Tag Archives: China

Human ancestors lived in a low-carbon world

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

LONDON, 4 October, 2019 – For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

Carbon dioxide levels are higher now than in all human history, and prehistory too: a low-carbon world nurtured our distant forebears.

LONDON, 4 October, 2019 – For the entire 2.5 million years of the Ice Age epoch called the Pleistocene, it was a low-carbon world. Atmospheric carbon dioxide hovered around 230 parts per million. Not only did Homo sapiens evolve on a low-carbon planet, so did Homo erectus and most other human species now known only from fossil evidence in Europe and Asia.

And this long history of a planet kept cool and stable by low levels of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere continued long after the discovery of fire, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the fall and rise of empires and the Industrial Revolution.

Only in 1965 did carbon dioxide levels pass 320 ppm, after a century of exploitation of fossil fuels that released ancient carbon back into atmospheric circulation.

By 2019, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere had tipped 410 ppm and is still rising. In less than a century, human action had raised planetary average temperatures by around 1°C. At present rates, this average could reach 3°C by the end of this century.

Researchers have known for a century that humans emerged in a cooler world, but much of the story of the distant past was based on the evidence of fossils and sedimentary rocks. The latest research pushes the detailed atmospheric carbon dioxide accounting back to at least 2.5 million years.

“This current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us”

Researchers report in the journal Nature Communications that they studied the pattern of carbon isotope readings preserved in the deep yellow soils of China’s loess plateau. What they found confirmed 800,000 years of annual evidence from the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland – and far beyond that limit.

The wind-blown loess of China dates back to at least 22 million years and each successive layer carries isotope evidence that can be read as testimony to the atmospheric conditions in which the soils were laid down.

The latest find confirms that the normal state of the planet during human evolution was cool, with low levels of atmospheric carbon. Homo erectus was the first known human predecessor to exploit fire, systematically fashion stone hand axes, and to leave Africa for Asia and Europe.

“According to this research, from the first Homo erectus, which is currently dated to 2.1 to 1.8 million years ago, we have lived in a low-carbon environment – concentrations were less than 320 parts per million,” said Yige Zhang, a geoscientist at Texas A&M University in the US, who worked with colleagues in Nanjing, China, and California Institute of Technology.

“So this current high carbon dioxide experiment is not only an experiment for the climate and the environment – it’s an experiment for us, for ourselves.” – Climate News Network

Healthcare can worsen global climate crisis

Healthcare workers urging zero carbon emissions say chemicals used increasingly to anaesthetise patients are potent greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 11 September, 2019 − If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter on the planet, according to a new report. Its authors, who argue for zero carbon emissions, say it is the first-ever estimate of healthcare’s global climate footprint.

While fossil fuel burning is responsible for more than half of the footprint, the report says there are several other causes, including the gases used to ensure that patients undergoing surgery feel no pain.

It is produced by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international NGO seeking to change healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and works for environmental health and justice globally. It was produced in collaboration with Arup.

The report says the European Union healthcare sector is the third largest emitter, accounting for 12% of the global healthcare climate footprint. More than half of healthcare’s worldwide emissions come from the top three emitters – the EU, the US and China. The report includes a breakdown for each EU member state.

An earlier report, published in May this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the health care sectors of the 36 countries sampled were together responsible in 2014 for 1.6 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), or 4.4% of the total emissions from these nations, and 4.4% is the total used in the HCWH report.

(Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect, usually over a century.)

“Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease”

HCWH says well over half of healthcare’s global climate footprint comes from fossil fuel combustion. But it identifies several other causes for concern as well. One is the range of gases used in anaesthesia to ensure  patients remain unconscious during surgery.

These are powerful greenhouse gases. Commonly used anaesthetics include nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas, and three fluorinated gases: sevoflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane. At present, the greater part of these gases enter the atmosphere after use.

Research by the UK National Health Service (NHS) Sustainable Development Unit shows the country’s anaesthetic gas footprint is 1.7%, most of it attributable to nitrous oxide use.

The UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) found that in 2014 a group of developed nations with 15% of the global population, 57% of the global GDP and 73% of global health expenditure was also responsible for 7 MtCO2e of medical nitrous oxide use. (“MtCO2e” means “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”.)

The UNFCCC concluded that the full impact of the gas’s global use in anaesthesia “can be expected to be substantially greater”.

Use is growing

For fluorinated gases used in anaesthesia, global emissions to the  atmosphere in 2014 were estimated to add 0.2% to the global health care footprint. Because of the growing use of these gases, increasingly chosen  in preference to nitrous oxide, the footprint from anaesthetic gases is also likely to increase.

In measured tones, HCWH says: “Wider adoption of waste anaesthetic capture systems has the potential to be a high impact health care-specific climate mitigation measure” – or in other words, trap them and dispose of them carefully before they can just escape through an open window to join the other GHGs already in the atmosphere.

But HCWH adds a warning: “For many individual health facilities and systems of hospitals the proportion of the contribution of both nitrous oxide and fluorinated anaesthetic gases to their climate footprint can be significantly higher.

“For instance, Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil found that GHG emissions from nitrous oxide contributed to nearly 35% of their total reported GHG emissions in 2013.”

Its report said choosing to use desflurane instead of nitrous oxide meant a ten-fold increase in anaesthetic gas emissions.

Other remedies available

The HCWH report also sounds the alert about metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), devices which are typically used for the treatment of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and which use hydrofluorocarbons as propellants. These are also highly potent greenhouse gases, with warming potentials between 1,480 and 2,900 times that of carbon dioxide.

Again, though, the report says the full global emissions from MDIs will probably be much greater than today’s figure. Alternative ways of using MDIs, such as dry powder -based inhalers, it says, are available and provide the same medicines without the high global warming potential propellants.

The report argues for the transformation of the healthcare sector so that it meets the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise attributable to climate change to 1.5°C.

HCWH says hospitals and health systems should follow the example of the thousands of hospitals already moving toward climate-smart healthcare via the Health Care Climate Challenge and other initiatives.

Welcoming the report, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said hospitals and other health sector facilities were a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change: “Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.”− Climate News Network

Healthcare workers urging zero carbon emissions say chemicals used increasingly to anaesthetise patients are potent greenhouse gases.

LONDON, 11 September, 2019 − If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter on the planet, according to a new report. Its authors, who argue for zero carbon emissions, say it is the first-ever estimate of healthcare’s global climate footprint.

While fossil fuel burning is responsible for more than half of the footprint, the report says there are several other causes, including the gases used to ensure that patients undergoing surgery feel no pain.

It is produced by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international NGO seeking to change healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and works for environmental health and justice globally. It was produced in collaboration with Arup.

The report says the European Union healthcare sector is the third largest emitter, accounting for 12% of the global healthcare climate footprint. More than half of healthcare’s worldwide emissions come from the top three emitters – the EU, the US and China. The report includes a breakdown for each EU member state.

An earlier report, published in May this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the health care sectors of the 36 countries sampled were together responsible in 2014 for 1.6 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), or 4.4% of the total emissions from these nations, and 4.4% is the total used in the HCWH report.

(Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect, usually over a century.)

“Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease”

HCWH says well over half of healthcare’s global climate footprint comes from fossil fuel combustion. But it identifies several other causes for concern as well. One is the range of gases used in anaesthesia to ensure  patients remain unconscious during surgery.

These are powerful greenhouse gases. Commonly used anaesthetics include nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas, and three fluorinated gases: sevoflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane. At present, the greater part of these gases enter the atmosphere after use.

Research by the UK National Health Service (NHS) Sustainable Development Unit shows the country’s anaesthetic gas footprint is 1.7%, most of it attributable to nitrous oxide use.

The UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) found that in 2014 a group of developed nations with 15% of the global population, 57% of the global GDP and 73% of global health expenditure was also responsible for 7 MtCO2e of medical nitrous oxide use. (“MtCO2e” means “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”.)

The UNFCCC concluded that the full impact of the gas’s global use in anaesthesia “can be expected to be substantially greater”.

Use is growing

For fluorinated gases used in anaesthesia, global emissions to the  atmosphere in 2014 were estimated to add 0.2% to the global health care footprint. Because of the growing use of these gases, increasingly chosen  in preference to nitrous oxide, the footprint from anaesthetic gases is also likely to increase.

In measured tones, HCWH says: “Wider adoption of waste anaesthetic capture systems has the potential to be a high impact health care-specific climate mitigation measure” – or in other words, trap them and dispose of them carefully before they can just escape through an open window to join the other GHGs already in the atmosphere.

But HCWH adds a warning: “For many individual health facilities and systems of hospitals the proportion of the contribution of both nitrous oxide and fluorinated anaesthetic gases to their climate footprint can be significantly higher.

“For instance, Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil found that GHG emissions from nitrous oxide contributed to nearly 35% of their total reported GHG emissions in 2013.”

Its report said choosing to use desflurane instead of nitrous oxide meant a ten-fold increase in anaesthetic gas emissions.

Other remedies available

The HCWH report also sounds the alert about metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), devices which are typically used for the treatment of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and which use hydrofluorocarbons as propellants. These are also highly potent greenhouse gases, with warming potentials between 1,480 and 2,900 times that of carbon dioxide.

Again, though, the report says the full global emissions from MDIs will probably be much greater than today’s figure. Alternative ways of using MDIs, such as dry powder -based inhalers, it says, are available and provide the same medicines without the high global warming potential propellants.

The report argues for the transformation of the healthcare sector so that it meets the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise attributable to climate change to 1.5°C.

HCWH says hospitals and health systems should follow the example of the thousands of hospitals already moving toward climate-smart healthcare via the Health Care Climate Challenge and other initiatives.

Welcoming the report, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said hospitals and other health sector facilities were a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change: “Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.”− Climate News Network

Nuclear power somehow always makes a loss

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

As the world recalls the atomic bombing of Hiroshima 74 years ago, researchers say nuclear power can offer nothing in the fight against climate change.

LONDON, 6 August, 2019 − Two new studies together make an eloquent case against nuclear power: that its civilian uses are inseparable from nuclear warmaking, and that it is always uneconomic and has to be subsidised by taxpayers.

The first report, by the Berlin-based German Institute for Economic Research (DIW), says that private economic interests have never played a role in nuclear power; instead the military have always been the driving force behind their construction. The report’s title sums up its contents: High-Priced and Dangerous: Nuclear Power is not an option for the Climate-Friendly Energy Mix.

The researchers calculate, after analysis of the 674 nuclear power plants built since the 1950s, that on average they make a loss of €5 billion (US$5.6 bn) each, and that is without taking into account the cost of getting rid of their radioactive waste.

The report does not simply investigate the past. It also looks ahead, reviewing the industry’s plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and particularly the small modular reactors (SMRs) in which the US, Canada, Russia, China and the UK are currently investing huge amounts of development money. The researchers conclude that they too are doomed to be an expensive failure.

“Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons”

The second study, specifically into SMRs, is by the Nuclear Consulting Group (NCG), an international team of academics and other experts [the writer of this news report is a member].  It reaches the same conclusion: that they will be expensive for the taxpayer and never live up to expectations.

The NCG, which works with Nuclear Free Local Authorities in the UK, says its opposition is based on close scrutiny of the industry. After examining all the designs of SMRs currently being developed globally, the NCG says: “It remains likely that no substantive deployment of the technology will be realised, with just a very few reactors built, at most.

“This will be despite large amounts of public money being invested in these projects and, worse, the neglect of other more viable non-nuclear options. It provides another example of the industry talking a good game but delivering little.” There are recurrent reports that SMRs are managing to break into the market, but so far without any sign of widespread success.

The German report from DIW is much more direct in condemning nuclear power. Christian von Hirschhausen, co-author of the study, says: “Nuclear power was never designed for commercial electricity generation; it was aimed at nuclear weapons.

Long-term danger

“That is why nuclear electricity has been and will continue to be uneconomic. Further, nuclear energy is by no means ‘clean’; Its radioactivity will endanger humans and the natural world for over one million years.”

The assertion by DIW that civilian and military uses of nuclear power are two sides of the same coin has been made before, with a US report two years ago saying that an essential component of nuclear weapons is made in civil reactors for the use of the armed forces.

The DIW authors examine the history, financing and political background to every nuclear power station built. With 10 countries gaining the knowledge to produce nuclear weapons (initially the US, UK, France and the Soviet Union, joined later by China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, and South Africa), none of the ten now uses nuclear energy commercially via private, non-state-supported investment.

The German report’s conclusion is aimed at the Berlin government, but it would equally apply to any government not interested in developing nuclear power for military purposes, whether to make bombs or to power submarines and surface warships.

Not an option

It says: “The lack of economic efficiency goes hand-in-hand with a high risk with regard to the proliferation of weapons-grade materials and the release of radioactivity, as shown by the accidents in Harrisburg, known also as Three Mile Island (1979), Chernobyl (1986), and Fukushima  (2011). Nuclear energy is not a relevant option for supplying economical, climate-friendly, and sustainable energy in the future.

“Energy, climate, and industrial policy should therefore target a quick withdrawal from nuclear energy. Subsidies and special tariffs for service life extensions are not recommended because they are life-support systems for the risky, uneconomical nuclear industry. This is even more true for new construction. Budgets for researching new reactor types should be cut.

“‘Nuclear energy for climate protection’ is an old narrative that is as inaccurate today as it was in the 1970s. Describing nuclear energy as ‘clean’ ignores the significant environmental risks and radioactive emissions it engenders along the process chain and beyond.

“The German federal government would be well advised to counteract the narrative in the EU and other organisations in which Germany is involved.” − Climate News Network

Only a climate revolution can cool the world

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

An academic book on fossil fuel consumption reaches a startling conclusion: only a climate revolution can force governments to act to stop the planet overheating.

LONDON, 31 July, 2019 − Governments have completely failed to make progress in tackling the planetary emergency, and a climate revolution is the sole hope that they will do so.

This sounds like a sound bite from Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist who is inspiring schoolchildren worldwide to go on strike, or a slogan from Extinction Rebellion, which has been disrupting city life in the UK and elsewhere to secure an urgent government response to the climate emergency.

Both campaigns might agree with the statement, but it is in fact from a scholarly book, Burning Up, A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, a detailed study into the burning of fossil fuels since 1950.  It looks at fuel consumption in individual countries but also at the political forces that have driven and still drive the ever-growing inferno of fossil fuels, coal, oil and gas, across the world.

The book illustrates the reasons behind the rather frightening fact that since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, despite many promises and warnings, governments have failed to take decisive action on climate change and in fact have made it decidedly worse by continuing to subsidise fossil fuels more than renewables.

Simon Pirani, a senior research fellow at the UK’s Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, takes the reader through an exhaustive examination of fossil fuel consumption and the driving forces behind it.  One point he makes is that governments, particularly in the US, have contrived to kill off the use of buses and trains and instead promoted private cars.

 

And even if people wanted a choice, they don’t have the chance to make one, so we have to contribute to the increased use of fossil fuels if we want to lead a normal life. Producing many consumer goods and nearly all food depends on fossil fuels. Agriculture depends on oil-based fertiliser; and buying cars, washing machines and fridges leaves customers willy-nilly indirectly consuming fossil fuels.

Pirani is also scathing about the rich world’s reaction to the sort of crisis that is here already and will become more commonplace in a warming world.  He gives the example of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, when there was indifference from the government to the poor and disadvantaged who were most affected – an attitude mirrored across the world in subsequent disasters, especially in developing countries.

Climate change is already affecting swathes of Africa, causing crop failures and famine – again largely ignored by the rich world, which he identifies as the main cause of climate change, continues to cause it, but refuses to take responsibility for its consequences.

His third example is our attitude to refugees. He admits that most of the migrants converging now on Europe and the US are on the move because of wars or political oppression, but says that when millions are forced to migrate by climate change the pattern has already been set.

“There is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C”

The attitude of governments in the rich world, increasingly in the EU but already in the US, is to build walls to keep them out rather than tackle the problem at source.

Altogether it is a fascinating and disturbing analysis of how the influence of the fossil fuel industry and its short-term financial advantage has come to outweigh the scientific evidence and the welfare of humanity in the minds of politicians. It certainly demonstrates why there is little hope of world leaders taking the action required to keep the world temperature from increasing more than 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

However, Dr Pirani claims that ordinary people can have an impact on governments.  He points to the example of China where the government, fearful of the reaction of its people to the effects of air pollution on its children’s health, has taken decisive action to reduce the damage. India is currently going through the same process.

His book was written and with the publisher before the rise of Extinction Rebellion and the school strikes, but perhaps that is exactly the sort of citizen action he would advocate.

His conclusion is that unless ordinary people reject the continued dominance of the fossil fuel industry and force governments to act by continued acts of civil disobedience. there is no hope of keeping the world temperature below a dangerous level. − Climate News Network

* * * * *

Burning Up. A Global History of Fossil Fuel Consumption, Simon Pirani, Pluto Press, London

Solar future shines ever more brightly

Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper and more abundant.

LONDON, 26 June, 2019 − The world’s solar future  continues to brighten, further and faster than seemed possible only a few years ago.

As the price of all types of solar technology goes on falling, it is becoming possible for large parts of the world to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and cheaper solar alternatives. A UN-backed report says much of Asia could meet all its electricity needs and ditch coal completely, by adopting solar power on a large scale.

After an initial drop of 2% in installations of solar equipment in the United States when President Donald Trump put a 30% tariff on overseas-manufactured solar panels, the market has picked up again and there are forecasts of a rapid growth rate this year.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association expects installations to rise by 25% in 2019 to a capacity of 13.3 gigawatts, about the output of 15 large coal-fired plants. This is more electricity than many smaller countries in Africa and Europe need to keep their lights on.

The boom in American solar power is due mainly to the continuous fall in the price of photo-voltaic panels, because of an over-supply in China. This has cancelled out the negative effect of Trump tariffs. States in the southern US, particularly Florida, are expecting to install large-scale solar farms this year that will produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

New technology

In China itself the solar boom continues. It has been strengthened by an innovation, a molten solar power plant in Dunhuang (in the north-western Gansu province, on the edge of the Gobi desert), costing three billion yuan (£345m/ $440m).

This uses 12,000 mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower containing molten salt which heats to a far greater temperature than water and creates steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The advantage of this concentrated solar power method over solar panels is that the heat can be stored in the salt and electricity produced in the evening when demand rises.

The 100 megawatt plant, enough to power a medium-sized city, can store energy for up to 15 hours, so it can work continuously and can re-charge itself when the sun comes up the following day. The Chinese engineers say the plant has already exceeded its design specifications.

The same technology is being used in Dubai, where an ambitious project, Noor Energy 1, will cover 44 square kilometres of desert. Costing $4.4 billion, it is the largest renewable energy project in the world, apart from hydropower, and combines both concentrated solar power and photo-voltaic technologies.

“The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia”

This combination is expected to produce 950 megawatts of power: it uses 550,000 tons of salt to store the heat. Again, the power output after sunset is expected to last for 15 hours. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from solar power by 2030.

Although concentrated solar power plants take longer to construct and have a larger capital cost, the energy storage they provide makes them particularly attractive to desert states where the input from the sun is so reliable.

But the future for solar is bright over the whole of south and east Asia, according to a new report by Climate Analytics, which is supported by the United Nations. The study has seven country studies for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Climate Analytics researchers estimate that covering just 1.5% of the territory in each south and east Asian country with solar installations could satisfy their combined electricity consumption 13 times over.

Costs for renewables and energy storage technologies continue to fall: the average cost of renewables was often already in the same range as fossil fuels in 2016, even without accounting for external costs like health and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It has now fallen further.

Key contribution

However, for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C, these  countries need to decarbonise their energy systems by 2050, and the power sector has a critical role to play.

According to the study, the share of zero carbon electricity generation needs to reach at least 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal would need to be phased out of electricity generation by 2040.

“By decarbonising their energy systems, south and south-east Asian countries can make a fundamental difference in global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, and will reap large economic and sustainable development benefits by doing so,” said the report’s author, Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ CEO.

Dr Fahad Saeed, climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia, which would contribute to achieving zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and clean water and sanitation.”

“It would also reduce the risk of flooding for large numbers of people living in coastal regions, as well as extreme heat that can otherwise reach intolerable levels for human health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in south Asia.” − Climate News Network

Progress in China, the US and elsewhere shows an increasingly positive solar future as fuel from the sun grows cheaper and more abundant.

LONDON, 26 June, 2019 − The world’s solar future  continues to brighten, further and faster than seemed possible only a few years ago.

As the price of all types of solar technology goes on falling, it is becoming possible for large parts of the world to replace fossil fuels with cleaner and cheaper solar alternatives. A UN-backed report says much of Asia could meet all its electricity needs and ditch coal completely, by adopting solar power on a large scale.

After an initial drop of 2% in installations of solar equipment in the United States when President Donald Trump put a 30% tariff on overseas-manufactured solar panels, the market has picked up again and there are forecasts of a rapid growth rate this year.

The US Solar Energy Industries Association expects installations to rise by 25% in 2019 to a capacity of 13.3 gigawatts, about the output of 15 large coal-fired plants. This is more electricity than many smaller countries in Africa and Europe need to keep their lights on.

The boom in American solar power is due mainly to the continuous fall in the price of photo-voltaic panels, because of an over-supply in China. This has cancelled out the negative effect of Trump tariffs. States in the southern US, particularly Florida, are expecting to install large-scale solar farms this year that will produce electricity more cheaply than coal.

New technology

In China itself the solar boom continues. It has been strengthened by an innovation, a molten solar power plant in Dunhuang (in the north-western Gansu province, on the edge of the Gobi desert), costing three billion yuan (£345m/ $440m).

This uses 12,000 mirrors to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a tower containing molten salt which heats to a far greater temperature than water and creates steam to drive turbines and generate electricity.

The advantage of this concentrated solar power method over solar panels is that the heat can be stored in the salt and electricity produced in the evening when demand rises.

The 100 megawatt plant, enough to power a medium-sized city, can store energy for up to 15 hours, so it can work continuously and can re-charge itself when the sun comes up the following day. The Chinese engineers say the plant has already exceeded its design specifications.

The same technology is being used in Dubai, where an ambitious project, Noor Energy 1, will cover 44 square kilometres of desert. Costing $4.4 billion, it is the largest renewable energy project in the world, apart from hydropower, and combines both concentrated solar power and photo-voltaic technologies.

“The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia”

This combination is expected to produce 950 megawatts of power: it uses 550,000 tons of salt to store the heat. Again, the power output after sunset is expected to last for 15 hours. Dubai aims to generate 25% of its energy from solar power by 2030.

Although concentrated solar power plants take longer to construct and have a larger capital cost, the energy storage they provide makes them particularly attractive to desert states where the input from the sun is so reliable.

But the future for solar is bright over the whole of south and east Asia, according to a new report by Climate Analytics, which is supported by the United Nations. The study has seven country studies for India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Climate Analytics researchers estimate that covering just 1.5% of the territory in each south and east Asian country with solar installations could satisfy their combined electricity consumption 13 times over.

Costs for renewables and energy storage technologies continue to fall: the average cost of renewables was often already in the same range as fossil fuels in 2016, even without accounting for external costs like health and the environmental impacts of fossil fuels. It has now fallen further.

Key contribution

However, for the world to limit warming to 1.5°C, these  countries need to decarbonise their energy systems by 2050, and the power sector has a critical role to play.

According to the study, the share of zero carbon electricity generation needs to reach at least 50% in 2030 and 100% by 2050. Coal would need to be phased out of electricity generation by 2040.

“By decarbonising their energy systems, south and south-east Asian countries can make a fundamental difference in global efforts to limit warming to 1.5°C, in line with the Paris Agreement, and will reap large economic and sustainable development benefits by doing so,” said the report’s author, Bill Hare, Climate Analytics’ CEO.

Dr Fahad Saeed, climate scientist at Climate Analytics, said: “The 1.5°C limit means a greatly reduced risk of drought and water stress in south and south-east Asia, which would contribute to achieving zero hunger, good health and wellbeing, and clean water and sanitation.”

“It would also reduce the risk of flooding for large numbers of people living in coastal regions, as well as extreme heat that can otherwise reach intolerable levels for human health and labour productivity, particularly in densely populated cities in south Asia.” − Climate News Network

Human impact on climate is 100 years old

When did the human impact on climate begin? At least a century ago, with the arrival of the bi-plane, the chauffeur-driven car and the Jazz Age.

LONDON, 2 May, 2019 − Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

Clear signal apparent

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

For four decades it has been a given of climate change research that average planetary warming will intensify all the extremes of weather: in particular, drought and flood.

“All the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places”

The problem has been that droughts and floods have always happened. But could scientists identify the signature of human change – the clearing of the forests, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the cities and the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to dump ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in any one flood or drought? Until this century, researchers were unwilling to name the guilty party.

No longer. In recent years researchers have done more than just blame overall warming on human activity, and in particular the increasing hazard of extremes of heat, drought and flood.

They have linked human behaviour with drought in California and with record temperatures in 2013 in Australia.

The Nasa-led research is not quite the first to claim to have detected very early evidence of climate change. A team led by Chinese scientists reported in April in the journal Nature Sustainability that tree ring evidence from the Tibetan plateau suggested that humans may have begun altering the pattern of seasonal temperatures – that is, the differences between winter and summer – as early as the 1870s, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Puzzle solved?

But the latest study from Dr Marvel and colleagues identifies such evidence on a wider scale, and may even have resolved the puzzle of the extremes that did not happen.

The research found three distinct periods of change. The first was marked by more drought in some places, more precipitation in others in the first half of the 20th century. But by the height of the Cold War, and the space race mid-century, it became harder to see a pattern, and climate events seemed more random, and climates cooler.

The researchers now think the huge volumes of aerosols from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts between 1950 and 1975 altered weather patterns in different ways, affecting cloud formation, rainfall and temperature, to mask the effect of greenhouse gas increases.

These were the years of choking smog, grime and soot, sulphurous droplets, acid rain, corroding historic buildings and urban respiratory disease on an epidemic scale.

Stronger patternn expected

And then developed nations started introducing clean air legislation and other pollution controls. Round about 1981, tentative evidence of the impact of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions began to show again in the climate record, although not as boldly as in the first half of the century.

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe. − Climate News Network

When did the human impact on climate begin? At least a century ago, with the arrival of the bi-plane, the chauffeur-driven car and the Jazz Age.

LONDON, 2 May, 2019 − Our influence on the Earth’s environment has lasted for a century: the human impact on droughts and moisture patterns began at least 100 years ago, researchers now say.

US scientists used new analytic techniques and almost a thousand years of tree-ring data to build up a picture of drought and rainfall worldwide for the last century. And they report in the journal Nature that they have identified the human fingerprint upon climate variation as far back as the first days of the motor car and the infant aircraft industry.

The pattern of change, in which regions prone to drought such as the western US became more arid, grew visible between 1900 and 1949. The researchers saw the same pattern of drying in those decades in Australia, Europe, the Mediterranean, western Russia and southeast Asia.

At the same time more rain and snow fell in western China, much of central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia and central Canada.

Clear signal apparent

Kate Marvel of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who led the research, said: “It’s mind-boggling. There really is a clear signal of the effects of greenhouse gases on the hydroclimate.”

And Benjamin Cook of both the Nasa Institute and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University, said: “We asked, does the real world look like what the models tell us to expect? The answer is yes.

“The big thing we learned is that climate change started affecting global patterns of drought in the early 20th century. We expect this pattern to keep emerging as climate change continues.”

For four decades it has been a given of climate change research that average planetary warming will intensify all the extremes of weather: in particular, drought and flood.

“All the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places”

The problem has been that droughts and floods have always happened. But could scientists identify the signature of human change – the clearing of the forests, the intensification of agriculture, the growth of the cities and the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels to dump ever more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere – in any one flood or drought? Until this century, researchers were unwilling to name the guilty party.

No longer. In recent years researchers have done more than just blame overall warming on human activity, and in particular the increasing hazard of extremes of heat, drought and flood.

They have linked human behaviour with drought in California and with record temperatures in 2013 in Australia.

The Nasa-led research is not quite the first to claim to have detected very early evidence of climate change. A team led by Chinese scientists reported in April in the journal Nature Sustainability that tree ring evidence from the Tibetan plateau suggested that humans may have begun altering the pattern of seasonal temperatures – that is, the differences between winter and summer – as early as the 1870s, at least in the northern hemisphere.

Puzzle solved?

But the latest study from Dr Marvel and colleagues identifies such evidence on a wider scale, and may even have resolved the puzzle of the extremes that did not happen.

The research found three distinct periods of change. The first was marked by more drought in some places, more precipitation in others in the first half of the 20th century. But by the height of the Cold War, and the space race mid-century, it became harder to see a pattern, and climate events seemed more random, and climates cooler.

The researchers now think the huge volumes of aerosols from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts between 1950 and 1975 altered weather patterns in different ways, affecting cloud formation, rainfall and temperature, to mask the effect of greenhouse gas increases.

These were the years of choking smog, grime and soot, sulphurous droplets, acid rain, corroding historic buildings and urban respiratory disease on an epidemic scale.

Stronger patternn expected

And then developed nations started introducing clean air legislation and other pollution controls. Round about 1981, tentative evidence of the impact of human-driven greenhouse gas emissions began to show again in the climate record, although not as boldly as in the first half of the century.

If the researchers have got it right, the pattern of increasing drought, matched elsewhere by increasing precipitation, will continue to become stronger.

“If we don’t see it coming in stronger in, say, the next 10 years, we might have to wonder whether we are right,” Dr Marvel said. “But all the models are projecting that you should see unprecedented drying soon, in a lot of places.”

And the researchers warn that the consequences for humankind, especially in North America and Eurasia, could be severe. − Climate News Network

Europe’s new nuclear plants hit more snags

Plans for two new nuclear plants in Western Europe have met more setbacks in the last week, risking the industry’s future here.

LONDON, 16 April, 2019 − Two new nuclear plants, one in Finland and the other in France, which for years have been limping towards start-up, have just encountered further problems, with worrying wider implications for the nuclear industry.

They are two almost completed prototype European Pressurised Water reactors (EPRs), already years late and massively over budget, whose new problems are causing further expensive delays.

The so-called third generation reactors, of 1,600 megawatts each, are the most powerful in the world and are the flagship project of EDF, the French state energy company. But they are proving extremely difficult to build and far more costly than forecast.

EDF has just begun building two more EPR reactors in the UK and has plans to add another two, but there must be doubts whether this scheme is now credible. Since the stations were planned a decade ago wind and solar power have now both become far cheaper than nuclear, even without what seem to be its inevitable cost overruns.

Ten years late

The first EPR, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, was due to be up and running in 2009, but concerns about the quality of construction and legal disputes caused a series of cost escalations and delays. This had already meant the postponement of the first grid connection until October 2018, and the growth of the plant’s cost to more than three times the original estimate of €3 billion (£2.6 bn).

Last week, however, it was reported that even this timetable could not be met and at least another two months delay was likely, although it could be longer. The Finnish utility TVO for whom the plant is being built promises a new schedule in June.

For the second reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, the situation is potentially far more serious. For months dozens of faulty welds discovered during inspections have been the subject of investigation by experts to see if they need to be redone to ensure the reactor’s safety.

EDF was already re-welding 53 of them but hoped to convince France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) that another ten difficult-to-reach welds were safe and could be left. However, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the technical arm of ASN, has said that these should also be replaced.

While this recommendation is not binding on the regulator it will be hard to ignore, and it is doubtful that ASN would allow EDF to go ahead and start the reactor with faulty welds. It has said it will make a decision in June.

Threefold price rise

Since the pipes containing the welds are fundamental to the operation of the reactor, and repairing them would take up to two years, this can only add further to the escalating costs.

The single reactor was due to open in 2012 and cost €3 bn, but is already estimated to cost €10.9 bn and to start in mid-2020, although the new weld problem could delay the start for another two years.

This, on top of earlier doubts about safety caused by there being too much carbon in the steel pressure vessel, has made the French government postpone any plans to build any more EPRs at home. Instead, for the first time, it is encouraging heavy investment in renewable energy.

As a result EDF is putting all its efforts into building two giant EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in south-west England, to prove that its design can be built on time and on budget.

“The site is … on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime”

It has a guarantee from the UK government for a price for electricity from the station which is twice the current market tariff in Britain. That makes building the station a money-spinner for EDF − and will push up consumer bills.

This is, of course, if the twin reactors each producing 1,600 megawatts, about 7% of the UK’s electricity needs, enough for six million homes, can indeed be built on time and on budget by 2025. They will rapidly become white elephants if they reach anything like the 10-year delay that the reactors in Finland and France seem destined to achieve.

Currently thousands of workers are already employed at Hinkley Point and so far everything seems to be going to plan, with EDF claiming 25,000 people will soon be working on the project.

Despite its setbacks in France, the company is also pressing ahead with plans to build two more reactors at Sizewell on the east coast of England, where there is increasing and determined local opposition which fears the destruction of the local tourist industry and wildlife sanctuaries.

The site is also on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime.

Avoiding another Hinkley

A way of financing them has yet to be agreed with the UK government, which has been stung by the criticism of the excessive prices promised for Hinkley Point’s output and has decided not to repeat its mistake.

As part of its strategy to bolster the company’s finances EDF has gone into partnership with the Chinese state nuclear companies which are part-funding both projects. Ultimately the Chinese and French hope to build yet another reactor at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, this time of Chinese design. But that seems even further away on the horizon.

The success or failure of EDF’s plans is crucial to the future of nuclear power in Western Europe. Japan, the US and all other western European states apart from France have given up the idea of building large stations. Only China and Russia are now building 1,000 megawatt stations and offering generous terms to any country in the world that will allow them to be built on their soil.

In both cases cost seems secondary to gaining influence in the countries concerned, which will be dependent on either Russia or China for nuclear supplies for a generation or longer if they are to keep the lights on. − Climate News Network

Plans for two new nuclear plants in Western Europe have met more setbacks in the last week, risking the industry’s future here.

LONDON, 16 April, 2019 − Two new nuclear plants, one in Finland and the other in France, which for years have been limping towards start-up, have just encountered further problems, with worrying wider implications for the nuclear industry.

They are two almost completed prototype European Pressurised Water reactors (EPRs), already years late and massively over budget, whose new problems are causing further expensive delays.

The so-called third generation reactors, of 1,600 megawatts each, are the most powerful in the world and are the flagship project of EDF, the French state energy company. But they are proving extremely difficult to build and far more costly than forecast.

EDF has just begun building two more EPR reactors in the UK and has plans to add another two, but there must be doubts whether this scheme is now credible. Since the stations were planned a decade ago wind and solar power have now both become far cheaper than nuclear, even without what seem to be its inevitable cost overruns.

Ten years late

The first EPR, Olkiluoto 3 in Finland, was due to be up and running in 2009, but concerns about the quality of construction and legal disputes caused a series of cost escalations and delays. This had already meant the postponement of the first grid connection until October 2018, and the growth of the plant’s cost to more than three times the original estimate of €3 billion (£2.6 bn).

Last week, however, it was reported that even this timetable could not be met and at least another two months delay was likely, although it could be longer. The Finnish utility TVO for whom the plant is being built promises a new schedule in June.

For the second reactor, under construction at Flamanville in northern France, the situation is potentially far more serious. For months dozens of faulty welds discovered during inspections have been the subject of investigation by experts to see if they need to be redone to ensure the reactor’s safety.

EDF was already re-welding 53 of them but hoped to convince France’s Nuclear Safety Authority (ASN) that another ten difficult-to-reach welds were safe and could be left. However, the French Institute for Radiological Protection and Nuclear Safety (IRSN), the technical arm of ASN, has said that these should also be replaced.

While this recommendation is not binding on the regulator it will be hard to ignore, and it is doubtful that ASN would allow EDF to go ahead and start the reactor with faulty welds. It has said it will make a decision in June.

Threefold price rise

Since the pipes containing the welds are fundamental to the operation of the reactor, and repairing them would take up to two years, this can only add further to the escalating costs.

The single reactor was due to open in 2012 and cost €3 bn, but is already estimated to cost €10.9 bn and to start in mid-2020, although the new weld problem could delay the start for another two years.

This, on top of earlier doubts about safety caused by there being too much carbon in the steel pressure vessel, has made the French government postpone any plans to build any more EPRs at home. Instead, for the first time, it is encouraging heavy investment in renewable energy.

As a result EDF is putting all its efforts into building two giant EPR reactors at Hinkley Point in south-west England, to prove that its design can be built on time and on budget.

“The site is … on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime”

It has a guarantee from the UK government for a price for electricity from the station which is twice the current market tariff in Britain. That makes building the station a money-spinner for EDF − and will push up consumer bills.

This is, of course, if the twin reactors each producing 1,600 megawatts, about 7% of the UK’s electricity needs, enough for six million homes, can indeed be built on time and on budget by 2025. They will rapidly become white elephants if they reach anything like the 10-year delay that the reactors in Finland and France seem destined to achieve.

Currently thousands of workers are already employed at Hinkley Point and so far everything seems to be going to plan, with EDF claiming 25,000 people will soon be working on the project.

Despite its setbacks in France, the company is also pressing ahead with plans to build two more reactors at Sizewell on the east coast of England, where there is increasing and determined local opposition which fears the destruction of the local tourist industry and wildlife sanctuaries.

The site is also on a vulnerable coast and will need massive sea defences to protect the reactors from the expected sea level rise of up to two metres in their planned lifetime.

Avoiding another Hinkley

A way of financing them has yet to be agreed with the UK government, which has been stung by the criticism of the excessive prices promised for Hinkley Point’s output and has decided not to repeat its mistake.

As part of its strategy to bolster the company’s finances EDF has gone into partnership with the Chinese state nuclear companies which are part-funding both projects. Ultimately the Chinese and French hope to build yet another reactor at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, this time of Chinese design. But that seems even further away on the horizon.

The success or failure of EDF’s plans is crucial to the future of nuclear power in Western Europe. Japan, the US and all other western European states apart from France have given up the idea of building large stations. Only China and Russia are now building 1,000 megawatt stations and offering generous terms to any country in the world that will allow them to be built on their soil.

In both cases cost seems secondary to gaining influence in the countries concerned, which will be dependent on either Russia or China for nuclear supplies for a generation or longer if they are to keep the lights on. − Climate News Network

Restoring forests rules out growing crops

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

Restoring forests is helpful, but planting crops to do so is not. Only one of these options soaks up enough atmospheric carbon.

LONDON, 15 April, 2019 − Nations of the world are committed to restoring forests covering an area the size of India to soak up carbon dioxide and combat climate change. But British scientists have identified a serious flaw in the plan.

“Two-thirds of the area committed to global reforestation for carbon storage is slated to grow crops,” they write in the journal Nature. “This raises serious concerns.”

Their argument is simple. To limit global warming to no more than 1.5°C by the end of the century requires both rapid cuts in emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use, and investment in efficient ways of removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

Altogether 43 tropical and subtropical nations have pledged to restore 350 million hectares of forest to remove 42 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere by 2100.

Little natural forest

Many of them, including Brazil, China and India, have already committed to 292 million hectares of new canopy. But in their analysis of the plans published so far, the scientists say that only 34% of this accumulated area would go back to natural forest.

Another 45% would be covered by plantations of one species harvested for biomass or timber, and 21% would be devoted to agroforestry: a mix of crops sheltered by stands of woodland.

In their calculations, this altogether would remove only 16 bn tonnes of carbon. That is because natural forests restored and subsequently protected would hold 40 times the carbon of a monoculture plantation and six times more than any mix of trees and crops.

“There is a scandal here,” said Simon Lewis, a geographer at University College London, who led the analysis. “To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration.’ And worse, the advertised climate benefits are absent.”

“To most people, forest restoration means bringing back natural forests, but policy makers are calling vast monocultures ‘forest restoration’”

Forests are only part of the answer to the challenge of containing climate change. To keep to the promise made by 195 nations in Paris in 2015, humankind has to find ways to remove 730 bn tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere, which translates to 199 bn tonnes of carbon.

If the world found ways to boost the total area of global forest, woodland and woody savannahs, this could absorb perhaps a quarter of the total needed to keep planetary warming to no more than 1.5°C. And many countries have signed up to convert degraded land to new tree canopy.

“But will this policy work?” the scientists ask. “We show that under current plans, it will not. A closer look at countries’ reports reveals that almost half the pledged area is set to become plantations of commercial trees.”

Their point is that plantations can support local economies, but are poorer at storing carbon. Natural forests require little or no disturbance from humans, whereas the regular clearing and harvesting of plantations releases stored carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere every 10 or 20 years, while natural forests go on sequestering the greenhouse gas for decades. Natural regeneration is the cheapest and easiest option.

Land use shift

Most of the monoculture commitments are in large countries such as Brazil, China, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The scientists suggest such plans have been insufficiently thought through. Drastic increases in tropical plantation for commercial crops would mark a major shift in global land use and could be accompanied by a fall in prices, with potentially unsatisfactory economic consequences.

And, they argue, policymakers are in any case misinterpreting the term forest restoration: it should not include plantations of a single species, such as eucalypt or rubber, which would do little for carbon sequestration. If commercial plantations were planted across the whole 350 million hectares, the entire crop would soak up and store just one billion tonnes of carbon.

“Of course new natural forests alone are not sufficient to meet our climate goals,” said Charlotte Wheeler of the University of Edinburgh, another of the authors. “Emissions from fossil fuels and deforestation must also stop.

“Other ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere are also needed. But no scenario has been produced that keeps climate change below dangerous levels without the large-scale restoration of natural forests.” − Climate News Network

China and India are making a greener Earth

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − Climate News Network

Human efforts are producing a greener Earth. But the news is not all good, because some of the greening comes from fertiliser pollution.

LONDON, 26 March, 2019 − Despite climate change, water scarcity and the many ills affecting the planet, this generation is living on an increasingly greener Earth.

Measurements from space show that some parts of the northern hemisphere, notably China and India, are a lot greener than they used to be, which is potentially very good news for the climate.

Growing vegetation takes up a great deal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, so the more that plants and trees can use, the greater the chance of slowing global warming.

The new findings appear especially positive in the light of earlier studies of global vegetation trends. Science has already found that climate change can affect the Earth’s vegetation pattern adversely.

There is also concern that the effort to grow crops to combat climate change will itself leave less space for other vegetation. And changes in Arctic vegetation are prompting concern that they could promote an increase in releases of greenhouse gases.

“A third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive”

Up to now scientists who have already noted the appearance of global greening thought it was because plants were responding to the fact there was more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (which is needed for photosynthesis) and so were growing faster, in a process known as the fertiliser effect.

This turns out to be only partly true, because a new study reported in the online community Nature Research Sustainability has shown that it is more intensive agriculture and the use of much more artificial farm fertilisers that is one of the main contributors to greening.

This is causing its own environmental damage by polluting watercourses and damaging biodiversity.

But despite these reservations there is much good news in the latest research. Since the turn of the century China has shown a remarkable growth in its green areas because of the planting of new forests and the intensification of agriculture. Although the country contains only 6.6% of the global vegetated area, it alone accounts for 25% of the net increase in leaf area of the planet in that time.

Of this, 42% of the increase in green areas was from newly planted forest and 32% from croplands. The forests are designed to hold back the deserts, cut air pollution and reduce climate change.

Food production leaps

The 32% rise of greening in croplands was caused by intense agriculture, more irrigation with multiple cropping, and heavy fertiliser use, often causing damage to the local environment.

In India, also far greener than in 2000, larger forests account for only a 4.4% increase in greening, while 82% comes from croplands. In both countries food production has increased 35% in the same period as both governments have sought to feed their people.

The European Union also has experienced considerable greening over the same period, third behind China and India in the global league table. In this case 55% was due to increased cropland and 34% to more forests.

Sadly, despite the increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere, the greening this represents did not make up for the loss of leaf area in tropical forests.

Brazil, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Indonesia continued destroying their forests, and in doing so more than made up for the gains elsewhere, apart from the damage this did to ecosystems and biodiversity, the scientists note.

Brazil leads browners

They compiled a league table of greening and the reverse – browning – where satellites show countries have degraded or abandoned land and so reduced the vegetation cover.

Brazil, which has more green land than any other country on the planet, came top of the browning table, having degraded 11.6% of its green land since 2000. Indonesia came second in the browning table with 6.8%, Argentina a close third with 6.7%, and Canada fourth with 5.7%.

This does not tell the whole story, because while some land became browner other patches became greener, so in nearly all countries the browning was balanced out by greening. Altogether the Earth became a lot greener in this period, particularly in the northern hemisphere.

The Nature study concludes that a third of the vegetated land on Earth is becoming greener, in other words more productive, but this is not simply the effect of more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Most of the greening is down to more intensive agricultural practices, as in China and India, and more planting of forests. This, rather than the fertiliser effect, is responsible for at least a third or probably more of the greening of the Earth this century. − 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