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Rethinking nuclear power

As the horrendous after-effects of the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan continues to unravel before our disbelieving eyes, the results of any nuclear meltdown still remain uncertain.

What is known is that radiation from Japan’s quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has reached harmful levels and the plant has been rocked by a third blast which appears to have damaged one of the reactors’ containment systems for the first time. If it is breached, there are fears of more serious radioactive leaks. Ten of thousands of people are believed to have suffered from radiation.

Four years ago on this blog, I asked if our government was reviewing the impact of rising sea levels caused by global warming to our nuclear power stations in the UK. This followed a study by the Flood Hazard Research Centre at Middlesex University which reported that nuclear power stations built along the coast in East Anglia were at risk of being flooded if sea levels rise as predicted. It concluded that the cost of defending the sites from significant sea level rises and storm surges would make them “economically unsustainable”.

Although only four sites were studied for the report, all our nuclear power stations are built around the coast because of the need for an isolated position and a plentiful supply of cooling water. Ultimately, it means they could all be at risk of flooding. This was the second report in 2007 year to warn of a nuclear flood risk, with the Met Office predicting that North Sea surge levels at Sizewell could rise by 1.7 metres by the end of the century.

So I repeat the same question I asked four years ago, how has this been impacted into the government’s future plans for nuclear power? How seriously will it heed these warnings? Has it commissioned its own study to investigate this threat which scientists are warning about too?

*Update: The European Union energy chief  has decided to apply stress tests to see how its 143 nuclear plants in the European Union would react in emergencies.


13 Comments

  1. Installing nuclear reactors in those areas was just dangerous to begin with in the first place.

  2. The safety or otherwise of other forms of electrical generation is simply not relevant when judging the safety of nuclear power. The only question people should be asking is: in the case of breakdown what is the worst case scenario? As far as I know (and I am no expert) no coal fired power station can pump out enough lethal fumes to contaminate a large proportion of a country. Eventually ALL systems fail; from avionics to zips – from space shuttles to ocean liners. Only the most foolish of optimists builds a system without knowing how to deal with failure.

  3. It was dangerous having reactors in those areas. Still, the anti-nuclear protestors shouldn’t be trying to get points out of this tragedy.

  4. Our nuclear power stations aren’t at risk of flooding as sudden and unforseeable as that caused by the tsunami in Japan – Great Britain is simply not near those sorts of fault lines.

    Be careful of people agitating against nuclear power – what they’re really agitating against is the fact that nuclear power is necessary to maintain the population at its present level. Go figure.

  5. I think that environmental changes means we have to adapt, and concerns they raise cannot be ignored. I have been a supporter of nuclear power, and am aware that 80% of France’s electricity is provided this way. I am pleased to hear that stress tests may be carried out, and I look forward to those results.

  6. We need to start building tThe Severn Barrage (8% of UK Electric totally green and predictable) and a lot more nuclear power stations http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/14/fukushiima_analysis/ preferably based on thorium designs, http://www.facebook.com/EnergyFromThorium since we don’t need to make bombs any more. Just remember reactor design essentially stopped 50 years ago!! I don’t think the general public in the UK realize how dire our energy situation is!

    • Oh and how many people died at the most horrific nuclear accident in history? http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2011/03/chernobyl_myths.html
      Yep thats 56! and how many are killed in natural gas explosions at conventional power stations? or working in coal mines!
      We need nuclear power and need it fast! Unless we want to return to 50s Britain

      • electro-kevin

        50s Britain with 30% more population and many more unrestrained by manners and a sense of morality.

      • Philipa

        I compleely disagree. Nuclear power is just not worth the risk. Global population/immigration control together with other energy solutions in the UK is a much more sensible answer.

  7. electro-kevin

    We are not Japan (Fukushima) – built on geological fault lines

    Nor are we the former USSR (Chernobyl)- built on political fault lines

    The good news is that rising sea levels will not catch us by surprise in the way that a tsunami does.

    Britain faces an energy security crisis with the only proposition from warmists being an intermittent and limited wind supply. We now need to be considering all options including coal and controlling population levels properly. The vote on EU membership we were promised might result in a curtailment of the latter.

    Mr Clegg failed to tell us the second scenario when he claimed that “Failure for us to cut carbon emissions we will suffer an environmental catastrophe.”

    Without discussing the ongoing debate about AGW and using Mr Clegg’s own rationale he would have worded it thusly if he were more honest about it “We will cut carbon emissions but will most likely suffer a global catastrophe anyway. This is because Britain shall be doing so unilaterally.”

    The reality is we’ll end up outsourcing the risk and the emissions and importing the energy (at top dollar) from nuclear reactors run by the French (EDF) to run things such as our spanking new (and extremely costly) high speed railway.

    Chris Huhne is now talking about outsourcing heavy industry in order to cut emissions. I see nothing but impoverishment for this country under the present ruling elite.

    Doubtless Colin Firth would have something to say too. Such a pity he passed up a golden opportunity to show he meant it by accepting his Oscar by video link.

  8. Lizzy Williams

    Being in my late thirties I remember being brought up with “Threads” and reading Z for Zachariah. The power of atomic energy has always terrified me but with a good head whilst studying science left me on the fence with nuclear power. My own father working on Royal Naval ships with their own nuclear reactors. I joinied the army and received extensive NBC (Nuclear Biological Chemical) training. In a way I wish I hadn’t as the what I see on the BBC in particular is a serious underplay of the contamination risk. If we knew the alert level the forces were at in Japan we’s have a much clearer view of the level of risk. Our government does not have a good history of tackling difficult subjects unless forced to do so and there was someone from the select committee still professing plans for extending nuclear power in the UK as necesary and safe on television today. It is a clear case of money or price dictating progress not morality. The policy must be reviewed and the events in Japan have finally convinced me to absolutely against Nuclear power despite my scientific knowledge. The risks are simply too catstrophic. Our demand for power is what needs addressing across the world.

    • Philipa

      Agree completely except that I have this view because of my scientific knowledge not in spite of it.

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