Bradwell: the wrong answer to the wrong question

(I’ve started writing articles for the local paper. They’ll be posted here a little while after being published.)

One of the issues on Mersea at the moment is the proposed installation of new nuclear reactors at Bradwell, just across the water. This has raised a lot of strong emotions. But why is the government looking to build new nuclear power stations? The simple reason is that it has belatedly realised that we have entered into an energy crisis and, if it doesn’t build new power stations, a lot of people will be trying to function without electricity in the near future.

Ponder this graph:

This shows the amount of nuclear generating capacity that is expected to go ‘off-line’ over the next decade or so. Simply to maintain a power supply equivalent to what we have today we need to find some 8 Giga-watts (GW) of generation capacity (from a total of around 56GW nationally). Of course, the ‘equivalent to what we have today’ understates the issue. We are facing an energy crunch from several different directions: coal plants (the majority of our generation capacity) are being forced to close down due to EU regulations; the oil supply has almost certainly peaked – hence the price rises – and will become progressively more expensive and scarce; and the same applies to gas, although on a slightly later scale. For comparison, the Gunfleet Sands wind farm that we can see from the beach (phase one) has a maximum capacity of 0.1GW.

Even if we ignore the problematic nature of depending on fossil fuels over the coming years, we are facing a shortfall of generating capacity. This is why the Government indicated in 2006 that they would look to build some new nuclear power stations, as part of the requirement to generate some 25GW of new capacity.

Now, there are many issues associated with establishing new nuclear capacity. BANNG have rehearsed many reasons why Bradwell is the wrong answer to the predicament that we face. My concern, however, is that the wrong question is being asked. Essentially the government is trying to work out a way of continuing business as usual, and this, frankly, is daft. Two principal reasons for why:

First, our present energy infrastructure is built around centralised generation of electricity, which is then distributed through the national grid to homes and industry. Taken as a whole (from energy source to eventual use) this is incredibly inefficient, and is only possible in the context of cheap and abundant fossil fuels. In the context of scarce and expensive energy, the future forms that power generation will take will be both more local and more resilient. For example, Woking has been a pioneer in establishing combined heat and power systems and Mersea is not too small to explore doing something similar. It would certainly be a more reasonable course of action than complaining about both the development of nuclear and windpower at the same time!

Second, there is the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell that we will be able to maintain our present, high-energy lifestyle. This is why the Transition Town process (Transition Island in Mersea’s case!) is so very important. We need, as individuals and even more as a community, to begin to prepare for energy descent – a context within which energy will be both scarcer and much more expensive than it is now. This doesn’t have to be a frightening prospect, rather the opposite. We will be growing much more of our own food, using much more human-powered transport, and enjoying much more human-scale and homegrown entertainment. What we will not have very much of are things like private cars or homes warm enough to wear just T-shirts in the middle of winter.

The real question for us is about what we are going to prioritise. What are the things that are really important for us, that are worth fighting for? What, on the other hand, are we prepared to do without?

Personally speaking, I believe that the government has woken up a little too late to do anything substantial the energy crisis (although I hope I’m wrong), and for that reason we probably won’t be faced with a new nuclear power station at Bradwell. We simply won’t be able to afford one (and bear in mind that nuclear power has never yet turned a profit). Yet that will be a very literal cold comfort when we face a harsh winter again, and people find that they are unable to heat their homes. If we are to face our energy constrained future honestly then we need to focus much more closely on preparations now – such as ensuring that homes are properly insulated, that, wherever possible, we have passive solar hot water supplies installed, and so on.

I plan over the coming issues to explore aspects of this energy crisis in more depth. Next time: an explanation of ‘Peak Oil’ and why it matters.

West Mersea church, c.1900

Some colleagues were clearing out a room in the church and came across this picture of St Peter and St Paul’s. It is undated, but has to predate 1905 as the East Window was re-ordered, and a stained glass window put in, at that time. This is (roughly) what it looks like at the moment:

It just proves that things which seem to have ‘been there for ever’ haven’t at all. The c.1900 picture shows a fairly Anglo-Catholic sensibility, which I’m quite certain wouldn’t have been there a hundred years earlier, maybe not even fifty years earlier.

Hit the ground kneeling (Stephen Cottrell)

When it was announced that Stephen Cottrell was coming to be our Diocesan Bishop, I thought I’d best read a couple of books by him to get a flavour of his thinking. I enjoyed this, and thought it rather sound, albeit also extremely short (it’s meant to be read slowly I guess). Much of the ‘wisdom’ I was familiar with, but as always the real challenge is turning right knowledge into right action. I’ll get there.

Movie notes

The boat that rocked 4/5 charming
Transporter 3 Fine 3/5
The Fountain Fabulously filmic 4.5/5
Day of the Dead 3/5 humdrum
Choke Surprisingly humane and intelligent 4/5
Iron Man 2 4/5 good fun, good second act
State of Play 3/5 meh
The International 4/5 good, complex thriller
Kick Ass 3.5/5 entertaining but morally dubious
I love you man 4/5 fine

Bioshock 2

Something else I spent my holiday hours on. Having loved the first one so much, I was very eager to get started on this. Summary review: better gameplay, less good story – but as the story in the first one was so brilliant, it would be hard to keep up, and it is still good. Instead of a nutter right-winger being the antagonist, this time it’s a nutter left-winger. Rapture is still a fascinating environment, and the ending sets up for a Bioshock 3. Good for those with anger management issues ;o)

Blood Work/ Void Moon (Michael Connelly)

Read these on holiday. Two more excellent books, largely independent of the Bosch series, which stand on their own and would make for great films. Actually, I think one of them has been! I’ll have to track down a copy…

I’ve read a lot of Morse novels this year too (had the complete set given to me for Christmas) and whilst I love them, and the remembrance of Oxford which they provoke, I find a US setting more relaxing, precisely because it is more foreign.

Hit the ground kneeling (Stephen Cottrell)

When it was announced that Stephen Cottrell was coming to be our Diocesan Bishop, I thought I’d best read a couple of books by him to get a flavour of his thinking. I enjoyed this, and thought it rather sound, albeit also extremely short (it’s meant to be read slowly I guess). Much of the ‘wisdom’ I was familiar with, but as always the real challenge is turning right knowledge into right action. I’ll get there.

Old ideas, new meme, 1,2,3

Doug tagged me with this:

1. Name one idea that used to be seen as a key Christian theme, but is nowadays regarded as either irrelevant or outdated, although you think it still has a lot to offer.
2. In two sentences say something about why you selected this, and why it should be recovered or renewed.
3. Tag three people.

My answers:
1. Spiritual warfare (ie the spiritual reality of the demonic).
2. I like what CS Lewis said about the devil, that there are two equal and opposite errors, of taking it too seriously, and not taking it seriously enough. I believe the impact of Modernist rationality has, in large part, meant that the church generally, and the CofE in particular, has fallen into the latter error, and that this has had serious consequences.
3. I tag Joe (if/when he chooses to break his fast), Jon and Justin.

Five political confessions

1. The only political party I’ve ever been a full member of is the Liberal Democrats.
2. The only political party I’ve ever actively campaigned for is the Green Party.
3. The above applies to real elections. I was the Conservative candidate in my school’s mock election in 1987, and I wore a blue rosette inscribed “I ♥ Maggie”! I came in second, behind the anarchists 🙂
4. “I’ve never voted Labour before”. I never will either.
5. Whilst I view my vote in the next general election as pretty meaningless (the local MP will get re-elected) I think it important to exercise the right to vote. I haven’t decided how to cast my vote yet, though. I might vote for a party I’ve never voted for before.