Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear Power’

DANGER: NUCLEAR WASTE STORAGE

In A.Graham on April 24, 2017 at 11:51 am

According to the latest newsletter from “STAND” (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development) the threat from nuclear waste being stored at the old Berkeley Nuclear plant is increasing ominously.

After the plant ceased producing power it remained operational as a nuclear waste storage facility. The original planning application was for a “Low Level” waste store, confined simply to waste from the Berkeley plant itself. But now, according to STAND, it holds the far more dangerous “intermediate level” waste from such nuclear power plants as Oldbury, Sizewell and Dungeness – as well as Berkeley itself.

This is despite the fact that those who live in the vicinity were assured that it would never happen!

2007_fire at Oldbury nuke power station

Across the Severn – and on fire.

 

Initially the nuclear waste was stored using ductile cast iron containers – but these are now to be replaced by concrete, on the grounds of cost. How safe this will be in the long term remains to be seen. Concrete, of course, does corrode over time (as of course does cast iron).

All this is at present “work in progress” and may not be complete until well into 2018. Meanwhile, Coun. James Greenwood has been asking whether there would be any public consultation on the plans.  He was told that there was “no need” (after all, it would only frighten the natives!).

THREATS:

It might be that local inhabitants have good reason to be apprehensive.  Back in 2005 the Government’s own nuclear watchdog, Nirex, produced an official report which stated that the Berkeley site was unsuitable for nuclear waste storage. The dangers posed by this site on the Severn included tidal flooding and the threat of storm surges.

Meanwhile it has taken five years to remove waste from the bottom of the chambers on the site. We’re talking about highly radioactive sludge here.

The danger of accidents at nuclear power plants is of course an ever-present threat. It may not seem many, but there have been four critical disasters since the nuclear age began – and that’s four too many. The problem of storing radioactive nuclear waste is more of a long-term threat. It’s like a ticking time bomb.

WHAT ABOUT OLDBURY?

Meanwhile, what’s happening on the Oldbury site?  There has been no news from the developers, Horizon, for some time, despite attempts by STAND to contact them.

According to the latest STAND newsletter, the questions that need answering include:  How many cooling towers will be included in the plans?  Do they still intend to build up a base seven metres above the river level before they begin work on the plant?  How will they bring all the concrete in before the work starts?

And, last but not least, when do they expect to start producing electricity?

To date there has been no response to these questions. Meanwhile for further details, go to STAND’s website: www.standagainstoldbury.org


NUCLEAR ENDPIECE: MAY’S TRIDENT COVER UP

Towards the end of January (as this issue of the Clarion was being prepared), the media dropped a bombshell. In the summer of 2016, just before the crucial vote of whether to renew our Trident system, a missile had gone off course and ended up off the Florida coast.

Theresa May chose to bury the news. She said nothing about it during that heated debate in the Commons. The Labour Party split on the vote to renew our fleet of Trident nuclear submarines and the decision to renew the fleet was passed overwhelmingly.

If it had been known then that a test missile had been fired and gone careering  off in the wrong direction, ending up near the coast of the USA, maybe, just maybe, the result of the vote might have been different. But that, of course, is now water under the bridge.

Incidentally, the Trident nuclear warheads are supplied by the USA and are effectively under American control. The missile that went astray was not actually armed with a nuclear warhead – but it does say something about the fallibility of the missile delivery system.

BURYING BAD NEWS:

More important was the cover-up that followed the vote in the Commons. News of the rogue missile was only revealed in January. The source was the Sunday Times, backed up shortly afterwards by American television.  But even then May’s cover-up continued.

When she appeared on the BBC Andrew Marr show, she was asked no less than four times whether she’d known about the stray missile. Four times she failed to answer.

CND general secretary Kate Hudson described the incident as “a very serious failure,” and added, “why has the Government knowingly committed us to spending £205 billion on this demonstrably unreliable technology?”

A Government spokesman, however said, “we have absolute confidence in our independent (sic) nuclear deterrent.”

bomb_tree

Clarion Comment: TOWARDS A PEOPLE’S MANIFESTO

In Editorial on March 5, 2015 at 7:26 pm
DSC00990

Labour’s candidate for Parliament, Forest of Dean Labour’s Steve Parry-Hearn with Clarion Editorial Committee member Roger Drury at a vigil in Coleford to stop the destruction and killing of children and civillians in Syria in 2014.

The purpose of any manifesto produced by political parties at election time is to present to eager voters the range of policies that such parties pledge to carry out if they get elected. Any such manifesto is a sort of cross between a catalogue of promises and a showcase.

But of course political parties needn’t have a monopoly on manifestos. And, with this in mind, the Clarion is producing its own “wish list” that we would like to see in any manifesto put to the voters.

And we invite readers to join in. Our next Clarion will be out before the hustings in May, so let us know what policies are important to you.

Meanwhile, here’s some pointers towards the Clarion’s manifesto for the 2015 general election.

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP: We would campaign for a range of privatised services to be returned to public ownership and control. The private sector has failed us all (except for the shareholders!). Top of the list should surely be the railways (and other forms of public transport?), the energy industries, and of course the Royal Mail.

But we would press for forms of public ownership involving public participation by those who work in the industry or are involved in it – as appropriate. Public ownership should mean what it says!

CREATING A NON-NUCLEAR NATION: This means abandoning ALL nuclear weapons on British soil (including Trident of course), as well as nuclear energy – replacing this with “green” energy sources.

BRINGING OUR HEALTH SERVICE BACK INTO THE PUBLIC DOMAIN:  First, by reversing the privatisation of the NHS, and, second by re-creating such bodies as Community Health Councils to ensure local involvement in the Service.

HOMES FOR THE PEOPLE:  We desperately need to provide homes – and a return to a meaningful council house programme with full rent controls is a logical step. We need to turn away from a culture  of “moving up the housing ladder” to one based on ensuring homes for all who need them.

RESPECT FOR AND TOLERANCE TOWARDS IMMIGRANTS:  We reject prejudice, and it should go without saying that we oppose moves towards a “closed door” policy. We are, and have been for centuries, a nation of immigrants. It’s what enriches us as a people.

SHORTLIST:

This is, of course, merely a shortlist. It fails to cover a range of issues at this stage – including, importantly foreign affairs. Or, indeed, the need for an Alternative Economic Policy, based on public need rather than the strictures of austerity. And there’s also the need to bring sanity back to the education sector – for the sake of those growing up in an increasingly fractured culture.

As they have done in Greece, let’s work and vote for HOPE for a better future.

Clarionposter

NOT OUR MANIFESTO: We created and posted this image on our Clarion Facebook page; as at 5/3/15 it reached over 9,300 people, over 130 of which re-shared the image. Spread the word.

 

LEFT INSIDE: A year to go.

In C.Spiby on April 1, 2014 at 12:13 pm

{early un-edited release from issue #110 (April/May 2014}

‘Left Inside’ is a regular column by British Communist (and former CPB member) now within the Labour Party by C. Spiby

A few issues ago, I gave readers an insight into some of the key political issues that make up the position of Labour Party candidate for the Forest of Dean, Steve Parry-Hearn. With just over a year to go to the next General Election, it’s time for an update.

Like others I endorsed the Welsh-accented Parry-Hearn at the hustings in which he was pitted against two great local campaigners Tim Gwillam and Tanya Palmer. Parry-Hearn won that competition, but in the face of a hitherto local media black-out is he up to the job of un-seating the incumbent Tory, Mark Harper?

In theory, Mark Harper MP has written-off his chances of returning to represent the Forest of Dean by supporting the government sell-off. So it will probably be the Forest’s own HOOF campaign which sees off Harper more than Labour’s candidate in Parry-Hearn. Parry-Hearn should walk it. But there are two possible problems with this analysis.

1. The national performance of Labour might mean we fail to even get our vote out (as we’ve seen happen in France only this week), and…

2. UKIP – who have targeted the Forest as one of their 6 national seats to win.

On the national question there’s the issue of the so-called end to our economic woes. This presents Labour with a massive headache. First as the Labour leadership mantra goes it’s a lie: working people are still facing a cost-of-living crisis. True employment is up, but how many of those jobs are short-term and part-time? Or worse: zero hours contracts? The problem is that the electorate might just believe the lie because that’s appears to be exactly what the media’s offering: everything is fine and growth is back. And yet most public sector cuts have yet to bite.

Coming back locally and to my surprise, going against the national line of both the Tories and current Labour policy, Parry-Hearn has come out strongly and convincingly against the development of new nuclear power at Oldbury. Instead, Steve gave a sincere speech at S.T.A.N.D.’s Fukushima memorial event in Lydney in March and backed it up with a report to the local Executive and a press release.

He was also out with the Rebecca Riot campaigners on the issue of the Severn crossing tolls, managing along the way to get a by-proxy jab at Harper in a subsequent Westminster Hall debate on the issue via the Labour shadow transport team and our friendly Welsh MP’s. Harper looked satisfyingly sick at the thought of Parry-Hearn chasing him down as he hid in the corridors of power.

But then there’s UKIP. We will see their actual strength in the coming European elections. Certainly the possibility of them becoming the third main party in the UK increases as the anti-European, anti-immigration Tory vote heads over to UKIP. Not even regular outbursts from anti-gay, sexist bigots within UKIP ranks seem to quell those of that persuasion. For their part, the Lib Dems will have an emaciated support. Hopefully many of them will feel One Nation Labour better reflects their views than their leaders’ betrayal of some of their fundamental principles.

Putting aside inconsequential protest votes to minor parties, we return to Labour’s Parry-Hearn who lives with his young family in the Forest and has proven himself part of a new generation of local Labour activists. Personally, when I’ve heard him air his views and principles, he is certainly a man who Clarion readers would find speaks their language.

For sure, Parry-Hearn needs to increase his profile. Mostly by hitting the streets but also by attending other public-facing activities and events and certainly District Councillors need to get out and support their Party and their Parliamentary candidate. Already there’s an evolving team of great people willing to give their time and support, among them former Forest MP Diana Organ who’s just one of a team of Branch-level Labour Party Co-Ordinators.

My call is for Clarion readers to join us and build a future for the forest that they recognise as their own. And not that of Harper or UKIP.

LEFT INSIDE: Can you hear us? Is anyone listening?

In C.Spiby on April 1, 2014 at 11:49 am

A regular column by C. Spiby

Nationally the message is clear.

When Ed Milliband says that he will “promise that, if we win, I will scrap the Bedroom Tax. No ifs or buts: a One Nation Labour government will repeal it.” [1] There’s no doubt that this is OUR kind of Labour Party.

You can’t say the same for our Constituency Party. We need to be clearer on our message and tighter on our inner party discipline. When Bruce Hogan rightly questioned the failure of local UKIP Councillor Alan Preest to attend meetings it was instead received by some as a call to limit local democracy.

And you would have thought that the fact that UKIP act the way do would be a gift to us. What a local UKIP figure branded as ‘hags’ [2] are the ordinary people concerned about the rightwing myth-building of the right, at least on the topic of immigration. UKIP should be easy-pickings nationally and locally. But, as we saw with the New Year influx of east Europeans – which didn’t happen – the media has bought their narrative rather than report on facts and actuality. Rightwing speculation has become ‘reporting’.

We also see that narrative on ‘Benefits Street’. How easy it is to stoke the fires of blame just to sell advertising by producing controversial content.

There’s a cost of living crisis in Britain, but it’s now contained to those who don’t matter: the voiceless majority. We know this because we’re getting told by this government that we’re ‘turning the corner’ on the economy and its cuts, cuts, cuts that provided the cure. In reality we’re going through a sustained attack on the welfare state; an ideological crusade the kind of which Thatcher embarked upon in her 70’s attack on the Trade Unions. Her greatest achievement came with the defeat of the Miner’s but – in this anniversary year – it is up to us to ensure that the new breed of Conservativism doesn’t do the same with our social welfare, education and health services. Because that’s the way its heading.

I don’t think that message could be clearer. What bothers me is why we’re not the argument.

NUCLEAR POWER On other matters this government has just approved the ‘generic design’ for the huge nuclear power station that will appear soon opposite Lydney. In response, S.T.A.N.D. are conducting a range of meetings and events in Chepstow and Stroud to raise awareness of the monstrosity while also building for this years’ anniversary of the Fukushima disaster. Catch-up with the campaign on Facebook or www.nuclearsevernside.co.uk

[1] Labour membership e-mail 21/9/2013.

[2] Recent reportage in the local press of UKIP’s Tidenham meeting where their spokesperson attacked women who expressed concern over UKIP position on immigration.

LEFT INSIDE: A new face for Labour in the Dean

In C.Spiby on October 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

The Forest of Dean Constituency Labour Party has nominated Steven Parry-Hearn as its Parliamentary candidate for the next General Election.

What does this mean for the left in labour?

Indeed, what does it mean for the Dean? And what about those dissatisfied with New Labour and who have yet to be tempted by Ed Miliband’s brand of ‘One Nation’ Labour?

Mr. Parry-Hearn lives in the constituency with his young family and has been very active behind the scenes in the Party with various projects and posts at Executive Committee level. He’s also a member of the LP South West Regional Board and stood against Liam Fox at the last election. Then he lost (but then again who didn’t in Labour that time around? It was a national swing of historic proportions – nothing less than our greatest defeat, so we can’t blame him for that!), but Steve DID gain a significantly higher vote than that expected of a Labour Party candidate there.

He’d also been active in the Aberavon CLP in Wales at the election before that – a heritage his accent reveals. So, clearly, Steve has experience and the organisational skills of a good CLP member. But where does he stand on policy?

He says ‘There are issues here, social injustices, which the current Member of Parliament has completely ignored. He has betrayed his constituents…’ [1]

Whereas Harper is an accountant by trade, Parry-Hearn works for the Shaw Trust, dealing with the fallout of failed Tory policies.

Like many of us, he vehemently opposed Harper on the sell-off of the Forests but managed at the same time to bring a breath of fresh air to the Forest of Dean CLP. Although not a target seat for Labour, Harper must be on the back foot precisely because of the attempted sell-off of the forests and the success of the HOOF campaign. Now we have chosen Harper’s opposition it is time to get to the nub of his beliefs. I took advantage of the selection process to quiz him on issues I feel particularly strongly.

For starters, I asked him about the development of new Nuclear Power at Oldbury, a hot topic amongst local people living opposite in the Dean as well as environmental and anti-nuclear campaigners.

Parry-Hearn said he does not support Hitachi-Horizon’s development and that he has ‘been opposed to the development of nuclear powered generation for many years.’ [2] In fact, he goes on to state ‘I believe that there are energy generation solutions which are far more acceptable not only to ourselves, but also to our descendants.  I believe that we are merely custodians of our fragile planet, and we must use all our ingenuity to develop new, cleaner fuels and means of generating energy.  I feel that wind, sea and solar must be the way forward.’ [3]

This puts Steve at odds with the previous candidate, Bruce Hogan whose position had seen him switch over the years to a pro-nuclear power stance.

Moving to a deliberately tricky issue for some in Labour is the question of the renewal of the UK nuclear missile system (Trident). On this topic Parry-Hearn said that ‘I personally stand idealistically and morally opposed.  I feel that we are behaving rather hypocritically here. We rattle sabres at Iran, Libya and North Korea, but what right do we have to dictate terms of disarmament to those states, when we ourselves stealthily and perpetually patrol the world’s oceans with our Trident Submarines?’ [4] And he goes on to qualify this with further reasoning: ‘we should not commit public money, when we are seeing this awful, callous government cutting welfare to the most vulnerable in our society.

On those points Clarion readers will probably agree and welcome our PPC, but that’s just two issues. It is not enough to judge him on these alone. We still don’t know whether Parry-Hearn sits in the pre-New Labour camp or post’. That is, is he a believer in the One Nation line? Certainly, it seems we can – I think – rest assured Parry-Hearn is no raving Blairite.

The true test, I suppose, will be the moment our national programme is finally launched.

That document, which will at last declare our policies and set our Party’s election manifesto, will be the strongest challenge for Party-Hearn to date. Will he stay true to his own beliefs – those upon which he was elected as PPC locally – or will he sway to the national line?

I strongly suspect on both Trident and nuclear power the national policy will differ from Hearn’s. With the nuclear power development directly affecting his constituency will he have the will to act against his party? For sure, he says he is of ‘high moral courage, honesty and diligence.’ [5] On the issue of nuclear weapons, this could arguably be the most moral question of all.

But as I have said, we shouldn’t shape our support of opposition of him on those two nuclear topics alone. Does he have the red fibre Clarion readers’ lust after? For his part, Graham Morgan (County, District & Town Councillor for Labour) believes Steve is ‘a real man of the people.’ [6]

Moreover, Parry-Hearn states he is committed ‘to establishing a Business Task Force, promoting growth, sustainable inward investment and apprenticeship opportunities for our young generation’ [7] in the Dean. He targets housing as the way forward both locally and nationally as a tool of economic renewal and his work with the Shaw Trust would mean he also has first-hand experience of the dire need for good social housing. He is pro-European but supports a referendum.

At the 28th July hustings which resulted in his election, Steve cited Andy Burnham as one of those currently influencing his political thinking. This being the same Andy Burnham who is leading the charge against the Tory Health & Social Welfare bill, promising to repeal it at Labour’s first opportunity and switch to re-investing in the NHS instead. That is a good place for Labour and Steve to be and thus a good influence to be guided by, in my book.

So, while Parry-Hearn might not be the Forest’s answer to Tony Benn we can hold some comfort by the fact that he probably wouldn’t be entirely offended by the idea either.

In fact, I would go so far to say that I think that our constituency has the strongest candidate for many elections past.

I hope you will canvass his opinion yourself by directly engaging with him while supporting our party and his campaign with all your vigor.

We MUST get rid of the ConDems, and then keep the Tories and UKIP out. We must save our NHS. We must be united in our support of the only realistic chance for Parliamentary power across the left. And in doing so we will keep our values alive in Labour, locally and nationally.

Support Steve and we support that aim.

 

[1] Personal letter to all FoD CLP members 1st July 2013

[2] Personal correspondence with the author 22nd July 2013.

[3] ibid.

[4] ibid.

[5] Steve Parry-Hearn FoD PPC campaign leaflet  July 2013.

[6] ibid.

[7] ibid.

REPORT: Saying NO! to new Nuclear Power

In A.Graham on April 26, 2013 at 12:47 pm

On 11th March, in commemoration of the second anniversary of the disastrous nuclear meltdown at Fukushima in Japan, demonstrators converged on the offices of Horizon Nuclear Power on the Gloucester business park.

The demonstration was organised by STAND (Severnside Together Against Nuclear Development), the campaign set up to oppose the proposed new nuclear power plant at the Oldbury site, just across the Severn from the Forest of Dean. Horizon is the company that has been contracted to build the new power plant, on behalf of Hitachi, who will be operating it.

On a bitterly cold day, with snow and sleet in the air, some eighty protestors took part – the bulk of whom had come by coach from the Dean. Others from Stroud, Hereford and even Avening joined the throng outside the Horizon offices.

MUSIC AND SPEECHES:

It was a bitterly cold day, with snow in the air, as protesters made their presence felt. But the occasion was enlivened by music and songs provided by Roger Drury, and speeches, explaining why we were all there, from Barbara French, James Greenword and Carl Spiby.

Barbara French remembered those who had suffered at the Fukushima nuclear power plant following the tsunami that had battered the Japanese coast. She went on: “we’re also here to start our campaign to stop Hitachi building another huge nuclear power station so that people living around the Severn don’t have the same experience as those in Fukushima.”

James Greenwood, from the Forest of Dean Green Party, tackled the myth that we needed nuclear power to fill the “energy gap”. There are plenty of renewable sources of energy that could and should be developed to meet our needs, he declared.

And Carl Spiby read out the letter that the campaigners from STAND had prepared, to deliver to the Horizon offices.

K06A2055

“INTIMIDATION”?

When it came to delivering the letter, though, there was a slight hitch. Management at Horizon refused to accept it – on the grounds that the crowd outside the building posed a threat of intimidation to the staff inside. Even moving the demonstrators away from the shelter of the office entrance to the other side of the car park, failed to satisfy them.

Finally, campaigners had to disperse, and departed without seeing the letter being delivered. Carl Spiby was left as the sole representative of the demonstration, who was allowed in to deliver the letter.

BBC Points West sent a camera man, to record the event – but when it came to showing it on the TV news, it seemed that the races at Cheltenham were considered more important. It did gain coverage on Radio Gloucester, however, and in The Forester. The Citizen chose to ignore it.

HORIZON:

Who are Horizon Nuclear Power, the company contracted to build the monstrosity on the Oldbury site?

It was formed in January 2009, at a time when it seemed that the nuclear power industry might get a new lease of life. In November 2012 it was sold to Hitachi, and it is now contracted to develop nuclear plants on sites at Oldbury as well as Wylfa, on Anglesey.

Horizon declares that it is “committed to the highest levels of engagement and consultation with communities and stakeholders at local, regional and national level“.

So that’s all right then.

Report by Alistair Graham for The Clarion

ONLINE EDITION EXTRAS:

STAND’s next public meeting will be 16th May at the Annexe in Lydney (7.30pm).

Visit http://www.nuclearsevernside.co.uk/ to find out more about the campaign, news, background and events.

Here is the text of that letter to Hitachi Horizon…

5210 Valiant Court
Gloucester Business Park
Delta Way
Gloucester
GL3 4FE

11th March 2013

Dear Sir

RE: Fukushima Anniversary & new development of nuclear power station at Oldbury

On this day in 2011, the world saw just how ineffective health and safety regulations were in confronting a release of deadly radioactivity.

Ironically, nuclear power was meant to save us from climate change. But it was flooding at Fukushima which caused the cascading disaster which followed. And more flooding is exactly the kind of extreme weather event climate change will bring about.

And yet Hitachi-Horizon want to build a new nuclear power station in an area already only just above sea level; an area where the impact of major flooding is rated by Gloucestershire County Council as ‘Significant’ and risk rated as ‘High Risk[i]’.

You want to build it on the banks of a river which has the second-highest tidal range in the world. A site identified by the Government’s own watchdog as liable to erosion and inundation[ii].

You want to build in an area that has been historically subject to severe flooding, including a Tsunami-like event, in 1607[iii].

During flooding in 2007 the risk to the River Severn was rated by the Environment Agency as ‘Severe’. Flood water penetrated and knocked out the Walham and Castlemead substations close to the Severn at Gloucester, as well as the Mythe Water Treatment works. Like Oldbury, the Gloucester sites are just above sea level. During that flood 320% of the average annual rainfall fell in that short period and all three sites had to be shut down. If these events are to become more likely, more frequent and of greater velocity, how much will Oldbury be able to withstand? Will we be host to the next Fukushima?

You are obliged to consider a 1 in 100,000 year worst-case scenario. But both Fukushima and Chernobyl have occurred within just a 30-year period. And both measured the highest number on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).

The chances of winning the national lottery are 1 in 14 million[iv]. Considerably less than your 1 in 100,000, and yet almost every week someone wins. Of course, there are no winners in a catastrophic nuclear accident like Fukushima.

While estimates vary, events at Fukushima are likely to have killed hundreds; though some sources predict thousands might ultimately die through radiation-related cancers.

Then there’s the emergency evacuation and displacement of some 140,000 people from their homes within a 30km radius of the station. Two years on some of these families are still unable to return.

Recently representatives of Hitachi-Horizon have written to the local press stating that ‘‘safety is, and will always be, our first concern”; but do you not you think the operators of the Fukushima plant the day before that accident would have said exactly the same thing?

On the issue of flooding alone it makes no sense to build a new nuclear power station at Oldbury.

But there is also a host of other reasons. The environmental impact; the lack of a long term safe solution for waste management and storage; the years of incidents and accidents; and the leukemia clusters linked to low-level radiation.

Together the reasons are compelling and that is why we are united in our STAND Against Oldbury.

In February this year, following the tragic events at Fukushima, the World Health Organisation issued a report[v]. It stated that there is a 70% greater chance of women in Japan who lived near Fukushima developing thyroid cancer compared to those not near the stricken plant.

This is a day for reflection.

What better way to reflect than to really take stock of the proposed build at Oldbury and reconsider the site. A ‘high risk’ site widely acknowledged as liable to flooding.

Yours sincerely,

STAND Against Oldbury Steering Group


[i] Item SW/4, pg. 19 Gloucestershire Local Resilience Forum ‘Community Risk Register’ version 2.6 October 2012.

[ii] Impact of Rising Sea Levels on Coastal Sites with Radioactive Waste Stores 2005 NIREX report for CoRWM.

[iii] Haslett, Simon; Bryant, Edward (2004). “The AD 1607 Coastal Flood in the Bristol Channel and Severn Estuary: Historical Records from Devon and Cornwall (UK)”. Archaeology in the Severn Estuary (15): 81–89. ISSN 1354-7089

As Safe as Houses?

In C.Spiby on May 25, 2011 at 9:32 am

The Nuclear Fallout of the Japanese Earthquake & Tsunami

While the reactors at the Japanese Fukushima nuclear plant were being dowsed in sea water in hope of cooling their highly-radioactive contents, Oldbury on the other side of the Severn let off a worryingly tall plume of steam which could be seen from miles around.

Here’s one witness – a mr. Jonathan Bailey: “I live on the edge of Thornbury (top of Butt Lane )… from this view the clouds of steam were as wide as the power station and there was a loud roaring noise – and I am 3 miles away as the crow flies.”

There’s been a lot of concern and calls for a re-examination of the ‘lessons to be learned’ – but no abandonment or even stalling of the new generation of privately-owned nuclear power stations in the UK, including along our Severn.

This is based on the premise that the Japanese geological uniqueness makes a similar tsunami impossible here. Right? There was one in 1607. Then it killed 2,000 people and flooded areas as far inland as Glastonbury.  In fact, Dr Haslett of Bath Spa University College and Dr Bryant conducted a geological survey of the estuary in 2004 and concluded that “two large chunks of farmland… were simply washed away, one where the foundation of the Second Severn Crossing is and the other is now the reservoir for the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station”.

A spokesperson from SANE (Shepperdine Against Nuclear Energy) said: “A possible cause of the 1607 tsunami is not yet known, but the possibilities include a submarine landslide off the continental shelf between Ireland and Cornwall , or an earthquake along an active fault system in the sea south of Ireland . This fault system has apparently experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 4 on the Richter scale within the last 20 years, so the chance of a bigger tsunami earthquake is a possibility.”

Farfetched? Alarmist? I’ll let you decide, but I guess – on the plus side – it is probably right to say that another event like that is unlikely, if not entirely impossible. I mean it’s not as if we’re building these things along the second fastest tidal river in the world, right? Oh, we are. I guess it’s a good job then we’re not prone to a lot of flooding either. July 2007 anyone? I guess at least we’re not planning on storing the radioactive waste on site with the new builds. We are! And the site is three times the size of the existing one? Blimey.

At least there’s no case of international terrorists mad enough to hijack civil aircraft as a fuel-filled missile in a co-ordinated attack. Like, um, 9/11. Or a car loaded with explosives like at Glasgow airport; what about 7/7 or the audacious IRA mortar attack on the MI6 headquarters in London? These plants seem pretty vulnerable when you put it like that.

But none of that has happened to us. Yet.

I mean it’s not as if Oldbury is regularly shut-down for safety reasons, is it? Oh, hang on – that’s how we started this – with the shutdown and steam plumes of 17th March 2011, the very same week Japan’s reactors of approximately the same age were at near-meltdown.

This event turned out to be benign. Failing to find out anything on their website I turned to the South Gloucestershire County Council’s Emergency Planning who, seemingly unaware of the event, merely passed on my questions to Magnox, the current operators at Oldbury. They said the issue was “Due to an electrical problem within equipment, housed in the turbine hall, an automatic safety process caused the shutting down of the turbines and the associated Reactor Two at the site.   The turbine hall is outside of the reactor building and is on the non nuclear side of the plants operation.  The steam which was released as part of this process is used to drive the turbines on the non nuclear side and is at no point in contact with radioactive material.

The automatic shutting down of the reactor is again a safety measure and stops the generation of heat used to produce steam to drive the turbines. 

Whilst I can fully understand your concerns in light of events in Japan, this event does not represent any safety issue at the site and is simply a standard safety process.”

Sounds fine. But consider the Oldbury fire of 2007, which also triggered a shut down. Imagine if that had got out of hand?

It’s all very well that these malfunctions occur in the non-nuclear parts of the plant and that their automatic shutdown is purely precautionary.

But if precautions of that magnitude are that necessary then the risk can’t be entirely benign. And let’s not forget, it wasn’t the tsunami or earthquake which released the radiation in Japan or (at the time of writing) could potentially expose their rods – putting the disaster at Chernobyl level – but the consequence of these things damaging the non-nuclear parts of the plant.

Following Japan, some countries have delayed decisions on new nuclear power; others like China cancelled them for now. No such move here. No delay – just observation which, one suspects, is mindful of the cost of delay since we’re dealing with the likes of commercial giants E-on and the leading French provider of nuclear power (Horizon their partnership is called). And yet this week I’ve heard the most sense from Walt Patterson of the London-based think tank, Chatham House when he said of nuclear power[i]:  “Why turn to the slowest, the most expensive, the narrowest, the most inflexible, and the riskiest in financial terms? Nuclear power needs climate change more than climate change needs nuclear power.”

You can see photos of the 17th March 2011 steam plumes and the 2007 fire at Oldbury on the local Facebook group page for ‘NO to new NUCLEAR POWER at Oldbury‘.


[i] Cited in BBC News online ‘Nuclear power: Energy solution or evil curse?’ by James Melik Reporter, Business Daily, BBC World Service, 14 March 2011 Last updated at 23:46 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12730473)

Not the time to go nuclear !

In Dinosaur on April 18, 2011 at 12:27 pm

Do you sometimes suffer from one of those days when somehow your timing seems all wrong? When the odd remark that could have been perfectly innocent in a different context goes down like a lead balloon? Or worse?

So, what about this one for bad timing. On March 12, the Citizen came out with a front page headline, “Nuclear Hope for Thousands”. Jobs could be secured for generations to come, it declared.

The nub of the news item was that Gloucestershire could become a major centre for the nuclear industry, with thousands of “high quality” jobs being created. “If there is a certainty for the nuclear industry then there will be people needed to work in this sector,” the Tory MP for Stroud, Neil Carmichael, was quoted as saying.

Good news perhaps for those who liked that kind of thing! Of course, it goes without saying that we don’t. But on the same day, the news broke of the tragic earthquake and consequent tsunami in Japan. And, to make things worse, a few days later we heard that a nuclear power complex had been destabilised and was in danger of going critical. With radiation levels rising, the battle commenced to prevent the Fukushima plant from becoming another Chernobyl.

Now we on the Clarion have never believed that we should go down the nuclear road – and we’ve printed numerous articles pointing to the dangers and difficulties involved. Now surely is the time to stop flannelling and think again?

{click here for the Forest-side anti-nuclear presence on Facebook}

Making the most of our post…

There’s probably not many folk around these days who can remember the halcyon days when a letter cost a few pence (in old money) to post – let alone the time when if you popped it in the pillar box early enough it would be delivered the same day.

Back then the GPO was a government department, headed by a Minister called the Postmaster General. Not only did it handle the mail, but also pioneered the telephone system, routing our calls through a network of telephone exchanges who could connect you with places throughout the world. And you could have telegrams delivered, if you lacked a phone and had urgent news to send. And it was never afraid to embrace the latest technology when it came along.

Ah, those were the days! The rot set in, when MacMillan’s Government first allowed the GPO to distribute “junk mail” with our post. Later, the whole system was hived off, to become a public corporation.

Since then it’s been a sitting target for the circling vultures. It’s already faced the debilitating impact of “competition” – and now the Government wants to sell it off to the highest bidder – as the Tories under Thatcher did with the telephone system.

It’s no wonder that postal workers are campaigning to save the service and keep it in public hands. If we value our post, we should give them our backing.

Time for some cautious celebration?

Since our last issue, folk in the Dean have been celebrating victory in the campaign to save the Forest from the Government’s plans to snatch it from us – and then sell it back again. And we’ve every right to make a bit of whoopee.

But of course it ain’t necessarily over yet – and Jan Royall who led the campaign from the front was right to suggest we should stay vigilant. Whilst the Government has scrapped its plans for a wholesale sell off, they’ve appointing a panel to look at future plans and report back. I’m sure many folk will be waiting for its conclusions with bated breath.

Of course, this didn’t stop campaigners throughout the country from taking to the woods for a day of celebration on Sunday, March 20. Here in the Dean it was held at Wenchford. It was good to see so many people around the barbecues, strolling amongst the trees, and generally relaxing. One campaigner said to me, “it’s so good to be able to celebrate a victory, for a change!”

I agree. But there are so many more battles to be fought – and, who knows, there may be more victories to come, and times for more celebration!

Nuclear time bomb on our doorstep:

In A.Graham on February 21, 2011 at 1:33 pm

The Oldbury nuclear power station, situated down river from Lydney docks, is now on its last legs. But rather than merely decommissioning it, the Government has been backing plans to replace it with a new nuclear energy site that will be some seven times the size of the present one!

Because of its the size, it will be the only nuclear installation in Britain that will need cooling towers. These would either be 200-foot “short” ones, or 600-foot edifices that would dwarf the Severn Bridge. How that would affect the natural beauty and habitats of the Severn Vale remains to be seen! Inhabitants of communities around Thornbury have been campaigning against this monster on their doorstep for some time. All the inherent dangers in a nuclear power station will be multiplied by the sheer size of the project. And in a leaflet issued last month, the campaigners add the point: “did you know that you’ve been volunteered for high level radioactive waste to be stored there for 160 years, the ‘interim’ solution for nuclear waste storage?”

We can assume that a decision on whether to go ahead with this hazardous development is imminent. The “consultation” period closed on January 24 – and no doubt an announcement will emerge fairly soon.

Oldbury on fire in 2007, from the Dean side

It will follow a long and sustained campaign by local communities who are concerned not only about the disruption to the locality but also, for many, the presence of what could be a ticking time bomb on their doorstep. So far there is no such thing as completely “safe” nuclear energy.

The possibilities range from low-level leakage of radiation (which has occurred in many cases) to the kind of full scale disaster that happened in Chernobyl, and nearly took place at Three Mile Island in the USA. That, of course, is a “worst case scenario”!

But add the problems of security at such sites, the pollution caused by mining for uranium, and the mounting problems of nuclear waste storage and disposal, and one is left wondering why it’s considered worth it.

NUCLEAR REACTORS: Do You Want More?

In Chris Gifford on June 18, 2010 at 3:46 pm

This article is about getting up to date with the government’s proposals and trying to make sense of the processes used by government in deciding policy.

In 2002 the Government published an Energy Review. In over 200 pages of detail it discussed options for future supplies of energy. It was written by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office and it has since become clear that the Department of Trade and Industry, although involved, was not the principal author.

On the generation of electricity in nuclear power station the review said that concern about radioactive waste and “low probability but high consequence hazards” may limit or preclude its use. It added that nuclear power seemed likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuelled generation and that nowhere in the world was there new build in a liberalised electricity market. Thus two of the objections of those opposed to nuclear power were conceded. It was not safe and it was not economic. Similarly the report mentioned the vulnerability to terrorism, the long lead times in planning and building new stations, the extent of public opposition and the need to gain public acceptance for any new development. It concluded that the option of new investment in nuclear power should be kept open, especially if safer and low cost designs were developed, but there would have to be widespread public acceptance.

A major stakeholder and public consultation was launched in May 2002. It was the largest ever on energy policy. There followed a white paper which concluded that diversity of supply was the best protection against sudden price increases, terrorism and other threats to reliability of supply.

On renewable energy the review had concluded that “the UK resource is, in principle, more than sufficient to meet the UK’s energy needs” and that “the UK’s wind and marine resources are the best in Europe”. Both publications were strongly focussed on the need to mitigate climate change. The review had already stated that while achieving a 60% cut in CO2 emissions would be challenging it could be done while still achieving economic growth of 2.25% per year.

It did not make sense that global warming and security of supply should be cited as the reasons for another energy review in 2005. But that is what happened and the prime minister who had written the preface to the first review and endorsed the detailed conclusions on those matters declared that the building of new nuclear power stations should be “facilitated” by ‘fast track’ planning inquiries and ‘pre-licensing’ of new reactor designs. Another public consultation followed.

This writer responded to these events with some dismay and the writing of a paper with the title Nuclear Reactors: do we need more?. The paper was published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in the Socialist Renewal series and a review and an abstract appeared in the Spokesman journal.

It examined the historic claims that nuclear power was peaceful and safe and asked ‘Is the risk from terrorism too awful to be acknowledged?’. It described the failure to comply with a European directive on the provision of information to the public on possible emergencies, examined the lack of data on costs, discussed the known costs but lack of solutions on nuclear waste management and listed the, so far, neglected sources of safe, sustainable renewable energy.

The response of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the government’s proposals was reassuring. The Health and Safety Executive endorsed the concerns of the Nuclear Safety Directorate by publishing a 150 page expert report with the title The Health and Safety Risks and Regulatory Strategy Related to Energy Developments which emphasised the importance of the licensing process to control risk by the design of license conditions after detailed appraisal of a reactor design and the builder’s safety case. The HSE made no concessions to the prime minister’s proposals. It explained that if the (13) vacancies for government inspectors were filled quickly the study of a designer’s safety case and proposed reactor for a specific location would take several years (as it always had) depending on the quality of the application. If more than one new design had to be appraised concurrently it would take longer. The publication reported on earlier experience of ‘prelicensing’ and mentioned the Commission’s finding in a 1994 review that the regulatory systems were “comprehensive, internationally recognised, vindicated by public inquiries, and that there was no reason to change them in any fundamental way to deal with changes to the nuclear industry or new construction.”

It is difficult to imagine a more severe reprimand of a lay prime minister’s interference in a process vital to public safety. Public concern about the government’s methods was not alleviated by the HSE response. Greenpeace, with the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Anti-nuclear Alliance (WANA) and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, applied to the High Court for judicial review of the way in which the government had consulted the public while giving every indication of having already decided the matter.

Mr Justice Sullivan in the High Court on 15 February 2007 ruled that the government’s second consultation on energy policy was “seriously flawed” and thus “illegal”. There had been no consultation at all, he said, because the government had provided information “wholly insufficient for the public to make an intelligent response.” In fact the government had also blacked out the economic data in papers obtained by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government is obliged to start again. This time it has published two white papers one, Planning for a Sustainable Future, dealing with planning procedures and the other, The Energy White Paper is linked with a consultative document on nuclear power. The documents, like the process criticised in judicial review, show the government’s commitment to nuclear power, this time described as a ‘preliminary view’. The energy white paper is 343 pages long and is characterised by enhanced optimism and a lack of vital facts. I have tried hard to find, for example, data on the present and historic costs of generating electricity by nuclear power but I found none. Instead there are unattributed forecasts of future costs only one of which favours nuclear power – that which assumes high gas prices and generous carbon credits. There is frankness combined with optimism in the discussion of the dangers of nuclear power, as in

“Not all costs are considered. The analysis does not attempt to monetise all costs and benefits. Specifically, a monetary value associated with potential accidents is not estimated. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of such accidents is negligible, particularly in the UK context.”

The justification for the above is found in a footnote which reads

1 The literature suggests a range for the probability of major accidents (core meltdown plus containment failure) from 2×10-6 in France, to 4×10-9 in the UK. The associated expected cost is estimated to be of the order £0.03 / MWh to £0.30 / MWh depending on assumptions about discount rates and the value of life; using the figure at the top end of this range would not change the results of the cost benefit analysis. Introducing risk aversion, the results of the cost benefit analysis in the central case (defined in Section 3 below) would be robust for a risk aversion factor of 20 at the highest estimated value for the expected accident cost. For a summary of the relevant literature, see “Externalities of Energy (ExternE), Methodology 2005 Update”, European Commission.

One in four billion reactors years! The debate on whether or not our nuclear reactors are capable of nuclear explosion is not yet settled. In evidence put to our last public inquiry (Hinkley Point ‘C’) an estimate of one loss of containment in one million years was treated with caution by our inspectorate and modified to 1 in 100 000 by the then director general of the Health and Safety Executive in consideration of the acknowledged lack of data on human error. On waste management the consultative document is no better, eg

We have technical solutions for waste disposal that scientific consensus and experience from abroad suggest could accommodate all types of waste from existing and new power stations.

Note that ‘disposal’ has replaced mention of a ‘repository’ and that the findings of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, have been improved to turn a topic requiring further research and a suitable site into a solution and that new waste, which CoRWM expressly excluded from its considerations, is now lumped in. If we have a solution one has to ask why we have not made use of it in the 30 years since the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that there should be no more nuclear power stations until a solution was found for the management of nuclear waste.

The local nuclear power station at Oldbury is not producing electricity because a fire affecting electrical equipment on 30 May 2007 caused reactor 2 to be shut down. Repair work and a report by investigators will have to be completed before the reactor can be started again. A report by BBC News 24 to the effect that the power station is unlikely to produce electricity again is disputed, but not vigorously, by British Nuclear Group who run this ageing Magnox station.

The condition of the Oldbury graphite cores and losses of initial integrity featured in an internal report revealed by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The report shows that reactor 2 is not considered safe enough to operate until its planned closure date of December 2008 and that the permission to restart after its recent two years closure for safety work was conditional on a new safety case being acceptable in November this year. It is reassuring that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are making such conditional approvals. Similar considerations will apply to reactor 1 where a safety case for a restart is already with the inspectorate. Pressure on the inspectorate is envisaged given that the company desperately needs the income from electricity sales almost as desperately as the Prime Minister wishes us to believe that all is well. He has asserted that reactor safety can now be assumed and thus that events such as fuel fires, burst cladding and structural collapse of a reactor core leading to a total loss of control are impossible.

On Planning for a Sustainable Future, on the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission and on local planning inquiries being required to exclude matters of national policy from their considerations a letter to The Guardian on 23 May summed up the argument very well.

If the government builds a nuclear power station on the site of London’s derelict Battersea power station then the rest of the country will know that these stations are completely safe. The new streamlined planning system should take care of any local opposition.

If you are satisfied that spending billions more on nuclear power will not impede and distract from the investment that we need to make in several forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy; if you are sure that the industry has nothing whatever to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you know why every young person in Britain has plutonium in his teeth and you do not care you may want to respond to the consultation with your approval for a new nuclear future.

Christopher Gifford

11 June 2007

NUCLEAR REACTORS: DO YOU WANT MORE?

This article is about getting up to date with the government’s proposals and trying to make sense of the processes used by government in deciding policy.

In 2002 the Government published an Energy Review. In over 200 pages of detail it discussed options for future supplies of energy. It was written by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office and it has since become clear that the Department of Trade and Industry, although involved, was not the principal author.

On the generation of electricity in nuclear power station the review said that concern about radioactive waste and “low probability but high consequence hazards” may limit or preclude its use. It added that nuclear power seemed likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuelled generation and that nowhere in the world was there new build in a liberalised electricity market. Thus two of the objections of those opposed to nuclear power were conceded. It was not safe and it was not economic. Similarly the report mentioned the vulnerability to terrorism, the long lead times in planning and building new stations, the extent of public opposition and the need to gain public acceptance for any new development. It concluded that the option of new investment in nuclear power should be kept open, especially if safer and low cost designs were developed, but there would have to be widespread public acceptance.

A major stakeholder and public consultation was launched in May 2002. It was the largest ever on energy policy. There followed a white paper which concluded that diversity of supply was the best protection against sudden price increases, terrorism and other threats to reliability of supply.

On renewable energy the review had concluded that “the UK resource is, in principle, more than sufficient to meet the UK’s energy needs” and that “the UK’s wind and marine resources are the best in Europe”. Both publications were strongly focussed on the need to mitigate climate change. The review had already stated that while achieving a 60% cut in CO2 emissions would be challenging it could be done while still achieving economic growth of 2.25% per year.

It did not make sense that global warming and security of supply should be cited as the reasons for another energy review in 2005. But that is what happened and the prime minister who had written the preface to the first review and endorsed the detailed conclusions on those matters declared that the building of new nuclear power stations should be “facilitated” by ‘fast track’ planning inquiries and ‘pre-licensing’ of new reactor designs. Another public consultation followed.

This writer responded to these events with some dismay and the writing of a paper with the title Nuclear Reactors: do we need more?. The paper was published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in the Socialist Renewal series and a review and an abstract appeared in the Spokesman journal. The paper is available as an A5 booklet of 33pp with 61 source references price £2-00 from Spokesman Books telephone 0115 970 8318. It examined the historic claims that nuclear power was peaceful and safe and asked ‘Is the risk from terrorism too awful to be acknowledged?’. It described the failure to comply with a European directive on the provision of information to the public on possible emergencies, examined the lack of data on costs, discussed the known costs but lack of solutions on nuclear waste management and listed the, so far, neglected sources of safe, sustainable renewable energy.

The response of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the government’s proposals was reassuring. The Health and Safety Executive endorsed the concerns of the Nuclear Safety Directorate by publishing a 150 page expert report with the title The Health and Safety Risks and Regulatory Strategy Related to Energy Developments which emphasised the importance of the licensing process to control risk by the design of license conditions after detailed appraisal of a reactor design and the builder’s safety case. The HSE made no concessions to the prime minister’s proposals. It explained that if the (13) vacancies for government inspectors were filled quickly the study of a designer’s safety case and proposed reactor for a specific location would take several years (as it always had) depending on the quality of the application. If more than one new design had to be appraised concurrently it would take longer. The publication reported on earlier experience of ‘prelicensing’ and mentioned the Commission’s finding in a 1994 review that the regulatory systems were “comprehensive, internationally recognised, vindicated by public inquiries, and that there was no reason to change them in any fundamental way to deal with changes to the nuclear industry or new construction.”

It is difficult to imagine a more severe reprimand of a lay prime minister’s interference in a process vital to public safety. Public concern about the government’s methods was not alleviated by the HSE response. Greenpeace, with the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Anti-nuclear Alliance (WANA) and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, applied to the High Court for judicial review of the way in which the government had consulted the public while giving every indication of having already decided the matter.

Mr Justice Sullivan in the High Court on 15 February 2007 ruled that the government’s second consultation on energy policy was “seriously flawed” and thus “illegal”. There had been no consultation at all, he said, because the government had provided information “wholly insufficient for the public to make an intelligent response.” In fact the government had also blacked out the economic data in papers obtained by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government is obliged to start again. This time it has published two white papers one, Planning for a Sustainable Future, dealing with planning procedures and the other, The Energy White Paper is linked with a consultative document on nuclear power. The documents, like the process criticised in judicial review, show the government’s commitment to nuclear power, this time described as a ‘preliminary view’. The energy white paper is 343 pages long and is characterised by enhanced optimism and a lack of vital facts. I have tried hard to find, for example, data on the present and historic costs of generating electricity by nuclear power but I found none. Instead there are unattributed forecasts of future costs only one of which favours nuclear power – that which assumes high gas prices and generous carbon credits. There is frankness combined with optimism in the discussion of the dangers of nuclear power, as in

“Not all costs are considered. The analysis does not attempt to monetise all costs and benefits. Specifically, a monetary value associated with potential accidents is not estimated. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of such accidents is negligible, particularly in the UK context.”

The justification for the above is found in a footnote which reads

1 The literature suggests a range for the probability of major accidents (core meltdown plus containment failure) from 2×10-6 in France, to 4×10-9 in the UK. The associated expected cost is estimated to be of the order £0.03 / MWh to £0.30 / MWh depending on assumptions about discount rates and the value of life; using the figure at the top end of this range would not change the results of the cost benefit analysis. Introducing risk aversion, the results of the cost benefit analysis in the central case (defined in Section 3 below) would be robust for a risk aversion factor of 20 at the highest estimated value for the expected accident cost. For a summary of the relevant literature, see “Externalities of Energy (ExternE), Methodology 2005 Update”, European Commission.

One in four billion reactors years! The debate on whether or not our nuclear reactors are capable of nuclear explosion is not yet settled. In evidence put to our last public inquiry (Hinkley Point ‘C’) an estimate of one loss of containment in one million years was treated with caution by our inspectorate and modified to 1 in 100 000 by the then director general of the Health and Safety Executive in consideration of the acknowledged lack of data on human error. On waste management the consultative document is no better, eg

We have technical solutions for waste disposal that scientific consensus and experience from abroad suggest could accommodate all types of waste from existing and new power stations.

Note that ‘disposal’ has replaced mention of a ‘repository’ and that the findings of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, have been improved to turn a topic requiring further research and a suitable site into a solution and that new waste, which CoRWM expressly excluded from its considerations, is now lumped in. If we have a solution one has to ask why we have not made use of it in the 30 years since the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that there should be no more nuclear power stations until a solution was found for the management of nuclear waste.

The local nuclear power station at Oldbury is not producing electricity because a fire affecting electrical equipment on 30 May 2007 caused reactor 2 to be shut down. Repair work and a report by investigators will have to be completed before the reactor can be started again. A report by BBC News 24 to the effect that the power station is unlikely to produce electricity again is disputed, but not vigorously, by British Nuclear Group who run this ageing Magnox station.

The condition of the Oldbury graphite cores and losses of initial integrity featured in an internal report revealed by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The report shows that reactor 2 is not considered safe enough to operate until its planned closure date of December 2008 and that the permission to restart after its recent two years closure for safety work was conditional on a new safety case being acceptable in November this year. It is reassuring that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are making such conditional approvals. Similar considerations will apply to reactor 1 where a safety case for a restart is already with the inspectorate. Pressure on the inspectorate is envisaged given that the company desperately needs the income from electricity sales almost as desperately as the Prime Minister wishes us to believe that all is well. He has asserted that reactor safety can now be assumed and thus that events such as fuel fires, burst cladding and structural collapse of a reactor core leading to a total loss of control are impossible.

On Planning for a Sustainable Future, on the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission and on local planning inquiries being required to exclude matters of national policy from their considerations a letter to The Guardian on 23 May summed up the argument very well.

If the government builds a nuclear power station on the site of London’s derelict Battersea power station then the rest of the country will know that these stations are completely safe. The new streamlined planning system should take care of any local opposition.

If you are satisfied that spending billions more on nuclear power will not impede and distract from the investment that we need to make in several forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy; if you are sure that the industry has nothing whatever to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you know why every young person in Britain has plutonium in his teeth and you do not care you may want to respond to the consultation with your approval for a new nuclear future.

Christopher Gifford

NUCLEAR REACTORS: DO YOU WANT MORE?

This article is about getting up to date with the government’s proposals and trying to make sense of the processes used by government in deciding policy.

In 2002 the Government published an Energy Review. In over 200 pages of detail it discussed options for future supplies of energy. It was written by the Performance and Innovation Unit of the Cabinet Office and it has since become clear that the Department of Trade and Industry, although involved, was not the principal author.

On the generation of electricity in nuclear power station the review said that concern about radioactive waste and “low probability but high consequence hazards” may limit or preclude its use. It added that nuclear power seemed likely to remain more expensive than fossil fuelled generation and that nowhere in the world was there new build in a liberalised electricity market. Thus two of the objections of those opposed to nuclear power were conceded. It was not safe and it was not economic. Similarly the report mentioned the vulnerability to terrorism, the long lead times in planning and building new stations, the extent of public opposition and the need to gain public acceptance for any new development. It concluded that the option of new investment in nuclear power should be kept open, especially if safer and low cost designs were developed, but there would have to be widespread public acceptance.

A major stakeholder and public consultation was launched in May 2002. It was the largest ever on energy policy. There followed a white paper which concluded that diversity of supply was the best protection against sudden price increases, terrorism and other threats to reliability of supply.

On renewable energy the review had concluded that “the UK resource is, in principle, more than sufficient to meet the UK’s energy needs” and that “the UK’s wind and marine resources are the best in Europe”. Both publications were strongly focussed on the need to mitigate climate change. The review had already stated that while achieving a 60% cut in CO2 emissions would be challenging it could be done while still achieving economic growth of 2.25% per year.

It did not make sense that global warming and security of supply should be cited as the reasons for another energy review in 2005. But that is what happened and the prime minister who had written the preface to the first review and endorsed the detailed conclusions on those matters declared that the building of new nuclear power stations should be “facilitated” by ‘fast track’ planning inquiries and ‘pre-licensing’ of new reactor designs. Another public consultation followed.

This writer responded to these events with some dismay and the writing of a paper with the title Nuclear Reactors: do we need more?. The paper was published by the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation in the Socialist Renewal series and a review and an abstract appeared in the Spokesman journal. The paper is available as an A5 booklet of 33pp with 61 source references price £2-00 from Spokesman Books telephone 0115 970 8318. It examined the historic claims that nuclear power was peaceful and safe and asked ‘Is the risk from terrorism too awful to be acknowledged?’. It described the failure to comply with a European directive on the provision of information to the public on possible emergencies, examined the lack of data on costs, discussed the known costs but lack of solutions on nuclear waste management and listed the, so far, neglected sources of safe, sustainable renewable energy.

The response of the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to the government’s proposals was reassuring. The Health and Safety Executive endorsed the concerns of the Nuclear Safety Directorate by publishing a 150 page expert report with the title The Health and Safety Risks and Regulatory Strategy Related to Energy Developments which emphasised the importance of the licensing process to control risk by the design of license conditions after detailed appraisal of a reactor design and the builder’s safety case. The HSE made no concessions to the prime minister’s proposals. It explained that if the (13) vacancies for government inspectors were filled quickly the study of a designer’s safety case and proposed reactor for a specific location would take several years (as it always had) depending on the quality of the application. If more than one new design had to be appraised concurrently it would take longer. The publication reported on earlier experience of ‘prelicensing’ and mentioned the Commission’s finding in a 1994 review that the regulatory systems were “comprehensive, internationally recognised, vindicated by public inquiries, and that there was no reason to change them in any fundamental way to deal with changes to the nuclear industry or new construction.”

It is difficult to imagine a more severe reprimand of a lay prime minister’s interference in a process vital to public safety. Public concern about the government’s methods was not alleviated by the HSE response. Greenpeace, with the support of other organisations such as the Welsh Anti-nuclear Alliance (WANA) and the Nuclear Free Local Authorities, applied to the High Court for judicial review of the way in which the government had consulted the public while giving every indication of having already decided the matter.

Mr Justice Sullivan in the High Court on 15 February 2007 ruled that the government’s second consultation on energy policy was “seriously flawed” and thus “illegal”. There had been no consultation at all, he said, because the government had provided information “wholly insufficient for the public to make an intelligent response.” In fact the government had also blacked out the economic data in papers obtained by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The government is obliged to start again. This time it has published two white papers one, Planning for a Sustainable Future, dealing with planning procedures and the other, The Energy White Paper is linked with a consultative document on nuclear power. The documents, like the process criticised in judicial review, show the government’s commitment to nuclear power, this time described as a ‘preliminary view’. The energy white paper is 343 pages long and is characterised by enhanced optimism and a lack of vital facts. I have tried hard to find, for example, data on the present and historic costs of generating electricity by nuclear power but I found none. Instead there are unattributed forecasts of future costs only one of which favours nuclear power – that which assumes high gas prices and generous carbon credits. There is frankness combined with optimism in the discussion of the dangers of nuclear power, as in

“Not all costs are considered. The analysis does not attempt to monetise all costs and benefits. Specifically, a monetary value associated with potential accidents is not estimated. Evidence suggests that the likelihood of such accidents is negligible, particularly in the UK context.”

The justification for the above is found in a footnote which reads

1 The literature suggests a range for the probability of major accidents (core meltdown plus containment failure) from 2×10-6 in France, to 4×10-9 in the UK. The associated expected cost is estimated to be of the order £0.03 / MWh to £0.30 / MWh depending on assumptions about discount rates and the value of life; using the figure at the top end of this range would not change the results of the cost benefit analysis. Introducing risk aversion, the results of the cost benefit analysis in the central case (defined in Section 3 below) would be robust for a risk aversion factor of 20 at the highest estimated value for the expected accident cost. For a summary of the relevant literature, see “Externalities of Energy (ExternE), Methodology 2005 Update”, European Commission.

One in four billion reactors years! The debate on whether or not our nuclear reactors are capable of nuclear explosion is not yet settled. In evidence put to our last public inquiry (Hinkley Point ‘C’) an estimate of one loss of containment in one million years was treated with caution by our inspectorate and modified to 1 in 100 000 by the then director general of the Health and Safety Executive in consideration of the acknowledged lack of data on human error. On waste management the consultative document is no better, eg

We have technical solutions for waste disposal that scientific consensus and experience from abroad suggest could accommodate all types of waste from existing and new power stations.

Note that ‘disposal’ has replaced mention of a ‘repository’ and that the findings of CoRWM, the committee on radioactive waste management, have been improved to turn a topic requiring further research and a suitable site into a solution and that new waste, which CoRWM expressly excluded from its considerations, is now lumped in. If we have a solution one has to ask why we have not made use of it in the 30 years since the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution recommended that there should be no more nuclear power stations until a solution was found for the management of nuclear waste.

The local nuclear power station at Oldbury is not producing electricity because a fire affecting electrical equipment on 30 May 2007 caused reactor 2 to be shut down. Repair work and a report by investigators will have to be completed before the reactor can be started again. A report by BBC News 24 to the effect that the power station is unlikely to produce electricity again is disputed, but not vigorously, by British Nuclear Group who run this ageing Magnox station.

The condition of the Oldbury graphite cores and losses of initial integrity featured in an internal report revealed by the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. The report shows that reactor 2 is not considered safe enough to operate until its planned closure date of December 2008 and that the permission to restart after its recent two years closure for safety work was conditional on a new safety case being acceptable in November this year. It is reassuring that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate are making such conditional approvals. Similar considerations will apply to reactor 1 where a safety case for a restart is already with the inspectorate. Pressure on the inspectorate is envisaged given that the company desperately needs the income from electricity sales almost as desperately as the Prime Minister wishes us to believe that all is well. He has asserted that reactor safety can now be assumed and thus that events such as fuel fires, burst cladding and structural collapse of a reactor core leading to a total loss of control are impossible.

On Planning for a Sustainable Future, on the proposed Infrastructure Planning Commission and on local planning inquiries being required to exclude matters of national policy from their considerations a letter to The Guardian on 23 May summed up the argument very well.

If the government builds a nuclear power station on the site of London’s derelict Battersea power station then the rest of the country will know that these stations are completely safe. The new streamlined planning system should take care of any local opposition.

If you are satisfied that spending billions more on nuclear power will not impede and distract from the investment that we need to make in several forms of renewable energy, particularly tidal energy; if you are sure that the industry has nothing whatever to do with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and if you know why every young person in Britain has plutonium in his teeth and you do not care you may want to respond to the consultation with your approval for a new nuclear future.

Christopher Gifford

11 June 2007

11 June 2007