Nuclear West Cumbria

At some stage the land underneath West Cumbria will be used as a dump for spent nuclear material produced as a by product of nuclear electricity generating power stations.

West Cumbria, the geologists believe, was formed by rocks laid down at various times between 500 million years ago and 200 million years ago. Since then the landscape has been formed by great climatic changes in the last two million years which have meant the land has been covered by sea, desert and ice at various times. In the past decade Cumbria has suffered from unprecedented levels of flooding, which was both unusual and unexpected. Its geology apparently leads it to be a favourable site to store nuclear waste.

Now to store nuclear waste safely is rather difficult. We simply do not know enough about the future to be able to predict accurately what will happen in hundreds of years to uranium stored today.

The cunning plan that humanity has devised is to find a piece of land where either none of the inhabitants object to uranium being stored or a piece of land when the inhabitants can be rewarded for agreeing to have uranium stored. Having got the land the humans plan to dig a very deep hole (the precise depth and dimensions are not yet known, and then dump the waste uranium suitably stored in containers then encased with cement and concrete. Having done this the hole will be covered and no doubt some kind of guard placed over the hole to prevent others from digging it up.

The geology of the land is very important. You cannot dump uranium in places where there are fault lines, known earthquakes, volcanic activity and geological stress. The uranium may be thrown up to the surface at some time in the future or the containers may be cracked causing uranium to leach into the deep water table. Stability is important and most of West Cumbria has this stability.

I expect in ten or twelve thousand years the inhabitants of the land where the hole was dug will have probably forgotten that a uranium dump was ever below the land. This, you might think, is no matter because ten thousand years is longer than recorded history on this planet. However uranium has been around much longer than humanity and spent uranium takes quite a long time until it has decayed and no longer presents a threat to life. The two key types of uranium produced as a by product of nuclear energy are uranium 235 and uranium 238. Both types are used in nuclear power stations but only uranium 235 can sustain a chain reaction and usually the uranium is enriched so that there is more uranium 235 compared with uranium 238 in the reactor so longer chain reactions can be sustained.

Uranium 238 takes 4,500 million years to decay to half its potency. That is rather a long time by you may be relieved to know that uranium 235 takes rather less time; only 713 million years, which is more time than it took to lay down the rocks of West Cumbria. Uranium is radioactive and as it decays it emits alpha and beta particles. I do not suggest that the uranium buried will remain dangerous for millions of years; it certainly will remain very dangerous for ten thousand years to eighty thousand years.

The geology might be right for storage of radioactive material but what about flooding?

Perhaps in future the poets of the Lake District will sigh:-

I wandered in a radioactive cloud
With isotopes dancing in hills
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of alpha particles

Season of the witch

London is cold and rainy in late October. This is the season when hurricanes have blown, although not for the past 23 years. On Sunday the clocks are moved to give us another hour of sleep, but herald into dark evenings. Some days when I start work early and work late I will not see daylight except through a window. Today when I look through my window what do I see? the pagan feast of Halloween and the Christian festival of All Souls. Must be the season of the witch.

In London in Queen Anne Street where I work the October version of the street is cheerful, as shadows and sunlight pick out the contrasts. Continue reading

Wicked Leaks

Generally I applaud those who leak information into the public domain; there is a long and noble history of whistle blowers whose activities have benefited society and helped strengthen that precious and diminishing resource – freedom.

There is another precious and diminishing resource that is threatened – water. Whether it will be climate change that finally kills off humanity or shortage of water that does, is rather hard to judge right now. A cynic would argue that water shortages would, in the immortal words of Mr Ebenezer Scrooge, reduce the surplus population. Reducing the surplus population by drought might well slow the rate of climate change marginally, but most would think it a poor solution to climate change. Continue reading

A Short Guide to the United Kingdom’s Renewable Energy Statistics

This year the United Kingdom is generating 3% of its energy requirements from renewable sources as defined by the European Union. That may seem to be cause for celebration, as that figure can only rise, we hope. Continue reading

Grown ups who keep growing

It has become a mantra: growth is the solution to all our woes. The politicians and economists have repeated it so often that they think that everyone believes that growth will cures our economic ills. Continue reading

Solar Thermal Energy and the Energy Action Plans of the European Member States

The European Union has been pushing renewable energy at its member states. In many cases it has been pushing at an open door but in some cases, particularly that of the United Kingdom, the national renewable energy plan has not yet been completed in so far as renewable heat is concerned. Continue reading

The altruism of tree planting

There are plenty of trees in the part of London where I now live. I spent the first ten years of my life hardly ever seeing a tree, and when I did see trees they were stout huge park trees in Victoria Park. I wondered how children could ever climb them, as they always seemed to climb them in the children’s stories I read, but those stories also told of grass which I rarely saw. I never played a game of football on grass until I was eleven years old. Continue reading

Freedom … going…going…

History repeats itself, not exactly, parrot fashion, but it repeats itself in the sense that the names and places may have changed but the similarity is not purely coincidental.

In the rich world we have become obsessed with security. We were once obsessed with freedom. Or forebears fought to be free and freedom was more important to most of them (perhaps because they could not achieve freedom) than wealth or security. They accepted that freedom requires insecurity to some extent. Continue reading

Our excellent banks

From time to time I have found myself shouting at the radio. Yesterday I was listening to a discussion about banks on Radio 4’s Today programme. The topic was the new tax on banks that has been announced in the Chancellor’s Spending Review. A chap called Paul Myners, ennobled by the labour government, was there to explain what a bad tax this was. Continue reading

More about the Renewable Heat Incentive

I have been trying to unravel the Renewable Heat Incentive that the Government announced on Wednesday. So far the details have not emerged but the following seems clear:-

  • The incentive will apply to domestic, commercial and industrial projects
  • It will not be funded by levies on heating bills
  • It covers all renewable heat technologies but the feed in tariff rates for them have yet to be “agreed” between Ministers and their civil servants
  • Between 2011 and 2015 a total budget of £850 million will be available, with more than half the budget being paid in 2014/2015 Continue reading