Hitachi- from the country that brought the world Fukushima

Hitachi- from the country that brought the world Fukushima
We feel very sad for the people of Japan who want to end nuclear energy whilst a potential new government and big business are desperate for it

No Fukushima at Oldbury

No to Fukushima at Shepperdine!

No to Fukushima at Shepperdine!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Article about SANE in new online magazine BS35

Nuclear Winter
Posted by David Price | Filed under Community News
A solitary figure looks out over the green fields of Shepperdine towards the grey waters of the Severn estuary taking in the view. Reg Illingworth is an ordinary guy about to contemplate semi-retirement and some travel or start a new business to replace the one he has sold. However what is out of the ordinary is his role in a truly David and Goliath struggle over the future of the fields he is looking out over.
For the last year Reg has been the unofficial chairman of a small, active and vocal campaign which is seeking to stop the development of a massive new nuclear power station on the banks of the Severn.
Reg is the leader of SANE – Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy which is a group of concerned local residents that are desperately trying to halt the development ambitions of Horizon Nuclear Power. Reg knows that this is an unequal and unfair battle because his informal collection of volunteers and amateurs is matched against the combined might of 2 German multi-national energy giants, E.ON and RWE N Power. These companies have a combined market capitalisation of over £120 billion and vast budgets to promote their scheme.
Horizon Nuclear is a British Joint Venture of these energy giants and has its headquarters in Barnwood on the outskirts of Gloucester. It was formed in 2009 to promote 2 schemes for new nuclear power stations; one on the coast at Wylfa on the island of Anglesey in north Wales, the other is at Oldbury on Severn.
The story starts in March 2009 when E.ON and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) nominated land at Oldbury on Severn as a suitable site on which to build a nuclear plant. The land was tendered for sale by the NDA and sold to Horizon. RWE is the lead partner in the promotion exercise at Wylfa and E.ON at Oldbury.
The scale of the project is difficult to comprehend and will literally dwarf the existing Oldbury power station which is due to finally stop generating power in June 2011. The existing Oldbury plant started producing power from the first of its two atomic reactors in 1967. It’s an early nuclear plant design known as the Magnox commissioned when the country was enthusiastic and optimistic about the future for nuclear power generation.
The Oldbury Magnox plant now produces 424 MW of electricity but was originally rated for 600 MW. Its capacity has been reduced due to the limits of safely cooling the reactor. The reactors at Oldbury have been cooled by water from the nearby Severn estuary, millions of gallons of it a day which are circulated through a complex system of pipes around the reactor’s casing to control its temperature. Its job completed the water is then returned to the estuary 4 degrees hotter that it entered the plant and cools within the purpose built lagoon to the surrounding water temperature.
Despite the size of the Severn estuary the problem for Horizon is that there is a finite amount of water that can be extracted for cooling a nuclear power plant. Unfortunately all that capacity has already been taken up by the existing Oldbury power station. This problem is acute in the Severn because it has the second highest tidal range in the world so an enormous artificial lagoon was built in the Severn in the 1960’s with the power station to provide a secure reservoir of water to keep the reactors cooled when the tide is out. The tidal range of the Severn does have its benefits as it creates the famous Severn bore on which the world record distance for surfing was recorded in 2009 at 7 miles.
E.ON accept the fact is that any new power station at Oldbury using direct water cooling cannot be any bigger than that of the existing Magnox plant without unacceptable environmental impact.
If the reactors are cooled by some other method it will inevitably involve the construction of cooling towers. Unsurprisingly the Environment Agency have advised that creating new water channels and bringing water from Avonmouth 10 miles to the south is not feasible.
Horizon is proposing a plant that would be not double or triple the size of the existing Oldbury plant but 8 times the size; either 3,200 or 3,300 MW depending on whether there are 2 or 3 reactors. It will occupy a site of over 370 acres and provide 6 % of the UK’s total electricity requirement. The industrial buildings will cover hundreds of thousands of square feet of space together with massive steel pylons, transformers and transmission cables.
A plant on this immense scale will inevitably change the character of the whole of the area, not just Shepperdine. Horizon has attracted a lot of attention because their scheme could involve the construction of 4 massive concrete cooling towers 200 metres high. These 660 feet high edifices would be of skyscraper dimensions and dwarf the existing the supports of the Severn Bridge which are only 445 feet tall. Horizon has conducted an exercise on the visual impact of these structures which would be visible from Tewkesbury 37 Miles to the north and Penarth 40 miles away on the South Wales coast.
In October 2010 Horizon announced that these naturally venting towers were not its preferred option for cooling the plant’s reactors. The company hasn’t actually dropped this option irrevocably so they are still a possibility, but Horizon is now pursuing a hybrid cooling tower design. These hybrid towers would be 70 metres high (230 feet) and more than 50 feet taller than the existing power station. These are fan assisted towers which draw vapour from the plant artificially. Whichever option is favoured the height of the cooling tower is only part of the visual impact on the area. This because the plume of steam leaving the cooling towers would be at least the same height again and potentially much more leaving a 24 hour a day vapour plume.
For almost a year Horizon argued that the 660 feet high cooling towers were the best technical solution. However they changed their position in the Autumn in what many see as a blatantly cynical public relations ploy to reduce public opposition to their scheme. Some like Reg believe Horizon never had any serious intention to pursue these 200 metre high monstrosities and just used this as PR manipulation exercise to give the impression that they have listened to public opinion and taken this on board. Reg does not believe this is a concession from Horizon as he points out that they haven’t abandoned this option, it’s just not the preferred option; but this could change…
Whilst a major issue Reg also believes that the cooling towers have been used calculatingly to distract the public’s attention from more detailed scrutiny of the rest of Horizon’s nuclear ambitions. As Reg points out if he wants to put a small conservatory on his house in Shepperdine he has to get planning permission from his local Authority and his neighbours have the right to comment and object. However South Gloucestershire Council, (which is officially objecting to Horizon’s plans), has no say in the decision to grant planning permission for a nuclear power station. Any application will be determined by a Government Quango, the Infrastructure Planning Commission, which itself is due to be abolished in 2011.
The coalition Government has made a big play of its localism agenda and devolving decision making down to local communities. But when it comes to the biggest and most controversial development in the County for 50 years we don’t get to decide. Yes there is consultation but DECC (the Department of Energy and Climate Change) don’t have to listen and at the moment they aren’t he says.
Reg and his colleagues from SANE have organised a concerted campaign of objection to Horizon’s scheme since it was first made public in November 2009. This has involved writing detailed responses to the thousands of pages of nuclear development planning documentation DECC has produced. He has also organised demonstrations outside DECC consultation events, public marches, TV, radio and press coverage to keep the issue in the public’s minds.
The statistics and scale of Horizon’s scheme are truly awe inspiring. At its peak there will be 6,200 construction workers on the site and the building work will continue for years as this is the largest building project in the South West. It will involve 1,500 lorry movements along country lanes every single day for 14 months. These are required to move over 9,000,000 tonnes of material to raise the level of the site to a suitable level to protect against flooding
One of the objections that has been raised is the location of the site in the flood plain as the consequences of a flooded reactor control room could be disastrous. The level of flood protection is already a contentious issue for housing as the Government doesn’t want to encourage the construction of new houses that are likely to flood. Any home built at Shepperdine would have to be built at a level that will be unaffected by exceptional flood events that occur every 100 years; the 100 year flood event.
Nuclear power plants are very much more sensitive buildings and so are protected for a 1 in 10,000 year event. 10,000 years incidentally is the last time we had an Ice Age so we are talking about monumentally long lengths of time that many argue are unknowable.
Another of the concerns shared by Reg, SANE and others is the storage of nuclear waste. If built the nuclear reactors will have an operational life of 60 – 80 years and will produce over 1,900 canisters of spent nuclear waste. This toxic material will have to be stored on the site for a long time as the nuclear site will exist for more than 160 years. When the plant reaches the end of its operational life it will have to be decommissioned and the waste either stored or reprocessed. For decades successive British Governments have failed to make any progress on the creation of a national secure long term storage facility. Until a store is built, and no one knows if or when this will be, nuclear waste will have to be stored on site. This is in addition to that spent fuel already stored at Oldbury from over 40 years of nuclear fusion at the MAGNOX plant.
Professor Gareth Williams, a Bristol University medical expert at the faculty of Medicine and Dentistry has made a simple analysis of the implications if EDF at Hinckley in Somerset and Horizon’s nuclear plans are approved. “It would create the most intensive concentration of nuclear power plants on the planet !” Should we be concerned ? “Absolutely” he explains. One would expect this honour to rest with one of the remote parts of the former Russian empire or perhaps a rapidly growing part of a province in China. But no. If Hinckley and Oldbury were built this part of the West Country would be planet earth’s ground zero for nuclear power.
Does this pose an increased risk to human health in the area? Research is always being completed but applying the simple precautionary principle the answer has got to be yes. More nuclear power stations will present a greater risk to human health and well being than cows grazing in green fields. And don’t forget that there is also a former nuclear plant 6 miles up the road at Berkeley that is being decommissioned.
Reg reels off a list of more than a dozen objections that have been made by SANE and others to DECC against the development of Oldbury. Deployability by 2025, proximity to populated areas, flooding in Zone 3, coastal erosion, effect on internationally designated sites of ecological importance, impact on nationally designated sites of ecological importance, adverse effects on areas of amenity, cultural heritage and landscape value, inadequate access to suitable sources of direct cooling, inappropriate ground conditions for building, scale and size of plant, the use of new and untried reactor designs, major visual impact, effect on the marine environment, significant congestion and environmental impact during the construction process.
All valid reasons. Worryingly for Reg however the Government doesn’t agree. In February 2010 DECC undertook a public consultation exercise seeking comments on its snappily titled draft National Policy Statement for Nuclear Power Generation. They received over 50,000 replies the majority raising concerns and objections to 11 selected sites for proposed nuclear development. DECC then revised its thousands of pages of consultation documents and sought further comments.
The closing date for these further comments and objections is 24 th January 2011 and Reg is keen that everyone who is unhappy with the plans expresses their objections in writing or by email to DECC.
DECC responded on the suitability of Oldbury and 10 other sites around the country for nuclear installations. Whilst the Government has recommended that 3 of the 11 sites are dropped off the preferred list of suitable locations, it still believes that Oldbury is suitable. Of the 3 sites that were dropped all were rejected on environmental grounds that apply equally to Oldbury. Despite the support of Dr Steve Webb, MP for the area and Matthew Riddle, the Government is unmoved by the breadth depth and number of objections to Oldbury and Horizon. That’s not to say that consent will ultimately be granted but it is a major blow for Reg, SANE and other concerned residents.
He finds the response and official justification unacceptable, unreasonable and illogical. It doesn’t seem to matter what valid objections and rational concerns we put forward they are all swept away. DECC believes that they are all the objections are capable of remediation or are justified in the national interest. The are just not listening and the impression we get from their formal response is they are determined to designate Oldbury whatever we say. So much for consultation, it’s just a token PR exercise as they have made their decision and they’re ignoring local opinion.
We have until 24th January 2011 to get people to make their views, concerns and objections known to DECC and our MP to reflect the depth of genuine local disquiet. We have had a public meeting on 27th November where we invited leading independent experts to explain what the nuclear industry prefers to keep quiet and it only confirmed our fears. There is to be a joint DECC and South Gloucestershire Council public meeting at the Leisure Centre on Thursday 16th December at which DECC will consult once again. SANE is going to organise a major letter writing exercise to demonstrate the depth of feeling and the numbers of locals who are unhappy.
So what of Horizon’s plans and what are the advantages of nuclear power that they are extolling. They argue that nuclear will be producing clean electricity and creating about 800 permanent skilled jobs and 6,200 temporary construction jobs. However on other parts of the plan they are worryingly vague. They haven’t chosen a reactor design yet and of the 2 which are being built in France and Finland both are over budget and behind schedule. They also have no staff on the payroll that have either built or operated a nuclear power plant, which seems a revelatory admission for a prospective operator of a complicated nuclear operation.
Reg is sceptical of Horizon’s claim to generate clean electricity. He points to earlier studies of the Severn estuary where increased concentrations of tritium have been detected in marine life. Also the raw material of nuclear power is uranium, mined around the globe, imported and processed which in itself creates carbon emissions, not least from its transportation. He points out that the by-product of the process is nuclear waste some of which will have to be stored on site for decades if not hundreds of years. This is not the clean image Horizon wishes to portray but an annoying detail they would rather skate over.
Though they will not admit it the nuclear industry has been lobbying hard for what they argue is a level playing field with renewable sources of energy. The development and take up of renewable non polluting energies such as wind, solar, wave and tidal have been encouraged by the Government with financial subsidies. There has been no subsidies for the nuclear industry which had been expected by the Government to be delivered by the free market private sector without assistance from the taxpayer or energy consumer. However the Government has done a U Turn and in October 2010 Chris Huhne announced that in future the Government was now not ruling out financial assistance for nuclear power stations.
Reg is unhappy that a scheme being developed by a private sector foreign multinational company (over which he has no control), is promoting a scheme (over which he can have no democratic say because it is being decided by a Government Quango) is likely to receive financial assistance from him whether he likes it or not.
Horizon have argued that we need new nuclear plants like Oldbury to fill the energy gap caused by the shut down of old traditional coal burning power stations from 2015 onwards. Otherwise the lights will go out. Even if we accept that there is an energy gap, which incidentally many experts do not, Oldbury is not currently envisaged to produce any power until 2025. Which is a decade too late to make a difference. So if it’s not going to deliver the power we allegedly need, when we require it, its very reason for existence is fatally flawed.
The problem is that the lead in time to develop a new nuclear power station is more than a decade due to its inherent complication and public sensitivity. And this assumes that the plant can be built on budget and on schedule. Given that these are new untested and untried new reactor designs, this is highly optimistic.
Reg is disappointed that DECC did not accept his objections and those of SANE and others but he is undaunted. This is a marathon not a sprint and we are determined to fight on and battle Horizon every inch of the way and every detail of their proposals. This is a very complicated process and is already the subject of change. The more we make it difficult for Horizon and slow up the process the more it will cost them and the less viable the exercise will be. After all Horizon is a private sector business like any other, they need to make a profit, they just happen to be in the business of making a profit from nuclear power. Despite what Horizon may say everyone Reg talks to either objects to the scheme or has grave concerns so he is confident that the community support his view, not Horizon’s.
Reg is in a modern day David and Goliath tussle with a multi national foreign giant which has the advantage of all the PR and media resources money can buy; and they have a budget of millions of pounds to spend. However the British have always admired and supported the under dog so he has a chance to pull off a change of mind. He knows he is in an unequal struggle with just a small group of volunteers and amateurs to help him but accepts that’s his role.
“We are a group of concerned community minded locals up against professionals who can lobby at the highest levels” he says. “But we can’t let Horizon wreck our community; remember it’s not just our generation we’re fighting for but our children, grandchildren and their grandchildren. We just want to keep this part of England green fields and free of a concrete health hazard, what’s wrong with that?”
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