News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dungeness C

It has been a while since I've had time to blog, what with weddings, moving house and all, but I'm going to get back into it now. What better to start with than the planned new nuclear power stations.

Clearly, the decision on whether to build a new nuclear plant at Dungeness will be important for the marsh in particular but also for the surrounding areas, including Folkestone. There have been nuclear power stations there for over 30 years now, but Dungeness A is now being decommissioned and B isn't far away either.

Nuclear energy is, inevitably, a controversial subject. I can't say that I'm a big fan of nuclear power for three main reasons. First is the fact that we still don't really know what to do with the waste, or what the long term health and environmental consequences of that waste may be. Second is the financial costs involved, which are high and not really known for definite, given that we don't know how to dispose of the waste yet. Finally, and most importantly, is the risk that it could all go horribly wrong. Clearly, the chances are slim, but that will be of little consolation to the people of Chernobyl, who have had to live with the consequences of nuclear disaster. You never know, next time it could be Dungeness, although I know that the technology is very different.

Despite all the dangers, I can't really see how else we can generate the necessary power in the short term. Clearly, renewable energy is fantastic. It's clean and endless. However, it just isn't reliable enough yet. There will always be times where there isn't enough wind to turn the turbines or sun to power the solar panels. They also cause environmental damage of their own, with the wind farm on the marsh causing great concern to the RSBP and hydro electric dams and tidal power destroying ecosystems. So for the moment, I think that there is still the need to improve the technology, so that we can implement renewable energy in the greenest possible way. Powering the whole country with renewables just isn't a realistic option at the moment.

So that means we need to do something in the meantime. The options seem pretty limited:
1) nuclear energy
2) fossil fuels
3) Managing without electricity.

I don't find the idea of going back to the dark ages terribly appealing, so I'll rule out 3 straight away. Of course, there are opportunities to reduce energy consumption - from simply turning off lights which aren't in use to new technology in industry and our homes - but that doesn't eliminate the need to generate electricity.

We certainly could generate all of our power needs from fossil fuels if we so choose. I think that there are problems with that though. Firstly, there's the well publicised carbon emissions and their impact on global warming. Even if you don't believe in man made global warning - personally, I don't think that it's been proven beyond doubt, but still think that man made global warming is very likely to be a reality, even if it is only part of a wider, natural phenomenon - there are few people who would want to see a return to the days of smog. I certainly wouldn't want to live next to the fumes of a coal power plant, and wouldn't want the countryside to be ruined by them either. Of course, there are carbon capture schemes which would see the pollutants collected and then stored underground, but that's unproven technology. Moreover, fossil fuels are limited. Increasingly, we are reliant upon imports of gas and oil from unstable parts of the world, and the increasing demand is pushing up prices to uneconomic levels, so we can't afford to rely on any one source of power. In terms of coal, although we still have plenty, that which is left is the least accessible, which again makes it more expensive, more dangerous to mine and again it can leave a blight on the countryside.

Waste to energy incinerators are in some ways a great option, killing two birds with one stone. They get rid of all the rubbish, which we can't keep burrying and provide a source of electricity. However, few people want to live next door to one, so it can only ever be part of the solution.

So it seems to be that there are pros and cons of all types of energy, and the best policy for the time being balances all of them, rather than relying on one. The technological, environmental and political unknowns make dependence on any one form of energy far too dangerous.

Turning specifically to Dungeness, having decided that I think that we need nuclear power, I think that Dungeness C should be built. There are several reasons which make it a good locations.
1) Access to ample water for cooling the plant, which is why Dungeness was chosen in the first place.
2) There are plants all along the other coast of the channel anyway, so it's not like we can avoid living near to a nuclear power station.
3) The skills required by a nuclear power plant already exist on the marsh.
4) Romney Marsh needs to have some economic activity. A nuclear power plant will provide skilled jobs for a generation of Marshians.

Of course, there are those who want to maintain Romney Marsh as some kind of living museum. I see that Shepway Lib Dems have already come out against plans for a new power plant, have also opposed plans for a new airport. They seem to think that the Marsh should rely on tourism, which is one of the most unreliable and lowest paid forms of work going! I have to say, that I do love the Marsh, which feels like it's in another era, even when you're standing next to the existing power stations. However, you can't expect people to live their lives in the past. This is the 21st century, whether we like it or not, and people do need to earn money to survive. The Lib Dems haven't come up with any alternative plans to generate the necessary jobs and income. Then again, when have they ever offered a solution or an alternative vision? They are the party of the populist gimmick and cheap publicity stunt.

For me, there will be one particularly important consideration when the decision is due - the plans to deal with rising sea levels. There will need to be plans in place to protect the site from potential encroachment by the sea. In fact, that will already have to be in place until 2021 to protect the waste stored at the site of the old Dungeness A, and probably a little longer for Dungeness B as well, so it shouldn't be an issue. It may even be that the existance of the nuclear power stations is all the prevents the marsh from being allowed to be reclaimed by the sea.

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