Monday, November 28, 2005

Global warming scuppers Blair?s nuclear power plans - [Sunday Herald]

Global warming scuppers Blair?s nuclear power plans - [Sunday Herald]

By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor

Prime Minister Tony Blair?s plans to build new nuclear power stations were thrown into doubt last night after a government agency warned that the preferred sites would be flooded or eroded by global warming.
This week, Blair will announce an energy review, which is expected to back up to 10 nuclear stations at existing sites around the UK coast, but a study by nuclear waste agency Nirex reveals that most of them are threatened by climate change.

If those sites are ruled out, reactors will have to be built inland on new, greenfield sites ? some in Scotland ? which will provoke a furious outcry.

The Nirex report, unearthed by the Sunday Herald, reveals that at least 11 of Britain?s preferred nuclear sites are so low-lying that they could be drowned or damaged by rising seas, causing radio active waste to leak.

?It may be superficially attractive to build new nuclear power stations at existing sites,? said Ian Jackson, a leading nuclear expert. ?But unless we are planning to put the reactors in submarines, it would be more sensible to find new sites inland.?

The sites at long-term risk include Hunterston in North Ayrshire and Dounreay in Caithness, as well as nine in England and Wales. Dounreay, where the cliff-face is being eroded by waves, had to be closed on Friday due to bad weather.

Two nuclear sites in England ? Bradwell in Essex and Berkeley in Gloucestershire ? are virtually at sea level. The Dungeness nuclear plant in Kent is only two to five metres above sea level and faces a ?very high? risk from beach erosion. The massive nuclear complex at Sellafield in Cumbria and the nearby radioactive waste dump at Drigg are also said to be highly vulnerable to coastal erosion.

The latest predictions suggest that the global warming caused by pollution will increase average sea levels around the UK by nearly half a metre by 2100. Within the next 50 years, the height of storm surges is likely to increase by up to 1.4 metres. The biggest danger is that ever-fiercer and more frequent storms will undermine nuclear sites, the Nirex report warns. ?Coastal erosion can be dramatic and may, for many, if not most sites, provide a far greater worry than sea level rise alone,? it concludes.

If the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets start melting away, as some experts now predict, sea levels could eventually increase by as much as 12 metres. The report points out there is even a risk of a tsunami, like that which hit northeast Scotland 7900 years ago.

The Nirex study, which was commissioned by the government?s Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, is based on research by the independent nuclear consultant, Mike Thorne. He argues that the government will now have to review its policy for siting new reactors.

?Our siting criteria are 50 years old,? he said. ?It would be imprudent to think that we could build new nuclear stations on the coastal sites of old stations without a full evaluation.?

Nearly all Britain?s nuclear stations have been built by the shore, so they could use sea water for cooling and as a sink for wastes. Initially, they were also sited in remote areas because of the risk of accidents. Some nuclear sites, such as Torness in East Lothian and Chapelcross in Dumfries and Galloway, are missing from Thorne?s study simply because he has no information on them. Whether or not they are at risk is still to be investigated.

Thorne favours a new nuclear programme, but points out that there may be problems winning public approval. ?There is a legacy of public distrust about nuclear power and any future programme will need detailed consultation with potentially affected communities,? he said.

Nuclear power is promoted by the industry as a way of combating climate change because it does not emit large amounts of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide. Blair has latched on to the idea to help reverse Britain?s poor record in cutting emissions, in advance of crucial United Nations climate talks, due to begin in Montreal tomorrow.

But environmental groups argue that a new nuclear programme wouldn?t be capable of preventing nuclear sites from being flooded. ?The contribution nuclear power could make to solving the climate-change problem is pathetically small, and it is probably the most expensive way of saving carbon dioxide,? said Pete Roche, a consultant to Greenpeace.

Friends of the Earth Scotland?s chief executive, Duncan McLaren, warns that current thinking on siting nuclear stations would be ?turned on its head? by the Nirex study. ?It looks very much as if sea-level rises induced by climate change will put paid to any revival of nuclear power?s fortunes in this country,? he said.

?If Tony Blair foolishly decides to back a return to nuclear power then it will spark a desperate scramble for new inland locations to site reactors. Almost anywhere in Scotland and the rest of the UK that?s a reasonable height above sea level will become a possible target for siting new nuclear facilities.?

27 November 2005


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