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Nuclear energies Achilles heel
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The UK government's strategy for dealing with deadly nuclear waste is in jeopardy three years after it accepted the idea of disposing of it deep underground. Just two local councils in one region, west Cumbria, have shown any interest in hosting the £13.8bn underground facility.

 Thirteen local councils who enquired decided not to go any further according to a new report being finalised by the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management (CoRWM) which advises the British government. That raises questions over the policy of "voluntarism" which was designed to prevent a backlash with host communities feeling unfairly picked on.

'Lack of confidence'Instead of politicians or experts choosing a location, local authorities were instead invited to volunteer to host the deep underground repository where some of the most dangerous materials known to man would be locked safely away from all living things for tens of centuries, if not millennia. But to sweeten the nuclear waste pill there was to be a package of incentives.

But now there is a "lack of confidence" in the process in some communities, according the to CoRWM Chairman Professor Robert Pickard and doubts have emerged amongst some local people about whether future Governments will deliver on promises made today.

The two local councils interested, Copeland and Allerdale are both on Cumbria's western rim. Copeland has been in the frame before. It covers the area explored by the now defunct Nirex organisation which conducted test drilling aimed at creating a repository until work was abandoned in 1997.

In the 12 years since progress has been slow and now Professor Pickard, agrees that with just one region interested, the process would be in difficulty if they were to wobble in their commitment in the future: "That's true and there is no way round it", he says. He admits the repository won't be ready before 2040 at the earliest and pessimists believe it could be much later than that. "Clearly time has been lost",  "If you started tomorrow it would still take a 120 years probably to move legacy waste (the waste from existing and past nuclear programmes) into deep geological disposal".

Despite a system which was supposed to allow local authorities to back out if they were unhappy, the latest CoRWM documents suggest that the two local authorities still fear that they could be imposed upon to take the deadly waste against their will if the voluntary approach failed.

The CoRWM committee will call on the British government to restate its commitment to "voluntarism" in an attempt to regain lost trust. Professor Pickard says the government needs to "clarify the process" to reassure people. Most of the UK's radioactive waste is split between two broad locations, the sprawling Sellafield site in Cumbria and Dounraey in the far north of Scotland.

But since the Scottish National Party took over the government in Edinburgh, the administration there has gone cold on deep geological disposal and is developing its own distinct strategy leaving another question mark over the UK plans. But in Finland progress is being made.

They hope to have their repository site licensed by 2020 and work is already progressing rapidly. The gaping tunnel mouth at the Onkalo site on country's Baltic coast leads to a three kilometre subterranean road network which will eventually spiral down to a depth of 420 metres to the place where the waste should be stored in principle until the end of the Earth.

Juhani Vira, the Vice-President for Research for Posiva the company building the repository, expects his site to take 130 tonnes of used uranium fuel rods for every year of Finland's nuclear programme. He agrees it is an awesome responsibility but he is convinced that the bedrock "is very stable". "In geology we talk about time scales of billions of years", he says. That allows him to predict the stability of the rocks for centuries to come. 'Passive safety'

But what will human societies be doing in hundreds of thousands of years and will they be stable enough to care for this generation's toxic nuclear legacy? Because that question can't be answered he says,the repository must be "safe independent of the actions of future generations".

Finland's design relies on what he calls, "passive safety", meaning future civilisations should not need to worry about it. But he says, if future societies really wanted to they could dig it up if they found a better solution. But he concludes, "there should be no need to".

Onkalo is just miles from the Olkiluoto nuclear power station complex with its two enormous reactors and a third Olkiluoto 3, under construction. That will be the biggest reactor the world has ever seen but it is way over budget and three years behind schedule. It is to be hoped Finland's waste repository won't face the same fate.

Even so construction in Finland is likely to be complete before the UK has even started.

 
Old North sea fields to capture CO2
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Scotland is on the cusp of leading the world in a revolution in energy technology that could massively reduce carbon emissions and transform the economy. As previously revealed, a document was unveiled that showed the North Sea could be used to store unwanted carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power stations for at least 200 years.

Academics suggested unwanted emissions from the UK and north west Europe could be safely stored under the North Sea. There could be potential to take up 2,000 years' of Scotland's unwanted CO2, they said.

The research by Edinburgh University, sponsored by the Scottish Government, could be the blueprint for an industry that may outstrip oil and gas in importance to the future economy -- and bring an estimated 10,000 jobs, it was claimed. The report found the potential capacity exists to store up to 46,000 mm tons of CO2 in rocks beneath the Scottish waters of the North Sea.

First Minister Alex Salmond, a long-term supporter of carbon capture storage technology (CCS), hailed the report as "ground-breaking" and a milestone in Scotland's future.
"The development of CCS in Scotland, including power stations and storage networks, has the potential to support 10,000 jobs," he said. Mr Salmond said that Scotland is well placed to lead the world in the technology because of its geological assets -- mainly former oil and gas fields and an abundance of porous rock, known as saline aquifer.

He added that Scotland was helped by its expertise from the oil industry, detailed knowledge of the North Sea and collection of experts in the field.
He said: "Scotland can be a world leader in this technology of the future." Malcolm Ricketts, principal carbon analyst at energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie, said the report showed Scotland has a huge commercial potential in carbon capture.

"This has the opportunity to create a new offshore industry, with Scotland benefiting in terms of knowledge and skills," he said. "The key is to position the first trials on power plants, which will help to develop a pipeline infrastructure for future CCS developments." However, a warning note was struck by some environmentalists that CCS -- also known as "clean coal" -- is an unproven technology outside the laboratory at industrial levels and could have a negative environmental impact.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said: "The First Minister proudly claims that 'Scotland is ready for carbon capture' but he forgets to add that carbon capture isn't ready for us. Nowhere does he admit that carbon capture on this scale exists only on the drawing board. It may make an important contribution one day, but it's a disgrace that Scottish ministers have already given their backing to new coal-fired power stations before carbon capture and storage has been demonstrated anywhere in the world."

Liam McArthur, the Liberal Democrats' energy spokesman, warned: "It remains that the best kind of emission is no emission at all. Ministers must ensure that whatever potential Scotland has for developing carbon capture does not come at the expense of investment in clean, green, renewable energy."

Other groups welcomed Mr Salmond's statement. Friends of the Earth Scotland and the World Wildlife Fund in Scotland both welcomed the report as a major development in tackling a future environmental disaster. Duncan McLaren, Friends of the Earth Scotland's chief executive, said: "The First Minister has taken an important step forward in heralding a move away from unabated coal power by supporting technology to capture emissions."

He went on to remind Mr Salmond that carbon capture is "only half the equation" and appealed to the Scottish Government not to allow any new coal-powered stations which do not include CCS technology. And he endorsed ScottishPower's bid to have the first industrial experimental site for carbon capture at Longannet power station in Fife. If successful in a UK government competition, ScottishPower believes it can be up and running by 2014, and that the technology they develop could then be attached to the 50,000 fossil fuel power stations around the world.
Frank Mitchell, generation director at ScottishPower, said this development in itself could make Scotland the centre of excellence for the technology around the world. Next stage -- power firms fight it out for funding
The next step in the development of technology to capture and store carbon dioxide will be the result of a UK government competition for funding. Four power companies are competing for about £ 1 bn to pay for carbon capture projects they hope to build in the UK.

ScottishPower is believed to be a front-runner with its plans to fit carbon capture technology at Longannet Power Station in Fife. Unlike its main rivals, ScottishPower would not need to build a new power station but would fit the technology to the existing plant. ScottishPower thinks that the project can be up and running by 2014 and hopes to start using the capacity within the North Sea to store the waste. It is important that the technology is proven and working by about 2025 or many coal-powered stations could have to close under EU pollution rules.

The academics and companies behind carbon-capture research in Scotland want further evaluation of storage in the North Sea and government money for R&D. Although some infrastructure is in place, in the form of pipes which transported oil and gas from the North Sea, more will need to be built at a cost of around £ 700 mm to £ 1.67 bn. Analysis -- Professor Stuart Haszeldine

Electricity, cheaply and readily available, is at the core of our lives. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, this is now taken for granted.
Coal and gas have to be burned to produce more than 75 % of that electricity in the UK -- easy, quick, but very polluting of the world's atmosphere and oceans. The carbon dioxide (CO2) created has to go. The UK is the first country to make CO2 reduction legally binding on a government, and became the first to require new coal power plant to fit carbon capture equipment.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) buys time. It allows industrial countries to carry on burning fossil fuels in a much cleaner way.
Scotland can justifiably claim world-class advantages. Firstly, the capture equipment has to be designed and built -- Doosan Babcock has its world research base at Renfrew, and plans to provide 10 % of new coal plant worldwide.

A willing and adaptable power industry is needed to build, and learn to operate, the massive capture equipment. This can clean up existing power plant (as with Longannet and ScottishPower), or can be applied to newly built power plant (potentially at Peterhead with Scottish & Southern, or at Hunterston with RWE).

High quality pipelines are required onshore and offshore, delivering to injection terminals -- this expertise is also well established through decades of North Sea work. Identifying and assessing a storage site, then injecting, the uses the skills and expertise of hydrocarbon companies; monitoring the stored during and after operations is the business of geophysical contractors.

The Scottish government expects the creation of 10,000 new high-tech green jobs when CCS becomes standard practice. Many of these will use existing onshore and offshore skills and extend them. Unique natural assets for Scotland are the storage sites.

A power plant can be re-built, or the can be transported, but the huge volumes of rock to act as stores are fixed. Our research shows clearly that Scotland has hundreds, probably thousands, of years of storage capacity for its own needs -- enough capacity to offer storage to both England and north-west Europe.

Will this be safe? There is every reason is will be; there are dozens of large natural accumulations of worldwide, some in the North Sea, which have stored for tens of millions of years. The geological requirements are well understood. Any storage site will have to go through a rigorous licensing procedure, rather like for oil and gas exploration and production.

The UK is very good at this, we have already produced our regulations in law, ready to go. Monitoring of a storage site is explicitly required, both during injection and for many years after site closure.

 
Englands dire energy crisis
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Let us be clear: England is facing an unprecedented crisis. Before long, we will lose 40 per cent of our generating capacity.

And unless we come up quickly with an alternative, the lights WILL go out. Not before time, the Confederation of British Industry yesterday waded in, warning the Government it must abandon its crazy fixation with wind turbines as a way of plugging this forthcoming shortfall and instead urgently focus on far more efficient ways to meet the threat of a permanent, nationwide black-out.

There are a few contenders for the title of the maddest thing that has happened in our lifetime. But a front-runner must be the way in which politicians of all parties have been seduced by the La-La Land promises of the wind power lobby.

If you still haven't made your mind up about wind power, just consider some of the inescapable facts - facts which the Government and the wind industry do their best to hide from us all. So far we have spent billions of pounds on building just over 2,000 wind turbines - and yet they contribute barely one per cent of all the electricity that we need.

The combined output of all those 2,000 turbines put together, averaging 700 megawatts, is less than that of a single, medium-sized conventional power station.What's more, far from being 'free', this pitiful dribble of electricity is twice as expensive as the power we get from the nuclear, gas or coal-fired power stations which currently supply well over 90 per cent of our needs - and we all pay the difference, without knowing it, through our electricity bills.

But despite its best efforts to conceal the fact that wind turbines expensively and unreliably generate only a derisory amount of electricity, the Government keeps on telling us of its megalomaniac plans to build thousands more of them - at a cost of up to £100billion. The prime reason for this is that we are legally obliged by the European Union to generate 32 per cent of our electricity from 'renewable' sources by 2020. And with just 11 years to go until that deadline, we hope to meet the target by building highly-subsidised wind turbines.

But this is a farce. In fact, as the Government is privately well aware, there is not the faintest hope that we can do anything of the kind - even if we wanted to. Gordon Brown talks airily of building 4,000 offshore turbines by our target date - plus another 3,000 onshore. But this would mean sticking two of these 2,000-ton monsters, each the height of Blackpool Tower, into the seabed every day for the next 11 years.

Nowhere in the world has it proved possible to install more than one of them a week. The infrastructure simply isn't there to build more than a fraction of that figure. Furthermore, such are the weather conditions around Britain's coasts that it is only possible to work on these projects for a few months every summer.

Then there are the 3,000 promised onshore turbines - many of which are to be erected in the most beautiful stretches of Britain's countryside. These are meeting with so much local hostility that the Government has continually had to bend the planning rules in order to force them through over the wishes of local communities and the democratic opposition of local councils. But wind power is not just the pipedream of deluded politicians.

As the CBI was trying to warn yesterday, the real disaster of this great wind fantasy is that it has diverted attention from the genuine energy crisis now hurtling towards us at breakneck speed. For while the Government is trying to force a scattering of useless wind turbines through the planning offices, the truth is that the rest of us will lose 40 per cent of our power stations within as little as seven years. If this happens, and we don't have an alternative, our kettles won't boil, our computers won't work and our country will face economic meltdown.

There is little hope now of an 11th hour reprieve. Eight of our nine nuclear power stations - which presently supply 20 per cent of our electricity needs - are so old they will have to close. Nine more large coal and oil-fired power plants will also be forced to shut down under an EU anti-pollution directive.

But more alarming still is the astonishing naivete of almost all our politicians when it comes to working out how we are going to fill the 40 per cent shortfall left in their wake. Very belatedly, the Government has said that it wants to see a new generation of nuclear reactors.

Yet there is little hope that any of them can be up and running earlier than 2020. What's more, they will have to be built by foreign-owned companies because, as recently as October 2006, the Government sold off our last world-class nuclear construction company, Westinghouse, to the Japanese at a knockdown price.

At the same time, our Energy And Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, now says he will not allow any new coal-fired power stations to be built unless they have 'carbon capture' - piping off CO2 to bury it in holes in the ground.

This technology not only doubles the price of electricity but hasn't even yet been properly developed. And so the only hope of keeping the lights on will be to build dozens more gas-fired power stations - at a time when North Sea gas is fast running out. And then we will be forced to rely on imports from politically unreliable countries such as Russia, at a time when gas prices are likely to be soaring. In any event, over the past 20 years, our politicians have made an even more unholy shambles of Britain's energy policy than they have of our economy - and the cost, when the chickens come to roost in a few years' time, will be almost unimaginable.

The causes of Britain's impending energy crisis are manifold. Michael Heseltine's 1992 'dash for gas', when he closed down most of our remaining coal mines because North Sea gas was still cheap and abundant, and because its CO2 emissions were only half those of coal, was one of them.

But nothing has done more to take the politicians' eye off the ball, egged on by environmentalist groups such as Friends Of The Earth and Greenpeace, than their quite incomprehensible obsession with windmills. For these white elephants can never produce more than a fraction of the electricity we need, and by no means always when we need it - as we saw last winter when, for weeks on end, they were scarcely turning at all. Do politicians never look outside the windows of their centrally-heated offices to see how often the wind is not blowing?

The Government has now shovelled so much money in hidden subsidies into the pockets of the turbine companies that the 'wind bonanza', promoted on a host of fraudulent claims, has become one of the greatest scams of our age. But if and when our lights do go out, it will be important to remember just why we got carried away by such a massive blunder. Left with a land blighted with useless towers of metal, we shall look on those windmills as a monument to the age when the politicians of Britain and Europe collectively went completely off their heads.

 
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