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Thursday, November 03, 2005


Recently the Scotsman came out in a 2/3 page closely argued leader in favour of building new nuclear power stations - you can imagine how pleased I was. Nonetheless I spotted an error - they had based their argument on the idea that 20% of our electricity is nuclear whereas in Scotland it is up to 55%. Clearly pointing that out would serve to reinforce the point.

That was the first letter here.

I got a very good reply supporting classic power sources which I am reprinting.

I sent back this reply which, somewhat to my surprise hasen't been published. The Scotsman haven't printed any other letters on the subject & I am sure Stuart Campbell at least must have sent one so I presume they have decided to give correspondence on nuclear a rest for a time.

The original leader is at the bottom, since being much longer than the letters, had I started with it my bit would be drowned out.
Nuclear power

I was pleased to see your editorial (15 October) supporting nuclear power, due to the catastrophic effects of drifting into a situation where Hunterston and Torness close without being replaced. However, you say that 20 per cent of Scotland's power is supplied by nuclear, when, in fact, that is the figure for the United Kingdom as a whole. In Scotland, the figure is 55 per cent.
Enough power in store

The pro-nuclear lobby keeps trying to inflate the amount of nuclear power generated in Scotland, usually quoting figures between 50 and 55 per cent with Neil Craig (Letters, 22 October) quoting 55 per cent. Official figures for 2001, 2002 and 2003 are 36.8, 32 and 37.2 per cent respectively.

If the Hunterston B (1,190 MW) licence is not extended beyond 2011, it will close, but before 2010 almost 1,900 MW of additional power capacity will be available in Scotland.

The modernised Peterhead gas/oil-fired power station has a further 821MW that could be made available if the east-coast grid was strengthened. A 350 MW prototype carbon-free hydrogen-fired power station at Peterhead is planned to be operational by 2009.

There will also be a further 400 MW gas-fired station at Westfield, Fife, an upgraded 120 MW gas-fired station in Fife became operational in December 2004, and an additional 120 MW hydro capacity will be available by the winter of 2008, and we now have 50 MW of biomass and waste-fuelled power plants available.

Old Greenock Road
Bishopton, Renfrewshir
(I really had to work to answer this)
The letter from Bill Robertson (25th Oct.) saying that Scotland only relies on nuclear for 37.2% of our electricity rather than the 55% I said deserves a response. The figure he gives derives from a DTI report which also says that this was artificially reduced in 2002/3 by technical problems (mainly at Torness). The figure of 55% was accepted at Holyrood. The former relates to theoretical capacity, the latter to market share of power produced. Thus, for example while there may be 50 MW capacity of bio-mass (aka wood) available, without planting many hundreds of square miles of new forest it would be impossible to utilise this continuously as nuclear can.

In any case since my letter was in response to well justified predictions of catastrophe if we lose 20% of our power to say that it may actually, on an average day, be only 37% is not reassuring.

I agree we could put in new cabling to use power from Peterhead, though the hysteresis losses in moving power make that an inefficient measure. However, with the ratification of the Kyoto treaty, it is now illegal to increase CO2 production & thus we cannot rely on increased coal & gas fired power.

His reference to a prototype hydrogen powered generator solving our problems is misplaced. Hydrogen is not a power source - hydrogen is merely a storage medium. There is no such thing as a hydrogen well. To make 350 MW from hydrogen you have to first use over 1000 MW of power to make the hydrogen from water. This actually makes some sense if you use the off peak power of a nuclear reactor. Reactors work best producing flat out continuously & have minuscule fuel costs so the marginal cost, when demand is low is very small. However this only works if we actually have the reactor in the first place.

Mr Robertson has produced serious figures to back up his letter unlike so many "renewable" supporters who think electricity just comes from sockets but the fact remains that we are facing major blackouts over the next 2 decades for purely hysterical reasons. France produces 85% of its power from nuclear, sells large amounts of it very profitably to its Luddite neighbours (including 5% of UK power keeping the south of England warm) & is doing very nicely out of it. I think that is better than having pensioners dying of hypothermia because they can't pay their fuel bills as, according to Help the Aged, happens to 24,000 pensioners in Britain every winter.
Yours Faithfully
Neil Craig
DTI report 2003review

Holyrood debate

There were floods in Hawick this week. Not quite Hurricane Katrina, but with basking sharks invading Scottish waters we all know our climate is doing funny things. A concensus has emerged over the past couple of decades that it is best to be safe rather than sorry in this situation. So public policy has moved in the direction of redirecting the emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which scientists have implicated as a possible factor behind global warming. But just how serious are our politicians about cutting carbon dioxide emissions? Do they really mean it or is it just playing to the gallery? And how committed are the various environmental pressure groups to making the many political compromises needed to effect change in the energy market? Are they players or merely utopians who reject any compromise solution - which is no solution at all.

The facts speak for themselves. The Blair government has set a target for achieving 10 per cent of Britain's energy from renewable sources by 2010. however we can barely manage 4 per cent, & most of it from large-scale hydro-electric plants which the environmental lobby would oppose if built today. Wind power is the only practical renewable technology available in the timeframe but it struggles to produce 0.5 per cent of electrical power after 15 years of development at enormous public subsidy. Besides the environmental lobby has now turned its guns against shore-based wind turbines.

Lesson: the government will not meet its 2010 renewable energy target as the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, hinted loudly in his speech to the Labour Party conference a few weeks ago.

In Scotland championed by the environmental minister, Ross Finnie, illusions regarding renewable power illusions are even more fanciful. Scotland has the advantage of the great hydroelectric schemes built in the 1940s & 1950s, which provide around 13% of our electric needs. Rather than build on this legacy in a sensible fashion, Mr Finnie has set an absurd target of generating 40 per cent of power generation needs provided by renewables in 2020. This makes the Executive - especially its Liberal Democratic part - look heroic to the more impressionable part wing of the environmental lobby. However any sensible observer realises Mr Finnie's figure is either hopelessly farfetched or a cynical ploy be a politician who won't be around in 15 years time when it is exposed as a fraud.

A look at the small print of the Executive's policy on renewables reveals it is premised on the untenable assumption that future growth in energy demand is limited to between zero and 1% per annum. But governments of all parties have championed energy conservation in Britain for 30 years only to see demand soar by 60%. Electricity demand in the United Kingdom rises at 1-1.5% a year. Unless Mr Finnie plans to knock down most of Scotland's houses over the next 15 years & rebuild them with a serious eye to energy conservation you can forget the 40% figure. Even if Mr Finnie did succeed in his plans, renewable energy is substantially more expensive than other forms of generation. Household bills would skyrocket, while what is left of Scottish industry would be put at a serious competitive disadvantage.

Fortunately a little common sense has started to break out in government circles in the past few weeks, especially at Westminster. Mr Blair has begun a not-so-subtle campaign to put nuclear power back on the agenda as an alternative that renewables or conservation can do the job of cutting down on fossil fuel emissions fast enough to help with global climate change.

A clue as to how serious the Prime Minister is can be found in the fact that that the Department of Trade & Industry has recently confirmed it has been holding preliminary talks wit major nuclear utilities in Germany & France. The DTI has already identifies 3 sites to host new reactors, including Hunterston in Ayrshire. That puts Scotland squarely in the nuclear frame.

Not for the first time, the Executive is prevaricating. The Hunterston B nuclear power station in Ayrshire is set to close in 2011, while Torness in East Lothian will last until around 2020. Together they supply some 20% of Scotland's electricity. Take them out of the game & renewable will have to fill even more than that impossible 40% target. Unless new nuclear stations are commissioned, the reality is that Britain & Scotland are going to have to burn a lot more expensive, imported natural gas. So much for cutting fossil fuel emissions. So much for security of energy supply.

The conclusion is inescapable: if we want to cut fossil fuel emission in a reasonable timeframe, the only practical policy is to build a new generation of nuclear generating plant. Others are thinking this way too. China plans to build 30 new reactors by 2020, while environmentally-conscious Finland has already broken Europe's long moratorium on commissioning atomic power stations.

The latest designs of nuclear plant embody passive safety systems that do not require human intervention in the case of an accident. The Chernobyl reactor on the other hand, relied on human operating procedures which were violated. The new reactors are also much more economical to build, operate & maintain than the current generation.

Long term waste storage remains an issue, but if there is a choice to be made it is surely more to cut the fossil fuel emissions now and sort out the nuclear waste at our leisure. Half a loaf is always better than nothing to a starving man. It is just such hard political choices that the Executive has to start making.

You may be interested to know that John Ray of Greeniewatch < >, who previously reprinted the Scotsman editorial on nuclear power, has now published my 2nd response on 5th november.
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