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Nuclear power and the metropolitan takeover of Greenpeace

Friday 01 June 2007

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, once a passionate supporter of environmental pressure groups like Greenpeace, laments that so many have been taken over by politically correct metropolitans concerned mainly with the anxieties of southern England

SEVEN days ago in our News columns, we discussed briefly the Government's plans for a new generation of nuclear power stations and commented on the fact that many of the proposed new sites were in the South of England.

For once, it seemed, the North, already burdened with a huge weight of waste and decay left over from the Industrial Revolution, might escape some of the unpopular but - as I believe - essential development if this country is to stay in the First World of developed and further developing nations.

Is it time to cast our arrogance and selfishness aside and leave the bad old days of nuclear behind us and move towards green energy - shouldn't we create a viable planet for future generations - photo from greenpeace.org.uk
Is nuclear really the way ahead
Photo: greenpeace.org.uk

I reflected at the time that such news would not go down at all well Down South. But I was shocked at the screams of protest which erupted from London and the South East from a body that I once admired, Greenpeace.

How dare they suggest building such things near Brighton, Oxford, and Bath, roared Greenpeace director John Sauven, promising a "huge amount of opposition." And in Scotland and Wales, which have their own devolved form of government, it emerged that local politicians would refuse planning permission for such projects.

What nobody said out loud, but was obviously thinking behind closed doors, was: "Shove 'em up North - some extra industrial muck won't matter now that we've already stolen the money that muck used to produce."

Now apart from revealing the contempt in which many southern metropolitans hold Northern Britain - where most nuclear power stations were built half a century ago - it also made my heart sink that Greenpeace, a body I once greatly admired, has become a politically correct windbag which no longer believes that actions are stronger than words.

Some 20 years ago, I spent a delightful few days with the crew of a Greenpeace ship moored in Majorca. These young people, from all round the world, were fighting for a cause I deeply believed in: rescuing the Mediterranean dolphin from death in their hundreds, trapped in often illegal fishermen's nets.

These youngsters were not just enthusiastic amateurs. The majority were university graduates with a wide range of scientific and environmental knowledge but also brilliant and brave sailors who regularly took their lives in their hands by speeding fragile inflatable boats into the paths of hostile fishing crews to get dramatic film of trapped and dying dolphins.

Things began to go wrong about ten years ago, when there was a fundamental split in the top echelons of Greenpeace. One of the causes was when the group, quite wrongly, accused one of the major oil companies of polluting the sea by sinking a redundant drilling platform which had served out its useful life in the North Sea.

Greenpeace said that the rig contained hundreds of tonnes of oil and thousands of fish would die. In fact, their science was totally wrong: there was no oil on the rig and, far from being a menace, the sunken rig formed an artificial reef which became and extremely important breeding ground for fish. Reluctantly, Greenpeace had to apologise.

It has now become just another lobbyist group, of which there are hundreds in the Westminster village

What had happened, you see, was that the original action men and women, who did the science and took the physical risks (including being murdered by French secret police in New Zealand, as happened to one of their photographers) had been replaced by the PR people who thought that they could get the same results by using (and abusing) the media.

It has now become just another lobbyist group, of which there are hundreds in the Westminster village. To get your stuff into the mainly metropolitan media, you have to toe the politically correct line. I know, because I've been there, and to get Northern news into London-based newspapers or broadcast media is more difficult than the biblical camel and eye-of-a-needle trick.

That political correctness came out in all its full glory last week when it became obvious that Greenpeace and similar Nimby organisations think nuclear power stations should be hidden out of the way Up North, where the peasantry is use to all that muck.

In the old days, Greenpeace would have done the science and realised that transporting electricity along power lines can use up to 30% of the energy generated overcoming the resistance in the cables.

So the logical point, if you want fewer nuclear power stations, you need to site them near the towns and cities which use their power. That is not just science but also old fashioned common sense, a great Northern virtue. Trouble is, political correctness - and straight-forward regional snobbery - pays heed to neither.

Your views:

  • Solar is not competing with nuclear energy.

    Certainly solar power (along with most all non-carbon emitting energy) is part of the answer, but Robert Palgrave exaggerates the effectiveness of solar. It is definitely not the panacea he claims it to be because it is, itself, inefficient, expensive, and has its own environmental impacts.

    According to the California Energy Commission ( http://www.energy.ca.gov/electricity/gross_system_power.html ), all of the utility-generated solar power in the state amounts to two-tenths of one percent of the state's electricity production. Because of the limited availability of sunlight, these systems have very low capacity factors and therefore cannot be relied upon for baseload power.

    At 13 to 42 cents per kWhr, solar power is *the* most expensive way to generate electricity. What's more, due to its low capacity factors, solar capacity must be backed up with additional stand-by power generation, which adds to the overall cost of solar.

    Solar requires a vast amount of land which must be dedicated to solar generation. In order for the salts to remain molten at night, CSP requires fossil fuels to be burned for heat. This renewable technology is a contributor to greenhouse gas emissions!

    CSP technology, along with many other renewable power should continue to be supported in hopes that a breakthrough will someday allow them to be a significant source of energy generation. For the immediate future however, any gains in solar or renewable technology should be used to offset fossil fuels, not nuclear energy.

    Michael Stuart

  • It is clear that John Sheard has not read Greenpeace,s report "Decentralising Power: An Energy Revolution for the 21st Century" which uses old fashioned common sense and promotes that electricity should be produced close to where it is used. Not only does this prevent transmission loss , which Greenpeace estimate to be around 3.5% , not 30% , but more importantly give the opportuntity to save 61.5% lost through inefficient generation and heat wastage in large power stations.

    Greenpeace's vision is to generate power using existing efficient cogeneration with both heat and electricity distributed via local networks. In this vision the UK could meet all its future demand for electricity without producing any from nuclear power stations. Therefore Greenpeace's view is that there is need to build any more nuclear power stations anywhere in the UK.

    Greenpeace continues to be science based and also is an organisation which belives in and uses direct action to make its point, which makes it different from other lobbyist groups.

    Ian Smith - Leeds

  • I take it you want to see nuclear power plants in the south of England to "even up the score". But what is your view on using nuclear at all?

    A quick 'science lesson' first on transmitting electricity. There is a modern technology called High Voltage Direct Current (HVDC) which is far superior to the more common HVAC you see being carried on pylons around the country. With HVDC, the transmission loss is around 3% per 1000km. The losses are far smaller than HVAC because DC is not affected by capacitance between the conductors. HVDC is already used for connecting offshore wind farms to various countries' national grids and has for many years provided the interconnect between the grids of France and Britain.

    I mention HVDC because it is the key to a sustainable clean electricity strategy for Europe, one which avoids any need for nuclear power.

    Sufficient electricity can be generated from renewable sources like wind and wave in northern Europe, and from solar power in southern Europe and in the Sahara. A mesh network of HVDC transmission lines can be built to share this distributed resource around all of Europe. Because the sources of power are spread over a wide area, there is resilience, so for example, if the wind is not blowing in one area, the shortfall will be made up by solar or wave energy from elsewhere.

    Using a power generation system called Concentrating Solar Power (CSP), it would be possible to generate all of the EU's electricty requirements from an area of land 110 kilometres square. Using HVDC, this could be transmitted to the UK with only a 10% loss.

    CSP is a simple technology and has been working successfully in California since the 1980's. Spain has just opened a new plant near Seville, and is planning several more. CSP uses mirrors to concentrate sunlight and create heat, and the heat is used to raise steam and drive turbines and generators, just like a conventional power station. It is possible to store solar heat in melted salts so that electricity generation may continue through the night or on cloudy days.

    A detailed proposal for using the deserts of North Africa to supply European electricity was commissioned in 2005 by the German government. It estimated that CSP electricity, imported from North Africa and the Middle East, could become one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Europe, including the cost of transmission. This TRANS-CSP report may be downloaded from www.trec-uk.org.uk/reports.htm.

    More information about CSP and the idea of a pan European clean electricty grid is at www.trec-uk.org.uk.

    So the question is not where the nuclear power stations should be built, but why on earth are we even considering them at all when there are real alternatives.

    Robert Palgrave - Woking (down South)

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