Response to the DTI Energy Review 2006
Jim Duffy April 2006
Stop Hinkley is a local campaigning group opposed to nuclear power in Somerset and the UK. Formerly Stop Hinkley Expansion, the group was actively involved in the Hinkley 'C' public inquiry. Since then it has campaigned on safety, health, nuclear waste, nuclear transport, nuclear incineration, decommissioning and other issues related to the industry. We submitted a response to the 2003 Energy Review.
Much of our campaigning is reported through the local and regional media and an appendix is attached with copies of many newspaper articles reflecting our concerns since the last Energy Review.
During the current Energy Review we have co-hosted four public meetings looking at the risks from nuclear power and the better options as part of a sustainable energy policy. Reports of speakers' comments are referred to in the following text.
At our meetings and through our newsletter we have collected signatures for a petition to the Energy Review Team, which is also attached.
2. Previous Energy Review
We were relatively content with the outcome of the 2003 review, which painted a progressive picture of energy policy to be taken up by the Government. The emphasis on Energy Conservation and support for renewable forms of energy seemed a sensible approach to the problems of climate change and energy security. Stepping towards a localised energy system and away from centralised generation also fitted a sustainable approach.
Moreover the holding back of nuclear power as a costly and unnecessary option was also helpful, especially as the decision was in the face of fervent lobbying by the industry. No doubt the true costs of the industry were rammed home by British Energy's fall into near bankruptcy which the DTI had to pick up in terms of many thousands of person-hours of complex rescue work and which the taxpayer picked up in terms of hard cash and future liabilities commitments.
3. Local concerns about nuclear
Our group examined studies by Somerset Health Authority (1) published in the 'eighties which suggested that radioactive discharges from the power station could account for leukaemia excesses in the young population nearby. Dr Cameron Bowie's conclusion was that accidental releases might have triggered the cancers, including one statistically unexpected case in the same low population ward as the power station.
So we commissioned Green Audit to look again at local cancers. Dr Chris Busby used Office of National Statistics figures to study the mortality rate of four cancers in 150 wards near Hinkley Point. In April 2000 (2) he found that breast cancer mortality was almost double the national average in Burnham-on-Sea, just five miles downwind from Hinkley, but also adjacent to fifty hectares of mud-flats. Dr Busby's hypothesis was that discharged radioactive particles would settle on the sea-bed, which when exposed at low tide would yield the particles through the action of the wind. People living near the beaches would then inhale the deadly atoms.
A follow-up doorstep survey (3) by Burnham group, Parents Concerned About Hinkley, asked residents in North Burnham about their health patterns. Out of the one third of the population surveyed, breast cancer again featured prominently with a three-fold excess and leukaemia double the national average.
Continuous pressure on the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) brought on a study (4) undertaken by South West Cancer Intelligence Service (SWCIS) who also found a dominance of breast cancer registrations in the town, a third up on the national average and a quarter up over four adjoining wards along the contaminated coast. Additionally a doubling of expected leukaemia cases was found.
Many reasons were found by SWCIS and the PCT for the cluster excluding the most likely, the proximity of Hinkley and its radioactive sea and air-borne discharges. Predictions by the International Commission on Radiation Protection suggested the dose exposure was too low. We and others have challenged the reigning authority on the health risk from low doses of radiation.
The Committee on Medical Aspects on Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) also commented on the phenomenon but got mixed up in its understanding of the doorstep survey, coming to the wrong conclusions, which it partially withdrew (5). However it maintained the study was faulty.
Last year COMARE published research (6) into childhood cancer and leukaemia incidence near nuclear installations. Although it found excesses near the weapons plants of Harwell, Aldermaston and Burghfield, together with the military dockyard at Rosyth, and nuclear plants at Dounray and Sellafield, it exonerated nuclear power stations. Closer study of the research showed that a wide 'net' had been thrown by COMARE, which studied health impacts to a range of 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) from power stations. This inclusion of sometimes quite large populations unlikely to be contaminated by the discharges as they were inland and outside a reasonable distance, meant that COMARE had whitewashed the cancer figures in more modest populations nearer the reactors and, more importantly, the washed up discharges.
In the meantime another Government committee, the Committee Examining Risks from Internal Emitters (CERRIE) in 2004 (7) said that there were wide uncertainties in cancer risks from radioactive discharges up to a factor of ten-fold. A minority report by Dr Busby was voted down after Whitehall lawyers at the last moment said individual committee members could be sued if it were published by the committee. The report (8) said the uncertainties were 300 fold or more. The former Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who set up this committee with an ethos to publish internal differences of scientific opinion, railed against this intrusion.
In late 2005 the French radioprotection agency, IRSN (9), supported Dr Busby's conclusions that certain isotopes were potentially many times more damaging than previously thought and might also trigger non-cancerous illnesses.
In this, the 20 th anniversary year of the Chernobyl disaster, there is much discussion about the health impact of those contaminated. Reports, which seem to play down the cancer, non-cancer and genetic effects have been criticised in the press (10) and in publications such as Dr Busby's new book due out on Chernobyl Day (11). Suspicion is added to by events such as the imprisonment of Dr Uri Bandaghevski in Belarus after he found that children had died of and were suffering from heart disease linked to their intake of radioactive caesium.
We conclude that radioactive discharges from nuclear plants are linked to local cancers and possibly other non-cancerous illnesses. Building a new generation of reactors will add to the health burden and consequent personal misery carried by local populations.
3.2 Nuclear Safety
In two of our public meetings (12, 13) a campaigner from Wales Anti-Nuclear Alliance (WANA) explained how the nuclear industry is reducing safety measures in its reactors in order to save building costs and make reactors more saleable. He gave the example of the Westinghouse AP1000 reactor. This plant, favoured by the UK nuclear industry has never been built. It evolved from the smaller AP600 model, which also has not been built. The larger capacity reactor is housed in the earlier small plant.
About 75 percent of the safety systems considered essential to the last Westinghouse built in the UK, Sizewell 'B', have been omitted from the design. The cables, pipes, valves and extra concrete which the UK regulators insisted on in the 1970s and 1980's have been replaced with a spray system inside the reactor followed by a dousing system in the form of a large tank of water perched on top of the pressure vessel which are meant to cool down an overheating reactor. The system ridiculously identifies the reactor as the 'Advance Passive' or AP type.
As the large volume of steam generated by dousing the overheating pressure vessel must be allowed to escape, there is no secondary containment in the design. All previous modern reactors have the dome-shaped feature, which contains fission products and gasses should they leak from the reactor in an accident. This is a very serious public health issue.
We are not at all convinced that an industry bent on resurrecting its long dormant sales by taking such drastic shortcuts should be allowed to build a series of ten such untried plants.
We note with interest that Electricite de France (EDF) (14) are prepared to invest millions in order to build, with no direct subsidy, their own version of the Pressurised Water Reactor in the UK. They can see a 'killing' can be made by constructing in a country which seems bent on building not one but reportedly ten reactors at once. It is also interesting that EDF are building the first of their new models in far-away Finland, not on their own soil. Finland unfortunately pushed through the plans, hardly touched by any kind of rigorous licensing and planning process.
We are alarmed at current nuclear operations at our local reactors in the West Country. Oldbury nuclear power station near Bristol is operating with one of its twin reactors in a severely corroded condition, whilst the other is closed, awaiting reports and sampling tests but is even more corroded. Both have the graphite reactor core bricks depleted to the extent of almost 35 per cent (15). A report by Manchester University (16) commissioned by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate, said that at this level of corrosion, the bricks maintain only fifteen per cent of their original strength. The risks of localised overheating and a fuel fire were acknowledged by the NII in two TV documentaries on Oldbury in September last year (17, 18).
Hinkley Point 'B' is similarly afflicted but despite being the later generation Advance Gas Cooled Reactor (AGR) type, has developed 'three or four cracks' in the crucial reactor core bricks, according to the Station Director when pushed on the question in a Site Stakeholder Group meeting in October last year (19). Although the cracks had been known about since 2003, there had been no release of information to the public or even the Local Community Liaison Committee which preceded the Stakeholder Group.
The secrecy inherent in the industry from its former military links holds a tight grip on its current proceedings. It is still very difficult to obtain information relating to the safety of local populations, while the industry runs the reactors on the tightest of safety margins more expected in Soviet Russia or the Third World. A current request on Hinkley's reactor cracks by our group under the Freedom of Information Act has been deferred by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate as releasing the information may constitute a problem on health and safety or commercial sensitivity grounds(20). Astonishingly we have also been told we will not receive information on the width, length or location of the acknowledged cracks for security reasons (21). It is difficult to imagine how a terrorist could benefit from such precise details but they are crucial to us in our understanding of the safety risks involved in the ongoing operation of this reactor.
4. Licensing and Planning
We are concerned by reports that the DTI is prepared to shortcut through the existing licensing and planning structure to pave the way for a new generation of reactors. The New Scientist in July 2002 (22) published extracts from a leaked DTI memo which showed this intention.
As stated earlier, we have concerns about the safety systems, or lack of them, in the UK favoured model. We suggest it is imperative that the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII) be allowed to retain all its existing powers to research and vet new designs and insist on strengthening any weaknesses before granting a licence. The Pre-Licensing approach suggested by British Nuclear Fuels Ltd looks very much like a short-cut to this necessarily lengthy process with obvious benefits to the industry but none to the community.
We insist that the current NII policy is upheld that all modifications made in reactor design are in the direction of greater safety.
The announcement by EDF (14) that it would build ten reactors here subject to shorter planning processes was contemptible but reflected in previous forecasts given by City analysts. The nuclear industry must be answerable to a transparent, thorough and robust mechanism of accountability. This should continue to include wide-ranging analysis of the local requirement for the plant with the availability for cross-examination, in the public arena, of industry experts. Health issues, safety issues, those of security should all be covered by a comprehensive test of such an important intrusion into the community. It is even in the interest of the Government and the industry to observe this protocol as the public will resist and resent any sense that a nuclear power station is being foisted on them. There will be outrage at the idea we can just debate the 'colour of the front door'.
No free market economy has developed nuclear power. When the Conservative Government privatised the newest part of the UK nuclear industry in 1996 it did so by selling eight nuclear power stations for the price of one, Sizewell 'B'. It could not hope to sell off the already ageing Magnox reactors which were kept in State hands.
Even without the huge construction costs of the AGR stations, British Energy (BE) could not withstand market forces, which reduced electricity prices, and it went belly-up in 2002. The rescue package took two years to fully resolve. It required the state owned BNFL to stump up the front-end and back-end costs of BE operations, in respect of subsidised fuel fabrication and spent fuel reprocessing. The cost of the latter was estimated at £300 million per year. Annoyingly BE never wanted its spent fuel to be reprocessed, preferring the much cheaper dry-storage option. But this highly polluting and useless process was perpetuated, we believe, to keep BNFL's books also appearing healthy. The public also accepted part of the future cost of BE's reactor decommissioning.
The original cost, at its inception, of Sizwell 'B' rose from £2 billion in today's money to about £4 billion when finally built. It set the pattern for all major nuclear projects to rise extraordinarily in cost as time evolves.
The project to decommission the Magnox reactors and Sellafield seems to rise every time it is examined. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority this month announced a hike in costs from £56 billion to £70 billion (23), not ruling out further escalation. This massive project does not include the cost of British Energy reactors, whose liability on the public recently rose to £5 billion, nor the MoD decommissioning of nuclear submarines and land-based plant, nor the cost of managing all the nuclear waste in perpetuity. One report estimates these totalling an unimaginable £160 billion (24).
City analysts have suggested that reactors will not be built by commerce without some Government subsidy. Currently there is no restriction on new build but, tellingly, no company has taken the opportunity. The areas they point to are:
shortening the licensing and planning process which can add costs by their duration but also by 'surprise' interventions requiring safety modifications etc;
fixing the price of electricity with a mechanism such as a nuclear obligation, requiring electricity companies to buy a proportion of their electricity from nuclear generators;
help with decommissioning costs;
help with long-term nuclear waste management
Even if companies suggest they will 'pay their way' as EDF are promising, the taxpayer will be blackmailed into stumping up again if companies 'lose their way'. We will not be able to walk away from radioactive hulks of reactors even if companies go broke.
6. Nuclear Waste
The nuclear industry has suggested that the amount of nuclear waste produced by a generation of new build would amount to only ten per cent of the existing and future legacy waste. However this is misleading. CoRWM has said that this refers to the proportion of all existing waste which mostly comprises bulky Low Level Waste (LLW). In terms of High Level Waste or Spent Fuel, new build would produce three times the existing amount in volume and five times the amount in radioactivity (25).
Although CoRWM has yet to report on the nuclear waste issue, its Chair, Gordon McKerron has said (25) that there is no solution to the waste problem only different forms of management. This crucial disclosure was already obvious to many.
No country has 'capped off' (26) on its buried nuclear waste due to fears of packaging corroding. No country seems sufficiently confident to give an early date for capping off. So we are left with, in reality, a long-term storage scenario. The Government seems keen to have a 'solution' available to it, which would ease the way forward for new build but this seems technically impossible. Moreover, building more reactors undeservedly saddles future generations with escalating amounts of highly dangerous waste. If the waste is stored, they must manage the waste, observing for leaking packages and repacking the waste safely. This is a highly onerous task for generations who may not have proceeded down the nuclear route. If the waste is buried in Deep Repositories, it will inevitably leak into the environment, spilling fissile material into aquifers, which will surface somewhere, sometime. Again this delayed time-bomb is too much to ask our unborn children to bear.
At the Yucca Mountain Repository in the USA, a court has pronounced the waste must be protected for one million years.
The nuclear industry has been suggesting that the highly radioactive spent fuel from its new reactors would be housed locally on site for the predicted sixty year lifetime of the reactors. This is a departure from the current practice of sending the fuel rods to Sellafield for reprocessing, with the exception of Sizewell 'B's spent fuel. The planned local storage of this fuel is most unwelcome by our group and is bound to be a cause for concern amongst local communities. The reactor sites are already perceived as potential terrorist targets, with particular exposed areas especially vulnerable. Adding to this vulnerability by creating a deadly toxic store would be the height of irresponsibility.
7. Climate Change
Nuclear power has been lauded as a carbon-free technology. However this is not true, taking the full life-cycle of the nuclear process. Uranium mining in particular requires much use of fossil fuels. The largest man-made hole in the southern hemisphere is a uranium mine in Australia. It contributes seven per cent to Australia's carbon emissions. If there is more take-up of nuclear power, the ore will become much harder to extract, requiring still more fossil-energy.
Compared to wind-power, nuclear is considered to produce fifty per cent more carbon per kilowatt produced. Several groups (27) have highlighted the fact that a doubling of nuclear capacity would bring about an eight per cent reduction in carbon emissions, while the Government's target in 2050 is a sixty per cent reduction. Moreover there would be a necessary time-lag in building new reactors which would not help the UK's 2010 targets and only marginally, if at all, those of 2020. Finland's emissions have risen while their new reactor is being built, probably as people there believe the climate problem has been 'fixed'.
The last Energy Review and the Energy Savings Trust have both said that the UK could save thirty per cent of its energy at nil net cost. It seems a simple approach to lag roofs, insulate and draught-proof homes and factories as a primary measure. All observers have said this is the most cost-effective approach, compared to any method of electricity generation.
During a likely future period of higher energy prices, home insulation would also act as a hedge for poorer families, who are currently penalised at a greater proportion of their income for energy costs (28).
Utilities could be forced to take more responsibility for reducing energy demand, in supplying low energy light bulbs and energy audits on homes and factories.
New and existing buildings should come under legal obligation to be built to Zero Energy Development standards, as modelled by the BedZed development in Sutton.
Localised Energy Systems
Woking Council have achieved a 72 per cent reduction in carbon emissions by setting up a localised system where offices and council buildings are heated and provided with electricity from local sources, especially Combined Heat and Power Units (CHP).
London's authority (29) has taken up this challenge too and plans to introduce a network where home and office-based solar panels and wind turbines can feed back into the district grid system.
The current centralised grid system relies on large units of generation often hundreds of miles from the disengaged consumer who simply switches on the lights with no mental connection to where the electricity comes from. This model can be wasteful because as much as two-thirds of the original power source is lost from generation to consumption. The 2003 Energy Review saw district based systems as a progressive vision but this seems lost in the current drive towards big centralised nuclear and other generating plants.
The Sustainable Development Commission (30) hailed the localised approach as one of the key points in its recent report, saying we could lose this opportunity for fifty years if we don't take it now. The approach was popular when outlined by Bridget Woodman, Research Fellow at Warwick University at our public meeting in Watchet in March (31).Renewable Energy
The myriad forms of renewable energy do not need elaboration in this response. But our group fears that it could be easier for civil servants to accept just one or two large-scale approaches to energy policy such as nuclear, coal and gas as opposed to helping to stitch together a patchwork of interdependent and complimentary smaller-scale approaches.
Wind-power could complement and overlap with power from solar panels, waves or tidal lagoons, all perhaps peaking at different times of the day and year. All of these could interact with biomass which could be a stand-by option.
The UK seems to have a wealth of natural resources, as the windiest country by far in Europe and that with the second highest tidal range, in our region.Tradable carbon quotas
An idea is fast taking shape whereby individuals are able to trade on the amount of energy they consume and carbon they emit. Those consuming less can profit from those using more. Carbon targets could be achieved by gradually reducing the overall availability of carbon quotas (28).Non-electricity energy
One reason that nuclear would only reduce our carbon emissions by at the most eight per cent is that most energy goes into heating buildings and transport. As suggested earlier, buildings could be much more effectively insulated and CHP units installed as part of district schemes. Council tax could be adjusted depending on home energy audits.
On transport there should be stricter taxing of fuel, not to raise cash for the nations coffers, but to help change the travelling behaviour of the public. This approach should particularly apply to air travel, the fastest growing sector. If fuel taxation is considered too difficult in an international market (although a quarter of international flights start or finish in the UK) then airport tax could be sharply increased.International Cooperation
The 'Contract and Converge' model seems the most appropriate way forward to achieving fairness between rich and poor countries, allowing poorer countries to 'catch' up with the wealthy West, while we gradually reduce our greater impact on the climate and therefore as a consequence on the Third World.
We would be rushing into a very bad mistake if we choose to go down the nuclear route. It is unnecessary and unhelpful to climate Change, will produce security threats around the country while amassing more nuclear waste, which has no real solution. The health of those living near reactors will be compromised, especially if flimsy safety systems break down.
There are better approaches to our energy needs which include reducing energy demand, continuing to support renewables but more seriously, and facilitating localised energy systems with CHP and micro-generation.9. References
A sample of local and regional newspaper cuttings generated by Stop Hinkley press releases, quoting Stop Hinkley or other local campaigners. (See the 'News and Media Reports' section on the website)
37 petition forms: 'No more nuclear in Somerset!'