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At Last The Government Gets It, We Need New Nuclear Power Stations


After thirty years of dithering, listening to know -nothing scientists and do nothing wierdie-beardies, short-termism and pandering to the profit motive our ruers have finally accepted we ned to build nuclear power stations to ensure supplies of reasonably clean electricity for the future.

A Last The Government Gets It - We Need New Nuclear Power Stations
by Ian R Thorpe
2007-04-14
CREATIVE COMMONS: Attribute, non commercial, no derivs.
KEYWORDS: electricity, power, coal, oil, emissions, enviroment, energy, Gaia, nuclear, science, scientists

Thirty years ago I worked in the Nuclear Power industry. Not playing with the dangerous bits, nobody would be insane enough to let me lose with toys that dangerous. I was involved in a project to rationalise the Government's nuclear power strategy and my role involved designing and building state of the art integrated voice and data networks. It was actually much more interesting than sitting doing equations all day but the physicists were all mad so they didn't care.

During my three and a half years on the project I learned enough to understand the world was in trouble on energy. It had become obvious a few years before that something weird was happening with the climate and weather systems. It was also obvious the people leading the campaigns on climate change were not among the clearest of thinkers. It was de rigeur to subscribe to James Lovelock's Gaia theory and accept the eco system that supports life on earth works like a huge machine with each of its components right down to the smallest thing having its part to play in keeping the process moving.

The leaders of Greenpeace and Friends Of The Earth did not seem to understand however that although the planet could have been left to manage itself had humans not advanced beyond their stone age level of social organisation we could not suddenly abandon technology and go back to a bronze age lifestyle but with television, indoor plumbing and pot noodles. They screamed about the nuclear power plants being built by National Nuclear Corporation a consortium made up of government, Central Electricity Generating Board and leading civil engineering and heavy electrical equipment companies. They screamed about new coal plants like Drax or oil fired stations like Fawley. They screamed when proposals for tidal and marine currents were floated. And having painted themselves into a corner they could not scream but were not happy when the realities of living by candlelight through the winter months. You can never please some people.

At the time the founding fathers of the weirdie - beardy movement were mumbling into their beards and their lentil beer about "power from sustainable sources." They were big on rhetoric, short on specifics. At the time the first wind turbines were appearing. At first, in small numbers and placed in areas of outstanding scenic mediocrity they looked quite decorative. The one that stands on a very bleak stretch of moorland between Burnley and Todmorden is an example. People used to drive up just to watch the turbines. The novelty has worn off now and proposals to put much bigger turbines in more attractive places are attracting protests.

Through working with the National Nuclear Corp. I learned a nasty little secret about turbines. Not only is there a fairly narrow band of windspeeds at which hey operate efficiently enough to generate commercial levels of power, but they work best when running at a constant speed so in conditions where wind speeds are variable they are sucking power out of the grid at some times. But that is a small argument against wind power, the big one is when there's no wind the lights go out.

Supporters of wind power counter this by claiming it is always windy somewhere. That's probably true but do we want to cover the entire country in turbines so we can be sure of catching the wind wherever it is blowing? As the nation community's main source of power wind is a non starter. So if fossil fuels were not politically acceptable and had the added disadvantages of being finite resources that would run out sooner or later (probably sooner in the case of oil,) wind was not reliable because it is not consistent and hyrdo - electric dams or barrages on estuaries would have too great an environmental impact that left wave and tide schemes and nuclear power.

Though the name National Nuclear Corp. sounds like a one trick pony the researchers were actually charged with exploring all possible alternative energy sources. At that time they had no great confidence in wind, believed wave and marine current schemes were barely feasible and were trying desperately to persuade the Friends Of The Eel that a true barrage would allow water levels to rise and fall naturally while harnessing the energy of the tides. When their argument fell on deaf ears the only option left standing was to build more nuclear power plants as a stopgap until new technologies were available and environmentalists had come to terms with the realities of life without electricity.

The problem was at that time there was still a lot of scepticism about climate change. Most of it was, ironically, centered on the academic and scientific community, the very people who are now screaming that they warned us of climate change years ago and nobody would listen. Effing hypocrites, while the majority were stroking their chins and saying "Hmm well, something might be going on but of course we need to do a lot more research before we can come to a meaningful conclusion the most influential among them and therefore the ones who were paid most by big oil, big food and big chem were dismissing Lovelock and his supporters as cranks and scaremongers.

While all this was going on Thatcherism had wound itself up to full power and privatisation of the electricity business was under way. That meant to private investors lining up to bid for the licences to print money were not interested on long term solutions but only in quick fixes and quicker profits. Their best idea was quick - build gas burning power stations that would consume vast amounts of our precious offshore gas resources. Strangely the academics and commercial scientists were not pointing out the folly of this approach. it was left once again to the mavericks, poets and comedians, novelists, tofu munchers and Pachouli users. And nobody listened to us of course, not even those of us who wore Armani and smelled of Aramis. Oh you're not scientists, what do you know?" we were told.

It is galling now to see the scientists jumping on the bandwagon as soon as governments indicate they are willing to throw $$trillions of taxpayers' money at the problem. Even more galling to see the idiocy level of the ideas climate scientists are coming up with, a combination of reinventing the wheel but insisting it will work much better if it is made square and crackpot schemes the possible catastrophic consequences of which do not bear thinking about.

One of the most stupid ideas for a scientific quick fix for global warming is a suggestion we pump huge amounts of sulphur into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight back into space. Why is it loony? Because we, Al Gore included, (everyone but the scientists that is, they are too busy trying to get so far up their own arses they can scratch their heads from the inside) remember the acid rain problem in the 1970s and 80s. This was caused by sulphur being pumped into the atmosphere. We did not know at the time it would be harmful so there as no outcry but the sulphurous emissions from coal stations in Yorkshire and Humberside where there are a cluster of huge generating plans caused considerable harm to pine forests in Scandinavia. This necessitated retro fitting of sulphur capture technology at enormous expense.

I suppose the science lobby would say sulphur pumping will be different this time because it will be done scientifically. The problem is the planet does not know anything about science.

Another idea being pushed hard is to put nutrients in the oceans to encourage algal blooms which in theory will absorb Carbon Dioxide. Again we must wonder what planet these mad bastards have been living on. Several times in the past few years algal blooms have polluted stretches of coastline. Only this year French fishermen in Normandy lost the best inshore fishing weeks of the season while tourist trade was ruined because beaches and inshore waters were poisoned by decomposing algae. That particular infestation is thought to have been caused by nutrients from sewage outflow and residues of fertilizers in ground water being carried to the sea by streams and drains. The science nuts, living in their bubbles of unreality, would probably argue that scientifically controlled nutrients are not for hostile algae, only the benign kind

Again we have to point out that algae, like the earth know nothing about science. It is always the case with scientists that once they have done their equations they assume nothing can possibly go wrong. It was so with the guys designing the nuclear power stations in the 1980s.Fortunately we had he engineers, the electrical people, the computer guys to keep an eye on things. Had they not done so either we would be missing a couple of chunks of the country from Suffolk and Lancashire or nothing would have got done at all. A characteristic of the scientific mindset to to avoid making decisions, failure to agree a goal and work towards it is the scientists dream. They can keep tinkering and meddling and stroking their chins and trying to improve the design for ever.

One reason why our nuclear power programmes have been so costly and inefficient is that no two British nuclear power stations have ever been built to the same design. Not only were numerous modifications made before the start of each construction project but the modifications kept coming after the job started. Inevitably this led to numerous delays and budget overruns. In America, Canada, France, Germany, India and around the world a design was chosen and they stuck to it. And got results.

So now, after the scientists wasted thirty years, we have no option but to return to the nuclear option. Nukes aren't the low cost option they ere once thought to be in fact they are expensive to run and decommissioning costs are phenomenal but the dangers are greatly exaggerated. This biggest risk we face to this programmes success is if the politicians let the academics and scientists poke their noses in. Because as sure as eggs are eggs they will bollocks everything up.

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