The nuclear option…

IT’S not just Greenpeace that’s unhappy with Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for nuclear power – there were rumblings of discontent in Ireland today too. Blair argues that its not as bad for the environment as fossil fuels, and perhaps Ireland isn’t in much of a position to preach…

  • Crataegus

    The problem with governments is they think in grand fixes. It strikes me we could be doing a lot more to generate power and reduce consumption.

    Include in the Building Regulations a need to produce power on site. Encourage wind generators in our towns and cities where the power is used, give grants to install domestic generators, heat pumps etc. and kick start the process. This would have a much quicker impact on energy consumption than any nuclear programme. Get an ethos going that it is your duty to do your bit but better still encourage people to view it as a way to supplement their income. Small scale production empowers the many.

    Also when we think renewables why do we always think wind. There is a simple, proven technology which uses water and we have lots of streams and rivers and why not tidal?

    Nuclear is problematic for many reasons but one of the most worrying is the past level of honesty within that industry.

    The other aspect that we forget is that all the above produce electricity (except heat pumps) and transport is still dependant on oil. To reduce consumption in that sector we need to make progress on hydrogen cell technology, but also we must change how we plan cities. Development should be around viable public transport routes and not cars and we need to invest in public transport.

    As for the Republic we all know the sort of considerations that go into rezoning there, but the problem of inappropriate planning is everywhere. We plan our cities around cars. We should instead be encouraging high density inner city development and not parking lot development. Look at the acres of surface carparking in Belfast. It is ridiculous. Get the population densities up, plan offices and bussiness around the rail network, invest in public transport and for God sake connect Aldergrove to the rail network.

    It will take decades to even start to address the problems created by inappropriate planning.

  • Nestor Makhno

    Interesting article in Tuesday’s Guardian by George Monbiot (not an obvious supporter of nuclear power or big business) with some back-of-the-envelope calculations that suggest even with the best will in the world for renewables and energy conservation both in work and at home, the UK is still going to find it next to impossible to meet peak national demand (somewhere around 50Gw).

    Having said that, here’s some replies that question his figures…

    My own opinion – go nuclear for now – with a medium term strategy of investing much more in fusion research to save our sorry asses.

  • fair_deal

    Crataegus

    In government planning the expectation is hydrogen cell technology on a large enough scale will be on stream in about 25 years (Hopefully). The UK’s problem is that it has have an energy shortfall issue within the 25 year timescale.

  • Crataegus

    Monbiot admits in the article that he is not qualified in this field.

    There have been many experimental projects that have slashed energy demand. A large part of the solution is to think in terms of local production, local grids and empowering people and we need to instil a sense of urgency and purpose. The problem with much of this technology is increasing production so that unit cost comes down. The current National grid is very inefficient and production closer to usage has advantages.

    To my mind we need to think more about hydro and tidal, both large and small scale before we go down the nuke option. Hydro would have the added advantage of regulating floods. If you consider that the likes of the Lagan weir could be used as a generator and the Mills in Belfast and Doagh were originally powered by quite small streams and many of the dams are still there. We not get on with it and utilise the resources that are there? It is a question of changing our mindset so that when we build we think energy.

    I am sure our Engineers and Architects would rise to the challenge if given the right framework to work in. I have heard cases of proposed energy efficient houses being mauled by the planning office and their rather silly rules about fenestration. Perhaps we should consider the likes of small wind generators as permitted developments and exemptions from the normal planning mantra for buildings that are designed to reduce their real environmental footprint.

    By all means prolong the life of the existing nuclear power stations, but let us not be in a hurry to build more of them. I believe that if there were the will we could solve our energy needs without fossil fuel or nuclear the real problem is transport and no amount of nuclear will contribute to that problem.

    This is one of the occasions where you wish there were fewer lawyers in parliament and more technical types.

  • Crataegus

    Fair_deal

    I hope we do have effective hydrogen cell technology in the next 25 years it makes the possible options of production and storage more flexible and gives us some hope of addressing our transport demands. It is a crucial technology and to my mind beats the alternatives such as bio fuel. I believe someone did a calculation and it would take all of Ireland to grow the plants to fuel the cars in Ireland if they all ran on Bio diesel or ethanol. I can’t verify if correct as it is definitely not my field.

  • DK

    Crataegus,

    Lets see – One hectare can produce about 1500 litres of vegetable oil or 3,000 litres of ethanol, and a typical car would use 1000 litres per year (50 litre fill-up 20 times a year). So for all the cars in 32 county Ireland you would need about 1.5 million hectares of oilseed or 1 million hectares of biofuel wheat. The total arable land available is about 700,000 hectares. However there are another 5 or 6 million hectares under grass. So there is room there, as long as we are happy to give up milk and beef.

    Useful source on biofuel: http://www.dardni.gov.uk/file/con05026i.doc

  • Crataegus

    DK

    Thanks, possibly a useful source of income for hard pressed farmers. It would certainly change the appearance of our countryside.

    Anyone come across ideas on aviation? I hate to admit I love my cheap flights.

  • DK

    Republic of Ireland imports about 11 billion litres of oil (for all uses) every year. So biofuel is not ever going to meet present demand. Bummer.

  • Crataegus

    DK

    Looks horrendous but does include heating oil. Looks like hydrogen cell technology is our only hope or it will be on your bike lads. The thought of cycling up the Antrim or Crumlin Road on a day like today fills me with dread. What a bleak future.

    We could be in for a period of more expensive travel costs. This may have very interesting effects on the property market

  • Sceptic

    Is anyone tempted to just spend on the cheapest electricity eg. coal regardless of CO2 emissions, and spend the money saved on mitigating climate change?

    At the moment we are in ridiculous scenarios where for the sake of Kyoto- which will make a negligible difference- governments are making very expensive decisions like investing in nuclear.

    Bear in mind that China and India are belching out CO2 like nobody’s business regardless of what we do.

    For the medium term, more use of local supply and research into superior technologies might bear fruit. But nuclear is an industry addicted to pollution and state subsidy. I say bin it…

  • Crataegus

    Sceptic

    I agree with you regards nuclear but the problems with global warming are so fundamental that we cannot ignore it. It threatens crop growth, food production, sea levels, desertification etc. With regards China it is investing in renewables. The problem is economic growth and thus greater waste production and we really cannot suggest that that should stop though there are interesting arguments as to what economic growth actually is and how we should measure it.

    For security and economic reasons I believe it is essential that we become energy self sufficient.

  • Mickhall

    It just shows how big business manipulates both the government and the media. First there is an explosion of articles about global warming, closely followed with articles telling us about the wonders of nuclear power. Makes one wonder what is to be next in blair/browns britain/ireland [sorry you guys but Blair sneezes and Bertie offers his very own hanky.]

    Perhaps an intelligent debate on global warming might help, before we saddle future generations with tons of nuclear waste and the blot on the landscape of decommisioned power stations that can never be demolished because they glow green in the dark.

    By the way all Brown needs to do to find the money for Turners pension proposals would be to scrap the upgrading of the trident missile and submarine program. not rocket science but then this minnows would really have to take some tough choices instead of talking about having done so.

    Regards to all

  • Nestor Makhno

    Crataegus, I wonder if you could answer a question that has always confused me regarding hydrogen as an option?

    I assume when you’re talking about hydrogen, you’re talking about fuel cell technology. Am I right in saying that the technology is more about the economical storage and distribution of energy rather than its creation? Because the process requires electricity to manufacture the hydrogen from water in the first place?

    So it’s really only pushing the generation question back to the national grid (and away, for example, from a car’s internal combustion engine or a household gas boiler).

    We still have to get the electrivity from elsewhere to make the fuel cell system work – with the green option being renewables? And the dirty option being coal, gas and nuclear?

  • Brian Boru

    My main worry on this is health. We must never forget the Chernoybl disaster and the catastrophic consequences it continues to have in Belarus. The nuclear plant was in Ukraine but winds blew most of the fallout into Belarus, where an explosion in cancer cases – especially thyroid cancer – resulted. Huge amounts of children there are being born with appalling deformities, which I have witnessed in the media and I think that the absence of the issue of the health-affects of nuclear power from the British Government’s analysis of this issue is alarming but not exactly surprising considering the contempt with which they have generally treated the concerns of the Irish Government over the past 50 years.

    The Irish people should not have their lives endangered by the British. I also reject the spurious claims that renewables alone cannot plug the gap in power-generation in the UK for the purposes of reducing emissions. This is really about cosying up to the nuclear industry. I won’t ask what they are getting in return.

  • Brian Boru

    Also, there is also the risk of a terrorist attack on a nuclear plant, with potentially genocidal consequences. This is just too risky, and while British politicians may say this is an internal British affair, anything that threatens the lives of other nations is the legitimate concern of such nations, including the Irish who are nearest to these dreadful plants of death and cancer. It was reported in an Irish newspaper a few years ago that George Tenet, the former CIA Director-General, had warned the British government that Sellafield was high on the AQ target list in Britain, and remember a week or so ago when a suspected terrorist was arrested trying to get to a nuclear plant?

    If the Brits do decide to build more nuke plants, I implore them to keep them away from the Irish Sea coast. A cluster of cancer cases in Co.Louth since the 1951 Windscale accident gives further reason for concern about this.

  • DK

    Brian,

    A further factor to consider before building new nuclear plants is that Uranium, like oil and gas, is a finite resource. A lot comes from Canada, but I have read somewhere that it is running out and the new sources are in dodgy central asian “republics”. I would have thought that, as an Island off the Atlantic, waves and winds should provide plenty of power – especially wave power since that is generated by the moon which, last time I checked, was pretty reliable and not about to run out any time soon.

    I think a typical wave/wind plant is about 25MW and total peak Irish enery requirements will be in the order of 4000MW. Gas/coal power plants are 300-500MW while a nuclear plant is 1000-8000MW depending on size. So, we will need at least 160 wave/wind plants (presently there are less than 20) – or 2 big nuclear power plants. Or we can keep buying power from NI (aboow 500MW at present).

  • Flakey

    Big debate about incineration in Ireland at the moment ( I know its a bit off topic) But one massive one should be built in Co.Louth only use it when the winds are blowing on shore from the West. Therefore carrying all toxins to Britain and revenge for sellafield

    Thank you.

  • Brian Boru

    “I think a typical wave/wind plant is about 25MW and total peak Irish enery requirements will be in the order of 4000MW. Gas/coal power plants are 300-500MW while a nuclear plant is 1000-8000MW depending on size. So, we will need at least 160 wave/wind plants (presently there are less than 20) – or 2 big nuclear power plants. Or we can keep buying power from NI (aboow 500MW at present).”

    OK then 160 wave/wind plants it is.

  • Crataegus

    Nestor

    You are right hydrogen cells will not produce one watt, but helps improve flexibility of use and storage. With renewables (if you have lots of them) you need to even out the peaks and troughs. You can for example pump water uphill and store the potential for future use or you can convert water to hydrogen and burn when needed.

    I take my hat of to the nuclear industry for a superb PR exercise. But to date nuclear energy has been heavily subsidised and extremely expensive. If something goes wrong the down side is so appalling that it should instantly rule the option out. Equally worrying is the mounting evidence of the health effects of low levels of radiation. The only reason I can envisage to cling to the nuclear industry is weapons production.

    If we wanted to expend serious money on energy production we should look to the tides and ocean currents and not nuclear.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Solving the energy problems in the West certainly involves installing as many solar panels and wind farms around the place as we can. We also need to cut back on energy wastage by insulating our homes properly and buying electrical equipment which has low power consumption.

    Contrary to what many people believe, nuclear power generation in the UK has had a very good record. It is the UK’s nuclear material reprocessing and nuclear weapons manufacturing industries where the problems have come from. Sellafield should almost certainy be decommissioned and entirely shut down; I’m convinced that the culture of poor safety there is to do with the way the place was originally established as a secret weapons-building and experimental power generating plant (parliament was not even told about the construction of the Windscale plutonium-breeding plants in the 1950s).

    Nuclear reactors these days are very safe, much safer than the early prototype designs the UK came up with. I particularly like Canada’s native CANDU design which can take unenriched uranium as fuel and which is very efficient to operate. Pebble Bed reactors also promise to be a very safe design.

    Brian :

    My main worry on this is health. We must never forget the Chernoybl disaster and the catastrophic consequences it continues to have in Belarus.

    The Chernobyl disaster was caused by a dodgy design, combined with poorly operators who disabled safety features in order to meet a deadline. Had the operators known the precise risks of disabling the safety features (government secrecy is the reason why they didn’t) they would almost certainly not have done so. KGB documents show that USSR government were warned in the 1970s about the dangers of the design, but the warnings were ignored. The important lesson there is that only openness and proper, accountable management of the plants is acceptable. Regular inspections, stiff penalties and jail time for offenders are the way to put a stop to that.

    If your main worry is health, then you could do well to think more about the thousands of tonnes of highly toxic chemicals our power stations pump into the atmosphere each year. There is at least one study which looked into the disease-causing effects of the Ballylumford power station a few years ago on the basis of this. Spillages and accidents do not make the news, sure what’s a bit of an oil slick and fishkill these days. With nuclear energy, no waste gets pumped into the atmosphere or the water supply. A relatively small quantity of used nuclear material is left over. If we find out a good way to deal with that, we’ll have it nailed.

    If the Brits do decide to build more nuke plants, I implore them to keep them away from the Irish Sea coast. A cluster of cancer cases in Co.Louth since the 1951 Windscale accident gives further reason for concern about this.

    Modern nuclear power stations are safe; Sizewell A and B are built right next to a village on the coastline in southeast England and people there don’t complain much.

    Sellafield routinely discharges nuclear gunk into the sea, an outrageous activity which the Irish government are prosecuting the UK over in the European Court. Sellafield these days consists only of a reprocessing facility and a few defunct reactors – the whole place should be decommissioned. Unfortunately that is unlikely to happen except in the context of a renewed nuclear power building programme in the UK which will require nuclear engineering expertise.

    Is anyone tempted to just spend on the cheapest electricity eg. coal regardless of CO2 emissions, and spend the money saved on mitigating climate change?

    My grandfather died from a lung condition caused by the infamous London smog in the 1950s. Trust me, we do not want to go back to burning coal in significant quantities. It is no less of a killer than nuclear energy is.

    For the medium term, more use of local supply and research into superior technologies might bear fruit. But nuclear is an industry addicted to pollution and state subsidy. I say bin it…

    This is patent rubbish, as the record of nuclear power in France (83% nuclear), Canada and the USA shows.

    Looks like hydrogen cell technology is our only hope or it will be on your bike lads. The thought of cycling up the Antrim or Crumlin Road on a day like today fills me with dread. What a bleak future.

    The process of generating hydrogen is still expensive in terms of energy so that method is still some way off. We need to address the problem right now, and a sensible approach to nuclear energy will allow us to do that.

    The long term solution to our energy problems is to build nuclear fusion plants which essentially burn seawater to produce vast quantities of energy. That is how we will power our future, but it is a good 50 years away yet. In the meantime, we need to scale back on the CO2 and start cutting our energy consumption.

  • Brian Boru

    “Modern nuclear power stations are safe”

    Even if a jumbo-jet crashes into one, 911-style? 🙁

  • Crataegus

    For some comment on one of those safe modern nukes.
    http://www.nirs.org/reactorwatch/routinereleases/busbyonmillstone32001.htm The libraries are full of these depressing reads.
    There is also growing opinion that we inherit genetic flaws over many generations. So the great great great great grand children in Belarus and Ukraine will have increased levels of cancer.

  • Nestor Makhno

    Playing devil’s advocate here (I’m a nimby – I don’t want them building a small reactor in south Belfast) but is the fear of nuclear entirely justified?

    Take the Chernobyl accident (less an ‘accident’ than complete incompetence on the part of the operators).

    The number of deaths from the event was measured in the tens – not hundreds. (Ok, so that’s too many – but if a fireworks factory blew up they could be a similar scale of destruction.)

    Regarding follow on deaths from cancer. Again, there seems to be a misconception that thousands of people contracted horrible cancers and died. They didn’t – the average number of deaths from cancer rose almost inperceptibly – most of them from thyroid cancer – most of which could have been treated effectively if the Soviet Union’s health system hand been up to the job.

    Ok, any cancer is nasty – but other industries (even renewables) will have their statistical deaths (even if it’s engineers drowning while installing wave turbines).

    The long term statistical increase in deaths is a worry – but it doesn’t stop people driving cars (increased risk of cancer from petrol fumes) or using aspartame in their kids’ soft drinks (increased risk of brain tumours).

    The fear of radiation – because it’s weird, invisible and associated with weapons – is slightly irrational.

    Again – having said all of the above – still don’t want one on the Ormeau Road….

  • Crataegus

    Nestor

    There seems to be growing evidence that some cancer is caused by waste from power stations. If you go to the link in 22 above there is some information of a general nature.

    Dr Busby has done considerable work correlating types of cancer with types of emission. Some years ago I was at lecture in Wales given by this gentleman. It started in the usual tedious fashion with cluster diagrams but as the picture unfolded it became very unsettling in a way only scientists can be. Basically he was linking different types of cancer and other diseases with different types of waste and means of dispersal. One of the problems with cancer is that something that we do now may not kill someone for several decades and I think he proved cause and effect. Be in no doubt Chernobyl has killed and is continueing to kill a lot of people.

    Equally perturbing was Dr Busby’s assertion that what we regard as safe levels of radiation are totally unacceptable. He compared a cigarette burn with a bath of warm water. You get more heat from the second but the first does damage. Again I think he argued the point well.

    With regards cars the difference is if someone dies in a car accident the wreckage will not have the potential to kill for tens of thousands of years.

    I once thought nuclear was the way to go but now, given the track record of BNF I would err on the side of caution.

    The problem with statistics is saying only 1 in 10,000 does not sound like many, but if you or your son or your daughter are the 1 it is a different perspective. Itis 100%.

    The other problem is the potential for catastrophic failure and I know everyone says they are safe and I know if a dam fails people also die but we are human and mistakes do happen. The difference between a nuclear disaster and a flood is the time factor and the potential for wide dispersal of toxic material.