Tag Archives: UK

Tidal power fuels Scottish electric vehicles

Electric vehicles are catching on in many countries, notably the Nordic states – and Scottish tides are powering cars there.

LONDON, 30 March, 2021 – The race to meet present and future demand for electrically powered vehicles (EVs) is on, with new projects being announced or swinging into action with increasing frequency.

The latest to join the rush into EV technology is the Norwegian company Freyr AS, which has announced plans to build a multi-billion dollar battery cell production facility in northern Norway.

The company has big ambitions: by 2025 it aims to become one of Europe’s biggest cell suppliers.

The oil, gas and aluminium industries have traditionally played a central role in Norway’s economy. But now there are signs of a change.

Useful similarities

The Freyr facility is being constructed in the small city of Mo I Rana, close to the Arctic Circle. The company says it’s hiring many executives and workers formerly employed in the country’s fossil fuel and aluminium industries.

Tom Einar Rysst-Jensen, Freyr’s CEO, says battery production is complex and has many similarities with the oil and gas industries.

“Battery production are large, capital-intensive, energy-intensive projects,” Rysst-Jensen told the Bloomberg news service. “If you want to be competitive, then you have to build on scale.”

Norway is a world leader in the uptake of EVs. At present about 60% of new vehicle sales in the country are fully electric and the government has announced a deadline of 2025 for ending the sale of all fossil fuelled transport.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource”

The Nordic region is positioning itself as a centre of battery development and technology in Europe.

Two of Norway’s largest companies, the oil firm Equinor and aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, are teaming up with Japan’s Panasonic conglomerate to build a large battery production facility in northern Norway.

In neighbouring Sweden the Northvolt company, backed by car makers VW and BMW together with the furnishings conglomerate IKEA and bankers Goldman Sachs, is due to open a battery-making factory in the north of the country, close to the Arctic Circle, in 2024.

The Nordic region is viewed as well placed to meet Europe’s fast-expanding EV market. Battery production is power intensive: most electricity in the area comes from hydro sources – renewable and relatively cheap.

Mineral wealth

The region also has access to many of the commodities needed for producing batteries. “Seabed minerals have been proven in the Norwegian Sea, with large concentrations of cobalt and manganese”, Freyr’s Rysst-Jensen told Bloomberg.

“In the Nordics you will find graphite, cobalt, lithium – everything you need of raw materials for battery cell production.”

At present China dominates the market for EV batteries, with about 70% of the world’s total production.

Europe, which has only a 3% share, is keen to lessen its dependence on China for batteries and aims to have a 25% share of the global market by 2028. In late 2019 the European Commission announced a €3.2bn (£2.7bn) package for funding battery technology research and development.

Tidal help

A smaller but nonetheless significant EV-related development has been announced in the past few days – this time on the Shetland Islands, off the far north of Scotland.

Tidal energy company Nova Innovation has put into use what it says is the world’s first EV charge point with energy sourced from the power of the sea.

The company’s tidal turbines have supplied power to homes and businesses in Shetland for more than five years. EV drivers on the island of Yell can now charge up their vehicles from a charge point adjacent to the sea and have their cars powered entirely by the tide.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource” said one local EV driver. – Climate News Network

Electric vehicles are catching on in many countries, notably the Nordic states – and Scottish tides are powering cars there.

LONDON, 30 March, 2021 – The race to meet present and future demand for electrically powered vehicles (EVs) is on, with new projects being announced or swinging into action with increasing frequency.

The latest to join the rush into EV technology is the Norwegian company Freyr AS, which has announced plans to build a multi-billion dollar battery cell production facility in northern Norway.

The company has big ambitions: by 2025 it aims to become one of Europe’s biggest cell suppliers.

The oil, gas and aluminium industries have traditionally played a central role in Norway’s economy. But now there are signs of a change.

Useful similarities

The Freyr facility is being constructed in the small city of Mo I Rana, close to the Arctic Circle. The company says it’s hiring many executives and workers formerly employed in the country’s fossil fuel and aluminium industries.

Tom Einar Rysst-Jensen, Freyr’s CEO, says battery production is complex and has many similarities with the oil and gas industries.

“Battery production are large, capital-intensive, energy-intensive projects,” Rysst-Jensen told the Bloomberg news service. “If you want to be competitive, then you have to build on scale.”

Norway is a world leader in the uptake of EVs. At present about 60% of new vehicle sales in the country are fully electric and the government has announced a deadline of 2025 for ending the sale of all fossil fuelled transport.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource”

The Nordic region is positioning itself as a centre of battery development and technology in Europe.

Two of Norway’s largest companies, the oil firm Equinor and aluminium producer Norsk Hydro, are teaming up with Japan’s Panasonic conglomerate to build a large battery production facility in northern Norway.

In neighbouring Sweden the Northvolt company, backed by car makers VW and BMW together with the furnishings conglomerate IKEA and bankers Goldman Sachs, is due to open a battery-making factory in the north of the country, close to the Arctic Circle, in 2024.

The Nordic region is viewed as well placed to meet Europe’s fast-expanding EV market. Battery production is power intensive: most electricity in the area comes from hydro sources – renewable and relatively cheap.

Mineral wealth

The region also has access to many of the commodities needed for producing batteries. “Seabed minerals have been proven in the Norwegian Sea, with large concentrations of cobalt and manganese”, Freyr’s Rysst-Jensen told Bloomberg.

“In the Nordics you will find graphite, cobalt, lithium – everything you need of raw materials for battery cell production.”

At present China dominates the market for EV batteries, with about 70% of the world’s total production.

Europe, which has only a 3% share, is keen to lessen its dependence on China for batteries and aims to have a 25% share of the global market by 2028. In late 2019 the European Commission announced a €3.2bn (£2.7bn) package for funding battery technology research and development.

Tidal help

A smaller but nonetheless significant EV-related development has been announced in the past few days – this time on the Shetland Islands, off the far north of Scotland.

Tidal energy company Nova Innovation has put into use what it says is the world’s first EV charge point with energy sourced from the power of the sea.

The company’s tidal turbines have supplied power to homes and businesses in Shetland for more than five years. EV drivers on the island of Yell can now charge up their vehicles from a charge point adjacent to the sea and have their cars powered entirely by the tide.

“Most people in Shetland live close to the sea – to be able to harness the power of the tide in this way is a great way to use this resource” said one local EV driver. – Climate News Network

Small nuclear power plants no use in climate crisis

Governments are investing in a new range of small nuclear power plants, with little chance they’ll ease the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 March, 2021 − Claims that a new generation of so-called advanced, safe and easier-to-build nuclear reactors − small nuclear power plants − will be vital to combat climate change are an illusion, and the idea should be abandoned, says a group of scientists.

Their report, “Advanced” is not always better, published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), examines all the proposed new types of reactor under development in the US and fails to find any that could be developed in time to help deal with the urgent need to cut carbon emissions. The US government is spending $600 million on supporting these prototypes.

While the report goes into details only about the many designs of small and medium-sized reactors being developed by US companies, it is a serious blow to the worldwide nuclear industry because the technologies are all similar to those also being underwritten by taxpayers in Canada, the UK, Russia and China. This is a market the World Economic Forum claimed in January could be worth $300 billion by 2040.

Edwin Lyman, who wrote the report, and is the director of nuclear power safety in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, thinks the WEF estimate is extremely unlikely. He comments on nuclear power in general: “The technology has fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and international peace and security.”

Cheaper options

Lyman says none of the new reactors appears to solve any of these problems. Also, he says, the industry’s claims that their designs could cost less, be built quickly, reduce the production of nuclear waste, use uranium more efficiently and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation have yet to be proved. The developers have also yet to demonstrate that the new generation of reactors has improved safety features enabling them to shut down quickly in the event of attack or accident.

Lyman examines the idea that reactors can be placed near cities or industry so that the waste heat from their electricity generation can be used in district heating or for industrial processes.

He says there is no evidence that the public would be keen on the idea of having nuclear power stations planted in their neighbourhoods.

Another of the industry’s ideas for using the power of the new nuclear stations to produce “green hydrogen” for use in transport or back-up energy production is technically feasible, but it seems likely that renewable energies like wind and solar could produce the hydrogen far more cheaply, the report says.

“Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons”

In reality the nuclear industry is shrinking in international importance and is likely to continue to do so, Lyman says. According to the International Energy Agency, at the end of 2010, there were 441 operating nuclear power reactors worldwide, with a total electrical power capacity of 375 gigawatts of electricity (GWe).

At the end of 2019, there were 443 operating reactors − only two more than in 2010 − with a total generating capacity of 392 GWe. This represented a decrease of over 20% in the share of global electricity demand met by nuclear energy compared with 2010.

Lyman says the US Department of Energy would be more sensible trying to address the outstanding safety, security and cost issues of existing light water reactors in the US, rather than attempting to commercialise new and unproven designs. If the idea is to tackle climate change, improving existing designs is a better bet.

The report notes that it is not just the US that is having trouble with nuclear technology: Europe is also suffering severe delays and cost overruns with new plants at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the UK.

Lyman’s comments might be of interest to the British government, which has just published its integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

Military link declared

In it the government linked the future of the civil and defence nuclear capabilities of the country, showing that a healthy civil sector was important for propping up the military. This is controversial because of the government’s decision announced in the same review to increase the number of nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, threatening an escalation of the international arms race.

Although Lyman does not mention it, there is a clear crossover between civil and nuclear industries in the US, the UK, China, Russia and France. This is made more obvious because of the few countries that have renounced nuclear weapons − for example only Germany, Italy and Spain have shown no interest in building any kind of nuclear station. This is simply because renewables are cheaper and produce low carbon power far more quickly.

But the link between civil and defence nuclear industries does explain why in the UK the government is spending £215m ($298m) on research and development into the civil use of the small medium reactors championed by a consortium headed by Rolls-Royce, which is also one of the country’s major defence contractors. Rolls-Royce wants to build 16 of these reactors in a factory and assemble them in various parts of the country. It is also looking to sell them into Europe to gain economies of scale.

Judging by the UCS analysis, this deployment of as yet unproven new nuclear technologies is unlikely to be in time to help the climate crisis – one of the claims that both the US and UK governments and Rolls-Royce itself are making. − Climate News Network

Governments are investing in a new range of small nuclear power plants, with little chance they’ll ease the climate crisis.

LONDON, 24 March, 2021 − Claims that a new generation of so-called advanced, safe and easier-to-build nuclear reactors − small nuclear power plants − will be vital to combat climate change are an illusion, and the idea should be abandoned, says a group of scientists.

Their report, “Advanced” is not always better, published by the US Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), examines all the proposed new types of reactor under development in the US and fails to find any that could be developed in time to help deal with the urgent need to cut carbon emissions. The US government is spending $600 million on supporting these prototypes.

While the report goes into details only about the many designs of small and medium-sized reactors being developed by US companies, it is a serious blow to the worldwide nuclear industry because the technologies are all similar to those also being underwritten by taxpayers in Canada, the UK, Russia and China. This is a market the World Economic Forum claimed in January could be worth $300 billion by 2040.

Edwin Lyman, who wrote the report, and is the director of nuclear power safety in the UCS Climate and Energy Program, thinks the WEF estimate is extremely unlikely. He comments on nuclear power in general: “The technology has fundamental safety and security disadvantages compared with other low-carbon sources.

“Nuclear reactors and their associated facilities for fuel production and waste handling are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry, policymakers, and regulators must address these shortcomings fully if the global use of nuclear power is to increase without posing unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and international peace and security.”

Cheaper options

Lyman says none of the new reactors appears to solve any of these problems. Also, he says, the industry’s claims that their designs could cost less, be built quickly, reduce the production of nuclear waste, use uranium more efficiently and reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation have yet to be proved. The developers have also yet to demonstrate that the new generation of reactors has improved safety features enabling them to shut down quickly in the event of attack or accident.

Lyman examines the idea that reactors can be placed near cities or industry so that the waste heat from their electricity generation can be used in district heating or for industrial processes.

He says there is no evidence that the public would be keen on the idea of having nuclear power stations planted in their neighbourhoods.

Another of the industry’s ideas for using the power of the new nuclear stations to produce “green hydrogen” for use in transport or back-up energy production is technically feasible, but it seems likely that renewable energies like wind and solar could produce the hydrogen far more cheaply, the report says.

“Nuclear reactors are vulnerable to catastrophic accidents and sabotage, and they can be misused to produce materials for nuclear weapons”

In reality the nuclear industry is shrinking in international importance and is likely to continue to do so, Lyman says. According to the International Energy Agency, at the end of 2010, there were 441 operating nuclear power reactors worldwide, with a total electrical power capacity of 375 gigawatts of electricity (GWe).

At the end of 2019, there were 443 operating reactors − only two more than in 2010 − with a total generating capacity of 392 GWe. This represented a decrease of over 20% in the share of global electricity demand met by nuclear energy compared with 2010.

Lyman says the US Department of Energy would be more sensible trying to address the outstanding safety, security and cost issues of existing light water reactors in the US, rather than attempting to commercialise new and unproven designs. If the idea is to tackle climate change, improving existing designs is a better bet.

The report notes that it is not just the US that is having trouble with nuclear technology: Europe is also suffering severe delays and cost overruns with new plants at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the UK.

Lyman’s comments might be of interest to the British government, which has just published its integrated review of defence and foreign policy.

Military link declared

In it the government linked the future of the civil and defence nuclear capabilities of the country, showing that a healthy civil sector was important for propping up the military. This is controversial because of the government’s decision announced in the same review to increase the number of nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, threatening an escalation of the international arms race.

Although Lyman does not mention it, there is a clear crossover between civil and nuclear industries in the US, the UK, China, Russia and France. This is made more obvious because of the few countries that have renounced nuclear weapons − for example only Germany, Italy and Spain have shown no interest in building any kind of nuclear station. This is simply because renewables are cheaper and produce low carbon power far more quickly.

But the link between civil and defence nuclear industries does explain why in the UK the government is spending £215m ($298m) on research and development into the civil use of the small medium reactors championed by a consortium headed by Rolls-Royce, which is also one of the country’s major defence contractors. Rolls-Royce wants to build 16 of these reactors in a factory and assemble them in various parts of the country. It is also looking to sell them into Europe to gain economies of scale.

Judging by the UCS analysis, this deployment of as yet unproven new nuclear technologies is unlikely to be in time to help the climate crisis – one of the claims that both the US and UK governments and Rolls-Royce itself are making. − Climate News Network

Declining English wetland ‘is poor advert for UK’

A declining English wetland will embarrass the UK government at November’s UN climate conference, campaigners say.

LONDON, 23 March, 2021− The area around Chichester Harbour on Britain’s south coast overlooks the English Channel. Famed as a beauty spot, it is a draw for holiday-makers from the crowded towns and cities of southern Britain. It is also one of the UK’s key habitats for many bird species and for endangered mammals such as water voles. But the condition of this declining English wetland is stirring concern.

Coastal wetlands are not only important for wildlife and tourism, conservationists argue. They are one of nature’s most efficient ecosystems for absorbing carbon dioxide, and among the best forms of coastal protection, increasingly recognised for making low-lying areas more resilient and adaptable to sea level rise.

A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, spells out how the value of natural wetlands far exceeds that of managed or farmed land.

The low-lying coastal plain surrounding the ancient Roman city of Chichester is one of the UK areas most vulnerable to sea level rise, increased storminess and intense rainfall.

“The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference”

It has done pioneering work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including protecting the Medmerry Reserve wetlands, Europe’s largest coastal realignment scheme  when it opened in 2013. The Harbour contains the largest salt marsh on the south coast, but nearly half of it has been lost since 1970.

But now local people charge the government with neglecting their efforts to increase the area’s resilience. Libby Alexander founded the Save our South Coast Alliance (SOSCA). She says: “The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference, due to be held this year in Glasgow in November.” Nor is the physical condition of the Harbour her only concern.

“The government continues to preach to us and the rest of the world about climate change and the environment”, she says, “but practices an entirely different agenda. It is driving forward a building programme which is endangering the future of some of the country’s most important wetlands.”

Unfavourable condition

A report in the Guardian newspaper described the fear of many local people at “the threat of ‘rural sprawl’ creating new landscapes … the ‘suburbanisation’ of the countryside”, resulting from the government’s plans for changes to England’s planning system.

SOSCA says the threats it faces from the government’s drive for more housebuilding in south-east England include 12,650 unnecessary new homes across the coastal plain with the strong possibility of many more − “the wrong houses in the wrong places” − which will inevitably lead to extensive and irreversible damage through pollution and flooding. It says Chichester is being forced by the government to build far more new houses than it can safely accommodate.

Residents say a real threat is the untreated sewage that is pumped into the harbour, for which the local water company, Southern Water, has been penalised. It was fined £126 million in 2019 for spills of waste water into the environment from its sewage plants and for deliberately misreporting its performance. A great number of these discharges went into Chichester Harbour. The Environment Agency is reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the case.

Chichester Harbour Trust says not enough is being done to improve water quality in the Harbour. Its chairman, John Nelson, said: “We all need to force the regulators to take immediate action before we have an environmental and public health catastrophe.”

In January this year the Chichester Observer reported that over the 2020 Christmas period there were uninterrupted sewage discharges into Chichester Harbour for six days. Mr Nelson said: “Given Southern Water’s record over the Christmas period the time has come to implement radical change. The Trust is calling on the regulatory body Ofwat to use its legislative powers to put Southern Water into special administration in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”

Natural England is the government’s official environment adviser. It has published a new and authoritative report which describes Chichester Harbour, globally important for migratory birds, as now being in an “unfavourable and declining” condition, because of increasing development and rising sea levels.

Serious climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to be factored into the planning process immediately, says SOSCA. “Ironically, the UK government is promoting global coastal wetland conservation through its Blue Forests Initiative but failing to support the efforts of its own citizens”, said Libby Alexander. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Carolyn Cobbold is a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. A former journalist, she has been writing about climate change issues since the mid-1980s. Twitter: @DrCobbold

A declining English wetland will embarrass the UK government at November’s UN climate conference, campaigners say.

LONDON, 23 March, 2021− The area around Chichester Harbour on Britain’s south coast overlooks the English Channel. Famed as a beauty spot, it is a draw for holiday-makers from the crowded towns and cities of southern Britain. It is also one of the UK’s key habitats for many bird species and for endangered mammals such as water voles. But the condition of this declining English wetland is stirring concern.

Coastal wetlands are not only important for wildlife and tourism, conservationists argue. They are one of nature’s most efficient ecosystems for absorbing carbon dioxide, and among the best forms of coastal protection, increasingly recognised for making low-lying areas more resilient and adaptable to sea level rise.

A report by researchers at the University of Cambridge, UK, published in the journal Nature Sustainability, spells out how the value of natural wetlands far exceeds that of managed or farmed land.

The low-lying coastal plain surrounding the ancient Roman city of Chichester is one of the UK areas most vulnerable to sea level rise, increased storminess and intense rainfall.

“The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference”

It has done pioneering work in climate change mitigation and adaptation, including protecting the Medmerry Reserve wetlands, Europe’s largest coastal realignment scheme  when it opened in 2013. The Harbour contains the largest salt marsh on the south coast, but nearly half of it has been lost since 1970.

But now local people charge the government with neglecting their efforts to increase the area’s resilience. Libby Alexander founded the Save our South Coast Alliance (SOSCA). She says: “The sad plight of Chichester’s wetlands is an embarrassment for the government as it prepares to host COP-26, the UN’s annual climate conference, due to be held this year in Glasgow in November.” Nor is the physical condition of the Harbour her only concern.

“The government continues to preach to us and the rest of the world about climate change and the environment”, she says, “but practices an entirely different agenda. It is driving forward a building programme which is endangering the future of some of the country’s most important wetlands.”

Unfavourable condition

A report in the Guardian newspaper described the fear of many local people at “the threat of ‘rural sprawl’ creating new landscapes … the ‘suburbanisation’ of the countryside”, resulting from the government’s plans for changes to England’s planning system.

SOSCA says the threats it faces from the government’s drive for more housebuilding in south-east England include 12,650 unnecessary new homes across the coastal plain with the strong possibility of many more − “the wrong houses in the wrong places” − which will inevitably lead to extensive and irreversible damage through pollution and flooding. It says Chichester is being forced by the government to build far more new houses than it can safely accommodate.

Residents say a real threat is the untreated sewage that is pumped into the harbour, for which the local water company, Southern Water, has been penalised. It was fined £126 million in 2019 for spills of waste water into the environment from its sewage plants and for deliberately misreporting its performance. A great number of these discharges went into Chichester Harbour. The Environment Agency is reported to have launched a criminal investigation into the case.

Chichester Harbour Trust says not enough is being done to improve water quality in the Harbour. Its chairman, John Nelson, said: “We all need to force the regulators to take immediate action before we have an environmental and public health catastrophe.”

In January this year the Chichester Observer reported that over the 2020 Christmas period there were uninterrupted sewage discharges into Chichester Harbour for six days. Mr Nelson said: “Given Southern Water’s record over the Christmas period the time has come to implement radical change. The Trust is calling on the regulatory body Ofwat to use its legislative powers to put Southern Water into special administration in order to avoid an environmental catastrophe.”

Natural England is the government’s official environment adviser. It has published a new and authoritative report which describes Chichester Harbour, globally important for migratory birds, as now being in an “unfavourable and declining” condition, because of increasing development and rising sea levels.

Serious climate change adaptation and mitigation needs to be factored into the planning process immediately, says SOSCA. “Ironically, the UK government is promoting global coastal wetland conservation through its Blue Forests Initiative but failing to support the efforts of its own citizens”, said Libby Alexander. − Climate News Network

* * * * * * *

Dr Carolyn Cobbold is a Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. A former journalist, she has been writing about climate change issues since the mid-1980s. Twitter: @DrCobbold

Carbon emissions slow, but not nearly fast enough

Global shutdown during Covid-19 has forced down carbon emissions. But no inadvertent pause can replace global resolve.

LONDON, 8 March, 2021 − Five years after a planet-wide vow to reduce carbon emissions, it happened. In 2020, the world’s nations pumped only 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a drop of 2.6bn tonnes on the previous year.

For that, thank the coronavirus that triggered a global pandemic and international lockdown, rather than the determination of the planet’s leaders, businesses, energy producers, consumers and citizens.

In fact, only 64 countries have cut their carbon emissions in the years since 195 nations delivered the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015: these achieved annual cuts of 0.16bn tonnes in the years since. But emissions actually rose in 150 nations, which means that overall from 2016 to 2019 emissions grew by 0.21bn tonnes, compared with the preceding five years, 2011-2015.

And, say British, European, Australian and US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, the global pause during the pandemic in 2020 is not likely to continue. To make the kind of carbon emissions cuts that will fulfill the promise made in Paris to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions each year by one to two billion tonnes.

That is an annual increase of ten times the cuts achieved so far by only 64 out of 214 countries.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy”

Researchers have, since 2015, repeatedly made the case − in economic terms, in terms of human safety and justice, in terms of human health and nutrition − for drastic reductions in the use of the fossil fuels that, ultimately, power all economic growth.

They have also repeatedly warned that almost no nation, anywhere, is doing nearly enough to help meet the proposed goal of no more than 1.5°C warming by the end of the century. The world has already warmed by more than 1°C in the last century, thanks to human choices. Soon planetary temperatures could cross a dangerous threshold.

And although the dramatic pause in economic activity triggered by yet another zoonotic virus, the emergence of which may be yet another consequence of human disturbance of the planet’s natural ecosystems, is an indicator of new possibilities, the planet is still addicted to fossil fuels.

“The drop in CO2 emissions in response to Covid-19 highlights the scale of actions and international adherence needed to tackle climate change,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy.”

Inching towards cuts

The latest accounting suggests that there has been some movement, though simply not enough. Between 2016 and 2019, carbon emissions decreased in 25 out of 36 high income countries. The USA’s fell by 0.7%, the European Union’s by 0.9% and the UK’s by 3.6%, and those emissions fell even after accounting for the carbon costs of goods imported from other nations.

Of the middle income nations, Mexico’s carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% and China’s by 0.4%, a dramatic contrast with 2011-2015, when China’s emissions had grown by 6.2% a year. But altogether, 99 upper-middle income economies accounted for 51% of global emissions in 2019, and China accounted for 28% of the global total.

Even in the US and China, money is still going into fossil fuels. The European Union, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have tried to limit fossil fuel power and implement some kind of economic “green” stimulus.

The message is that, after a series of years in which temperature records have been repeatedly broken, years marked by devastating fire, drought, flood and windstorm, nations need to act, and at speed, to honour the Paris promise to cut their carbon emissions.

“This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide,” said Professor Le Quéré. − Climate News Network

Global shutdown during Covid-19 has forced down carbon emissions. But no inadvertent pause can replace global resolve.

LONDON, 8 March, 2021 − Five years after a planet-wide vow to reduce carbon emissions, it happened. In 2020, the world’s nations pumped only 34 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, a drop of 2.6bn tonnes on the previous year.

For that, thank the coronavirus that triggered a global pandemic and international lockdown, rather than the determination of the planet’s leaders, businesses, energy producers, consumers and citizens.

In fact, only 64 countries have cut their carbon emissions in the years since 195 nations delivered the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015: these achieved annual cuts of 0.16bn tonnes in the years since. But emissions actually rose in 150 nations, which means that overall from 2016 to 2019 emissions grew by 0.21bn tonnes, compared with the preceding five years, 2011-2015.

And, say British, European, Australian and US scientists in the journal Nature Climate Change, the global pause during the pandemic in 2020 is not likely to continue. To make the kind of carbon emissions cuts that will fulfill the promise made in Paris to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C by 2100, the world must reduce carbon dioxide emissions each year by one to two billion tonnes.

That is an annual increase of ten times the cuts achieved so far by only 64 out of 214 countries.

“It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy”

Researchers have, since 2015, repeatedly made the case − in economic terms, in terms of human safety and justice, in terms of human health and nutrition − for drastic reductions in the use of the fossil fuels that, ultimately, power all economic growth.

They have also repeatedly warned that almost no nation, anywhere, is doing nearly enough to help meet the proposed goal of no more than 1.5°C warming by the end of the century. The world has already warmed by more than 1°C in the last century, thanks to human choices. Soon planetary temperatures could cross a dangerous threshold.

And although the dramatic pause in economic activity triggered by yet another zoonotic virus, the emergence of which may be yet another consequence of human disturbance of the planet’s natural ecosystems, is an indicator of new possibilities, the planet is still addicted to fossil fuels.

“The drop in CO2 emissions in response to Covid-19 highlights the scale of actions and international adherence needed to tackle climate change,” said Corinne le Quéré, of the University of East Anglia, UK, who led the study.

“Now we need large-scale actions that are good for human health and good for the planet. It is in everyone’s best interests to build back better to speed the urgent transition to clean energy.”

Inching towards cuts

The latest accounting suggests that there has been some movement, though simply not enough. Between 2016 and 2019, carbon emissions decreased in 25 out of 36 high income countries. The USA’s fell by 0.7%, the European Union’s by 0.9% and the UK’s by 3.6%, and those emissions fell even after accounting for the carbon costs of goods imported from other nations.

Of the middle income nations, Mexico’s carbon emissions dropped by 1.3% and China’s by 0.4%, a dramatic contrast with 2011-2015, when China’s emissions had grown by 6.2% a year. But altogether, 99 upper-middle income economies accounted for 51% of global emissions in 2019, and China accounted for 28% of the global total.

Even in the US and China, money is still going into fossil fuels. The European Union, Denmark, France, the UK, Germany and Switzerland are among the few countries that have tried to limit fossil fuel power and implement some kind of economic “green” stimulus.

The message is that, after a series of years in which temperature records have been repeatedly broken, years marked by devastating fire, drought, flood and windstorm, nations need to act, and at speed, to honour the Paris promise to cut their carbon emissions.

“This pressing timeline is constantly underscored by the rapid unfolding of extreme climate impacts worldwide,” said Professor Le Quéré. − Climate News Network

Small may prove beautiful for the nuclear industry

The nuclear industry in much of the world is struggling to survive. Reverting to small reactors may be its best hope.

LONDON, 10 February, 2021 − Despite a campaign lasting two decades, the nuclear industry’s dream of building hundreds of large reactors to lead the fight to save the planet from overheating has evaporated.

While renewable energy industries, solar and wind in particular, get ever cheaper and expand faster, nuclear projects are steadily bogged down further in delays, cost over-runs and debt.

Some large nuclear power stations are still under construction in Russia and China, but in Europe and North America they are badly delayed and few in number. Many projects that have been long planned but not yet started are being abandoned.

This is despite the fact that nuclear-friendly governments, particularly those with nuclear-powered ships, submarines and weapons of mass destruction, have not given up on the industry.

But now, instead of building ever-larger reactors, these governments are switching their attention and financial backing to small modular reactors (SMRs).

“There is no justification for building new reactors at Sizewell C or Bradwell B”

These off-the-shelf prototypes can be scaled up or down in size, to double as power plants for ice breakers and submarines, or for use as electricity and heat generators for remote settlements, military bases and, theoretically, urban areas – if the local populations do not protest too loudly.

Currently the UK, the US, Russia and China are pouring large government subsidies into developing SMRs, which are said to be for electricity production, but equally are useful for training key personnel to use reactors for military purposes. In this regard the support of a non-nuclear weapon state (Canada) for SMRs seems odd, but it has many remote off-grid communities that might benefit if the technology works as claimed.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency small modular reactors have a great future. Its latest report says there are 72 SMRs under development or construction in 18 countries, although large-scale deployment for the technology is still some years off.

For nuclear critics this lengthy timescale is always the problem. Solar and wind power can be deployed in a matter of months, whereas the nuclear timetables always stretch years ahead. Even then, critics wonder, will the promises made for SMRs live up to the hype? They say past experience has shown that timetables slip and costs escalate.

Time is problematic

For the moment this track record does not seem to have dampened politicians’ enthusiasm for the technology. The current promise is that once the prototypes are up and working, parts for future reactors will be made in factories and put together on-site, so reducing energy costs by mass production methods – a bit like assembly lines for cars.

Meanwhile the larger reactor-building projects are definitely in trouble. EDF, the French state-owned and debt-laden nuclear giant, the last of the big European nuclear construction companies, is currently attempting to restructure itself. The plan is to hive off its successful renewable and hydropower enterprises to separate them from its deeply troubled nuclear arm.

But, as Reuters news agency reports, these plans have run into difficulties with the European Union because of fears they may involve unfair state aid to the industry.

Even without this attempt to improve its finances by restructuring, though, EDF’s current nuclear building projects at Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the west of England are behind schedule, and costs are escalating.

Mounting opposition

Flamanville is close to a decade late, and Hinkley Point’s timetable is slipping and its costs rising. Last month the Japanese giant Hitachi finally pulled the plug on its scheme to build twin reactors at Wylfa in North Wales.

Other plans by EDF and its Chinese partners to build two more French-designed giant twin reactors at Sizewell and then two Chinese reactors at Bradwell (both sites are in eastern England) are still officially going ahead. However, despite months of negotiation, neither the UK government nor the two companies have come up with a way of financing them, and opposition to both schemes is growing.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) group, in a statement on the rising costs of Hinkley Point, said: “Given that renewable technologies are considerably cheaper than new nuclear, and the financial challenges of the pandemic are obvious to all, NFLA believe there needs to be an urgent rethink over the proposed ‘benefits’ of building large and highly expensive new nuclear power stations.

“In this, there is no justification for building new reactors at Sizewell C or Bradwell B.” For the nuclear industry at large, small is sounding increasingly the favoured option. − Climate News Network

The nuclear industry in much of the world is struggling to survive. Reverting to small reactors may be its best hope.

LONDON, 10 February, 2021 − Despite a campaign lasting two decades, the nuclear industry’s dream of building hundreds of large reactors to lead the fight to save the planet from overheating has evaporated.

While renewable energy industries, solar and wind in particular, get ever cheaper and expand faster, nuclear projects are steadily bogged down further in delays, cost over-runs and debt.

Some large nuclear power stations are still under construction in Russia and China, but in Europe and North America they are badly delayed and few in number. Many projects that have been long planned but not yet started are being abandoned.

This is despite the fact that nuclear-friendly governments, particularly those with nuclear-powered ships, submarines and weapons of mass destruction, have not given up on the industry.

But now, instead of building ever-larger reactors, these governments are switching their attention and financial backing to small modular reactors (SMRs).

“There is no justification for building new reactors at Sizewell C or Bradwell B”

These off-the-shelf prototypes can be scaled up or down in size, to double as power plants for ice breakers and submarines, or for use as electricity and heat generators for remote settlements, military bases and, theoretically, urban areas – if the local populations do not protest too loudly.

Currently the UK, the US, Russia and China are pouring large government subsidies into developing SMRs, which are said to be for electricity production, but equally are useful for training key personnel to use reactors for military purposes. In this regard the support of a non-nuclear weapon state (Canada) for SMRs seems odd, but it has many remote off-grid communities that might benefit if the technology works as claimed.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency small modular reactors have a great future. Its latest report says there are 72 SMRs under development or construction in 18 countries, although large-scale deployment for the technology is still some years off.

For nuclear critics this lengthy timescale is always the problem. Solar and wind power can be deployed in a matter of months, whereas the nuclear timetables always stretch years ahead. Even then, critics wonder, will the promises made for SMRs live up to the hype? They say past experience has shown that timetables slip and costs escalate.

Time is problematic

For the moment this track record does not seem to have dampened politicians’ enthusiasm for the technology. The current promise is that once the prototypes are up and working, parts for future reactors will be made in factories and put together on-site, so reducing energy costs by mass production methods – a bit like assembly lines for cars.

Meanwhile the larger reactor-building projects are definitely in trouble. EDF, the French state-owned and debt-laden nuclear giant, the last of the big European nuclear construction companies, is currently attempting to restructure itself. The plan is to hive off its successful renewable and hydropower enterprises to separate them from its deeply troubled nuclear arm.

But, as Reuters news agency reports, these plans have run into difficulties with the European Union because of fears they may involve unfair state aid to the industry.

Even without this attempt to improve its finances by restructuring, though, EDF’s current nuclear building projects at Flamanville in France and Hinkley Point C in the west of England are behind schedule, and costs are escalating.

Mounting opposition

Flamanville is close to a decade late, and Hinkley Point’s timetable is slipping and its costs rising. Last month the Japanese giant Hitachi finally pulled the plug on its scheme to build twin reactors at Wylfa in North Wales.

Other plans by EDF and its Chinese partners to build two more French-designed giant twin reactors at Sizewell and then two Chinese reactors at Bradwell (both sites are in eastern England) are still officially going ahead. However, despite months of negotiation, neither the UK government nor the two companies have come up with a way of financing them, and opposition to both schemes is growing.

The Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) group, in a statement on the rising costs of Hinkley Point, said: “Given that renewable technologies are considerably cheaper than new nuclear, and the financial challenges of the pandemic are obvious to all, NFLA believe there needs to be an urgent rethink over the proposed ‘benefits’ of building large and highly expensive new nuclear power stations.

“In this, there is no justification for building new reactors at Sizewell C or Bradwell B.” For the nuclear industry at large, small is sounding increasingly the favoured option. − Climate News Network

Climate campaigners enlist football fans in support

For countless football fans, life has little that offers more. Can their passion also include tackling the climate crisis?

LONDON, 28 January, 2021 − For many football fans − British ones, at least − no match day is complete without its traditional fuel: a (meat) pie and a pint (of beer, naturally). Good luck, you may think, to the team that tries to buck that trend by offering anything else.

But one small English club, Forest Green Rovers in the West of England, has really stuck its neck out: the food it offers to players and visitors is not just homemade, it’s vegan. With some justification, probably, it lays claim to the title of the world’s greenest football club.

This bold departure from the footballing culinary norm is just part of Forest Green’s pioneering approach. It also boasts a solar-powered robot lawnmower, solar panels on its roof, recycled rainwater systems to irrigate the pitch (which uses no pesticides and is organic), and electric vehicle charging points.

In 2018 Forest Green Rovers won international recognition for its environmental makeover: it became the first football club in the world to be certified carbon neutral under the UN’s Climate Neutral Now initiative.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”

Forest Green is setting an example to other clubs. English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion includes the cost of a bus or train fare in the ticket price to games so that supporters can travel free to matches on public transport simply by showing their tickets.

A local Brighton club, Whitehawk, last September launched a scheme to engage its supporters − and those of opposing teams − in making small changes aimed at cutting their carbon emissions.

Whitehawk is working on its scheme with Pledgeball, an organisation encouraging similar changes nationwide from football fans − and others. It helpfully notes: “Not interested in football? That’s cool. You can get involved anyway! We just started with football because it’s, well, awesome.”

Liverpool’s late manager Bill Shankly is reputed once to have said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Football is awesome to so many, and the movement to harness fans’ willingness to make lifestyle changes is now international.

Followed from afar

The French football authorities have recently launched their own collective effort – the NGO Football Ecologie France, to make French football carbon zero. In Spain Seville’s Real Betis have recently made a commitment to carbon neutrality, and other leading clubs are upping their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints.

The German club VfL Wolfsburg has signed up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, and, unusually in the world game, calculated its carbon footprint. Elsewhere in Germany, both Mainz FC and SC Freiburg have almost a decade of environmental work behind them, pioneering recycling, green waste management and the use of renewable energy.

The Werder Bremen club has built one of the largest solar panel arrays in football, cut down on car use by introducing ferry services to the stadium, and has banned car parking around the stadium on match days. All three clubs encouraged their staff to take part in the Fridays for Future climate strikes.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 Paris Agreement on climate change).

Showing the way

It is an enthusiastic backer of football’s growing awareness, and as well as detailing the work of Forest Green Rovers and other energetic clubs it last year published an influential report on sport and the climate crisis.

The RTA says: “International sport is a massive global industry, valued at US$471 billion in 2018. But it is football, played all year with only a short break in the season, that claims the crown of most-watched and hence most influential sport. The demonstration effect of what sport does to reduce its impact on the climate is huge.”

It acknowledges that “sport continues to sit in a strange and often contradictory place that is simultaneously about health and wellbeing, community and activity, while also being a huge global industry dependent on sponsorship from fossil fuel companies, carbon-intensive forms of travel, and purveyors of fast fashion aimed at selling new merchandising to fans every season.”

But it reaches a positive conclusion: “Examining the impact a single sports club has on the environment provides an example of what you can do with a clear aim and a strong ethos that enables longer-term planning and decision-making. Forest Green Rovers set out clear aims early on.” − 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.

For countless football fans, life has little that offers more. Can their passion also include tackling the climate crisis?

LONDON, 28 January, 2021 − For many football fans − British ones, at least − no match day is complete without its traditional fuel: a (meat) pie and a pint (of beer, naturally). Good luck, you may think, to the team that tries to buck that trend by offering anything else.

But one small English club, Forest Green Rovers in the West of England, has really stuck its neck out: the food it offers to players and visitors is not just homemade, it’s vegan. With some justification, probably, it lays claim to the title of the world’s greenest football club.

This bold departure from the footballing culinary norm is just part of Forest Green’s pioneering approach. It also boasts a solar-powered robot lawnmower, solar panels on its roof, recycled rainwater systems to irrigate the pitch (which uses no pesticides and is organic), and electric vehicle charging points.

In 2018 Forest Green Rovers won international recognition for its environmental makeover: it became the first football club in the world to be certified carbon neutral under the UN’s Climate Neutral Now initiative.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that”

Forest Green is setting an example to other clubs. English Premier League club Brighton & Hove Albion includes the cost of a bus or train fare in the ticket price to games so that supporters can travel free to matches on public transport simply by showing their tickets.

A local Brighton club, Whitehawk, last September launched a scheme to engage its supporters − and those of opposing teams − in making small changes aimed at cutting their carbon emissions.

Whitehawk is working on its scheme with Pledgeball, an organisation encouraging similar changes nationwide from football fans − and others. It helpfully notes: “Not interested in football? That’s cool. You can get involved anyway! We just started with football because it’s, well, awesome.”

Liverpool’s late manager Bill Shankly is reputed once to have said: “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death … I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.” Football is awesome to so many, and the movement to harness fans’ willingness to make lifestyle changes is now international.

Followed from afar

The French football authorities have recently launched their own collective effort – the NGO Football Ecologie France, to make French football carbon zero. In Spain Seville’s Real Betis have recently made a commitment to carbon neutrality, and other leading clubs are upping their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints.

The German club VfL Wolfsburg has signed up to the UN Sports for Climate Action Framework, and, unusually in the world game, calculated its carbon footprint. Elsewhere in Germany, both Mainz FC and SC Freiburg have almost a decade of environmental work behind them, pioneering recycling, green waste management and the use of renewable energy.

The Werder Bremen club has built one of the largest solar panel arrays in football, cut down on car use by introducing ferry services to the stadium, and has banned car parking around the stadium on match days. All three clubs encouraged their staff to take part in the Fridays for Future climate strikes.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 Paris Agreement on climate change).

Showing the way

It is an enthusiastic backer of football’s growing awareness, and as well as detailing the work of Forest Green Rovers and other energetic clubs it last year published an influential report on sport and the climate crisis.

The RTA says: “International sport is a massive global industry, valued at US$471 billion in 2018. But it is football, played all year with only a short break in the season, that claims the crown of most-watched and hence most influential sport. The demonstration effect of what sport does to reduce its impact on the climate is huge.”

It acknowledges that “sport continues to sit in a strange and often contradictory place that is simultaneously about health and wellbeing, community and activity, while also being a huge global industry dependent on sponsorship from fossil fuel companies, carbon-intensive forms of travel, and purveyors of fast fashion aimed at selling new merchandising to fans every season.”

But it reaches a positive conclusion: “Examining the impact a single sports club has on the environment provides an example of what you can do with a clear aim and a strong ethos that enables longer-term planning and decision-making. Forest Green Rovers set out clear aims early on.” − 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.

Energy efficiency boosts jobs and cuts climate heat

Creating millions of jobs in energy efficiency schemes is the fastest way to restore prosperity and cut climate heating.

LONDON, 26 January, 2021 − Improving energy efficiency creates far more jobs than generating it, and at the same time provides a way out of the Covid crisis by bringing prosperity.

That’s the verdict of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says efficiency-related stimulus packages that have been announced already will create 1.8 million jobs in the next two years, with many more to come if governments spend their money wisely.

Two-thirds of the jobs would be in the building sector, most of them in retrofitting homes, factories and offices with insulation and other efficiency measures. One of the main benefits of the scheme, the IEA says, would be for young people with few academic qualifications, currently the worst hit by unemployment, who would be needed for most of the building jobs. The remaining jobs would be in transport (20%) and industry (16%).

Based on information received by the IEA by December, when the report was published, 80% of these new jobs would be created in Europe. At the time the US was the largest employer of workers in energy efficiency, despite the anti-climate policies of the Trump administration. With Joe Biden now occupying the presidency and rejoining the Paris Agreement, jobs in energy efficiency in the US are expected to snowball.

“Energy efficiency investments are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing or generate new jobs”

Altogether the scope for jobs in the sector across the world is enormous, with the developing world yet to take energy efficiency seriously. Before the pandemic hit, the IEA estimated that there were 2.4 million energy efficiency jobs in the US, up to 3 million in Europe, but fewer than 750,000 in China and a maximum of 62,000 in Brazil.

With China now taking climate change far more seriously and pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060, energy efficiency is likely to create a boom for building workers there.

Although many building jobs have been lost because of Covid-19, the IEA estimates that the labour-intensive nature of many energy efficiency upgrades means spending US$1million on improving efficiency will generate between six and 15 jobs on average, depending on the sector. Investments announced to date have created 3.4 million new job years (one job for one year) in the sector.

The report says: “As energy efficiency investments can also be mobilised quickly, they are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing jobs or generate new jobs during the recession.”

Best for new jobs

As part of their public relations drives when suggesting potentially unpopular new developments, most energy industries stress how many jobs will result. For example, building a nuclear power station in the UK, Sizewell C, is said by the would-be builders to promise the creation of  more than 5,000 jobs.

However, figures compiled by the UK Office for National Statistics show that energy efficiency trumps all other energy industries for job creation.

In the UK’s low-carbon and renewables energy sector, which includes all nuclear and renewable energy options, energy efficiency formed easily the largest component of jobs, with 114,000 full-time employees (51%) in 2018. There were 49,800 people employed in renewable activity, wind and solar for example, and only 12,400 in the whole nuclear energy sector, most of them in reprocessing spent fuel.

As the IEA notes, scaled-up world wide there are potentially millions of jobs in energy efficiency, and it is clearly the single quickest and cheapest way of reducing carbon emissions, since it both reduces existing demand for energy and makes new fossil fuel power stations unnecessary. − Climate News Network

Creating millions of jobs in energy efficiency schemes is the fastest way to restore prosperity and cut climate heating.

LONDON, 26 January, 2021 − Improving energy efficiency creates far more jobs than generating it, and at the same time provides a way out of the Covid crisis by bringing prosperity.

That’s the verdict of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which says efficiency-related stimulus packages that have been announced already will create 1.8 million jobs in the next two years, with many more to come if governments spend their money wisely.

Two-thirds of the jobs would be in the building sector, most of them in retrofitting homes, factories and offices with insulation and other efficiency measures. One of the main benefits of the scheme, the IEA says, would be for young people with few academic qualifications, currently the worst hit by unemployment, who would be needed for most of the building jobs. The remaining jobs would be in transport (20%) and industry (16%).

Based on information received by the IEA by December, when the report was published, 80% of these new jobs would be created in Europe. At the time the US was the largest employer of workers in energy efficiency, despite the anti-climate policies of the Trump administration. With Joe Biden now occupying the presidency and rejoining the Paris Agreement, jobs in energy efficiency in the US are expected to snowball.

“Energy efficiency investments are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing or generate new jobs”

Altogether the scope for jobs in the sector across the world is enormous, with the developing world yet to take energy efficiency seriously. Before the pandemic hit, the IEA estimated that there were 2.4 million energy efficiency jobs in the US, up to 3 million in Europe, but fewer than 750,000 in China and a maximum of 62,000 in Brazil.

With China now taking climate change far more seriously and pledging to be carbon neutral by 2060, energy efficiency is likely to create a boom for building workers there.

Although many building jobs have been lost because of Covid-19, the IEA estimates that the labour-intensive nature of many energy efficiency upgrades means spending US$1million on improving efficiency will generate between six and 15 jobs on average, depending on the sector. Investments announced to date have created 3.4 million new job years (one job for one year) in the sector.

The report says: “As energy efficiency investments can also be mobilised quickly, they are one of the most attractive investments in the energy sector for governments seeking to protect existing jobs or generate new jobs during the recession.”

Best for new jobs

As part of their public relations drives when suggesting potentially unpopular new developments, most energy industries stress how many jobs will result. For example, building a nuclear power station in the UK, Sizewell C, is said by the would-be builders to promise the creation of  more than 5,000 jobs.

However, figures compiled by the UK Office for National Statistics show that energy efficiency trumps all other energy industries for job creation.

In the UK’s low-carbon and renewables energy sector, which includes all nuclear and renewable energy options, energy efficiency formed easily the largest component of jobs, with 114,000 full-time employees (51%) in 2018. There were 49,800 people employed in renewable activity, wind and solar for example, and only 12,400 in the whole nuclear energy sector, most of them in reprocessing spent fuel.

As the IEA notes, scaled-up world wide there are potentially millions of jobs in energy efficiency, and it is clearly the single quickest and cheapest way of reducing carbon emissions, since it both reduces existing demand for energy and makes new fossil fuel power stations unnecessary. − Climate News Network

How hemp can help to moderate the climate crisis

Hemp, a plant grown centuries ago in England as a national duty, could help to restrict climate heating.

LONDON, 22 January, 2021 − There are high hopes that new technology and novel materials may save the world from the worst of the climate crisis. Fine. But don’t forget some of the old remedies − like hemp.

In the UK, hemp used to be a common crop which it was a patriotic duty to grow. In 1535 the English king, Henry the Eighth, required all farmers to sow a quarter of an acre (1,000 square metres) of hemp for every 60 acres they owned.

That was because hemp, one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, was recognised then for its value as a building material. Its reputation is now often tarnished by its relationship to cannabis, and it is usually called industrial hemp to distinguish it from its recreational and medicinal cousin.

Industrial hemp remains useful for many purposes, including construction, and not least as a substitute for concrete, the enormously carbon-intensive substance which is often the builders’ first choice.

“Hemp can be a lifesaver: it is naturally resistant to fire, providing greater protection against blazes overwhelming residential high-rise blocks”

The cement industry is one of the largest contributors to global warming, accounting for 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions. The reason it is so energy- and carbon-hungry is because of the extreme heat required to produce it. Turning out a tonne of cement requires about 400 pounds of coal and generates nearly a tonne of carbon. Global production is growing, and is expected to rise to 3.7-4.4 billion tonnes annually by mid-century.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 Paris Agreement on climate change). It believes the world’s profligate use of cement means it needs to rediscover the virtues of hemp.

The plant, it argues, could help to build low-carbon homes which would benefit the construction industry, employment, peoples’ health − and the environment. Hemp is also suitable not just for new buildings but for renovating and improving existing ones, something which will become increasingly important as countries seek to upgrade their housing stock enough to cut the need for heating and the carbon emissions it causes.

Hemp has already proved its worth to a large British industry. In 2006 Adnams’ brewery in eastern England built a huge carbon-neutral distribution centre. One visually striking feature is its arched roof covered in greenery, home to over half a million bees, with its own beekeeper.

Ideal for beer

The building relies on a construction material that could help future house-builders trying to provide for growing populations while also reducing carbon emissions. Its walls are built entirely from more than 90,000 lime and hemp blocks made of “hempcrete”, a lightweight mixture of lime and hemp stalks, making it the biggest building in the UK to use the material.

Hemp is light, good at regulating moisture and heat, and a good insulator. It’s also cheap, easy and fast to grow, and non-toxic to handle. The hemp construction lets Adnams save 50% on electricity and gas through its strong insulation qualities; it has a natural ability to maintain a constant cool temperature which is ideal for storing beer and other drinks.

Air locks and active airflow management are all that’s needed to keep the beer at the right temperature, without any artificial cooling or heating.

“By no means the least of the virtues of hemp is the fact that it can be a lifesaver: it is naturally resistant to mould and fire, reducing reliance on chemical fire retardants that have been linked to health problems and also providing greater protection against blazes overwhelming residential high-rise blocks.” When a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, a 23-storey tower block in London in 2017, it killed 72 people. − 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.

Hemp, a plant grown centuries ago in England as a national duty, could help to restrict climate heating.

LONDON, 22 January, 2021 − There are high hopes that new technology and novel materials may save the world from the worst of the climate crisis. Fine. But don’t forget some of the old remedies − like hemp.

In the UK, hemp used to be a common crop which it was a patriotic duty to grow. In 1535 the English king, Henry the Eighth, required all farmers to sow a quarter of an acre (1,000 square metres) of hemp for every 60 acres they owned.

That was because hemp, one of the fastest-growing plants in the world, was recognised then for its value as a building material. Its reputation is now often tarnished by its relationship to cannabis, and it is usually called industrial hemp to distinguish it from its recreational and medicinal cousin.

Industrial hemp remains useful for many purposes, including construction, and not least as a substitute for concrete, the enormously carbon-intensive substance which is often the builders’ first choice.

“Hemp can be a lifesaver: it is naturally resistant to fire, providing greater protection against blazes overwhelming residential high-rise blocks”

The cement industry is one of the largest contributors to global warming, accounting for 5% of all carbon dioxide emissions. The reason it is so energy- and carbon-hungry is because of the extreme heat required to produce it. Turning out a tonne of cement requires about 400 pounds of coal and generates nearly a tonne of carbon. Global production is growing, and is expected to rise to 3.7-4.4 billion tonnes annually by mid-century.

The UK-based Rapid Transition Alliance (RTA) 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 Paris Agreement on climate change). It believes the world’s profligate use of cement means it needs to rediscover the virtues of hemp.

The plant, it argues, could help to build low-carbon homes which would benefit the construction industry, employment, peoples’ health − and the environment. Hemp is also suitable not just for new buildings but for renovating and improving existing ones, something which will become increasingly important as countries seek to upgrade their housing stock enough to cut the need for heating and the carbon emissions it causes.

Hemp has already proved its worth to a large British industry. In 2006 Adnams’ brewery in eastern England built a huge carbon-neutral distribution centre. One visually striking feature is its arched roof covered in greenery, home to over half a million bees, with its own beekeeper.

Ideal for beer

The building relies on a construction material that could help future house-builders trying to provide for growing populations while also reducing carbon emissions. Its walls are built entirely from more than 90,000 lime and hemp blocks made of “hempcrete”, a lightweight mixture of lime and hemp stalks, making it the biggest building in the UK to use the material.

Hemp is light, good at regulating moisture and heat, and a good insulator. It’s also cheap, easy and fast to grow, and non-toxic to handle. The hemp construction lets Adnams save 50% on electricity and gas through its strong insulation qualities; it has a natural ability to maintain a constant cool temperature which is ideal for storing beer and other drinks.

Air locks and active airflow management are all that’s needed to keep the beer at the right temperature, without any artificial cooling or heating.

“By no means the least of the virtues of hemp is the fact that it can be a lifesaver: it is naturally resistant to mould and fire, reducing reliance on chemical fire retardants that have been linked to health problems and also providing greater protection against blazes overwhelming residential high-rise blocks.” When a fire broke out in Grenfell Tower, a 23-storey tower block in London in 2017, it killed 72 people. − Climate News Network

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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.

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London plans tribute to green investments pioneer

The financial heart of London is to house a memorial to a woman who championed switching to green investments.

LONDON, 15 December, 2020 − A woman credited with pioneering green investments and shifting billions of pounds away from destructive industries is to have a memorial in the City of London – a first for an environmental campaigner.

Tessa Tennant, who died two years ago of cancer, aged 63, started green financial funds in 1988 to show that investing in the industries of the future not only helped the planet: it could also be both successful and consistently profitable.

By the time of her death she was known across the world in stock exchanges and boardrooms as a successful green campaigner who had converted many of the world’s largest investment funds to the principles of sustainable development.

Such was the affection and esteem in which she had been held by the financial community that a competition was held to design a public artwork to celebrate her life.

The winning design was by two well-known Scottish artists, Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion. It takes the form of an amulet intended to represent the powerful symbolic union of people and environment that is at the heart of sustainable finance and green investments.

“There has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric”

Once the design had been settled, a search began for a site suitable for the two-tonne amulet. The City and the Church of England have now agreed it should be erected at Christ Church Greyfriars graveyard in the heart of the City.

Because the amulet, together with its foundation of eight tonnes, will be sitting on top of an important archaeological site, the site permission is currently for five years.

James Cameron, a lawyer who chairs the Sustainable Finance Sculpture Project, says the site is perfect: “Greyfriars was an important and highly respected seat of learning in the 14-15th century, rivalling only Oxford University in status.

“Interestingly, their extensive library was funded by the Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington.

“The Franciscans advocated a different type of lifestyle where knowledge and integrity were valued over wealth and property, and we believe these ideals closely mirror the contemporary objectives of our project.”

Clear influence

The project is now raising the £300,000 (US$396,000) needed to commission the memorial, which Cameron hopes will be unveiled in time for the next annual UN climate conference, to be held in 2021 in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

The impact that Tessa Tennant had already had was apparent two decades ago when she gave a lecture entitled Business Alarm Call on 4 December 2000 at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the then prime minister, Tony Blair, and his wife Cherie.

It helped to launch CDP, a not-for-profit charity that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. It now has more than 10,000 company and city members.

The lecture, reproduced here, describes how this was going to be the solar century, and how the world of business must change to embrace that new reality in order to save the planet from climate change.

Ceaseless campaigner

A great number of the advances in renewables that Tennant predicted seemed far-fetched at the time but have since happened. Green investments were only one part of her concerns, and many of her other  environmental ideas for improving sustainability have been adopted.

Many other more advanced proposals are still under consideration. Tessa was still campaigning to speed up the scale of change that was needed to address the perils of climate change when she died.

Cameron said: “Twenty years on (from that speech), there has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing, and its resilience has been exceptional during this difficult year of the global pandemic.

“It is also fitting that the amulet will be sited first in the City of London – a leading innovator of change and a global leader in green finance. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric and fully harness its innate ingenuity and creativity to fully deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.” − Climate News Network

 

The financial heart of London is to house a memorial to a woman who championed switching to green investments.

LONDON, 15 December, 2020 − A woman credited with pioneering green investments and shifting billions of pounds away from destructive industries is to have a memorial in the City of London – a first for an environmental campaigner.

Tessa Tennant, who died two years ago of cancer, aged 63, started green financial funds in 1988 to show that investing in the industries of the future not only helped the planet: it could also be both successful and consistently profitable.

By the time of her death she was known across the world in stock exchanges and boardrooms as a successful green campaigner who had converted many of the world’s largest investment funds to the principles of sustainable development.

Such was the affection and esteem in which she had been held by the financial community that a competition was held to design a public artwork to celebrate her life.

The winning design was by two well-known Scottish artists, Matthew Dalziel and Louise Scullion. It takes the form of an amulet intended to represent the powerful symbolic union of people and environment that is at the heart of sustainable finance and green investments.

“There has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric”

Once the design had been settled, a search began for a site suitable for the two-tonne amulet. The City and the Church of England have now agreed it should be erected at Christ Church Greyfriars graveyard in the heart of the City.

Because the amulet, together with its foundation of eight tonnes, will be sitting on top of an important archaeological site, the site permission is currently for five years.

James Cameron, a lawyer who chairs the Sustainable Finance Sculpture Project, says the site is perfect: “Greyfriars was an important and highly respected seat of learning in the 14-15th century, rivalling only Oxford University in status.

“Interestingly, their extensive library was funded by the Lord Mayor of London, Dick Whittington.

“The Franciscans advocated a different type of lifestyle where knowledge and integrity were valued over wealth and property, and we believe these ideals closely mirror the contemporary objectives of our project.”

Clear influence

The project is now raising the £300,000 (US$396,000) needed to commission the memorial, which Cameron hopes will be unveiled in time for the next annual UN climate conference, to be held in 2021 in the Scottish city of Glasgow.

The impact that Tessa Tennant had already had was apparent two decades ago when she gave a lecture entitled Business Alarm Call on 4 December 2000 at 10 Downing Street, hosted by the then prime minister, Tony Blair, and his wife Cherie.

It helped to launch CDP, a not-for-profit charity that runs a global disclosure system for investors, companies, cities, states and regions to manage their environmental impacts. It now has more than 10,000 company and city members.

The lecture, reproduced here, describes how this was going to be the solar century, and how the world of business must change to embrace that new reality in order to save the planet from climate change.

Ceaseless campaigner

A great number of the advances in renewables that Tennant predicted seemed far-fetched at the time but have since happened. Green investments were only one part of her concerns, and many of her other  environmental ideas for improving sustainability have been adopted.

Many other more advanced proposals are still under consideration. Tessa was still campaigning to speed up the scale of change that was needed to address the perils of climate change when she died.

Cameron said: “Twenty years on (from that speech), there has been an extraordinary growth in sustainable investing, and its resilience has been exceptional during this difficult year of the global pandemic.

“It is also fitting that the amulet will be sited first in the City of London – a leading innovator of change and a global leader in green finance. However, much more must be done to culturally embed sustainable finance into the City’s core fabric and fully harness its innate ingenuity and creativity to fully deliver on the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.” − Climate News Network

 

Western Europe cools on plans for nuclear power

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network

As more reactors face closure, governments in Europe may prefer renewable energy to replace nuclear power.

LONDON, 25 November, 2020 – News that two more reactors in the United Kingdom are to shut down on safety grounds earlier than planned has capped a depressing month for nuclear power in Europe.

The news came after weeks of unfounded speculation, based on “leaks”, that the British government was about to take a stake in a giant new French-designed nuclear power station planned at Sizewell in Suffolk on the east coast of England as part of a “Green New Deal.” Taxpayers’ backing would have enabled the heavily-indebted French company EDF to finance the project.

In the event Boris Johnson, the prime minister, in his 10-point “green” plan  for the UK, boosted a far more speculative alternative scheme from a Rolls-Royce consortium which was helping to pay for research and development into a full-blown proposal to construct 16 small modular reactors (SMRs).

He failed to mention the Sizewell scheme at all, and instead of singing the praises of nuclear power extolled the virtues of offshore wind power, in which the UK is currently the world leader.

Johnson hopes that offshore wind will produce enough electricity to power every home in Britain, leaving little room for a nuclear industry. He has referred to the UK as “becoming the Saudi Arabia of wind power.”

Meanwhile across the English Channel in Belgium the Electrabel company – the Belgian subsidiary of French utility Engie – has cancelled any further planned investment in its seven-strong nuclear reactor fleet because of the government’s intention to phase out nuclear power by 2025.

“The cause of this damage [at Hunterston] is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive”

Plans will only be re-instated if a Belgian government review fails to find enough alternative electricity supply to replace the reactors’ output. The seven Belgian reactors currently produce half the country’s electricity supply.

These reversals come seven years after British governments promised a nuclear renaissance by encouraging French, Japanese, American and finally Chinese companies to build ten nuclear power stations in the UK. Only one station has been begun, a £22 billion (US$29 bn) joint venture between EDF and Chinese backers.

The French, with a 70% stake and the Chinese with 30%, began work on the twin reactors, to be known as Hinkley Point C, in Somerset in the West of England more than two years ago. The station was due to be completed in 2025, but is behind schedule and has cost overruns.

The two partners wanted to replicate these reactors at the planned Suffolk plant, Sizewell C, but EDF has not found the necessary capital to finance it, hoping that the London government would either take a stake or impose a nuclear tax on British consumers to help pay for it.

The idea was for Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to replace the 14 smaller reactors that EDF owns in Britain, thus keeping the nuclear industry’s 20% share of the UK’s electricity production. Johnson appears to have dashed these hopes. At best Hinkley Point C will produce 7% of the nation’s needs.

Meanwhile there is a question mark over the future of EDF’s remaining reactor fleet in Britain. Two of the 14, also at the Sizewell site, are French-designed pressurised water reactors opened in 1991, and have plenty of life left in them, but the other 12 are all older British-designed advanced gas-cooled reactors (AGRs) that use graphite blocks to control nuclear reactions.

Premature closure

A serious safety flaw has emerged in this design, involving hundreds of cracks in the graphite, causing doubts over whether the reactors could be turned off quickly in an emergency.

After a long stand-off with the UK’s nuclear safety watchdog, the Office for Nuclear Regulation, EDF decided earlier this year to prematurely close two of the worst affected reactors – both in a station known as Hunterston B in Scotland. Now, for the same reason, two further reactors at Hinkley Point B in Somerset will also close. All four reactors will be defuelled in 2022.

Currently six of these 12 AGR reactors are turned off – out of service for maintenance or safety checks. Two of them, at Dungeness B on the south-east coast of England, have been undergoing repairs since 2018 – this time because of corrosion of vital pipework – although cracks in the graphite blocks are also a safety issue here too.

While EDF remains upbeat about its prospects in developing nuclear power and is keeping its remaining ageing AGR reactors going until they can be replaced, it is hard to see where the company will get the money to build a new generation of reactors or attract government subsidies to do so.

The UK’s decision to back the British company Rolls-Royce to develop SMRs means it is unlikely the government has the money or the political inclination to back the French as well.

Rolls-Royce has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic because a large part of its business relies on the struggling aviation business, while it needs support because it makes mini-reactors to power British nuclear submarines. The proposed SMR research programme will allow nuclear-trained personnel to switch between military and civilian programmes.

Long out of office

The Rolls-Royce SMRs are a long shot from the commercial point of view, since they are unproven and likely to be wildly expensive compared with renewable energy. However, they have the political advantage of being British, and their development lies so far into the future that the current government will be out of office before anyone knows whether they actually work or are economic.

As far as the current crop of reactors is concerned, it is clear that at least those with graphite cores are nearing the end of their lives. Nuclear power has some way to go before it can expect a renaissance in the UK.

Paul Dorfman is a research fellow at University College London. He told the Climate News Network: “It is apparent that the graphite cores of Hunterston B, Hinkley B, and possibly all UK AGR reactors have developed and continue to develop significant structural damage to graphite bricks, including keyway cracks in the fuelled section of the reactor.

“It is also clear that the cause of this damage is not fully understood, and it is entirely possible that this form of age-related damage may be much more extensive.

“Given that weight loss in graphite blocks and subsequent graphite cracking occurs in all UK AGRs, what’s happening with Hunterston B has significant implications for the entire UK AGR fleet.

Dr Dorfman concluded: “Given the parlous finances of EDF, who are already struggling with their own reactor up-grade bills in France, it is entirely likely that UK nuclear generation will be reduced to  just Sizewell B, with electricity generation relying almost entirely on renewables by the time Hinkley C comes online, very late and over-cost as usual.” – Climate News Network