Tag Archives: Electricity generation

UK nuclear industry seeks subsidies for survival

The UK nuclear industry hopes the British government will go on subsidising it, despite the existence of cheaper fuels.

LONDON, 23 September, 2020 – The decision by the Japanese company Hitachi to abandon its plan to build two large nuclear plants in the United Kingdom leaves the British government’s energy plans in tatters, and the UK nuclear industry reeling.

The UK’s official plan is still to build ten nuclear stations in Britain, but only three schemes remain. Most have now been cancelled by the companies that planned to build them, principally because they cannot raise the capital to do so. This leaves only the debt-laden French giant EdF and the Chinese state-owned industry still in the field.

At the same time, Britain’s existing nuclear plants are in trouble. They are not ageing gracefully, cracks in their graphite cores and rust in their pipework causing ever-lengthening shutdowns and retirement dates to be brought forward.

The plants at Hunterston B in Scotland, Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England, and Dungeness B in Kent on the south-east coast, are all struggling to survive.

Meanwhile the main competitors to nuclear – solar, and both onshore and offshore wind farms – continue to be built apace and produce electricity at half the price of new nuclear power.

These setbacks for the nuclear industry are mirrored in the US, where existing nuclear plant can no longer compete with renewables and is being retired early by utilities, which need to make a profit to survive in a competitive market.

Vanished incentive

EdF, the only company currently constructing nuclear power stations in western Europe, is currently building two giant new reactors at Hinkley Point C. It hopes to build two more at Sizewell C in Suffolk in eastern England, but these are delayed because the lucrative deal offered by the UK government to induce EdF to build those in Somerset is no longer on offer.

The company awaits a decision from the government on a new way to subsidise Sizewell C, which could mean buying a stake in the power station, or a nuclear tax on consumers to pay for the capital cost, neither of which is likely to be popular with the public.

The problem for the French company is that it currently relies on the Chinese to pay one-third of the cost of both the Hinkley Point and Sizewell stations, and the UK’s relationship with China has soured over Hong Kong democracy and security concerns.

The Chinese also plan to build their own reactor on the seashore at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, as a global showcase for their technology, but because of fears of allowing the Chinese to control part of the UK’s power supply that scheme now looks increasingly unlikely, although officially Beijing is still pressing ahead.

A long-awaited energy White Paper (a government policy document setting out proposals for future legislation) describing how to get the country down to zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target enshrined in law, is due to be published before the end of 2020.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice”

The date has already been put back several times. The paper will include the government’s new position on nuclear power, which has not been revised since 2005.

At stake is the future of the nuclear industry, not just in Britain but further afield as well: the UK is the only country in Western Europe that still supports new large-scale nuclear plants.

The nuclear industry is not giving up hope for its technology, despite the bleak prospects. It is pushing the latest idea of small modular reactors (SMRs) that can be factory-built.

In the UK the engineering company Rolls-Royce is pushing its own version of this. Detractors say this is another unproven and potentially expensive diversion from the need to tackle climate change with cheaper renewable technologies.

One glimmer of hope for the industry is the British prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who is said to favour “blue sky thinking” and to enthuse about the possibilities offered by “green” hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from either renewables or nuclear stations.

This has led the nuclear industry to consider using reactors to produce hydrogen and so make it part of the green revolution, although it would be a very expensive way of doing it.

Intent on survival

While in the past the nuclear industry has struggled with public alarm about waste issues and radioactivity, it now has one over-riding problem: cheaper competition and its inability to finance itself.

As Mycle Schneider, lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, puts it in an interview with pv magazine: “It has become obvious that renewables, even unsubsidised, come in at a fraction of the cost of new nuclear power.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice, and it has nothing to do with market economy-driven energy policy.”

In western Europe, Japan and the US, where market forces dominate and nuclear power has fallen out of favour, the coming UK White Paper is a potential beacon of hope for what looks like a sunset industry.

The nuclear industry hopes that in Britain it still has a champion that will throw it a lifeline by providing new subsidies. If it does, it will be a political decision that triumphs over financial common sense. – Climate News Network

The UK nuclear industry hopes the British government will go on subsidising it, despite the existence of cheaper fuels.

LONDON, 23 September, 2020 – The decision by the Japanese company Hitachi to abandon its plan to build two large nuclear plants in the United Kingdom leaves the British government’s energy plans in tatters, and the UK nuclear industry reeling.

The UK’s official plan is still to build ten nuclear stations in Britain, but only three schemes remain. Most have now been cancelled by the companies that planned to build them, principally because they cannot raise the capital to do so. This leaves only the debt-laden French giant EdF and the Chinese state-owned industry still in the field.

At the same time, Britain’s existing nuclear plants are in trouble. They are not ageing gracefully, cracks in their graphite cores and rust in their pipework causing ever-lengthening shutdowns and retirement dates to be brought forward.

The plants at Hunterston B in Scotland, Hinkley Point B in Somerset in the West of England, and Dungeness B in Kent on the south-east coast, are all struggling to survive.

Meanwhile the main competitors to nuclear – solar, and both onshore and offshore wind farms – continue to be built apace and produce electricity at half the price of new nuclear power.

These setbacks for the nuclear industry are mirrored in the US, where existing nuclear plant can no longer compete with renewables and is being retired early by utilities, which need to make a profit to survive in a competitive market.

Vanished incentive

EdF, the only company currently constructing nuclear power stations in western Europe, is currently building two giant new reactors at Hinkley Point C. It hopes to build two more at Sizewell C in Suffolk in eastern England, but these are delayed because the lucrative deal offered by the UK government to induce EdF to build those in Somerset is no longer on offer.

The company awaits a decision from the government on a new way to subsidise Sizewell C, which could mean buying a stake in the power station, or a nuclear tax on consumers to pay for the capital cost, neither of which is likely to be popular with the public.

The problem for the French company is that it currently relies on the Chinese to pay one-third of the cost of both the Hinkley Point and Sizewell stations, and the UK’s relationship with China has soured over Hong Kong democracy and security concerns.

The Chinese also plan to build their own reactor on the seashore at Bradwell in Essex, east of London, as a global showcase for their technology, but because of fears of allowing the Chinese to control part of the UK’s power supply that scheme now looks increasingly unlikely, although officially Beijing is still pressing ahead.

A long-awaited energy White Paper (a government policy document setting out proposals for future legislation) describing how to get the country down to zero carbon emissions by 2050, a target enshrined in law, is due to be published before the end of 2020.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice”

The date has already been put back several times. The paper will include the government’s new position on nuclear power, which has not been revised since 2005.

At stake is the future of the nuclear industry, not just in Britain but further afield as well: the UK is the only country in Western Europe that still supports new large-scale nuclear plants.

The nuclear industry is not giving up hope for its technology, despite the bleak prospects. It is pushing the latest idea of small modular reactors (SMRs) that can be factory-built.

In the UK the engineering company Rolls-Royce is pushing its own version of this. Detractors say this is another unproven and potentially expensive diversion from the need to tackle climate change with cheaper renewable technologies.

One glimmer of hope for the industry is the British prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, who is said to favour “blue sky thinking” and to enthuse about the possibilities offered by “green” hydrogen, produced by electrolysis from either renewables or nuclear stations.

This has led the nuclear industry to consider using reactors to produce hydrogen and so make it part of the green revolution, although it would be a very expensive way of doing it.

Intent on survival

While in the past the nuclear industry has struggled with public alarm about waste issues and radioactivity, it now has one over-riding problem: cheaper competition and its inability to finance itself.

As Mycle Schneider, lead author of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report, puts it in an interview with pv magazine: “It has become obvious that renewables, even unsubsidised, come in at a fraction of the cost of new nuclear power.

“In the UK, onshore and offshore wind is less than half the cost of nuclear. If the UK government keeps planning for nuclear power plants, it’s not because there was no choice, and it has nothing to do with market economy-driven energy policy.”

In western Europe, Japan and the US, where market forces dominate and nuclear power has fallen out of favour, the coming UK White Paper is a potential beacon of hope for what looks like a sunset industry.

The nuclear industry hopes that in Britain it still has a champion that will throw it a lifeline by providing new subsidies. If it does, it will be a political decision that triumphs over financial common sense. – Climate News Network

Cool your home, save money, chill the atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow progress

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

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

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

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

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

Killer homes

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow progress

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

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

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

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

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

Killer homes

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

Eat an orange and save an old lithium-ion battery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cellulose the key

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

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

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

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

Minimal waste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cellulose the key

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

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

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

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

Minimal waste

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

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

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

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

UK’s plutonium stockpile is an embarrassing risk

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

Plutonium used to be called the world’s most valuable substance. It’s now recognised as a highly dangerous liability.

LONDON, 3 September, 2020 – After 70 years of producing plutonium in reprocessing works the United Kingdom, now with 140 tonnes of it, the largest stockpile in the world, finds it has no use for the metal – and needs to spend £4.5 billion (US$6bn) just to keep it safe.

Having already spent at least that much since the 1950s employing thousands of workers at the Sellafield plant in north-west England to refine the plutonium, the British government has now been told this was a useless endeavour, producing fissile material which, as a security risk, is a burden for future generations.

To cope with the problem the government has now authorised the building of new plants to refine, repackage and store the plutonium for another 140 years, in the hope that some time in the future someone will find a use for it.

Plutonium was once described as the most valuable substance in the world – because with seven kilograms a nation could make a devastating nuclear bomb and become a superpower.

Non-stop production

The UK began making plutonium in the 1950s so that it could keep up with the US and Russia in obtaining such a bomb, and since then it has not stopped, although it has earmarked its current stockpile for peaceful purposes.

The plan, once there was enough military plutonium to use for bombs, was to make plutonium-based fuels for electricity production, but the technology has proved too expensive to be viable.

So the plutonium is now a liability, costing more than £300 million a ton to make safe and store. It will be permanently guarded by a special armed police force for the next 140 years to prevent terrorists getting access to it – the additional cost of this 24-hour surveillance being kept secret because it is “a matter of national security.”

Some of the plutonium has been stored for so long that it already needs what is called “emergency repackaging” to keep it safe. Some of it decays into a more radioactive substance, americium-241, which remains a danger for another 300 years.

Sudden revelation

To avoid immediate danger to workers this plutonium will have to be re-packaged again to meet the standard required for it to enter a new store, so far unbuilt.

Rachel Western, a Friends of the Earth researcher, who obtained a Ph.D studying decision-making in nuclear waste management, said: “It is shocking that after half a century of production of plutonium at Sellafield they have discovered how dangerous it is, so that we are suddenly faced with emergency action.”

One of the extraordinary aspects of this history is that successive governments, both Conservative and Labour, have been warned repeatedly by scientists, engineers and environment groups that the plutonium is a liability, not an asset. Despite that, in the 1990s (having already built up a vast stock of plutonium) ministers authorised the new reprocessing works to begin operations.

After a life of 20 years this reprocessing plant, known as Thorp (the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant), shut down in 2018, and another that has been working since the 1950s is due to close in 2021 – in the meantime still turning out more plutonium that has no end use.

“Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations”

This reporter, who worked for The Guardian newspaper, was assigned to follow Britain’s plutonium story from the 1980s. After a long planning inquiry into the Thorp plant, which was to cost £1.8 billion, a debate broke out on whether the UK needed any more plutonium

The original plan for Thorp was to make money for the UK by reprocessing spent nuclear fuels at Sellafield from around the world to recover plutonium and uranium to re-use in reactors. Everyone outside the industry said that this would be uneconomic, and so it proved. But the government went ahead anyway.

The idea was to make a new fuel called MOX, mixed oxides of plutonium and uranium, to burn in reactors that would provide energy but effectively render the plutonium useless for making weapons.

In order to justify opening the second reprocessing works the government authorised the building of an additional MOX plant, but it never worked properly and was abandoned as a catastrophic financial failure. Despite this, Sellafield continued to separate plutonium.

Looking for alternative

Papers passed to the Climate News Network show what an expensive legacy this plutonium production line has proved to be.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), the government body charged with dealing with the UK’s nuclear wastes, said in its 2019 document Progress on Plutonium: “Continued, indefinite, long-term storage leaves a burden of security risks and proliferation sensitivities for future generations to manage.”

It outlined a series of possibilities for using the plutonium, including the already failed alternative of making MOX fuel. In that and future documents these alternatives were discussed and found to be too expensive, unproven or simply impractical, because there were no reactors available to burn the plutonium.

As a result, repacking the dangerously unstable plutonium and then storing it for future generations to deal with is the chosen option until an alternative can be found. The most likely, according to the NDA document, seems to be mixing it with concrete or ceramics and burying it in a deep depository.

Cost increase

Costs are not discussed in that document. However, following a request by the UK’s Public Accounts Committee, an all-party body of members of parliament, the costs of dealing with the plutonium were disclosed by the NDA.

The evidence says in part: “The costs of the programme to manage the indefinite storage of UK-held plutonium are expected to increase between £0.5-£1 billion from the current estimate of £3.5 billion.”

These costs include the current “contingency repack capability” which is code for emergency treatment for old plutonium stores; the building of a new state of the art retreatment plant; and the construction of a giant new store to take all the plutonium. This it is hoped will be ready by 2027, with extensions to be added in 2033 and 2040.

Other documents, also seen by the Climate News Network, explain that one of the problems that Sellafield faces is that plutonium breaks down.

Completely unusable

Radioactive substances decay into what are called daughter products, also highly dangerous, that have different properties and in this case dilute the purity of the plutonium. This is why nuclear warheads constantly have to be remade with pure plutonium.

At Sellafield some of this refined plutonium has been left in store for so long that it is regarded as unusable in any form and will have to be disposed of. Other plutonium could be purified for use, if a use could be found.

The documents made clear that the plutonium in these old stores was too dangerous to leave until the new facilities could be built. The NDA’s 2020 annual report said: ”In the last 12 months Sellafield has started to recover some of the most degraded plutonium storage packages, therefore beginning to mitigate one of the more significant challenges associated with storing these materials.”

Sellafield has more than 1,000 empty buildings and nearly 10,000 employees looking after the nuclear waste created since the 1950s. – Climate News Network

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear cost overruns

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

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

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

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

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

Better storage available

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nuclear cost overruns

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

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

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

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

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

Better storage available

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

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

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

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

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

Batteries boost Californian hopes of cooler future

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Californian hopes of cooler future rise as the world’s biggest battery storage system comes on stream.

LONDON, 25 August, 2020 – Recent reports of record-breaking heat in the Golden State may be only part of the story: Californian hopes of cooler future days are strengthening with the entry into service of new technology that should promise a less torrid future for millions of people.

The ability to store large amounts of renewable energy – generated mainly by solar and wind power – is seen as a key component in the battle to combat catastrophic climate change.

The Gateway Energy Storage project, near San Diego in southern California, is capable of storing and redistributing up to 230MW of power from solar installations in the area.

“By charging during solar production on off-peak hours and delivering energy to the grid during times of peak demand for power, our battery storage projects improve electric reliability, reduce costs and help our state meet its climate objectives”, said John King of LS Power, the New York-based power development company operating the project.

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier. Climate change is real”

California – the most populous state in the US and one of the wealthiest – has been hit by a series of power blackouts in recent weeks as an extreme heatwave has led to increased air conditioner use and expanding energy demand.

In the Central Valley area of the state, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world, daytime temperatures have soared to more than 40°C.

In mid-August the temperature in Death Valley, a desert area in southern California, reached 54°C – which could be the highest temperature reliably recorded anywhere in the world.

Further north, residents of Sacramento, the state capital, baked as temperatures reached over 40°C on consecutive days – more than 7°C above normal for the time of year.

Though it’s too early to say whether the heatwave is due to increased levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere, Gavin Newsom, California’s governor, is in little doubt about what is driving the heat extremes.

World’s worst air

“The hots are getting hotter, the drys are getting drier”, Newsom said in a video message to delegates participating in a virtual convention of the Democratic Party. “Climate change is real. If you are in denial about climate change, come to California”, said Newsom.

The extreme heat has led to increased storm activity in many areas of the state and a series of lightning strikes which, in turn, have caused an outbreak of wildfires.

Several people have been killed as the fires have raged out of control over hundreds of thousands of acres. Air quality in some regions has declined to levels not seen before.

At one stage this month the area around San Francisco – one of the globe’s wealthiest cities and home to many of the biggest IT companies – was described as having the worst air quality in the world.

Batteries in demand

A shortage of equipment and firefighters has added to problems. In the past California has used prisoners to help fight fires – a policy condemned by various groups.

Many of the prisoners who might have been used for this purpose are no longer available: they’ve either been placed in quarantine or released in an attempt to control the spread of the Covid virus through California’s overcrowded prison system.

Developing more battery storage to service fast-growing solar and wind industries is seen as vital for the state’s energy needs.

California is facing restrictions on importing power from other states in the western US due to heatwaves in those regions and rising power demand. It has also been shutting down fossil fuel-burning power plants.

Governor Newsom said this month that state utilities must find solutions to the power problem: blackouts, he said, were “unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state.” – Climate News Network

Calling time on UK’s ageing nuclear power plants

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

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

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

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

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

Faster wind-down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat postponements

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

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

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

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

Relying on blandness

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

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

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

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

Covid prompts slump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faster wind-down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Repeat postponements

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

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

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

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

Relying on blandness

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

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

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

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

Covid prompts slump

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

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

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

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

Global offshore wind industry takes huge strides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costs head downwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Costs head downwards

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

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

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

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

The poor pay for the grim legacy of uranium mining

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little European mining

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

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

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

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

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

High subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Little European mining

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

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

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

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

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

High subsidies

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

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

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

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

World’s nuclear fusion dream takes a leap forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fusion: how it works

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

– By ITER

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

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

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

Reliability testing

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

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

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

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

Ready by 2045?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fusion: how it works

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

– By ITER

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

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

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

Reliability testing

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

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

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

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

Ready by 2045?

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

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

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

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