Nuclear Future?

December 10th, 2005

Right, my first serious post seems to be about a comment in the guardian by Simon ‘Tory Boy’ Jenkins, found here about how bad renewable energy is and how we all need nuclear power. This was going to be a measured opinion of my own reasons why nuclear power is not the answer, but I was encouraged to give Jenkins a thourough Fisking in order to court controversy and so that people might actually read my weblog. So here goes…

Anyway, the comment begins by saying that global warming is a problem and that we need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. I don’t think anyone apart from the US government will deny that. It also says that noone can agree on the figures, so I will feel justified in cherry-picking the results that agree with what I want to say in the same way that Jenkins does, but in a less well-researched way (I have to work for a living, ish).

First fiskage:

One thing at least is new. The prime minister, in close conversation with his chief scientific adviser, Sir David King, wants urgently to revise perhaps his worst-ever white paper, on energy policy in 2003 (a vintage year for dodgy dossiers). It was a monument to the doctrine of unripe time, concluding that nuclear power was messy, renewables glamorous and the whole business problematic. It was not a white paper but a fudge paper.

Since then the great god of legacy has been gnawing at Blair’s vitals. He finds himself trapped by a syllogism. His target is that Britain must make a 20% emissions cut by 2010. There is no way of coming close to such a cut except by recourse to nuclear power. Therefore meeting the target means building new nuclear stations immediately. Don’t build the stations and you will not get near the target. QED.

Hmm, I have a great respect for David King, but it seems like the latest energy review is the fudge given that nothing has changed since the last paper but suddenly nuclear power is seen as indespensible rather than messy, expensive and unneccessary. Apparently we can only get a 20% reduction in emissions by 2010 using nuclear power but it will take about 15 years to build a new nuclear power station, including planning etc. - there was planning permission to build new stations on current sites but it has expired. Thus build new stations and you will get near the target 10 years after the deadline.

Even if every beauty spot in Britain were coated in windmills their contribution to the Kyoto target would be minuscule.

Right, according to the susdainable development comission report “Wind Power in the UK” , to get 10% of our power from onshore wind using an average of 2MW turbines would use up 2,340 ha, which is about 0.0001% of the available land in the UK. Compare this with 3.3 million ha used in urban areas about which Jenkins has no complaint.

Jenkins goes on to say that nuclear power stations can be built quicker if planning systems are bypassed, not caring that wind farms take about 7 years to build, most of which is due to gaining planning permission (told to me by a guy who works for a company that builds wind farms). The construction rate for wind farms are only limited by the rate at which permission can be granted for them (see later), so they could also benefit from relaxed planning. He then goes on about the new Finnish reactor, although it is heavily subsidised by the French (although again I can’t remember where I found that information).

The nuclear company EDF Energy claims not to need subsidy for such stations. The claim is at least worth testing.

EDF Energy is not a nuclear company. Or at least they won’t admit to it. To be pedantic most of the nuclear power stations are run by British Energy apart from a few other types of reactor. If nuclear is cost effective then I will tell the industry to put it’s money where it’s mouth is and ask to build new reactors, although apparently there is nothing stopping them at the moment. This means that the only reason new reactors are not being built is that they are not considered economical.

there is no point in wasting subsidy on the relatively small relief to global warming offered by most renewables. Nuclear can do it all, as France shows. Spend money instead on energy-saving - with money raised by taxing energy-greed.

Energy saving, what a good idea, unless it happens to collide with the interests of the construction lobby. Personally I feel that any group that has the money to afford a really good lobby group should be taxed as much as possible as they are clearly making too much money, but that is a side issue. But anyway energy efficiency is a good idea as there is no reason why energy use should continue rising. On the other hand, nuclear cannot do it all as it takes a day or so to change the power output of a nuclear plant so it is only sufficient to supply base load. The reason economy7 electricity was introduced in the UK (cheap night time electricity for any foreigners reading this) is that there was loads of cheap electricity available at night time from nuclear power that could not be shut down. For this reason, electricity from nuclear power sells for less than that from gas and coal, which can be continuously varied. Renewable energy is subsidised by the renewables obligation, which would represent an increase in the electricity bill of aroud 5% in 2010 compared to using no renewables.

Next point: energy not always available from wind. Essentially the capacity factor of an onshore wind turbine in the UK is around 30% (about 40% offshore due to higher wind), so a 3MW turbine will produce an average of about 1MW over the course of a year. The output from a wind farm broadly follows demand, producing more power in the evening as shown here but this is not always certain. However the National Grid need to keep capacity in reserve in order to deal with unschedudled shutdown of conventional power stations (70-85% reliability for gas power), and it is estimated that such a system would allow for around 20% of the power to come from wind without any additional reserve.

And that is the end of the comment, not as annoying as I remember it being when I first read it. Now for my opinions:

Another argument for nuclear power has been about security of supply, in that it is more secure than gettin gas through all sorts of nasty countries in eastern europe, and the fact that the cost of uranium has remained fairly constant in recent years. Interestingly the best comment I have read comes from the massively pro-nuclear Times, suggesting that the easily extractable uranium will run out fairly quickly if everyone goes nuclear. The article makes no mention of Australia, considered to have the largest deposits of uranium, much of which is contained in the wonderful Kakadu national park, a UNESCO world heritage site where Crocodile Dundee was filmed. It is interesting that we would rather destroy a priceless part of another country than suffer a few wind turbines in our back yard.

It seems interesting that a government that is so keen on the markets would be so keen on nuclear power, especially when it would require a massive rigging of the market to make it affordable. Currently onshore wind power is only slightly higher in cost than the wholesale electricity price (see SDC report linked above), and with the renewables obligation to encourage renewables investment offshore wind is very attractive. In fact, developers can’t build the things quick enough, and are limited only by the length of the planning process. Even if nuclear power were eligible for renewables obligation certificates, onshore wind would still be the preferable option, with offshore wind and carbon capture and storage also cheaper. What is more, the cost of electricity from a wind farm only depends on the initial investment and the rate at which this is repayed (usually fixed) and this is much more stable and secure than gas or nuclear, which rely on the prices of gas and uranium on the open market.

To be honest it all comes down to what resources the UK has. We can get energy from nuclear, but we no longer have a nuclear industry, so we will end up buying cheap pressurised water reactors from the US with low thermal efficiency and low uranium usage and be reliant on the technology of other countries. On the other hand we have the following resources:

  1. Lots of wind (at least 27% capacity factor, compared with 20% in Denmark and 15% in Germany)
  2. Big tides - the Severn Bore is fairly huge, and a tidal power station could generate around 8GW. Unfortunately this is only at certain times of the day. Tidal barrages are expensive and controversial, and tidal stream turbines untested but tidal lagoons are a good option.
  3. Big piles of coal, enough for 150 years or so. Bit dirty, but coal gassification will allow combustion in a combined cycle power station for higher efficency, plus it can be zero emission with carbon capture and storage.
  4. A load of half-empty oil wells. Ripe for pumping excess carbon dioxide from coal power down, which will also improve the yeild of the oil well.

Although leaving huge piles of carbon dioxide for future generations is not exactly sustainable, it is better than the alternatives of either giving them a dead planet or a whole load of nuclear waste. Investing in the technologies mentioned above will make the UK energy sufficient, while also giving us a homegrown industry rather than buying nuclear technology from other countries, while also saving us money. It is for these reasons that I can’t support nuclear power.

A final thought: we have the best wind resources in europe, so surely it is our duty to exploit them as best we can, and even sell the resulting energy to the rest of europe. Maybe we can buy their excess nuclear power or something.

Chilli Vodka - update

November 8th, 2005

The chillie vodka has now had several months to mature. After a few weeks it turned an interesting pale green-brown colour, while the chillies turned white. Tastes a bit sweet, also a bit acidic but not too bitter, it is a lot like Encona hot pepper sauce but not as sweet. That is if you can get over the heat - to use a Red Dwarf expression, it is like drinking molten lava.

Now almost gone (the photo below was taken a while ago) and the heat seems to be concentrating at the bottom. Now I know why they say to remove the chillies after a few weeks. Will probably end up topping it up with some unadulterated vodka, or mixing it with another flavour when I try making some of them. For anyone interested, a good website for this sort of thing is Here.

Chilli Vodka

Durham Photos

October 30th, 2005

Some recent photos I have taken of Durham, mostly just to test the flickr photo plugin jobbie. The plugin is called the wordpress flickr post bar. When writing your post you get a list of your flickr photos which you can search by tag, and clicking on them inserts the HTML into the post. Seems good so far.


Update: The thumbnail images size seems give the original aspect ratio of the pictures, rather than the square versions which would look much better when there are several of them, as in this case. Would also be good to be able to set the size when writing the post rather than through the options page of wordpress.

Update Update: Got an update for the photo bar code which gives you square pictures. Thanks to TanTan for supplying the code update, which he is putting into the next version of the photo bar.

Chilli Vodka - the start

April 17th, 2005

I’m not really sure why I decided to try making chilli vodka. I think I was interested in making flavoured vodka anyway, and chillies seem the logical choice seeing as how I have a liking of hot food. I also like having a steady supply of odd drinks with which to poison people.

A quick scout of t’internet found a site, whose URL I have lost, reccomending scotch bonnet peppers, although it was a site about scotch bonnet peppers, so it is probably biased. Anyway, the scotch bonnet, as well as being bastard hot, is also apparently quite sweet so this avoids the bitterness associated with other chillie vodkas. Also I am actually able to buy the things in my local tesco.

Apparently it will take about 3 weeks for the chillie goodness to transfer to the vodka, although I actually started a week ago but didn’t post it ‘cos I was updating the site. I will post updates about how the vodka is going.

Click on the photos below to see the method:
Chilli VodkaChilli VodkaChilli VodkaChilli VodkaChilli VodkaChilli Vodka

December 16th, 2003

Finally in Auckland, in another Chinese-run internet cafe - they seem to be cornering the market over here. I have checked into another of the ultra-modern Base Backpackers hostels, like the one in Wellington this one has only been open a week. I am now doing my washing, and will be getting drunk tonight even though I have to get a coach at 8:15 tomorrow morning, but it is the end of the Kiwi Experience trip.

I don’t know that I will have much time to explore Auckland, but everyone who has been there says it is rubbish. My first impression is that it is very spread out, holding only around 1.5 million people but being twice the size of London. It is claimed that it is the 4th largest city in the world in terms of area. It has a harbour and it also has a sky tower, built to give the place a landmark and looking like a phallic hypodermic syringe, if such a thing is possible.

December 15th, 2003

Now in Rotorua, supposedly one of the most minging towns in New Zealand. This is on account of the large amount of geothermal activity resulting in hydrogen sulphide gas being released into the air. It doesn’t actually smell that much, but occasionally you get quite a strong whiff of it. The main industry here is tourism, and there are piles of hotels, all with their own geothermal spa baths - even my hostel has one and it is a dump.

Upon arriving I walked the 2km to a geothermal park, called Whakarawarawa, with the ‘Whak’ part being pronounced ‘Fuck’, the only time this word can be used in polite society. The thermal park had lots of pools of boiling mud that bubbled away and also steam vents, where steam comes out of the rocks, often leaving sulphur around the mouth. There were also a couple of geysers, which were cool, and the Maori arts and crafts institute, which was interesting. All in all the whole thing was great, but there are better thermal parks outside town but the shuttle bus only goes early in the morning, i.e. before I had arrived, so I couldn’t go.

In the evening I went to a Maori cultural concert and hangi, leaving at 6ish. The concert consisted of a greeting ceremony where a maori in full warrior gear came out and danced around shouting at us and trying to intimidate us (us being the several busloads of tourists) before putting down a peace offering which was accepted by one of our ‘chiefs’. We then went into the meeting house and watched a performance, where they showed us some of the maori weapons and musical instruments then did some song and dance and ended with the haka (thing they do before a battle to intimidate the enemy - the all blacks do it before a match). It was then on to the hangi, which is a feast cooked by putting the food in a pit on top of hot rocks, covering with earth then letting it steam for 3-4 hours. The food was amazing and we all ate as much as we could (being impoverished backpackers). We then all went home at 10pm, with the bus driver making us sing. It all sounds a bit cheesy, but it was great.

I had a fairly sleepless night as my dorm was overlooking the bar, which played loud music until 3 in the morning. After that, there were 2 drunken twats in the dorm who snored a lot. I am now in a different dorm (or rather different room of the same dorm) so it should be better.

Today I went on a day trip to Waitomo, known for having loads of limestone caves nearby. There are various options involving crawling around in wet caves to sitting on a lorry inner-tube and floating around an underwater river looking at glow worms. I was down to do something called the Haggas Honking Holes, described as Indiana Jones crossed with being put through a washing machine on a rope. Unfortunately it was cancelled, but they upgraded me to the Lost World, which is a dry activity involving abseiling 100m down a huge hole in the ground before looking in a few caves and working your way up. The abseiling in particular was spectacular, the hole is lined with ferns and is slightly misty giving it an other-worldy feel, although the harness did cut off the circulation to my legs a bit. We then made our way up to the surface, including climbing a 30m ladder. It was a really spectacular trip, and was good because there were only 4 of us, plus the guide. It was then back to Rotorua for the night. Off to Auckland tomorrow.

December 13th, 2003

Taupo, which has a big lake which is actually a volcano, supposedly active. The last time it went off was around 2000 years ago and is recorded in Roman chronicles - if it erupted again then it would probably wipe out most of the north island.

I walked on the Tongariro crossing today, in the Tongariro national park. This is an area with 3 active volcanos in and was used in Lord of the Rings to film Mordor, which gives you an idea of what it is like. Unfortunately the entire walk was spent in low cloud and constant rain, which meant that I didn’t see anything apart from some brightly coloured rocks. Doh! I also got very wet, and was practically swimming up the mountains.

December 11th, 2003

Ok, now in Wellington, the capital city of NZ. But first the way I got here. The first day after Queenstown was spent getting up to Christchurch, quite a long way. This involved travelling over the Canterbury Plains, rolling grassed hills with mountains in the distance. Part of Lord of the Rings was filmed here, in particular places like Edoras, where the Riders of Rohan are. There are also many lakes, used in a hydro-electric scheme which apparently supplied 75% of the power for the country. The lakes are a really bright turquoise blue, on account of all the powdered rock made by the glaciers which feed them - they look really amazing.

I only stayed one night in Christchurch as I have been there before at the start of the trip. Wanting to save the partying for another night, I stayed at the YHA hostel, which was really flash and all the pans in the kitchen had handels on them, which is a bonus.

On from Christchurch to Kaikoura. Like the last time I was there the weather was a bit crap, but luckily the whale watching was still happening. This involved driving out on a fast boat and periodically stopping so that the captain can look for whales using an underwater directional microphone. It was quite fun with the whole tracking whales down thing - they only stay on the surface for around 5 minutes before going back down to look for food.

On from Kaikoura to Wellington, crossing from the south to the north island by ferry. Wellington is built around a harbour, and the ground slopes up steeply from the water, so it looks really pretty. I have been walking around all day, going to the national museum and then looking at the parliament building (known as the beehive) and finally wandering around a street called Cuba Street. This is where the Nu-metal fraternity seem to hand out, along with all the interesting people, and there are masses of coffee shops everywhere. I had a coffee in a place called Fidel’s, because I thought I should.

I am staying at a place called Base Backpackers, which has only just opened, and seems really flash - maybe it’s just the fact that they have electronic card locks on all the doors like an expensive hotel. It also has a bar, selling cheap drinks, and myself and several others did the bar quiz last night. We came third, beaten by 4 south africans who I keep bumping into wherever I go. It is getting a bit hard to socialise as the people in the bus keep changing as they are all spending different lengths of time in different places but I can usually find someone I know. Oh, the hostal is also accross the road from the cinema where they had the premier to lord of the rings - return of the king. The cinema has a giant fibreglass model of a dragon type thing on the rood, but the national museum has a model of Barad Dur, Saurons tower in it.

December 7th, 2003

Today I went on the canyon swing, that and the jet boating being my sole concessions to extreme sports. The canyon swing is another marvellous invention which allows you to jump of high things without the usual problems, i.e. death by splat, and as I really wanted to throw myself off something but couldn’t afford bungee jumping or skydiving I thought I would give it a go. In the canyon swing you are attached to a 109m rope which is pretty much horizontal over the Shotover River canyon (where they do white water rafting and jet boating). You then jump off the ledge, and free fall for about 60m before the rope kicks in decelerating you at 3 gees, and resulting in you going horizontally at about 100 mph. Some say it is better than bungee jumping.

In the actual jump, you go up to the edge, look down and think "that’s a long way down, I’m going to die, what the f*** am I doing". You then try not to think about it and jump. In my first jump I don’t remember the jumping part, I just remember suddenly thinking "shit, I’m falling" but you don’t feel any force as it is free fall, just hear the rushing of the wind and see the scenery flying past. Then the rope kicks in and you swing around. When you come to rest they winch you back to the top. I liked it so much I went again, this time jumping backwards. I then wore a stupid grin on my face for the rest of the afternoon, and had to go on a long walk to calm down.

December 6th, 2003

This entry covers the trip to Milford Sound and the walk on the Routeburn Track, so there.

‘Twas bright and early (about 7ish) that we boarded a Kiwi Experience bus for the Milford Sound trip. Our driver was Toffa, a Maori with a mullet, or maybe a mulleted Maori - maybe the mullet is some sort of special Maori haircut. Anyway, Toffa had done that route over 800 times so we were fairly confident that he could handle the bus.

The route started by skirting around the edge of lake Wakatipu, before heading off into a large valley full of sheep fields. After two hours we reached Te Anau, on the shore of Lake Te Anau - I think part of Lord of the Rings was filmed there. The bus then struck into more scenic country, with steeper valley walls lined with trees and still some snow at the top. This continued while the bus steadily climbed to the Homer Tunnel, which is at about 700m or so, is one lane, no lighting and a fairly steep descent. After that it was a very windy road down the mountains to Milford Sound, the most scenic place in the world (apparently).

The first thing about Milford Sound is that it is not a sound. A sound is where a V-shaped river valley is flooded by the rising sea, this is a fjord, where a U-shaped glacial valley was flooded by the sea. It is named by a welshman after Milford Haven.

We boarded the cruise boat and set off for the 3 hour cruise. For a while we had dolphins swimming along aside the boad, and occasionally jumping out of the water, which was really cool as it doesn’t always happen. We did a slow circuit of the fjord, looking at the valley walls which slope up almost vertically but still seem to manage to have trees on them. We also stopped in the underwater observatory, where you go down about 10m and look at coral and fish through very thick windows. The coral grows in little window boxes on the side of the observatory.

Finally the cruise ended and we got back on the bus for the trip back. I got off at Te Anau, to start the Routeburn Track the next day.

Routeburn Track Day1

The track starts at The Divide, at 532m, a sort of high point on the road. The track starts by going diagonally up the valley wall, which is very steep and covered with trees. The trees cling to a layer of organic matter which is formed from rottin moss - there is very little soil.

I think this is temperate rainforrest, which seems to involve loads of moss and lichen covering absolutely everything, and loads of ferns as well as trees. It is really beautiful especially around the numerous small creeks and waterfalls of which there are many.

At the top of the valley wall is an optional path to Key Summit, which I took as I had plenty of time and the weather was good so I could see the view. The path goes above the tree line and through an area of alpine bog, and gave a great view of the valley. It is all the better as there is a little cloud which was swirling around the top of the mountains.

Back on the main track the path continues through the forrest until Earland Falls, which are 80m high and very impressive, but hard to photograph in a way that captures the whole thing.

The path continues up, then eventually descends to MacKensie hut, at 1073m and the end of the day of walking. The hut consists of a large communal area with kitchen, a bunkroom above and a toilet block. I sat on the deck outside the front door and watched as the mountains became more dramatic as the clouds rolled in. Soon it started to get cold and started to rain so I went inside.

Day 2

This was the walk over Harris Saddle, the highest point in the track, to Routeburn Falls hut. The track started in the trees, which was good as it was raining. It soon passed out of the bushline and I started to get wet - my upper body was ok, protected by my jacket, but I was only wearing shorts so they got wet but it was not too much of a problem. I was walking in my beaten up DMs, which are full of holes to let the water in but people with proper gore-tex boots did not fare much better.

Once I had left the shelter of the valley the wind was very strong, driving the rain into my face and almost pushing me off the path at times - long drop down the side of the valley. Apparently the wind was reaching 80kph. I was absolutely freezing but eventually managed to get to Harris Shelter at 1255m where some other walkers took pity on me and gave me coffee - they had a stove with them.

The walk onwards was mostly downhill, and the wind and rain eased off long enough to get a good view of the valley and lake Harris. The mountains looked really pretty with dark rock and spots of white snow, but there was a lot of cloud so I couldn’t see the far away mountains. I found myself humming the music from Lord of the Rings again, for the first time in the day.

The wind and rain soon came back and I struggled on to Routeburn Falls hut, which is at 1000m and just within the tree line perched on a steep slope near the falls of the same name. I was really glad to be there as it meant that I could take my wet shoes and socks off and warm up by the fire. We all spent the rest of the afternoon listening to the wind and rain, I think that being soaking wet really makes you appreciate getting to the hut. The day’s walking only actually took about 4 hours, and everyone arrived in plenty of time that they could have walked to the end of the track if they had wanted to. Noone did.

Day 3

The day dawned bright and sunny, and I found out that the noise I had thought was rain when I was in bed was actually the waterfall nearby. As the weathere was good and I had plenty of time I walked around and photographed the falls.

I started on the track to the bottom of the valley. The trees are less dense than at the start and less covered by moss, but they were taller. A landslip in 1994 gave a great view into the valley, allowing you to see the forrested walls and the grassy bottom with river.

The river in question is the Route Burn, and is a tributary of the Dart river, used in the filming of Lord of the Rings and feeding into Lake Wakatipu, on the shore of which Queenstown is situated. I walk through the forrest with the river never far away, and I seem to frequently encounter waterfalls on the streams feeding into the river. The valley walls slope up sharply on either side and look spectacular when you can see them though the trees. The track crosses several rivers, using swing bridges - small suspension bridges which bounce and swing all over the place. Eat your heart out millenium bridge.

Slightly scary moments when I came to a section of wooden bridge which had been dameaged by falling rocks during the rain and associated piles of water. Luckily it held my weight, but loads of other people coming the other way had used it without incident. Near the end of the track, the whole path had been washed away in a landslip, which required a bit of a scramble - not easy with a big rucksack. Finally made it to the end and sat around on the grass for a couple of hours as I had plenty of time until the bus to take me back to queenstown.