Andy Blowers indicates why Bradwell B would add to the calamitous impacts of Climate Change
COP 26, the United Nations international conference on Climate Change, in Glasgow in November is almost upon us. Five years ago in Paris the 190 countries present plus the EU committed to keep global warming under 1.5°C, the level regarded as manageable. On present trends that target will be surpassed about the middle of this century and by the end of the century global temperatures could rise by as much as 3°C, with devastating consequences none can evade.
Glasgow is seen as the Last Chance Saloon at which countries must redouble their commitments to reduce carbon emissions, to the level of ‘net zero’ (see footnote) by mid-century. The task is as necessary as it is difficult. Two recent reports spell out the challenge.
1. Perils of a warming world
(1) The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th Assessment Report 2021: The Physical Science Basis
‘It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.’
Scientists from across the world have now proclaimed, unequivocally, Climate Change is an irrefutable fact; it is here and now. In recent months we have seen on our TV screens; wildfires in Greece, flooding in Germany, melting glaciers in Greenland, drought across Africa, a heat dome in Canada, typhoons in the United States and many more events attributed to a warming planet.
These events are bound to increase in scale, frequency and intensity. Unless the increase in global temperature can be arrested, we are on course for ice melt, thermal expansion of the oceans, possibly the slowing down of the Gulf Stream and other mega trends that will leave future generations with a planet that is inhospitable, perhaps in large areas uninhabitable.
2. Nature on the Edge
(2) The Economics of Biodiversity: the Dasgupta Review, February 2021
‘We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk’.
The natural world is becoming ever more humanised. Only 4% of mammals are not humans or livestock and some of these face extinction as habitats diminish. And 70% of birds are poultry for domestic use while wild birds are threatened with fragmentation of habitat and loss of biodiversity. Monocultural agricultural systems, with a few dominant strains of wheat and rice for example, promote productivity at the expense of diversity. Soils, vital for biodiversity and support of agriculture, are prey to erosion, overcultivation, land use change and pollution. The marine environment of rivers, seas and oceans is widely overfished, polluted and trashed by dumping and the plague of plastic. Climate change and population growth are adding to the toll on environments and, in some places, nature is on a cliff edge, no longer able to perform its vital functions, providing resources and services and absorbing waste and pollution.
Here, on the Essex coast, the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss are barely perceptible. Indeed, there is some evidence of successful conservation, protection and enhancement of biodiversity on land and water. But, changes in weather patterns and rising sea level with storm surges and flooding are inevitable over the years to come. And the marshlands, those ‘meadows of the sea’ so rich in biodiversity are in retreat.
Managing the Coast in a Changing Climate: Committee on Climate Change,2018
‘Saltmarshes, mudflats, shingle beaches, sand dunes and sea cliffs, which provide natural protection against waves and storm surges, are declining in area’.
Must we cope with Bradwell B?
So, where does the proposed Bradwell B’s nuclear power fit into all this? The answer is that it doesn’t – its contribution to net zero would be nugatory. The massive costs, huge carbon output during construction when other, far cheaper, more flexible and carbon free alternatives will be available, should make Bradwell B a non-starter.
Not only would such a mammoth project be surplus to requirements, it would be exceedingly harmful to the environment. During construction, over a period of ten years and more, there would be disruption, noise and the loss of amenity and environment as the colossus and its infrastructure of buildings, roads, cooling towers and port facilities are developed. In the sixty years or so of operation its voracious appetite for cooling water would imperil marine life, killing millions of fish and harming the oyster beds. Radioactivity would be routinely released and the risk of an accidental and widespread release would linger. And, after shutdown, throughout most of the next century sea level rise, storm surges and flooding could wreak havoc on the reactor cores and highly active wastes in stores on a fragile coast.
Coping with Climate Change will present our own and future generations with huge environmental challenges. Coping with Bradwell B would pile Pelion on Ossa bequeathing our successors an unnecessary, unwanted and calamitous legacy. It must not happen.
Footnote: Net zero is when the emissions into the atmosphere are balanced by carbon being absorbed by ‘sinks’ such as forests and oceans or directly captured from the air.