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Thursday, March 24, 2011


Tom Minogue compares the alleged £6.6 billion cost of a dual-carriageway tunnel under the Forth as being half as much as the rebuilding of the entire Panama Canal (“A lesson from Panama Canal”, Letters, March 23).

Readers may also be interested to compare it with the Norwegian proposal to cut a slightly shorter tunnel under a mountainous peninsula, expected to cost £210 million.

This is the Stad Skipstunnel, which is Norwegian for ship tunnel since it is designed to transport liners.

An example closer to home is that the previous Forth Bridge cost £19.5 m, equal to £320m today.

Nobody in Hollyrood seems willing to say why this new crossing has to cost £2,300m. Nobody seems even willing to try to explain it.
  I have previously had a guest post from Tom here in which he pointed out that the entire project is a useless boondoggle and that the bridge can easily be recabled and a 5th tidal lane added which would increase its capacity by 50% for around £20 million. This is his letter which I am answering.
Travelling the world as a merchant seaman I saw many wonders but none impressed me more than the Panama Canal, the world’s greatest civil engineering project.

The existing canal has two lanes with sets of locks 1050ft long by 100ft wide at the Pacific and Atlantic sides. A new expansion contract is adding a third lane with locks 1400ft long by 180ft wide. These locks will connect to the existing channel system through miles of new navigation lanes almost doubling the size of vessels and volume of shipping using use the canal.

Excavation of the new channels for larger ships is a massive task and will necessitate raising the level of the vast Gatun Lake to supply the additional 137 million gallons of water a day the new system requires to raise and lower the ships. The cost of this project, due for completion in 2015, is between £9.3 and £15.5 billion. This price for a 48-mile, nine-hour transit between the Atlantic and the Pacific is not a great deal more than the £6.6bn quoted by John Swinney for tunnelling under the mile-wide Forth, which would take 10-minutes to navigate.

Transport Scotland’s estimates for tunnelling, given by Mr Swinney at Holyrood, would not be out of place in a Hollywood fantasy movie. How can we have confidence in the similarly extortionate new bridge estimates he has given to the Scottish Parliament?

Tom Minogue,
      It is now clear the Herald is not going to publish my reply to Elizabeth Marshall's counter-factual attack on my previous letter. Oh well, this is how British journalism works. Here it is.
The figure of 56 dead at Chernobyl is, as Elizabeth Marshall suggested (letter today), from the UN Chernobyl Forum report. Her dispute of that figure does not involve her producing any alternate but merely muddying the waters and saying she can't see. The figure is robust and it took some courage for UN engineers to stick to it since they were obviously under significant political pressure to muddy the waters themselves. Indeed the report concluded that the major cause of ill health and death was the despair brought to millions by such fear stories, as well as 50,000 unnecessary European abortions, but no cancers. It can thus be stated with certainty that in the world's worst ever nuclear accident over 1,000 times more deaths occurred because of false hysteria induced by the antinuclear movement than by the accident itself.

Compare also with the Ufa train disaster, also in the dying days of the USSR and equally the fault of that country's abysmal lack of concern for safety. That killed over 500 people but received virtually no media coverage here because trains, unlike nuclear engineering are not treated by the Luddites (so many of them dominating the media) as black magic.

Her assertion that nuclear costs "at least 20 times the cost of gas fired power" seems eccentric and would have benefited from something in the way of evidence. The Royal Academy of Engineering figures show nuclear significantly cheaper and the fact that French electricity costs 1/4 of ours suggests it is not more expensive. I have publicly said that I believe a nuclear economy can be run at 10th the present electricity price and had no fact based dispute. That would be a debate for another letter if any Green realistically disputed it.

Ms Marshall does not dispute the antinuclear prediction of a million extra cancers and half a million deaths, nor that there has, in fact, been zero actual measurable increase. This came from John Gofman, the man who invented the theory that low level radiation is harmful no matter how low and did so without any scientific evidence whatsoever. That his prediction, based on his theory, proved to be 100% wrong is part of the massive body of evidence for the opposite theory, known as radiation hormesis, that low level radiation is actually beneficial to health. As Stalin proved with Lysenkoism and our current politicians are proving with their continued claim that we are experiencing catastrophic global warming, politically approved theories can long survive the inconvenience of the evidence showing them wrong.

Once again such hysteria means the death of 10,000 in the Japanese tsunami is receiving much less western news coverage than an accident in which not one person has been killed or even measurably injured.
Refs - UN reports 56 dead
John Gofman invents LNT theory
50,000 European abortions
Hormesis evidence

UPDATE - The Dundee Courier has published my reply to Tim Minogue as well

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