Tag Archives: UK

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

*********

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.

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

Geo-engineering: It’s probably not a good idea

BOOK REVIEW

Skyseed: geo-engineering the planet might be humankind’s last desperate throw, says a tale by a geophysical hazard expert.

LONDON, 30 October, 2020 − There were always three objections to the technofix answer to climate change: that geo-engineeering wouldn’t work, that it would deliver unintended consequences that would be unpredictably distributed, and a third, rarely mentioned: that it might work all too well.

In Bill McGuire’s unexpected eco-thriller Skyseed: Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do it works desperately well. Unexpected is a carefully chosen word: it’s no surprise that scientists can be good writers − I’ve argued elsewhere that they can be better writers than most writers − but the leap from factual analysis to lurid fable is a challenge.

Skyseed has what good thrillers always need, as well as geo-engineering: a world to save, characters with a bit of go in them, some plausible villains, fast-paced action, sustained tension, a big moment of reckoning and (let us be honest) as little preaching as possible.

The story is a simple one of global eco-collapse. Volcanoes are involved, and extreme weather, and ice, but not the outcome that McGuire (a volcanologist who for many years headed research into natural hazards) has spent a working lifetime warning about.

In this book, instead of taking the obvious route and abandoning fossil fuels as an energy source, a bullying, dishonest and unthinking American president, dependent on what is now called “dark money”, with help from a fawning British prime minister sorely in need of a trade deal, decides to contain global heating in a different way.

“The precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible”

The duo authorise a dangerous experiment in geo-engineering, under the cover of some so-called rain-making experiments during high-altitude military flights. That’s mistake one.

Mistake two is that they do it secretly. And they seem to think that a small army of global climate scientists − people whose career is based on sampling the stratospheric atmosphere and matching its chemistry with global temperature levels − won’t notice. And that if they do, these academic busybodies can be rubbed out without anyone else asking awkward questions.

Of course, things go wrong: horribly wrong, and it doesn’t take long for a trio of all-too human scientists, working separately and together, to tumble to the truth. As soon as they start to do so, sinister forces try to contain the secret. Our heroes survive, thanks to fortune, subterfuge and some help with the weather, and come back with the truth: don’t mess with geo-engineering.

In the course of this entertainment, the informed reader could play the game of spot-the-science: quite a lot, actually, but trailed racily and with just enough explanation to keep the story at stampede speed − advanced nano-engineering, upper atmosphere chemistry, volcanic discharges, the interplay of climate change on geological hazard, the advance of an ice front, and so on. You could both enjoy the story and learn a little more about how the planet works.

Not escapist

McGuire poses no great threat to the reputations of Len Deighton, Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming, but who cares? Their heroes always survived, to begin a new adventure in each successive volume.

In Skyseed, whoever makes it to the last page doesn’t expect to survive for much longer, and − non-spoiler alert − McGuire cheerfully breaks that bit of bad news to the reader in the prologue. You know this one is going to end badly, before it even begins.

A declaration of interest: I know McGuire, professionally, and have done for many years. Another declaration: I can think of less readable books, by vastly better-known popular authors. And a third: the precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible.

That civilisation is threatened, and all too plausibly, by the inexorable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unhappily is not. You could call this book a thriller. You could not call it escapist. − Climate News Network

Skyseed: The Book Guild, £8.99. By Bill McGuire

BOOK REVIEW

Skyseed: geo-engineering the planet might be humankind’s last desperate throw, says a tale by a geophysical hazard expert.

LONDON, 30 October, 2020 − There were always three objections to the technofix answer to climate change: that geo-engineeering wouldn’t work, that it would deliver unintended consequences that would be unpredictably distributed, and a third, rarely mentioned: that it might work all too well.

In Bill McGuire’s unexpected eco-thriller Skyseed: Hacking the Earth might be the last thing we ever do it works desperately well. Unexpected is a carefully chosen word: it’s no surprise that scientists can be good writers − I’ve argued elsewhere that they can be better writers than most writers − but the leap from factual analysis to lurid fable is a challenge.

Skyseed has what good thrillers always need, as well as geo-engineering: a world to save, characters with a bit of go in them, some plausible villains, fast-paced action, sustained tension, a big moment of reckoning and (let us be honest) as little preaching as possible.

The story is a simple one of global eco-collapse. Volcanoes are involved, and extreme weather, and ice, but not the outcome that McGuire (a volcanologist who for many years headed research into natural hazards) has spent a working lifetime warning about.

In this book, instead of taking the obvious route and abandoning fossil fuels as an energy source, a bullying, dishonest and unthinking American president, dependent on what is now called “dark money”, with help from a fawning British prime minister sorely in need of a trade deal, decides to contain global heating in a different way.

“The precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible”

The duo authorise a dangerous experiment in geo-engineering, under the cover of some so-called rain-making experiments during high-altitude military flights. That’s mistake one.

Mistake two is that they do it secretly. And they seem to think that a small army of global climate scientists − people whose career is based on sampling the stratospheric atmosphere and matching its chemistry with global temperature levels − won’t notice. And that if they do, these academic busybodies can be rubbed out without anyone else asking awkward questions.

Of course, things go wrong: horribly wrong, and it doesn’t take long for a trio of all-too human scientists, working separately and together, to tumble to the truth. As soon as they start to do so, sinister forces try to contain the secret. Our heroes survive, thanks to fortune, subterfuge and some help with the weather, and come back with the truth: don’t mess with geo-engineering.

In the course of this entertainment, the informed reader could play the game of spot-the-science: quite a lot, actually, but trailed racily and with just enough explanation to keep the story at stampede speed − advanced nano-engineering, upper atmosphere chemistry, volcanic discharges, the interplay of climate change on geological hazard, the advance of an ice front, and so on. You could both enjoy the story and learn a little more about how the planet works.

Not escapist

McGuire poses no great threat to the reputations of Len Deighton, Leslie Charteris and Ian Fleming, but who cares? Their heroes always survived, to begin a new adventure in each successive volume.

In Skyseed, whoever makes it to the last page doesn’t expect to survive for much longer, and − non-spoiler alert − McGuire cheerfully breaks that bit of bad news to the reader in the prologue. You know this one is going to end badly, before it even begins.

A declaration of interest: I know McGuire, professionally, and have done for many years. Another declaration: I can think of less readable books, by vastly better-known popular authors. And a third: the precise manner in this book in which civilisation perishes as a consequence of climate change is fortunately so far implausible.

That civilisation is threatened, and all too plausibly, by the inexorable increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, unhappily is not. You could call this book a thriller. You could not call it escapist. − Climate News Network

Skyseed: The Book Guild, £8.99. By Bill McGuire

Nuclear power hinders fight against climate change

Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.

LONDON, 6 October, 2020 − Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.

“This raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy”

The study found that in some large countries, going renewable was up to seven times more effective in lowering carbon emissions than nuclear.

The findings are a severe blow to the nuclear industry, which has been touting itself as the answer to climate change and calling itself a low-carbon energy. The scientists conclude that if countries want to lower emissions substantially, rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible, they should invest in solar and wind power and avoid nuclear.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy.

“Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

The report says that as well as long lead times for nuclear, the necessity for the technology to have elaborate oversight of potentially catastrophic safety risks, security against attack, and long-term waste management strategies tends to take up resources and divert attention away from other simpler and much quicker options like renewables.

Consistent results

The nuclear industry has always claimed that countries need both nuclear and renewables in order to provide reliable power for a grid that does not have input from coal- or gas-fuelled power stations.

This study highlights several other papers which show that a reliable electricity supply is possible with 100% renewables, and that keeping nuclear in the mix hinders the development of renewables.

Patrick Schmidt, a co-author from the International School of Management in Munich,  said: “It is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2 emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

As well as being a blow to the nuclear industry, the paper’s publication comes at a critical time for governments still intending to invest in nuclear power.

For a long time it has been clear that most advanced democratic countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have no wish to be have been investing in renewables and abandoning nuclear power, because it is too expensive and unpopular with the public. In Europe they include Germany, Italy and Spain, with South Korea in the Far East.

Nuclear weapons needs

Nuclear weapons states like the UK and the US, which have both admitted the link between their military and civilian nuclear industries, continue to encourage the private sector to build nuclear stations and are prepared to provide public subsidy or guaranteed prices to induce them to do so.

With the evidence presented by this paper it will not be possible for these governments to claim that building new nuclear power stations is the right policy to halt climate change.

Both Russia and China continue to be enthusiastic about nuclear power, the cost being less important than the influence gained by exporting the technology to developing countries. Providing cheap loans and nuclear power stations gives their governments a long-term foothold in these countries, and involves controlling the supply of nuclear fuel in order to keep the lights on.

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex and also a co-author, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument.

“Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.” − Climate News Network

Countries investing in renewables are achieving carbon reductions far faster than those which opt to back nuclear power.

LONDON, 6 October, 2020 − Countries wishing to reduce carbon emissions should invest in renewables, abandoning any plans for nuclear power stations because they can no longer be considered a low-carbon option.

That is the conclusion of a study by the University of Sussex Business School, published in the journal Nature Energy, which analysed World Bank and International Energy Agency data from 125 countries over a 25-year period.

The study provides evidence that it is difficult to integrate renewables and nuclear together in a low-carbon strategy, because they require two different types of grid. Because of this, the authors say, it is better to avoid building nuclear power stations altogether.

A country which favours large-scale nuclear stations inevitably freezes out the most effective carbon-reducing technologies − small-scale renewables such as solar, wind and hydro power, they conclude.

Perhaps their most surprising finding is that countries around the world with large-scale nuclear programmes do not tend to show significantly lower carbon emissions over time. In poorer countries nuclear investment is associated with relatively higher emissions.

“This raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy”

The study found that in some large countries, going renewable was up to seven times more effective in lowering carbon emissions than nuclear.

The findings are a severe blow to the nuclear industry, which has been touting itself as the answer to climate change and calling itself a low-carbon energy. The scientists conclude that if countries want to lower emissions substantially, rapidly and as cost-effectively as possible, they should invest in solar and wind power and avoid nuclear.

Benjamin Sovacool, professor of energy policy at the University of Sussex and the study’s lead author, said: “The evidence clearly points to nuclear being the least effective of the two broad carbon emissions abatement strategies, and coupled with its tendency not to co-exist well with its renewable alternative, this raises serious doubts about the wisdom of prioritising investment in nuclear over renewable energy.

“Countries planning large-scale investments in new nuclear power are risking suppression of greater climate benefits from alternative renewable energy investments.”

The report says that as well as long lead times for nuclear, the necessity for the technology to have elaborate oversight of potentially catastrophic safety risks, security against attack, and long-term waste management strategies tends to take up resources and divert attention away from other simpler and much quicker options like renewables.

Consistent results

The nuclear industry has always claimed that countries need both nuclear and renewables in order to provide reliable power for a grid that does not have input from coal- or gas-fuelled power stations.

This study highlights several other papers which show that a reliable electricity supply is possible with 100% renewables, and that keeping nuclear in the mix hinders the development of renewables.

Patrick Schmidt, a co-author from the International School of Management in Munich,  said: “It is astonishing how clear and consistent the results are across different time frames and country sets. In certain large country samples the relationship between renewable electricity and CO2 emissions is up to seven times stronger than the corresponding relationship for nuclear.”

As well as being a blow to the nuclear industry, the paper’s publication comes at a critical time for governments still intending to invest in nuclear power.

For a long time it has been clear that most advanced democratic countries which are not nuclear weapons states and have no wish to be have been investing in renewables and abandoning nuclear power, because it is too expensive and unpopular with the public. In Europe they include Germany, Italy and Spain, with South Korea in the Far East.

Nuclear weapons needs

Nuclear weapons states like the UK and the US, which have both admitted the link between their military and civilian nuclear industries, continue to encourage the private sector to build nuclear stations and are prepared to provide public subsidy or guaranteed prices to induce them to do so.

With the evidence presented by this paper it will not be possible for these governments to claim that building new nuclear power stations is the right policy to halt climate change.

Both Russia and China continue to be enthusiastic about nuclear power, the cost being less important than the influence gained by exporting the technology to developing countries. Providing cheap loans and nuclear power stations gives their governments a long-term foothold in these countries, and involves controlling the supply of nuclear fuel in order to keep the lights on.

Andy Stirling, professor of science and technology policy at Sussex and also a co-author, said: “This paper exposes the irrationality of arguing for nuclear investment based on a ‘do everything’ argument.

“Our findings show not only that nuclear investments around the world tend on balance to be less effective than renewable investments at carbon emissions mitigation, but that tensions between these two strategies can further erode the effectiveness of averting climate disruption.” − Climate News Network

Climate Assembly UK: Act now to save our planet

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

Climate Assembly UK tells British politicians to act faster on climate change. France and Ireland echo its message.

LONDON, 28 September, 2020 − A random group of United Kingdom citizens, Climate Assembly UK: The path to net zero, has delivered an uncompromising verdict on the British approach to the climate crisis: do more, and don’t delay.

The UK is not alone in demanding urgent action. Presented with detailed evidence about the effects of climate change, citizens’ assemblies in two other European countries have come to identical conclusions; we have to make immediate progress, and we must change the way we live.

The most striking common feature about the views of the assemblies convened in Ireland, France and the United Kingdom is that the measures their governments are currently taking are grossly inadequate to tackle climate change.

Policies that politicians have shrunk from imposing on their voters for fear of a backlash have suddenly been urged on them by their own citizens. In Ireland and France this gave both governments the courage to promise to implement most of the assemblies’ recommendations. The UK report released on 10 September has yet to receive a full response, but the signs are encouraging.

The assemblies in each country were composed of a random selection of people to represent all ages, sexes and social groups, first to hear evidence and then to recommend action, including giving clear guidance on priorities.

A similar set of proposals came from the citizens in each of the three countries.

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death”

On energy they wanted more renewable technologies, wind and solar, to replace fossil fuels.

All three assemblies favoured a reduction in air traffic, taxes on frequent flyers, the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered vehicles, encouragement for all things electric, the insulation of homes, and energy efficiency.

Changes in what we eat – particularly less meat – were also common features. More local production both of food and other goods was  important.

There were detailed recommendations, with for example the French suggesting statutory rules on turning central heating thermostats down to 19°C, and not using air conditioning until temperatures reached 30°C. They also advocated lowering the speed limit for cars, to reduce their emissions.

All the reports also wanted more green spaces, places for wildlife and improved habitats.

The reaction of participants, some of whom knew very little about climate change before being selected, is perhaps best summed up by a quote from the French report: “We have lived together, during nine months, an unprecedented and intense human experience, that led us to become conscious of the imperious necessity to profoundly change the organisation of our society and our ways of life…

“The Earth can live without us, but we can’t live without her… It is a question of life or death.”

Vested interests object

One of the characteristics of this new form of democracy – the citizens’ jury – is the lengths the organisers have to go to in order to select a cross-section of the community. This ensures that all political views are taken into account as well as age, class and race. But as the French experience shows, taking in vast quantities of information about climate change and sharing this experience with others has a profound effect.

In theory the recommendations these juries make should be accepted by all, since the groups have been selected to represent everyone in the country, but it is clear that vested interests are not prepared to do that.

For example, the UK’s right-wing Spectator magazine said of the results of the French assembly: “The problem with citizens’ assemblies is that their members don’t, unlike elected politicians, actually have to deal with the consequences of their breezy and idealistic proposals.

“In the first place, they are rarely representative of the entire population: in France, 25,000 people were approached to see if they wanted to take part; most refused, and 150 were chosen.

“Most of those are people with an agenda, who are prepared to give up entire weekends in return for a stipend of £74 (€86) a day plus expenses: in other words, political activists and people with time on their hands.”

Industry disappointed

Similarly, within days of the British assembly members having heard a great deal of expert evidence making it abundantly clear they wanted more renewables, onshore and offshore wind and solar power, rather than more nuclear energy, the nuclear industry poured cold water on their judgement and preferences.

In a long article offered to the Climate News Network extolling the virtues of nuclear power in fighting climate change, Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, said he was pleased that the assembly wanted to see low carbon ways of producing electricity.

He added: “It is, however, disappointing to see that what this model of engagement was touted as delivering – an understanding of the complexity of decisions that need to be made – is all but absent when it comes to the future power mix.

“There are two lessons in this – firstly, for experts, industry and decision makers to have to communicate much more effectively on the reality of the challenges and the choices they open up. Secondly, that simplistic statements of the impossible made either through wishful thinking or wilful ignorance will not aid decarbonisation – but only increase reliance on burning fossil fuels and the emissions that come from them.”

So it seems that however hard organisers try to select a cross-section of citizens and provide them with clear evidence, there will be an immediate political backlash.

Whether it is climate scientists or citizens’ juries fearing for the future of civilisation, vested interests are always prepared to rubbish what they say. Perhaps though, now that voters (in the form of citizens’ assemblies) have added their voices to those of scientists, politicians will finally have the courage to act on their recommendations. − Climate News Network

UK nuclear industry seeks subsidies for survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanished incentive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intent on survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vanished incentive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Intent on survival

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

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

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

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

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

Cool your home, save money, chill the atmosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow progress

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

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

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

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

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

Killer homes

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slow progress

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

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

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

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

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

Killer homes

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * * * *

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

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

UK’s plutonium stockpile is an embarrassing risk

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

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

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

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

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

Non-stop production

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

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

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

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

Sudden revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for alternative

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

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

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

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

Cost increase

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

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

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

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

Completely unusable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Non-stop production

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

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

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

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

Sudden revelation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking for alternative

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

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

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

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

Cost increase

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

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

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

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

Completely unusable

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

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

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

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