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Nuclear power: saviour of the Dales landscape?

Friday 04 April 2008

Our countryside commentator John Sheard, a reluctant convert to nuclear power, asks if green pressure and political correctness will destroy some of the finest landscapes in England

Some thirty years ago, the man with the worst job in British public relations – selling the then Windscale nuclear power station in Cumbria to a sceptical public - had a trick to show visiting journalists. Sadly, the trick failed...

He used a Geiger counter to register the radiation being emitted outside the plant on the Irish Sea coast – and then used the same machine on a handful of fresh coffee beans in his office. And, yes, the beans gave off more radiation than the entire plant, now called Seascale.

wind turbine
Destined for the Dales?

At that time, I was one of many national newspaper investigative journalists trying to prove that the plant was a mortal danger to local people and wildlife. I even spent several unpleasant days bobbing around at sea on a stinking trawler, trying to catch “radio-active” fish in Morecambe Bay.

Eventually, we had a handful of these unpleasant creatures, covered in red wart-like spots, which I took to Britain’s leading maritime fish research laboratory at Stirling University in Scotland. The result: they had a piscatorial version of the measles, a disease known about by local fishermen for centuries.

The fact of the matter is that no-one ever proved a single human death as a result of radiation leaks from Windscale, even though thousands of men had died in the coal mines over the previous century, producing fuel for power stations which killed untold hundreds more with bronchitis from the smoke that blackened our towns and cities.

Former coal miners are still dying from the coal dust that invaded their lungs and wind-borne pollution from coal-fired power stations in England produced acid rain which wiped out thousands of acres of forest and poisoned rivers as far away as Scotland and even Scandinavia.

Reluctantly, I began to accept the nuclear power was the future. But politicians closed down the nuclear power programme (it took Arthur Scargill to kill off the mines) under pressure from “green activists” and Britain lost its trained scientists and engineers capable of building such power stations.

Now, with the world’s fossil fuel supplies at risk in both Russia and the Middle East, the Government has decided that nuclear must be brought back – and we must go cap-in-hand to the French to do it for us.

So far, this has been a national debate. But it has suddenly reared up in the Yorkshire Dales with a proposal to build the tallest wind turbines ever erected in Britain at the epicentre of some of the loveliest landscape in the country.

These monsters, with the hill they sit on, would rear up to over 1,000 feet at East Marton in Craven near a secluded stretch of the Leeds-Liverpool canal. They would dominate the landscape over a diameter of some 40 miles, from the Three Peaks to the north, Malham Tarn in the east, Pendle Hill to the south and the Forest of Bowland to the west, all places which attract thousands of visitors.

These monsters, with the hill they sit on, would rear up to over 1,000 feet at East Marton in Craven

Yet recently, the Prime Minister has a) given the go-ahead for a new nuclear building programme and b) announced a rash of off-shore wind turbines which will, he promises, will meet Britain’s EU-created targets for wind power energy.

Apart from any aesthetic considerations, wind farm electricity is very, very expensive and the German company EnergieKontor which has made the Craven planning application will need massive subsidies to complete the project. Those subsidies go onto our electricity bills and at present are running at £250 million a year nationally for windfarm projects and will continue to rise annually until 2015.

So just what is the justification for the Craven windfarm? It makes little sense economically, is a disaster in the making for our countryside, provide few local jobs (the windmills would be prefabricated in Germany and assembled here) and all the profits would go abroad. Are PC “green” campaigners once again pressuring the Government?

These are the questions being posed by the Friends of Craven Landscape (FCL), a newly formed body set up to fight the windfarm and which has already gathered a formidable data base of scientific evidence that makes this project even more ludicrous than I have set out here. The friends need friends, anyone who values our landscape. For more information, contact christopher_emmett@hotmail.com

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