Nuclear Policy all at Sea

The Government wants to build a new generation of nuclear power plants in Britain – but where?

It’s a fairly open secret that they favour putting them at existing nuclear sites which are almost all around the coast and there are indeed good reasons for this, including:

  • Public acceptance is likely to be easier to win; existing plants are typically an important part of the local economy and people have got used to having them as neighbours.
  • Grid connections already exist.  Creating connections for new sites would be a substantial additional cost and probably strongly contested through the planning process.
  • Cooling water is readily available.

There is just one small problem: global warming and any associated sea level rise.

The obvious (but wrong) assumption about this is that if sea level rises by, say, one metre then the coast will retreat to the one metre contour.  It won’t; the position of the coast at any moment in time is the result of a finely-balanced equilibrium between land and sea and even the smallest perturbation can upset this balance so that a given rise in sea level can cause the cost to retreat up to 20 times as much depending on local conditions.  Areas where the coastline is low-lying and formed of soft sediments (like Sizewell, Bradwell and Dungeness) are those most at risk.

Of course we don’t know when, or even if, melting icecaps will casuse significant sea level rise.  Some scientists fear that we are near a tipping point where the Greenland ice sheet starts to melt although others are less concerned.  For myself, I am increasingly sceptical of the extent of anthropogenic global warming though climate change caused by entirely natural processes is clearly ongoing.  However, the fact is we really don’t know for certain either way.

The complete break up of the Greenland ice sheet would add around 7 metres to sea level but would take centuries even in a worst-case scenario (think of how long it takes to defrost your freezer).  It could still potentially cause significant sea level rises over the next few decades with powerful implications for the stability of low-lying coastlines.

According to an edition of BBC R4’s ‘Home Planet’ back in February this is why the IPCC recommends that new nuclear power stations are NOT built in exposed coastal locations.  I have been unable to verify this but it’s clearly the prudent approach.

Let’s not play Russian roulette.


One response to this post.

  1. […] next generation of nuclear power stations planned by the Government.  Entirely by coincidence I blogged on one of the shortcomings of this plan only yesterday at almost exactly the time the takeover was […]


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