Nuclear or Tidal?

It was recently announced that lethal levels of radiation were measured at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant,  and that the residents will never be allowed home , just five months after the earthquake and tsunami resulted in the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl.  The radiation levels — 10,000 microsieverts per hour — are high enough that a single dose would be fatal to humans within weeks.   It is extraordinary that it was considered safe to build nuclear power stations in the active earthquake zone of the pacific ring of fire, but it is even more extraordinary given Japan’s tragic history with nuclear radiation.   

UPDATE August 22 2011: Fukushima – lethal levels, residents never allowed home:

UPDATE  August 2nd Workers find ultra high radiation levels


Energy for Somerset

By Pam

  • Labour’s energy policy must focus on renewable energy sources.
  • Investment will be made into development of renewable energy sources by a Labour government.
  • Labour should recognise that nuclear energy is not necessary.  It is expensive and too dangerous when developing energy resources.
  • Permanent damage to the Environment potentially caused by existing nuclear and further expansion power must be avoided.
  • Efficiency in energy use is to be encouraged and rewarded.
  • Consideration should be given to investment of tidal power using the preferred option of the Bridgwater Bay lagoon.
  • Investment should be made to consider further wind farms, use of solar energy and wave power, along with other options.

It is significant that Germany in May 2011, announced a reversal of policy that will see all the country’s nuclear power plants phased out by 2022. This decision makes Germany the biggest industrial power to announce plans to give up nuclear energy. BBC, (13)

The detrimental effects on the environment, by use of fossil fuels, and the resultant impact on global warming from carbon emissions, emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen gases from coal fuelled power stations, which  also contribute to acid rain, are now established. Therefore, alternative forms of energy must be utilised. I believe that Nuclear power must be rejected as a long-term strategy for a number of reasons.

A major problem is the disposal of dangerous nuclear waste which remains radioactive for centuries. It is  not acceptable that we leave our dirty waste for those yet unborn, potentially exposing future generations to the horrific effects of dangerous radioactive waste.

There is also the risk of accidents occurring in nuclear power stations whether; caused by human error as in Chernobyl, or by natural disasters, as seen in Japan this year.

The dangers of the nuclear energy industry, simply in terms of the storage of toxic, radioactive waste, is another potent factor as to why we must look at alternative forms of energy in future.  I am concerned that the desire to cut the enormous costs of disposal may result in further risk.

The issue with nuclear waste is that serves no peaceful purpose, yet remains dangerous for many centuries and continues to emit radiation. No matter how we are reassured of the safety of Nuclear Power, accidents happen, and accidents are more likely happen when costs are cut, where profit is the motive.

In April 1986, reactor number four at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded. After the accident, traces of radioactive deposits were found in nearly every country in the northern hemisphere. In April 2011, twenty-five years on from Chernobyl, the BBC reported on the effect on wildlife, as a result of this disaster. Marsh warbler populations were among those found to  have been affected in a study of 550 birds belonging to 48 different species in the Chernobyl area. (6).

In addition, birds living around the site of the Chernobyl nuclear accident have 5% smaller brains, an effect directly linked to lingering background radiation. The scale of other damaging effects and mutations which may have resulted directly as a result of this accident is difficult to measure.

The report continues:

Insect diversity has also fallen, and previously, the same researchers found a way to predict which species there were likely to be most severely damaged by radioactive contamination, by evaluating how often they renewed parts of their DNA.

In March 2010, as reported in Nature News (5) Japan announced its plans for expansion of the Japanese nuclear expansion. This was somewhat surprising considering the horrors of August 1945 at the end of WW2 with bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and also considering the geological risks since Japan is situated in an area prone to earthquakes. . It was acknowledged in 2010 that:

The Japanese government will face a struggle to secure public acceptance of its nuclear ambitions, which are open for public comment until 7 April. Confidence in nuclear power was shaken in 2007 when a magnitude-6.8 earthquake caused a shutdown of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa plant in Niigata after radioactive cooling water leaked into the sea.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing of course, but risks taken in the hope of profits for investors.

Tokyo-based trading company backed by the government, bought a 15% stake in Kalahari Minerals, headquartered in London, which is developing a large uranium mine in Namibia. The mine is expected to begin producing more than 5,000 tonnes of uranium per year in 2013 — roughly 10% of the total uranium mined around the world in 2008.

Many must have reconsidered the nuclear option as a result of the events of March 11 2011. Detailed data is updated in June 2011, on the Guardian Datablog (7)  which reported that:

Last month The World Bank estimated the cost of the nuclear crisis at $235bn (£144bn) – making it one of the world’s most expensive disasters. The operators of the plant, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), announced record losses of 1.25 trillion yen (£9.5bn) as they struggle with the nuclear crisis still present. Tepco also announced last month that there is data that would indicate that during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, the fuel rods in three of the reactors had melted.

Although it may be some time after the radiation levels at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant rose: the severity level changed from five to seven – the same level as Chernobyl in 1986, the Fukushima plant is still being focused on as more information and images appear.

Nuclear waste can continue to emit radiation for centuries, and it could potentially become unstable, if handled and stored improperly, setting off a chain reaction which could create a nuclear accident. If it fell into the wrong hands, it could be used to make a dirty bomb, which could spread radiation over an inhabited area. Nuclear waste storage focuses on finding safe and secure ways to store spent nuclear fuel and other forms of nuclear waste, until they have stabilized enough to pose no threat to humans, wildlife, and the environment.

That, we should risk accidents, from geological disaster or terrorism,  a dependence on nuclear energy for the future is madness. The risk to life is so huge it should not be contemplated.

Even disregarding the environmental argument against nuclear energy, the usual pro-nuclear economic argument is invalid. European countries, including the UK, are facilitating a nuclear power plant expansion in Ukraine – despite serious concerns over safety – with the ultimate ambition of exporting more energy to Western Europe, it has been claimed. (8) The expansion of Ukraine’s nuclear power sector is going ahead despite ongoing safety problems in the industry. The country has still not created an ‘adequate’ plan for the disposal of radioactive waste, according to campaign groups who say safely disposing the waste will cost more money than the Ukrainian nuclear industry has generated in its entire existence. 

’Industry propaganda tries to make us believe it is a cheap energy but they are ignoring the problem of waste disposal and leaving the escalating costs for future generations,’ says Yury Urbansky, from the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine, who says the nuclear industry is relying on the grid upgrade and promise of exports to expand in a country where energy consumption is fairly static.

Turning nearer to home, let us consider Somerset. In May 2011, plans are reported about the proposed nuclear waste sea disposal plan at Hinckley Point in Somerset.(2)This plan will see radioactive gas released into the sea.

John Large, a nuclear consultant who has worked with power companies and Greenpeace, said: “If you look at the history and the development of the British nuclear industry, and look at the calamity that was caused by radioactive discharges around Sellafield, if the past practice is a sign I don’t think sufficient guards and controls will be in place at this station.”

Somerset faces expansion of nuclear power as was announced in October 2010, as eight new power plants were announced (1) including another one at Hinckley Point in Somerset.

Go with the flow

It is ironic for those living near Hinckley point on the Severn Estuary that its expansion coincided with the shelving of the Severn Barrage project. And to be putting radioactive waste into the very same sea which could be used to harness alternative energy.

There was initial excitement at the prospect of harnessing the energy from the Severn. The Severn Estuary has the second highest tidal range in the world. In any one day the difference between the highest and lowest tide can be more than 14.5 metres.  The Severn Bore has an average speed of 16km per hour and can reach two metres in height. The size of the bore can be affected by opposing winds or high fresh-water levels, which reduce its height and delay its arrival. A following wind can increase its height and speed when it arrives.

Apart from the massive amounts energy, which would have been generated, the prospects for employment for those in Weston-super-Mare and in South Wales, Severn Barrage would also have linked the two regions. In October 2010, the Coalition government rejected the Severn Barrage primarily on the grounds of cost and unwillingness to invest in the long-term. (1)

The proposed site the Severn Barrage (1) near Weston-super-Mare 

“The UK government today dropped plans to build a 10-mile barrage across the Severn estuary to generate “green” electricity from tides. (Guardian, October 2010 (1))  There was no “strategic case” for investing public money in such a scheme, which could cost more than £30bn, although it said it could be reconsidered as a long-term option. Eight new nuclear power stations were the alternative.

The government dropped plans for large-scale tidal schemes in the Severn estuary, after consideringfive proposals for three barrages and two “innovative” lagoon-type energy projects to harness the power of the tides.

The most high-profile of the proposed schemes was the 10-mile wide Cardiff-Weston barrage, the costs of which were originally estimated at £15bn but which have now spiralled to more than £30bn, according to the feasibility study published today.

The barrage, which would have harnessed the massive tidal range of the estuary to produce green power, could have met 5% of the UK’s electricity needs, but was controversial with some environmentalists because it could destroy thousands of hectares of habitat.

Conservation groups have been fighting the proposals, which they believe could destroy the winter-feeding grounds of 65,000 birds.

“Save our Severn” report (3) explains that the Severn Estuary is very silty, compared with a similar French barrage.  Comparisons were also made between the Barrage from Weston to Cardiff and an existing barrage in Canada, arguing that it would quickly silt up, clog and becoming ineffective; causing damage to the environment, choking the beaches, blocking harbours and cause loss of habitats for scores of species.

The Government’s feasibility study (10) compares several other options.

The schemes short-listed following the public consultation were:

Cardiff-Weston barrage – spanning the Severn estuary from Brean Down to Lavernock Point

Shoots barrage – downstream of the second Severn road crossing

Beachley barrage – slightly smaller and further upstream than the Shoots barrage,and upstream of the Wye.

Welsh Grounds lagoon – impoundment on the Welsh shore of the Estuary between Newport and the Severn road crossings

Bridgwater Bay lagoon – impoundment on the English shore between Hinkley Point and Weston-super-Mare

The government’s feasibility study gives a detailed study of each of the options, looking at the effects on the environment, construction and several other issues, including cost, and generation of jobs to the local area. This report is very detailed, and those interested in serious study should refer to it. The conclusion is that of all of the options the Bridgwater Bay lagoon would be the preferred option.

621-severn-tidal-power-feasibility-study-conclusions-a)

‘Bridgwater Bay lagoon

The Bridgwater Bay lagoon would be located on the English shore between Hinkley

and Weston-super-Mare.  The design has evolved significantly over the course of the

feasibility study: the generating capacity has increased through modifying the design

to allow for operation on both the ebb and flood tides and through including more

turbines.  This has led to a large increase in installed generating capacity from

1.36GW to 3.6GW although the footprint of the scheme within the Estuary has

remained the same with the embankment 16km long.  This is about the same length

of Cardiff-Weston’s embankment.

As it is in a natural bay and downstream of some of the major areas of intertidal

habitat, habitat loss from this scheme is the smallest out of all schemes. It follows

that  the impact on waterbirds is also relatively low though nine species would be

expected to suffer a significant decline. It may be the scheme that is easiest to

compensate for residual environmental impacts on protected features – although this

task would still be challenging.

As the lagoon is further downstream of the tributary rivers Usk and Wye, it is

predicted to have the lowest impact of all schemes on fish.  In common with all other

schemes, possible local extinctions could occur for twaite shad and salmon.

Although the lagoon does not form a barrier across the estuary, its location

downstream of Bristol Port means that impacts on the port will be relatively large.

Impact on the ports is the same as for smaller schemes on lower and central

estimates (0-200 jobs) but the upper bound rises to 1000 compared to 400.

However, as the impacts will not be as large for Cardiff-Weston, the net regional job

gains are predicted to be the largest- with 3,240 jobs created during the 6 years of

construction and 290 during operation.  The regional economy is anticipated to

benefit by £2.3bn.

Whilst impacts on land-drainage are the second highest, conversely flood risk

benefits are also the second highest as more improved flood defences will be built

earlier as part of the scheme.

Levelised energy costs are greater than Cardiff-Weston and Shoots but lower than

the two other schemes. They are similar with coal with CCS at Green Book discount

rates although upfront capital costs are larger than for CCS. This means significant

Government involvement would be required to take forward a scheme.

The relatively lower level of impacts, smaller challenge to provide compensation and

medium energy cost  make this scheme a candidate for future review.’

Intertidal Habitat


  • We propose Labour supports investment in the development Bridgwater Bay Lagoon preferred tidal option

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/oct/18/severn-barrage-nuclear

Severn barrage ditched as new nuclear plants get green light Oct 2010

2. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-13501260 BBC News, May 23rd 2011

Hinckley Point Disposal

3. http://www.saveoursevern.org/ Analysis of proposals on Severn Barrage

4. http://www.robedwards.com/2010/11/ban-on-radioactive-waste-shipments-after-safety-breaches.html

Breaches of radioactive waste disposal.

5. http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100331/full/464661a.html Nature News Japan announces expansion of nuclear industry

6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9387000/9387395.stm Report on study of effect on birds and other wildlife 25 years on from Chernobyl disaster

7. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/mar/18/japan-nuclear-power-plant-updates Update on Fukushima power plant data June 7th 2011

8:http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_analysis/812558/eu_ignoring_safety_risks_in_financing_of_nucle

ar_expansion_in_ukraine.html

9.: Analysis of the Severn Barrage NGO Steering Group Frontier Economics, London May 2008 w-severn_barrage

9.: Analysis of the Severn Barrage NGO Steering Group Frontier Economics, London May 2008 w-severn_barrage

10:  HM Government Severn Tidal Power Feasibility Study  Conclusions and Summary Report, October 2010 621-severn-tidal-power-feasibility-study-conclusions-a

11. http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-global/w-news/w-latest_news/w-news-severn_barrage.htm

12 http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/homeandleisure/recreation/31439.aspx

The Severn Bore The Environment Agency

13. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-13592208 Germany announces non nuclear May 2011

14  http://utilitiessavings.co.uk/2010/10/severn-barrage-plan-likely-to-be-cut/

A £30 billion wave power scheme along the Severn estuary in Wales is set to be axed by the government.

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