21 June 2015

Hinkley

David Cameron is about to sign you up to pay for one of the most expensive man-made objects in the world. The proposed nuclear power station at Hinkley Point in Somerset will cost an estimated £24.5bn, take a decade to construct, and tie British households into an astonishingly expensive electricity subsidies until 2060. For that price you could pick up eight Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, build forty Royal London Hospitals, or pay for Crossrail – twice. You could also just about afford another Three Gorges Dam, the 1.5-mile long monstrosity that spans the Yangtze River. The latter, which required the relocation of about 1.5m people, cost £26bn. But it also produces 22.5 gigawatts of power, more than seven times what Britain’s version will generate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a growing chorus of critics are calling for the unthinkable: to bin Hinkley Point altogether. They may have a point. The world has changed dramatically since 2010 when the government named the spot on the Somerset coast as a possible site for new atomic reactors. In the intervening years, the price of some renewable technologies has plummetted by as much as two-thirds. A deluge of natural gas from America’s shale industry has slashed the fuel’s cost in half. Last month, entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled a battery that he said portends an era in which any home with solar panels, and perhaps a rooftop wind turbine, will be its own self-sustaining power plant. The advance, he said, will “fundamentally change the way the world uses energy”. Even if Musk’s prediction proves wildly optimistic, the cost of Hinkley has become a problem. Peter Atherton, an analyst at Jefferies and long-time critic was unequivocal: “This project is an abomination,” he said. “It’s going to cost £16bn to build, plus another £6bn in financing costs. Either of those numbers alone should have made this unthinkable. We’re building a power station, not the pyramids.”

Sunday Times 21st June 2015 read more »

The 110-tonne spherical lid component of the Hinkley Point C European Pressurised nuclear reactor is facing a test by the French nuclear regulator, the results of which will be keenly awaited by the UK government and EDF. The tests are vital after potential weaknesses were found in the steel used to contain radiation. The issues were found in the head and base of the container for the reactor core built at Areva’s Creusot Forge in eastern France. If further tests prove they aren’t strong enough, the equipment can’t be used, Pierre-Franck Chevet, president of the Autorite de Surete Nucleaire, said this week. Countries, such as the UK who have taken a gamble on the technology being a key element in their energy policies, will need to improvise if testing confirms flawed design. “If testing results in component replacement, this would be very expensive and time consuming, in our view, especially if it implies similar actions for other projects,” Standard & Poor’s said in a credit note on Areva and EDF on Thursday, according to Bloomberg.

Penn Energy 19th June 2015 read more »

Dungeness

Councillors have backed a proposal to lobby the government for a new nuclear power station on the Romney Marsh. The Dungeness B nuclear power station is due to close in 2028 without a replacement. Shepway District Council wants to see a Dungeness C power station built, which would create and sustain jobs in the nuclear industry.

BBC 20th June 2015 read more »

Trident

The Trident whistleblower, William McNeilly, has accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of trying to “brainwash” the public into believing that nuclear weapons are safe. In a new message to the public, he says that people are being deceived about the security of Trident nuclear warheads carried by submarines based at Faslane and Coulport on the Clyde. A terrorist attack is highly likely, he claims. McNeilly disclosed last week that he had been dishonourably discharged by the Royal Navy for making public a dossier alleging that Trident was “a disaster waiting to happen” and going absent without leave. He is promising to say more in July. The Sunday Herald revealed his allegations on May 17, while he was on the run. The following day he handed himself in to police at Edinburgh airport, saying he had achieved what he wanted

Herald 21st June 2015 read more »

Fusion

It was in this garage that, at the age of 14, Wilson built a working nuclear fusion reactor, bringing the temperature of its plasma core to 580mC – 40 times as hot as the core of the sun. This skinny kid from Arkansas, the son of a Coca-Cola bottler and a yoga instructor, experimented for years, painstakingly acquiring materials, instruments and expertise until he was able to join the elite club of scientists who have created a miniature sun on Earth. Not long after, Wilson won $50,000 at a science fair, for a device that can detect nuclear materials in cargo containers – a counter-terrorism innovation he later showed to a wowed Barack Obama at a White House-sponsored science fair.

Guardian 20th June 2015 read more »

Iran

France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Saturday he would meet his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif on Monday to assess where Iran stands ahead of the final round of talks on its nuclear programme, beginning later that week.

Reuters 20th June 2015 read more »

Renewables

Given current energy infrastructure and institutions, how much variable renewable energy (VRE) — wind and solar — can we integrate into the energy system? This is a complex and contentious topic, in part because energy systems, and our understanding of them, are rapidly evolving. This post will offer a broad overview the kinds of challenges wind and solar pose to grids, and the kinds of solutions grid managers use to address those challenges. In my next post, we’ll look more closely at how far those solutions can get us.

Vox 19th June 2015 read more »

Renewables – solar

Now as darkness falls, lights flick on across this sleepy hamlet, thanks to the efforts of more than 200 Maasai women at the frontline of a solar power revolution. The women, trained in solar panel installation, use donkeys to haul their solar wares from home to home in the remote region, giving families their first access to clean and reliable power. “For us, the impact of solar technology is unparalleled,” said Jackline Naiputa, who heads the Osopuko-Edonyinap group, one of the five women’s groups leading the alternative energy charge in the area. Renewable energy developer Green Energy Africa provides the group with solar products – including solar panels, lights, and small rechargeable batteries – at a discount. The women sell the products at a profit of around 300 shillings ($3) each, which goes into the group’s account to buy more stock.

Voices of Africa 3rd June 2015 read more »

Fossil Fuels

A major new scientific study has concluded that the controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking poses a “significant” risk to human health and British wildlife, and that an EU-wide moratorium should be implemented until widespread regulatory reform is undertaken. The damning report by the CHEM Trust, the British charity that investigates the harm chemicals cause humans and wildlife, highlights serious shortcomings in the UK’s regulatory regime, which the report says will only get worse as the Government makes further budget cuts. It also warns of severe risks to human health if the new Conservative government tries to fast-track fracking of shale gas across the UK. The “scale of commercial fracking” unleashed by the Government’s eagerness to exploit the technique “should not be underestimated”, it cautions.

Independent 20th June 2015 read more »

A US environmental group has written to Lancashire County Council urging it to refuse permission to allow test drilling for fracking. The letter, signed by 850 elected officials in New York State, comes days before the council decides whether to approve test drilling at two locations. New York’s state lawmakers outlawed the process in December.

BBC 20th June 2015 read more »

Richard Dixon: LAST week the Pope produced his much-trailed encyclical on the environment. The core of this policy pronouncement was a strong message on the moral case to act on climate change. A lifelong champion of the poor, Pope Francis also criticised the weakness of political and business responses. ‘We cannot ignore the carbon emissions from burning North Sea oil’ At the same time, the oil industry were meeting for their annual get-together in Aberdeen, talking about the further job cuts planned to cope with the low oil price and looking again to government for tax cuts. Despite the astronomical profits oil companies have made from the North Sea, every time there is a challenge, be it low oil prices or the scale of the bill to clean up after themselves, they expect the taxpayer to help them out. The recent G7 meeting in Bonn agreed to phase out fossil fuels by 2100. But a pledge by a bunch of leaders who will be gone long before the deadline to give up something which will mostly have run out by then anyway is not really that impressive. There are different ways to calculate it, but earlier this year a detailed study from University College London looked at how much of which fossil fuels can be exploited before we have to give the m up completely. They concluded that 80 per cent of coal reserves need to stay in the ground, half of gas reserves cannot be burned and a third of all the oil we know about needs to stay were it is. All else being equal, for Scotland this would mean around another 20 years of oil operations in the North Sea, not the 30 or even 40 years that some have been talking about. With this kind of deadline in mind, instead of lurching from one tax break crisis to the next, the Scottish and UK governments, the unions and the oil industry need to work with other parts of the energy industry to plan a managed transition from oil and gas jobs to clean energy jobs. There is plenty to transition into. A study by government, industry and academics concluded that going for offshore renewable energy – wind, wave and tidal – would be as big as North Sea oil has been for the economy, and create 145,000 jobs. Then there are the onshore renewables, which also require engineering skill s, and the jobs to be created in the massive investment we need to make in insulating people’s homes to get them to a decent liveable standard. We failed to have a planned transition when deep coal mining collapsed in the 1980s. We failed again in the 1990s with the closure of most of Scotland’s heavy industries. In the last couple of years, the German power companies have been caught out because solar power was suddenly much cheaper than electricity from their coal power stations. Next year’s annual oil conference should be planning the clear, but limited, future of North Sea oil.

Scotsman 21st June 2015 read more »

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Published: 21 June 2015