Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Tony Blair is rapidly moving from Greenie to realist while denying, of course, that he is doing any such thing

Britain will start building new civil nuclear power stations under plans backed by Tony Blair, The Times has learnt. Less than two years after a government paper called nuclear power an unattractive option, the Prime Minister has become convinced that building nuclear power stations is the only way to secure energy needs and meet obligations to reduce carbon emissions. In a controversial move, he wants planning procedures to be quickened so that the first stations could be under construction within ten years, far earlier than expected, advisers have told The Times.

After first promising a decision on new stations by the end of this Parliament, then by the end of next year, Mr Blair will face down critics and set up a government review within the next two weeks, asking it to reach conclusions by the early summer.

The stations would be built on existing sites in the hope of reducing public opposition and swifter planning and building procedures. They would involve the latest technology expected to be adopted soon in France and the US. Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary and the Cabinet's leading opponent of nuclear power, hinted yesterday that even she would back the move. In an interview with the BBC's Politics Show, she said that, although there were many problems with nuclear power, "I've always accepted we can't afford to close the door on nuclear."

But Mr Blair, who has been given private preliminary studies, believes that all the arguments point to nuclear power and has effectively made up his mind, according to authoritative sources. His decision is a remarkable U-turn.

The review, though headed by a senior figure from the Trade and Industry Department, will report to the Prime Minister and Alan Johnson, the Industry Secretary, and contain members from other departments and, crucially, from the Downing Street strategy unit. Critics will suspect that membership will be chosen to ensure a different conclusion to the last energy White Paper in 2003.

Britain's 12 nuclear power stations provide 22 per cent of the electricity. Unless they are replaced there will only be three stations left by 2020. Studies prepared for Mr Blair by Sir David King, his chief scientific adviser, and other advisers have convinced him that renewable forms of energy, such as wind and wave power, cannot fill the gap. As coal-fired and nuclear stations close they will have to be replaced by gas-fired electricity stations and Britain will soon become a net gas importer.

Mr Blair's advisers maintain that the debate should not be seen as a competition between nuclear power and "renewables", which the Government is committed to boosting.

The nuclear option is unlikely to be opposed by the Conservatives. David Willetts, the Shadow Industry Secretary, said at the party conference: "We must make the case for civil nuclear power to tackle the energy crisis with least damage to the environment.



Britain has, on the whole, been lucky with energy. North Sea oil and gas have helped provide the vast majority of power needs. This happy state has led many to bury their heads in the sand when it comes to future requirements. But if ever there was a time to scan the horizon, it is now.

North Sea energy stocks are dwindling. Oil prices have been volatile. Britain's nuclear and coal-fired plants are due for increasingly rapid decommissioning. And all this at a time when domestic energy demand is projected to rise just as Britain tries to cut its carbon emissions to those levels agreed at Kyoto. It is therefore encouraging that, as we report today, the government is at last prepared to grasp the nuclear nettle.

Nuclear energy is an emotive subject, and it was politically understandable, though democratically lamentable, that the Prime Minister wanted to avoid it until after this year's general election. But, stripped of emotion, the position is stark. Britain's 12 ageing nuclear power stations provide a fifth of the country's energy needs. Yet all but one will be out of business by 2023. Many coal-fired plants, which produce another 30 per cent, fall foul of Brussels rules on clean air and will also be shutting down over the next two decades. By then, Britain will need to find 50 gigawatts of new capacity. Given the lead time for any successor plants to be designed, approved and phased in, decisions need to be made in the next year or two.

One of the looming problems for the Government is self-made. It has allowed the vacuum over its nuclear policy to be filled by hopes for the possibilities of wind power and other renewables that are bit-part players. Those who believe giant turbines can close the energy gap are thinking with their hearts rather than their heads. Wind power, by definition, depends on the wind blowing not too weak and not too strong. Wind farms run well below their capacity, (around 15 per cent in Germany). And they are unlikely even to be up to the job of providing 10 per cent of our electricity by 2020, the Government's target.

There will inevitably be an ugly political battle, but it is winnable. The ace is climate change. For those concerned about global warming, nuclear power is the logical step. It is clean, carbon-free, and it is relatively cheap - up to a third of the price of fossil fuels and nearly half the price of wind power per kilowatt-hour. New pressurised water reactors produce a tenth of the waste of the current reactors, (though what to do with that waste needs to be addressed, as does the security of any new plants, given the new terrorist threat.) But shut-down technology should make another Chernobyl disaster impossible. If new reactors are sited at current power stations, planning battles with local communities will be minimised.

Mr Blair should continue to encourage renewable sources. The potential of wave power and tidal waters should be explored; and there must be much more research into making the storage of solar energy more efficient - Sharp, the Japanese electronics company, claims to be close to a breakthrough in this area. But in the meantime he should ask the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate to begin examining existing nuclear sites for future use. Nuclear reactors may not be what Mr Blair has in mind when he thinks of his legacy. But the next generation would thank him for this initiative.



AMID the frosty silver birches and firs of Olkiluoto island, off the west coast of Finland, the foundation pillars of one of the most improbable stuctures in Europe are starting to rise. The tangle of steel wires and concrete pylons emerging from a four-hectare hole is the germ of the continent's first nuclear reactor to be started since the Chernobyl accident of 1986, which tore apart public confidence in the power of the atom.

Finland, among the countries worst affected by fallout from the stricken Soviet power station, seems an unlikely candidate to lead a revival of the nuclear age. Yet in a nation that boasts 1.5 million saunas - one for every four people - and a vast, electricity-hungry paper industry, energy issues have acquired a high political profile. The Finns are no longer content to rely on imported gas, oil and coal for their power, or to pump out more and more of the greenhouse gases that are anathema to their environmentally conscious traditions. The nuclear option, they decided after a two-year national debate, has become least worst way of generating electricity cheaply and reliably.

The result is Olkiluoto 3, the third nuclear plant to be built on the island and the country's fifth, for which the foundation stone was laid in September by Paavo Lipponen, the former Prime Minister. When the 1,600 megawatt station begins operations in 2009, it will supply up to 10 per cent of Finland's electricity.

The Finnish example is now being keenly studied by British politicians, in search of clues to swinging the public behind an industry that has struggled to shed a reputation for accidents, pollution and an addiction to subsidies. It proves that even a sceptical public can be won over to a nuclear future - but also demonstrates many of the hurdles that Britain will have to cross if the Government is to secure popular support for a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Finnish government officials and executives of TVO, the consortium of major energy users that commissioned Olkiluoto 3, agree it is unlikely that the plans would have been approved by parliament - by a narrow margin of 107 votes to 92 - had not several conditions been met. Some of these would present Britain with few problems. Like Finland, Britain has several existing nuclear sites, with both the national grid infrastructure to support new plants and a sympathetic local population who are used to living with atomic energy. Significant improvements in reactor design since Chernobyl have also helped. The 2 billion pound European Pressurised Water Reactor (EPR) model, is also designed to be fail safe. "If there is a problem, the reaction will stop," Vincent Hertault, the safety manager, said.

Perhaps the most important factor in Finland's decision, however, was that the nation has taken firm steps to resolve the problem of long-term storage of waste. An underground repository for low and intermediate-level waste is already operating 100 metres below the surface at Olkiluoto, and work has begun nearby on an even deeper facility for high-level waste. Deep underground disposal was accepted as the only option, with even Green MPs backing the plans when the Finnish parliament voted by 159-3 to approve the store.

The Finnish experience suggests that transparency, public debate and genuinely open minds in Government are vital if the case for nuclear power is to be made



Those damned Plutonians and their SUVs!

"Astrophysicists are scratching their heads about what's happening on the sun and in our solar system. Why has this so-called "Solar Minimum" been so active? It should be quiet now with very few sunspots because this is supposed to be the low point of the Sun's 11-year-sunspot cycle. But this week, there was a sunspot called 822 that's 87,000 miles across - the size of the planet Jupiter! Could it erupt with more powerful X-flares as has happened the past few months. Big flares threaten all the broadcast, global positioning and military satellites that now orbit our planet. As I've reported before in Earthfiles, the sun is not "normal." Is it warming up? Earth's North Pole and Mars's South Pole are melting at a surprisingly rapid rate. Even far out Pluto seems to show some melting. Is the sun a bigger player in all this than originally thought?

In September, NASA reported new evidence from Mars Orbiters that "for three Martian summers in a row, deposits of frozen carbon dioxide near Mars's South Pole have shrunk from the previous year's size, suggesting a climate change in progress." The Martian South polar ice cap shrinking has been accelerating since 1999 at a "prodigious rate," according to Michael Malin, Principal Investigator for the Mars Orbiter Camera. Dr. Malin said, "The images documenting changes from 1999 to 2005 suggest the Martian climate is presently warmer - and perhaps getting warmer still - than it was several decades or even centuries ago."

Scientists are not sure if the Sun is getting hotter and heating up the entire solar system, including Mars, the Earth and even Pluto. Could there be other independent forces on Mars and Pluto we don't know about that are heating up those planets? If the Sun is warming up, on top of the carbon dioxide blanket that modern industry has created around Earth, how much more heat could the Sun be adding?

In October, scientists at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, released a solar study in which they concluded: "The Sun might have minimally contributed about 10% to 30% of the 1980 to 2002 Earth global surface warming. Greenhouse gases would still give a contribution, but not so strong as was thought. We don't know what the Sun will do in the future."

Another scientist who is trying to figure out what the Sun is doing and what effect it's going to have on Earth and the solar system is Sallie Baliunas, Chair of the Science Advisory Board, at the George C. Marshall Institute in Washington, D. C. Dr. Baliunas is also an astrophysicist at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. This week I asked Dr. Baliunas about the Solar Minimum that has not been so minimum, and what's happening on Mars and Pluto?

Interview with Sallie Baliunas, Ph.D., Astrophysicist, Chair of the Science Advisory Board, George C. Marshall Institute, Washington, D. C.; and Professor, Harvard University Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, Massachusetts:

"We don't know why the Sun has been so peculiar in the past few years. This cycle has not been the (normal) rule, though. We've had tremendous amounts of flare activity down at solar minimum. Part of the problem is that we see the Sun through a very limited lens of short time scales. We've been only able to study the Sun in detail above the atmosphere of the Earth through the spacecraft era, so not more than 40 years. We know the sun varies on time scales of seconds to eons, to billions of years. And we don't have all those well defined.


(laughs) That's an excellent question. I would say the Sun always acts odd because we have such limited knowledge about it. What is normal for the Sun? During the 17th Century, almost 400 years ago, the Sun's magnetic field output was extraordinarily low for almost a century. That happens every few centuries. Is that odd? But it's not rare. The Sun right now is probably averaging over several decades is the most active it's been in 400 years. Is that odd? Yes. Is it rare? Probably not. There are indications of the Sun's magnetism going back through time and maybe 800 to 1200 years ago, the Sun might have been more active. So, what's normal for the Sun? I don't know.


How does that look against the temperature records? It matches up pretty well with the beginning of the 20th Century. But it does not match up so well now. The surface temperature (of Earth) seems to have risen a little more dramatically than the Sun has in recent decades. So, in terms of a straightforward link between the two, an association between the Sun and Earth, it looks like the Sun has not been the cause of most of the late 20th Century warming. It could have made a contribution.

We've measured the Sun directly and we measure its total energy output. That's been measured by satellites for about 25 years now. So we know the Sun's energy output has been increasing with the magnetic cycle. We know right now because we're in a low point in that 11 year cycle that the Sun has backed off a little bit in its energy. But it's going to be on the rise again.

Over 25 years, there is evidence from some researchers that suggest there has been a subtle rise in the background and that also might contribute to the amount of energy the Earth receives. But in terms of Mars, one of the polar caps is pulling back the ice. The solar cap is melting back and has done some interesting layering and shelving there that can be measured by the satellites we currently have on Mars. Mars has - it's not clear that Mars is responding very quickly to these changes on the Sun because we don't have enough detailed measurements of Mars to say so. Mars has warmed and cooled in the past. When we look back at pictures of Mars, we see that events that have gone on where it looks like river gullies with subsurface frozen ice melting, coming up to the surface and causing some valleys and rills on Mars.

Pluto - boy, it's hard to say what's going on there! Pluto is probably very little effected by the amount of radiation the Sun puts out. For one reason, it's so far away. For another reason, we just don't understand what's happening on Pluto. There are probably a lot of chemical reactions, gas reactions, in its atmosphere. Pluto does have a highly eccentric orbit, but there you're talking about changes on timescales of thousands of years, not the 11 year cycle. So, it's not clear that they are all linked to the Sun in any direct way. But our view of the Sun is so limited in time that it gets hard to rule a lot of things out. It's worth looking at. It's a very good question.


Mars has seasons, very long-term changes. There are changes in its atmosphere that occur on timescales of months. Dust storms crop up. We don't know why those dust storms crop up. Chemical reactions that shift energy around in the system and that the system finally responds. So, like the earth, the climate of Mars is complicated. There are changes going on many different timescales.


You look at the surface of Mars, there are the remnants of volcanoes. There are only older volcanoes now, the old shield volcanoes. But it looks like Mars might still have some seismic activity, but nothing like the drama we have here on Earth. So yes, there are internal changes on Mars. There are shifts in energy internally on Mars that are also going to crop up and interact with the climate system and cause some changes.


Don't know. Right now, everybody is looking to see whether they think these changes are linked to the Sun. The first thing you ask is: do you see the Sun's well known 11 year cycle in the glacial ice pullback in the caps on Mars? The answer is: probably not. We've had enough information and it does not seem very well correlated with the Sun's very familiar 11 year cycle.

Then you ask: If not the 11 year cycle, which we know so much about, then what of the Sun is causing this (ice) pullback? Then the question is: While the Sun is active, we don't think that's a real direct source of heating. It's putting out a lot of flares, but they don't put out a lot of warmth, a lot of energy, that would melt ice.

So, it would require some unusual mechanisms on Mars and in the Mars climate system coming from the particles streaming from the Sun, or from some of the flares. That's very far out. There's not a good explanation right now.


For the pullback of ice on Mars? Mars's climate is very dynamic, as the Earth's is. There are changes on most timescales. For example, we see windstorms kick up every few years on Mars and no one has a good explanation for those. When you kick up a lot of dust in the Mars atmosphere, you very much change the amount of energy in the system. Mars's climate system is poorly understood.

More here


Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

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