Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Power Cuts will be Labour's Failure

Until about six years ago, I was opposed to the development of new nuclear power generating capacity in Britain. And then I realised that my opposition was akin to the thinking of King Canute. Ironically, it was consideration of how to dispose of radioactive waste that led me to change my mind. We still have no firm proposals to dispose of the waste, but the study of the issue opened my eyes to the inevitable.

I was Chairman of the National Assembly's 'Environment Planning and Countryside Committee' at the time, and we were in discussion with the body established by the Westminster Government to examine the issue. The eventual conclusion was deep burial in a location where the locals would have been sufficiently 'compensated' to accept it. It was thought that it may take up to 40 years to find such a location, and that in the meantime, the waste would be stored temporarily above ground. Seemed to me that this was no answer at all. But during consideration of the issue, I learned a bit about the 'energy gap' that makes the lead story in today's Telegraph. As well as changing my attitude to nuclear power, it led me to support the construction of the LNG facilities at Milford Haven (in my constituency) and the associated pipeline.

What we are faced with (and comparatively soon) are power cuts. This has not happened since early 70s, when we were subject to the three-day week. For at least a decade, we have seen procrastination by Government on an epically irresponsible scale. Instead of tackling the contentious issue of nuclear power, or investing big in tidal and carbon capture research, the Labour Government has faffed around with onshore wind power, pretending to 'be doing something'. Regrettably, we now need real urgency (which brings with it an inevitable temptation to cut corners), and investment in keeping existing power stations operating longer than they should be. Because of our growing dependence on gas, we need to make huge investment in storage capacity, to try to limit our vulnerability to foreign powers which may see an apportunity to apply political pressure. Yet another poisoned baton to be handed over to the next government.


Anonymous said...

It's been on the cards for some time that the UK will face power cuts given the amount of electricity generating capacity that is scheduled to come off-line with inadequate replacement electricity generating capacity.

Some how the greens have convinced us that a few wind-turbines will fill the gap and we can sleep safe in the knowledge that there need not be power cuts.

Well, we are heading for black-outs unless we act quickly to build new plant.

This notion that we can extend the life-time of nuclear powered electricity generating plant is dangerous - the nuclear plant is getting old. New nuclear plant would be much safer than running old plant that is bound to be more prone to engineering failure given that metal becomes increasingly brittle and stress-cracks become more pronounced as the plant ages, particularly with respect to the materials closest to the nuclear rods. This plant should be shut down when it approaches the end of its predesignated design life and not extended, but this means new plant should be online to makeup for the old plant being taken permanently off-line. Simple math, but hey, our politicians believe they could trump engineering and science by insisting the plant can be run for longer than its designed life. This is DANGEROUS. I am for nuke power stations, but not extending the life of old nuke power stations, they SHOULD COME OFF LINE. If it means now that we have to face power-cuts then so be it. Better that than an old nuclear reactor core going into overload because of mechanical failure due to aging plant.

ROMAN JONES Esq. said...

I agree that we need to build new nuclear power stations as the only credible option in the short to medium term, hoping for some radical new vision (osmosis, fusion, super-algae etc) will save us in the long term (?). What I would propose however, is that the new site are built adjacent to existing old sites - thereby limiting the impact on further communities. Reprocessing is another option rather than burying near unsuspecting rural homes, in return for a few bribes.

Sir Watkin said...

"the thinking of King Canute"

Sorry to be pedantic, but Canute was a wise man; it was his courtiers who were at fault. When they told him he was so powerful that even the tide would obey him, Canute did not (foolishly) believe them, but (wisely) got his feet wet to demonstrate in the clearest possible way that their flattery was ridiculous.

TCOAH said...

Roman> what few people realize is that the 'center of the earth' is radioactive. That's why the earth still has active volcanoes, heat generated from trillions upon trillions of fission events (but not as a chain reaction) occur in the earth's core and the heat generated (yes, E=mc^2 applies) 'has no where to go' - e.g., is not radiated into space, so the heat leads to molten rock and pressure that powers the volcanoes and under-sea vents.

Lord Kelvin once made a famous error in calculating the age of the earth - he was not aware that the earth is radioactive and generating huge quantities of heat from nuclear fission events.

We sometimes get a 'whiff' of this issue if we live, for example, in an area with a radon gas issue and we don't ventilate, e.g., basements.

In fact, we rely very heavily on such radioactivity - because without it we would be somewhat like the moon, and the earth would have less surface area.

So, long half-life is not necessarily a bad thing - because if the earth's natural source of internal fission events had a short half-life, we would be living on a much colder planet, with a much lower population than we have now.

Unfortunately the public is easily taken in by the Greens. Not all radiation is evil, in fact our day to day lives would not exist but for the earth having its own version of a radio-active core. After all, where do we get uranium from? We dig it up from the earth! Yes, yes, I know, its a certain isotope of uranium we want.

Glyn Davies said...

Anon - Once I accepted that new nuclear generating capacity was inevitable, I was keen to get on with it. The threat of power cuts will lead to all sorts of chort cuts which may well be dangerous. Any extention to the planned life of existing nuclear reactors will have to satisfy safety authorities.

Roman - Taking Ynys Mon as an example, the case for building next to an existing reactor will be very attractive - and reprocessing will probably occur, but there will still be some waste even then.

Sir Watkin. Thanks. Not pedantic at all. Helpfully informative.

Huw Waters said...

How about a useful investment of money, not in tourism etc. but in the nuclear industry and technologies such as fat fission reactors. They don't produce as much money, but the method used to extract heat energy means that some of the nuclear material is 'burned' resulting in less waste, and waste with shorter half-lives. Of course this is what's known now, however some serious investment could result in a fine-tuning of this technology resulting in higher yields of energy for waste.


You must not neglect the cost of nuclear decommissioning which can be around 60 times the cost of the initial building cost of a nuclear reactor plant.

I would like to support such technologies but not sure if I trust the government enough. Is it unreasonable to suspect a coverup of a nuclear leak at Trawsfynydd?

On top of all this, in a lot of cases, investment in energy conservation has a greater result than building new turbines etc. All very well pushing for new power generating establishments, but shouldn't we address waste issues of which could resduce power consumption massively? On the topic of waste, what about Thames Water to who leak away 50% of the total drinking water in their system?

Tcoah said...

Huw> given the level of obscene prevarication by our Labour 'leaders' in London the UK doesn't have the luxury of breathing space to experiment with and develop fast fission reactors. We have to go with 'conventional' nuclear reactors already in wide use. India is not as stupid as the UK 'government', they have a massive investment in building nuke plant, likewise China.

France has a lot of its electricity generated using nuclear plant.

The UK is now at the point of no return, the UK is facing black-outs as old kit comes off-line without enough new kit coming on-line.

We listened to the Greens - the public was fooled by the Greens and the UK government failed to make the case for building replacement plant.

I wonder how long it will take for Brits to see the light (after they have been in the dark).