even the largest companies with plenty of money are reluctant to invest in nuclear power, many countries have abandoned their nuclear power programmes. The exceptions are countries that have nuclear weapons, or perhaps aspire to have them in the future.

After 40 years of denials Western governments have openly admitted in the last two years that their ability to build and maintain their nuclear submarines and weapons depends on having a healthy civil reactor programme at the same time.

The military need highly skilled personnel to keep their submarines running and to constantly update their nuclear weapons, because the material they are made of is volatile and constantly needs renewing. Without a pool of “civilian” nuclear workers to draw on, the military programme would be in danger of crumbling.

Phil Johnstone, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, UK, who has researched the link between civil and nuclear power, said: “A factor in why the UK persists so intensely with an uneconomic and much-delayed new nuclear programme and rejects cheaper renewable alternatives, seems to be to maintain and cross-subsidise the already costly nuclear submarine industrial base.

“After a decade of the rhetorical separation of civil and military nuclear programmes by industry and governments, recent high-level statements in the USA, the UK, and France highlight that the industrial capabilities and associated costs of military nuclear programmes are unsupportable without civil nuclear power.”

Concern for democracy

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology at the Science Policy Research Unit at the same university, added: “Given the remarkable lack of almost any discussion that a key driver for civil nuclear is supporting the costs of the defence nuclear programme – either in official UK energy policy or formal scrutiny by official bodies – this raises significant concerns about the state of UK democracy more broadly.”

Despite these setbacks the nuclear industry is still pushing the idea that new stations are needed if the world, and particularly the UK, are to meet their climate targets. The New Nuclear Watch Institute (NNWI), a British think tank funded by the nuclear industry, has produced a report saying that only with new nuclear stations could the UK hope to meet its greenhouse gas targets.

Tim Yeo, chairman of NNWI, said: “We often hear that new nuclear build is expensive. It turns out that, in fact, if all hidden costs are factored in, abandoning nuclear comes at an even higher price.

“Abandoning nuclear power leads unavoidably to a very big increase in carbon emissions which will prevent Britain from meeting its legally binding climate change commitments.

“If the UK is to successfully meet the challenges faced by its power sector, the world’s only source of low-carbon baseload power generation – nuclear – must feature strongly in its ambitions.” – Climate News Network