Climate Change and its effects on Site Safety
All of the UK Nuclear Power Stations are located at or near the coast. This gives them access to a constant supply of water needed for the cooling operations and provides a relatively isolated situation in the event of an accident.
The British government is planning to build 4 new NP stations on existing sites including one at Hinkley Point on the Severn Estuary and claim that by doing so they will reduce carbon emissions and be able to secure energy supplies to meet future demands. The other sites are at Sizewell,Suffolk, Dungeness, Kent, Bradwell, Essex.
The government and British Energy, who at present own and operate all the UK NPS , accept that climate change will have a serious impact upon our already rising sea levels and have commissioned studies and published reports which investigate these effects and their impact on NPS sites -see www.british-energy.com/documents/Climate_Change and www.nda.gov.uk/documents/CoRWM on impact of rising sea level.
Exacerbated by climate change, our sea levels are predicted to rise by between 0.9 and 1.7metre by 2100. This will in itself cause erosion, flooding and submersion of the coastline.(British Energy Climate Change Report) However, it is the predicted increased frequency and severity of weather events (storm surges) along with higher tides and increased rainfall that could seriously compromise the safely of the NPS sites.
Communities along our east coast are already experiencing the devastating effects of erosion, storms and rising sea levels. In Norfolk, it is possible that in the next 20-50 years 600 homes and 6 villages will disappear beneath the waves because present sea defences are unsustainable- ie. too costly to maintain (www.guardian.co.uk/g2 Waves of Destruction) 17/04/08.
Also on the east coast is Dungeness Nuclear Power Station. At only 2 metres above sea level this is one of the proposed new sites and is currently protected by a massive wall of shingle which each day in winter has to have 600 more tons added to it because waves are constantly eroding it. (BBC NEWS/Science/Nature/Climate to affect nuclear sites and www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog.nuclear/propsed-new-nuclear-plants-at-grave-risk)
Along the Severn Estuary, Hinkley Point,10 mtrs above sea level ,already experiences great variations in the tidal range( up to 15 mtrs ) and adverse weather conditions can raise the levels even higher. The site is most vulnerable to strong winds, powerful waves and substantial storm surges and while the existing massive sea defences should ensure the integrity of the station for the next 15 years, long term predictions(300 years) show the site- and all the radioactive materials on it - to be flooded and surrounded by sea on three sides. In addition, the other low lying Severnside NPS Sites of Berkley (decommissioned) and Oldbury are regarded as potential problem sites because of future erosion and subsequent flooding.
To ensure the long term security of these sites and the radio active materials they contain substantial and costly defences will have to be built (www.nda.gov.uk/documents/ Summary Note for Committee on Radioactive Waste Management on the Impact of Rising Sea Levels on Coastal Sites with Radioactive Waste Stores.Sept 2005 Number 484385 www.greenpeace.org.uk/blog/nuclear/proposed-new-nuclear-plants-at-grave-risk www.marketoracle.co.uk/Article1443.html www.robedwards.com/2005/11/global_warming.html
A suggestion that future sites could be built further in land has been considered as a possible solution. However, this too has potential serious draw backs. The majority of France’s 58 Nuclear PS are sited on rivers to ensure a constant water supply. During the extreme heat of 2003, 17 reactors had to operate at reduced capacity or were shut down. As river water temperatures increased it became impossible to be used for cooling the reactors and the subsequent pumping into the rivers of huge quantities of over heated water from the stations into already warmer than normal rivers would have seriously endangered plant and animal life.
Germany, Spain and America have experienced similar episodes and these are predicted to become more frequent as global temperatures increase. (International Herald Tribune - Climate change put nuclear energy into hot water James Kanter 20/05/2007)
It is ironical that the government decision to build new nuclear power stations - driven ostensibly by climate change- should be thwarted by the effects of the very same thing. British Energy claims they are ‘likely’ to be able to secure site viability for 100 years and that changes can be accommodated with existing engineering knowledge. It is already difficult and expensive to sustain the current levels of defence. In the long term it will become even more difficult and costly in terms of money and earth resources to maintain the integrity of these nuclear sites - not just during the functioning life span of the station (60years)- but over the 100s more years that the radioactive material will need to be contained there.
Exorbitant long term costs for little short term gain must render these plans economically unsustainable. On a human and environmental level, any misjudgement along with a failure to plan for worst case scenarios would have incalculable costs.
A Nuclear Power Station is designed to run for only 60 years and leaves a costly and potential lethal legacy that generations have to deal with for 100s years. There are much safer, more reliable and significantly cheaper sustainable approaches to providing energy while tackling climate change.
Another Nuclear Power Station on the Severn Estuary – or anywhere else - is not the way forward.
Join the fight against the proposed nuclear power station at Oldbury now