Friday, January 26, 2007

Nuclear power stations are at risk from rising sea levels - official

The Low Carbon Kid has always worried about the effect of global warming's projected sea level rises on nuclear power locations, which are often by the sea for remoteness and access to cooling water.

In the past, it has been impossible to get official reactions.

But now we have one, from the most reliable of sources - the weather men.

The Met Office officially acknowledge that rising sea-levels, increased wave height and increased storm surge height must all be considered in the planning of the UK's future nuclear stations.

Their report was commissioned by the debt-ridden nuclear power company British Energy. It concludes future power plants will need to be further inland and may need added protection.

The government is likely to release its criteria for possible sites in March.

Flood risk

At Sizewell in Suffolk, for example, site of Britain's most modern reactor, the prediction is for the most severe storm surges to be 1.7 metres higher in 2080 than at present. But that's only if the Greenland ice sheet doesn't melt. If it does, much of it will be underwater.

At Dungeness in Kent, the storm surge increase could be up to 0.9 metres. Already this plant, which is sited on land only two metres above sea-level, is protected by a massive wall of shingle which needs constant maintenance in the winter. Waves erode so much of it that it needs to be topped up constantly with 600 tons of shingle every day.

Met Office researcher Rob Harrison told the BBC, "very large potential changes are in prospect; what we're trying to do is avoid a catastrophic effect.

The rise in storm surge heights will be most extreme along the coast of south-east England.

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Gerry Wolff said...

Regarding "Nuclear power stations are at risk from rising sea levels - official" (2007-01-26), there really is no need for nuclear power in the UK or elsewhere in Europe because there is a simple mature technology available that can deliver huge amounts of clean energy without any of the headaches of nuclear power.

I refer to 'concentrating solar power' (CSP), the technique of concentrating sunlight using mirrors to create heat, and then using the heat to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days. This technology has been generating electricity successfully in California since 1985 and half a million Californians currently get their electricity from this source. CSP plants are now being planned or built in many parts of the world.

CSP works best in hot deserts and, of course, there are not many of these in Europe! But it is feasible and economic to transmit solar electricity over very long distances using highly-efficient 'HVDC' transmission lines. With transmission losses at about 3% per 1000 km, solar electricity may, for example, be transmitted from North Africa to Manchester with only about 10% loss of power. A large-scale HVDC transmission grid has also been proposed by the wind energy company Airtricity as a means of optimising the use of wind power throughout Europe.

In the recent 'TRANS-CSP' report commissioned by the German government, it is estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. That report shows in great detail how Europe can meet all its needs for electricity, make deep cuts in CO2 emissions, and phase out nuclear power at the same time.

Further information about CSP may be found at and . Copies of the TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from . The many problems associated with nuclear power are summarised at .

David T said...

You have a good point. Solar Paces website is another god resource on this topic. I have in the past suggested that if we wanted to call Iran's bluff on it's "We only want nuclear power for the elctricity" line, it would be cheaper to giveIran a CSV plant than attempt a hostile action.

Over here we call them solar thermal power plants, utilising parabolic mirrors which track the sun. They are a relatively old technology but also relatively untested.

The first European solar thermal power plant is to be built in Spain, and will also test the new high temperature thermal storage system (molten salt) which you mention, to extend the daily electricity generation to over 12 hours in winter and up to 20 hours in summer.

It will have a net capacity of 50 MWe and be located 60 km from Granada in southern Spain.

The project supports Spain’s policy to develop 200 MWe of solar thermal generation capacity, an objective likely soon to be significantly increased. Among the solar thermal facilities already operating there is an 11-megawatt "power tower" in Seville. Unlike the parabolic trough system, power towers stand in the middle of an array of mirrors to receive all the reflected sunlight at once.

I think it unlikely that this technology alone will power the whole of Europe however. Marine current technology, marine turbines, offshore windfarms, and solar PV are all going tobcome equally important.