Monday, March 13, 2006

Jack Straw refuses to deny a new Trident is being built

Congratulations to Radio 4's Today programme for this morning's questioning of Jack Straw, where under pressure he refused to categorically deny that the British Government is not actively developing a new generation of Trident missiles.

It's shame they did not pursue this, and the Low Carbon Koid urges them to do so in future.

I have a suspicion that it is no coincidence that the government is to decide in this parliament whether to replace Britain’s Trident submarine, missile and warhead system, at the same time as deciding on whether to green light a new generation of nuclear power stations. New missiles will require a new supply of plutonum for the warheads, which requires a reprocessing chain.

Bush is also planning a new generation of Trident, and on Feb 27, U.S. and British government scientists performed an underground nuclear experiment, short of a nuclear blast at the Nevada Test Site.

£1bn has been invested at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston and Burghfield, "to keep safe the existing Trident warhead stockpile". The Royal Navy announced in January that it is spending £125 million upgrading the Faslane naval base on the River Clyde in Scotland, where Trident subs are kept.

Bear in mind that 1/4 of all nuclear waste in this country (which would cost each taxpayer £1000 to render safe at current estimates) is from nuclear weapons.

It has been estimated that any replacement for Trident would cost in excess of £15 billion.

The pertinent questions are:

  1. Why is all this going on if the decision hasn't already been made?
  2. What is the connection between the nuclear reprocessing chain and new Trident missiles?
  3. Where would the plutonium come from?
  4. Why are questions about this not being asked in the context of the energy review?
I think we should be told.

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ;

Friday, March 10, 2006

How much will new nuclear power plants cost?

Nuclear advocates are saying that nuclear power is economic and cost-effective. But should we believe them?

The following is a digested summary of a paper by Steve Thomas of Greenwich University, from "Nuclear Power – Myth and Reality": a series of issue papers offered by Heinrich Böll Foundation.

The nuclear industry is notoriously secretive and has been highly 'economic with the truth' in the past. So when it says new nuclear power is cost-effective, how should we evaluate their figures?

Untested processes

Many of the industry's forecasts' assumptions relate to processes which have not been proven on a commercial scale, such as decommissioning and waste disposal, especially for long-lived low-, intermediate-, and high-level waste. All experience of nuclear power suggests that unproven processes could easily cost much more than expected.

There is also a lack of reliable, up-to-date data on actual nuclear plants. Utilities are notoriously secretive about their costs and there's only been a handful of recent orders in Western Europe and none in North America. All the modern designs are therefore more or less untested.

Gaps between forecasting and reality

Over the past 40 years, there has consistently been a wide gap between the performance of nuclear plants and the forecasts made for them before they were built.

This gap is as wide as ever between current forecasts of the economic performance of the next generation of nuclear power plants and that of the existing plants.

This does suggest that forecasts relying on major improvements in performance should be treated with scepticism.

The most important assumptions are on construction cost, operating performance, running costs, and the cost of capital/discount rate.

Cutting costs means cutting quality

The conventional wisdom in the industry has been that construction costs must be about $1,000/kW for nuclear to be competitive with combined cycle gas-fired generation (which costs about $500/kW). Even the most optimistic forecasts are nowhere near $1,000/kW.

But many are around $2,000/kW. The rise in gas prices in the past couple of years, if sustained, will make nuclear seem a bit more competitive but probably not enough to pay for a doubling of expected nuclear construction cost.

There's therefore the risk that companies will try to cut costs through measures that in the long run will prove unwise.

In the 1960s when the economics of nuclear power were found to be worse than forecast, cuts were made on materials and by rapid scaling-up. This made things worse in the long run.

For example, steam generators in PWRs had to be replaced at great expense and requiring a shutdown of about a year, sometimes after only fifteen years,
because the material used was not durable enough.

Optimistic load forecasts

Of the current forecasts, the one that appears to be based on an actual contract cost, the Lappeenranta study, uses a significantly higher construction cost forecast. But the bid which is the basis for the study, Olkiluoto, was below the economic price.

Operating performance forecasts typically suggest load factors of 90 percent. But this is far above the level achieved so far and achieved only by the most reliable plants.

Cost of capital

The most difficult assumption is the cost of capital. In some cases, the assumptions would only be credible if the owners of the plant were allowed full cost recovery.

This is almost inconceivable in the current competitive market. So subsidies by taxpayers or consumers would be needed.

Falling foul of state aid laws

It is questionable whether this would be politically viable or acceptable under European Union state aid laws.

Therefore a discount of at least 15 percent is likely to be imposed, resulting in generation costs of at least 4p/kWh.

So, for new nuclear power plants to be built, extensive government guarantees and subsidies would be required, for:
  1. construction
  2. operating performance
  3. non-fuel operations and maintenance
  4. nuclear fuel
  5. decommissioning
There might also need to be agreements that the output would be bought at a guaranteed price. It seems doubtful that such an extensive package of 'state
aids' would be acceptable under EU competition law.

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ;

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Offshore wind cost one tenth of carbon capture gas plant

Energy groups Statoil and Shell have announced plans for a project which would capture CO2 from a huge, 860-megawatt gas-fired power plant in west Norway. This would cost nearly ten times more than an offshore wind farm.

The CO2 would be piped to Shell's Draugen oilfield off Norway and injected into subsea reservoirs, to force oil to the surface.

They estimate that the plan, which could bury 2-2.5 million tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide a year, would cost $1.19-$1.49 billion. Building the power plant would cost half, and the CO2 capture system and pipelines half.

They say it would need substantial gorvernment financial help.

For comparison, North Hoyle 80MW wind farm, off the north coast of Wales, cost $117m.

That's a cost per kilowatt installed of $17441, compared to $1940.

The Low Carbon Kid says; why bother, oil junkies? Build wind, the no-fuel power source!

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ;

Chernobyl Report misses many deaths

A report for the UN, ‘Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts,’ produced 20 years on the accident by the Chernobyl Forum, involving over 100 experts from eight UN agencies including the WHO and the governments of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, claims 4,000 deaths will probably ultimately be attributable to the accident in April 1986.

It is much fewer than some previous estimates.

Greenpeace International said that the ‘headline’ conclusions in a summary by the International Atomic Energy Agency (one of the Forum), were not substantiated by the full report, which they says contradicts them. "Often research has been omitted and where scientific uncertainty exists, the conclusion is simply that there is no impact. A more careful reading of the 600-page report, as well as previously published research by UN-bodies, leads to very different conclusions." They point out that:
  • WHO refers to a study on 72,000 Russian workers of whom 212 died as the result of radiation. In fact, the total number of ‘liquidators’ (in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine) is estimated at some 600,000

  • The 4,000 deaths only relates to a studied population of 600,000 in the Chernobyl region, whereas radiation spread over most of Europe.

The IAEA tries to make strict distinction between health impacts attributable to radiation and health impacts attributable to stress, social situation etc. But WHO refers to numerous reports which indicate an impact of radiation on the immune system, causing a wide range of health effects.

Greenpeace says an approach based on epidemiology can become very problematic when expanded to cover the whole of Europe. They have more confidence in an approach which assumes that there is a linear relationship between radiation dose and effect, without a threshold, which means that even a very low dose can still produce significant impacts. They claim that, for Chernobyl ‘this leads to estimates in the range of 10 to hundreds of thousands of casualties'.

Dr Rosalie Bertell (WISE Nuclear Monitor 634 noted that, in any case, it wasn’t just deaths, but also major illnesses that worried people.

The Children of Chernobyl charity said they put more reliance on ‘the senior doctors in charge of the hospitals closest to the accident’ who were ‘reporting increased rates of bowel and breast cancer and an increasing rate of spontaneous abortions,’ and ‘the findings of the Clinical Institute of Radiation Medicine in Minsk, which show that the cancer rate has risen in Belarus by 40 % between 1990 and 2000. In the highly contaminated Gomel region, this figure is 55%’.

As the 20th anniversary of the accident approaches, let's see more awareness of the awful legacy of the worst accident in the world, a nuclear accident, and hope this eventually leads to an end to nuclear power in Europe.

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ;

Monday, March 06, 2006

Sustainable Development Commission's five major disadvantages to nuclear power

Nuclear power is not the answer to tackling climate change or security of supply, according to the Sustainable Development Commission, which the government set up to keep an eye on its sustainability performance.

Based on eight new research papers, the SDC report gives a balanced examination of the pros and cons of nuclear power and confirms what the Low Carbon Kid has been saying all along.

It identifies five major disadvantages to nuclear power:
  1. Long-term waste - no long term solutions are yet available, let alone acceptable to the general public; it is impossible to guarantee safety over the long-term disposal of waste.
  2. Cost - the economics of nuclear new-build are highly uncertain. There is little, if any, justification for public subsidy, but if estimated costs escalate, there's a clear risk that the taxpayer will be have to pick up the tab.
  3. Inflexibility - nuclear would lock the UK into a centralised distribution system for the next 50 years, at exactly the time when opportunities for micro-generation and local distribution network are stronger than ever.
  4. Undermining energy efficiency - a new nuclear programme would give out the wrong signal to consumers and businesses, implying that a major technological fix is all that's required, weakening the urgent action needed on energy efficiency.
  5. International security - if the UK brings forward a new nuclear power programme, legally we cannot deny other countries the same technology (Under the terms of the Framework Convention on Climate Change). With lower safety standards, they run higher risks of accidents, radiation exposure, proliferation and terrorist attacks.

On balance, the SDC finds that these problems outweigh the advantages of nuclear.

>> Sustainable Development Commission

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ; ;

Scots favour renewables, but it depends how you ask

Over half of Scots still oppose new nuclear power stations despite Labour voting for nuclear and the nuclear industry's massive misinformation campaign.

A BBC poll result shows that the wool cannot be pulled over their eyes.

But it also shows it depends how the question is asked. 52% said renewable energy sources were their the "preferred method of meeting future energy demands in Scotland"; 21% preferred gas, 15% nuclear and 6% coal.

When asked if they would support or oppose nuclear power stations in Scotland, 51% were against and 33% in favour.

But if asked if they would support or oppose new nuclear power stations if they helped Scotland to avoid becoming dependent on imported energy, 54% were in favour of nuclear and 34% against.

The Low Carbon Kid has been listening to a lot of radio coverage of the debate. BBC reporters talking to locals about their opinions, on, say, windfarms. The questions are almost always couched in terms which ignore the wider impacts of choosing nuclear power.

For instance, this morning's Today programme talked to wind farm opponents in Essex. They complained about the visual impact of the wind farms compared to nuclear power stations, and at no point did the interviewer raise other issues, such as security, nuclear proliferation, etc.

How would poll respondees respond if asked "Do you want nuclear power if it means a more unstable world?"

The re-nuclearisation of the world

Last week, Bush and Chirac promised India support for a new generation of nuclear power stations, and Bush did the same for Pakistan. Neither country has signed the non-proliferation treaty. Come to that, neither has Israel. China is scheduled to buold 20 new nuclear plants and the US wants some of that action too.

France and the US are rubbing their hands at the idea of the lucrative contracts that will ensue. Blair no doubt also sees lots of export potential if the UK goes for nuclear and sends this green-for-nuclear-go signal to the world.

But we are seeing in Iran how a country can become an 'enemy' and their nuclear status lead to international insecurity. Chavez - the progressive left wing leader of Venezuala, whom the US would love to despatch so they can have better acccess to Venezuala's oil, is supporting Iran's stance, despite Iran's appalling human rights record and treatment of women, because they share the same enemy.

New power lines are being drawn as we shift into a world where more and more countries want what only the west has previously had, and, in the struggle for increasingly more scarce resources, nuclear weapons will at the present rate, now inevitably play a part.

It seems a shame that the world is forgetting the horrors of the Cold War with its 'Mutually Assured Destruction' and the constant threat of the end of the world. We nearly kissed nuclear power goodbye. Now it is on the ascendant again, and its biggest friend - as a trojan horse driven into the enemy camp - has been and still is, climate change.

Its second biggest friend here in the UK is so-called 'energy security'. I know which kind of security I would prefer if given the choice between so-called 'energy security' and political/military security.

Maybe that's a question the pollsters should ask the people.

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ; ;

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The problem is the government

The Government has rejected plans to build what would have been England’s largest windfarm at Whinash in Cumbria.

“Any Government that wants to expand airports and turn down windfarms is simply not fit to Govern. It’s hard to believe that the nuclear industry has not played some role in this.." said, in response, Stephen Tindale, Executive Director of Greenpeace.

“Climate change will ravage beautiful areas like the Lake District. I hope those responsible will be willing to explain to future generations how they played their part in allowing the savage grip of global warming to trash the countryside and claim hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The BWEA has put on a slightly braver face: BWEA's Chief Executive Marcus Rand commented: "While this is clearly disappointing news it is still only one project and many more projects onshore wind projects are being built throughout the UK. BWEA is confident that onshore wind energy will remain the mainstay of renewable energy delivery over the coming years. This year a record number of onshore wind projects will be built, totalling over 600 MW of capacity and we believe at least 5% of the nation's power will be met from onshore wind projects by 2010."

The Whinash wind farm could have potentially met one-third of the renewables target for the Cumbrian region alone, providing clean green electricity for over 45,000 homes and displacing the emission of up to 180,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

With a government attitude like this, it's not surprising that nuclear power will "have to be used to meet the energy gap and fight climate change".

Short sighted industry needs to think again about nuclear power

It would seem the UK Energy Review is a done deal but it's still early days.

Yesterday the TUC and the CBI issued calls for more nuclear power as part of an overall energy supply mix.

"It is hard to see how the government can maintain its veto on nuclear new build," said John Cridland, deputy director general of the Confederation of British Industry.

Brendan Barber, head of the Trades Union Congress, said "There is a role for nuclear power as part of a balanced energy policy."

Both organisations are naturally concerned at the prospect of possible power cuts.

The government also seems bent on giving the green light to the nuclear industry.

But the review deadline is not until April 12. Everyone must respond to it if they can, because it is such a fundamental issue. Use the link on the right, and, as the Low Carbon Kid sees it, these are the main points:
  1. Nuclear power won't come on stream till the early 'teenies - too late to avoid the shortages the CBI and TUC worried about
  2. Nuclear power is NOT sustainable, but uses carbon in the supply chain and the supplies of raw uranium will run out approximately at the same time the oil does too
  3. Renewable energies, 'clean coal', oil-and-gas with carbon sequestering, and energy efficiency will create far more British jobs per pound invested and per megawatt than nuclear power, which should concern the TUC
  4. These industries, and especially the renewable industries, can be a lasting exportable and foreign-exhange-earning asset to the country, while nuclear power will only last for around 50 years
  5. They do not have any security risks associated with them, nor are they linked to nuclear weapons, as the waste reprocessing chain is
  6. This means there are far fewer external costs - such as waste reprocessing, policing a world scattered with new nuclear power stations and weapons, and securing the supply chain and our power stations
  7. Investment of a scale needed for new nuclear power, invested instead in renewables and energy efficiency, will meet the energy gap despite the unknowns, because the technology, for example of marine energy and heat pumps, is not exactly a blank slate, and where there is a will there is a way (think of the race to put a man on the moon)
  8. People want renewables and there will be no public opposition, whereas there will inevitably be anti-nuclear campaigns which will need costly policing
  9. This, together with the centralised nature of nuclear power and its security risks, implies a more centralised, policed state than does a society based on decentralised renewable energies and 'clean fossil fuel'
  10. The nuclear industry is not to be trusted - it has been economical with the truth before and is certainly being now, not just about safety, but the economics too - and the taxpayers would be left to pick up the bill.

So it's a wider question than simple energy security and price. What kind of society and world do we want to live in, and how far ahead are we looking?

Nuclear power seems to some to be a quick, easy, sexy fix. Look closer at the implications and you'll see how unpleasant it would be.

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ; ;

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

UK - nuclear weapons waste dump with taxpayers footing the bill

In the debate over the energy policy, people are forgetting the link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. In fact, Britain is a dump site for waste from weapons all over the world, and taxpayers are footing the bill.

Over 30,000 tonnes of radioactive waste, including 25,000 tonnes of low level waste at Sellafield, has been created from the reprocessing of spent fuel in Britain since 1976.

This is one-quarter of all radioactive waste.

It makes a mockery of security policies for us to continue down this route.

Yet at the same time, despite the fact that radioactive waste in itself is not allowed to be imported, none of this is yet to be returned back to its country of origin.

This is more than 5% of the high and intermediate radioactive waste stored in Britain, and 25% of all radioactive waste.

DEFRA today publishes proposals for the long-term management of solid low-level radioactive waste in the UK. Please respond.

But how much waste has the UK created from reprocessing since 1976?

Parliamentary Questions

Norman Baker: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will list the countries from which (a) radioactive waste and (b) spent fuel has been received but not yet returned; and what the (i) radioactivity level and (ii) quantity held is in each case. [46037 1 Feb 2006 : Column 552W of Hansards]

Malcolm Wicks [holding answer 26 January 2006]: The UK does not allow the import of radioactive waste, but overseas spent fuel is received in the UK for reprocessing.

The detail of this, revealing the link between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, is:


Spent fuel has been received for reprocessing at Sellafield from these countries: Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Netherlands. To date no waste as a result of reprocessing has been returned overseas.

Details of fuel deliveries and the programming of reprocessing of customer's fuel are operational and commercial matters for British Nuclear Group and its customers, but the total amount of foreign spent fuel to be reprocessed under new reprocessing contracts signed since 1976 is around 4,500 tonnes, which will result in 400, 5,000 and 25,000 cubic metres of High, Intermediate and Low Level Waste respectively.

Non-Sellafield sources

Countries from which spent fuel has been received but not yet returned (amounts in Kg of HM):

Belgium: 13.9
Denmark: 54.3
France: 115.8
Germany: 582.6
Holland: 5.9
Georgia: 4.4

[This is despite the fact that waste return clauses are in force for the above material, excluding Georgia.]

Morley said it is not possible to give current radioactivity levels for this material as the levels on receipt would be considerably different from those today. To attempt to calculate notional radioactivity levels from the above weights could give an erroneous result.

Morley continued: "The total cost of operating, cleaning up and decommissioning the UK's publicly-owned civil nuclear sites, for which the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) has been given responsibility, is currently estimated at £56 billion. This figure includes the costs of interim management of waste arising from decommissioning and clean-up activity." (Hansards 2 Feb 2006 : Column 624W)

The Low Carbon Kid demands to know:

Why do we the taxpayers have to pay this?

Why is the waste not returned to sender?

Technorati Tags: ; ; ; ;

French farmers jump on biofuel bandwagon

France has announced it is launching a tender for 1.1 million tonnes of biofuel capacity by the end of the year, comprising 950,000 tonnes biodiesel and 150,000 tonnes ethanol.

It already has a target that green fuels account for 5.75 percent of all fuels by 2008, bringing forward an EU target date of 2010.

France, the farmers' friend, loves biofuels because they protect the rural economies and excuse or supplant (sorry!) the massive CAP subsidies.

With the new tender France would produce 4.3 million tonnes - 7 percent - by end of 2010. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin intends to reach 10 percent by end of 2015.

"By 2008 we will plant 1.5-1.6 million hectares of rapeseed and 600,000 to 700,000 hectares of sunflowerseed. Of this one million hectares will be used for biodiesel," said Diester Industries President Philippe Tillous-Borde.

But, how will it be grown? Is it organic, or will there be tonnes of pesticide and fertiliser used?

The Low Carbon Kid, once passed through mile after mile of sunflower plantations in France, to stay on an organic smallholding surrounded by these plantations. It felt like a lush oasis in the middle of a desert.

The sunflower is a symbol for happiness and green, natural living, frequently found on merchandise and public relations bumpf. But when you're stuck in the middle of an intensively farmed monoculture those heads seem to sport fixed, deranged grins rather than happy smiles.

It's a tough choice. Business wants profits, but if we are serious about the environment, we must choose not only biofuels, but low-impact, ecologically sustainable agriculture, even if this is reflected in the price we pay.

Technorati Tags: ; ; ;