This is a note I sent to Dr Mike Weightman in 2011. He was then Chief Inspector of nuclear installations and head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation.
He was reporting on the safety of nuclear power after the accident at Fukushima.
Are there additional concerns on the safety of nuclear power?
Dear Dr Weightman,
I understand that you are conducting a review on the safety of nuclear power plants following the recent events in Japan.
I have consulted the following: “Review of medium to long term coastal risks associated with British Energy sites: Climate Change Effects – Final Report, by Mark L Gallani, Met Office 22 February 2007. I make the following comments:
Missing climate feedbacks
The report relies on the HadRM3 Regional Climate Model. This may underestimate or omit the effects of certain climate feedbacks which are mentioned on the NERC website:
– reduced sea ice cover – reflecting less of the sun’s heat back out to space, changing ocean circulation patterns
– less carbon dioxide absorption by the oceans
– increased soil respiration
– more forest fires
– melting permafrost
– increased decomposition of wetlands
Increased possibility of tsunamis
The report makes no reference to the possibility of tsunamis. Certain scientists have mooted the possibility of tsunamis originating in the seas near Norway, the probability of which is increased if the frequency of earthquakes increase: I note
1. Scientists link melting glaciers to earthquakes
Experts ponder whether tectonic activity increasing
“Historically, when big ice masses started to retreat, the number of earthquakes increased,” Sauber said. “More than 10,000 years ago, at the end of the great ice age, big earthquakes occurred in Scandinavia as the large glaciers began to melt. In Canada, many more moderate earthquakes occurred as ice sheets melted there,” she added.
2. Study Sees North Sea Tsunami Risk
A computer model designed by Norwegian scientists shows the possible consequences of a mega-landslide. They have forecast the progression of a disaster: Minutes after the landslide 14-meter-high waves would hit Norway’s coast, with fatal results, as many cities lie at sea level or in bays with sharply canted floors, where the waves would rise even higher. After three hours 20-meter-high breakers would crash onto the Shetland Islands. Two hours later the Faeroe Islands would be covered in waves of up to 14 meters high. After six hours, the tsunamis would still be six meters high, tearing along Scotland’s beaches toward the coastal cities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee. As they head southwards the waves would become smaller, the oscillating North Sea acting as a break.
3. Tsunamis from submarine “slumps” triggered by the dissociation of methane hydrates
Below 500 m in temperate and subtropical oceans, such as those found off the continental United States, hydrate beds may lie just beneath or above the sea floor over much of the continental slope. Geologists speculate that massive submarine “slumps”, which can be likened to sea-floor avalanches, may occur when hydrates break away from the steep slope. Such massive slumps may drive the tidal waves that could drown miles of coastal shorelines.
In your interim report you say
“A detailed study was undertaken in 2005 (Ref. 31) to evaluate the risks to the UK. The conclusions were that the maximum tsunami height around the UK would be a 1-2m increase in sea level. Typically, it is argued that this increase is accommodated within the other contributors to sea level. These arguments are broadly accepted; however, they sometimes lack the level of rigour that might be expected.”
This detailed study did not consider possible climate change effects.
You might like also to note this recent article by Natalie Kopytko in the New Scientist of 24 May 2011. The climate change threat to nuclear power.
18th June 2011
Postscript, Sep 2015: Back in the 1960s and sea defences
Sometime in the 1960’s, I was with my father when he stopped to talk to an old work colleague, who was working on the Dungeness B advanced gas-cooled reactor nuclear power station. He was welding stainless steel pipes and commented adversely on the design. I remember him saying the spaces were too tight and the pipework was so convoluted they would be very difficult to mend. Wikiedia’ description of the breakdowns and also the financial and engineering difficulties is instructive. It ends:
“In 2005 the station’s accounting closure date was 2018, 35 years after first power generation. In 2015 the plant was given a ten-year life extension, with an upgrade to control room computer systems and improved flood defences, taking the accounting closure date to 2028.”
One of the reasons for this power station’s longer than usual life is that it was shut down so often that it hasn’t worn out yet. Although it is good to see that the sea defences have been improved, my impression from informal conversations at conferences, is that they are not yet good enough to withstand the uprated predictions for sea leve rise and mega storms that some scientists are suggesting.
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