Wednesday, November 28, 2007

British Energy reckons nuclear power stations are safe from flooding, and Greenpeace harrumphs British Energy, the UK's biggest nuclear operator, has just published a report (pdf) they claim shows that new nuclear reactors in the UK could be protected from flooding and sea-level rise caused by climate change. They concluded "that all our sites can be sustained over the next 100 years." But their report doesn't cut the mustard.

British Energy themselves admit that "much work remains to be done to confirm the suitability of these sites against modern standards". All they can suggest that might work is "engineering measures" to protect coast lines and "setting back" new reactors a bit further away from the sea, which is to say the least a bit vague.

How do we know this won't work? Because earlier this year Greenpeace commissioned the experts at the Middlesex University Flood Hazard Research Centre to examine the risk of nuclear reactors being flooded by sea level rise at Dungeness in Kent, Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex and Hinkley Point in Somerset. Yesterday, British Energy named all four of these as preferred sites for new nuclear power stations.

Our report showed that the predicted sea level rises will have a devastating effect on these sites, far more than they are letting on. In a worst-case scenario - in which the West Antarctic Ice Sheet melts, an event some scientists think may occur during the 21st century and which would trigger an abrupt and extreme rise in sea level estimated at 5-6m - all four sites would be in serious trouble. For instance:

  • At Dungeness, by 2080 high tides could be around 4.35m higher than today. This could cause the total loss of the power station site and also a significant portion of the surrounding area through erosion and flooding.
  • At Bradwell, flooding could increase and become much more severe, enough to wash over protective embankments and potentially enough to turn the power station site into an island.
  • At Sizewell, the coastline is considered to be vulnerable to extensive coastline retreat. An extreme sea level rise would cause significant erosion and flooding that could cause sections of the power station to be flooded.
  • At Hinkley Point, the 0.7-0.8m increase in the 50-year surge height predicted by 2080 could add significant additional stress to the power station's sea defences. Siting a new nuclear plant to the east of the present stations really wouldn't be advisable or indeed feasible.

The animation we produced shows in graphic detail exactly what this means.

Whatever British Energy might like to suggest, building new nuclear reactors on coastal sites will not be economically or even physically possible. The government looks set deliver a vision of a nuclear future fixated on the technology and infrastructure of the past, but our report shows in black and white why nuclear power is nothing more than a dangerous and expensive distraction from the real solutions to climate change. Nothing British Energy has said changes that in the slightest.

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