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In the UK we are “Between Prime Ministers” right now but when the transfer of power becomes a reality in five weeks [or forty days and forty nights as it was when the announcement was made] time, one of the pressing problems the “New Man” will have is the provision of power for the National Grid.  There has been lengthy debate upon the subject and the two main contenders for consideration are a new generation of Nuclear power stations and a greater emphasis on “Greener” more sustainable forms of energy. Though his predecessor erred toward the Nuclear option whilst paying lip service to the green lobby it seems that the new administration is disposed toward the generation of energy that is both sustainable and non nuclear on a scale that is comparable with schemes currently coming on stream in other less democratic parts of the world.
Previously energy has been derived from Hydro-Electric installations, Wind Driven turbines, Solar Energy and Geothermal Extraction in a bid to find a source of power that does not use fossil fuels or leave a residue of radio active waste behind. Many of the alternatives to fossil and nuclear fuel are valid but most are valid on a small scale sufficient to power a few homes or limited industrial concerns. Though these schemes contribute between 8 and 10% of the total power requirement of the UK in their present forms they will never be efficient enough to replace the 65% of the generated electricity supplied by oil, gas and coal fired power stations. The added disadvantage being that as they are all reliant upon fossil fuels they are consuming resources that will soon become extinct. The environment too is suffering, when fossil fuels are consumed the bi-product of the production of power from these methods is accelerating the saturation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and magnifying the effects of global warming, which carries penalties for a growing global population that can only be speculated upon. As the hotter atmosphere melts more of both polar ice caps one thing is certain, there will be a lot more water and ultimately less land for it to surround. There have already been instances of land that was inhabited by around 10,000 people disappearing below the water level never to return, the average ambient air temperature has risen by 2-3 degrees in the past fifty years and areas of polar pack ice that were once frozen throughout the year are now open water for much longer.

To ignore the consequences of Global Warming or deny that it is actually happening is a folly that the world cannot afford but until very recent times there were industrialised nations that refused to acknowledge the existence of a phenomena that could halve the size of the USA, diminish Europe to a shadow of its former self and reduce the UK to a collection of islands whilst many low lying countries would cease to exist.

A solution has to be found and if not for the present generation then for those yet unborn. The reduction of greenhouse gasses has an imperative that calls for innovation and imagination beyond the scope of thinking to date. It has already begun. In South America straddling the border between Brazil and Paraguay a hydroelectric scheme that will produce more electricity than 10 nuclear power stations was carved from the jungles of the Amazon. It is called Itaipu and until three years ago it was the largest enterprise to deliver green power anywhere in the world. Its output is now 14 gigawatts and it supplies the world’s second largest city with green energy. In the year 2000 it supplied 93.4 billion kilowatts. It is on the Parana River and accounts for 93% of Paraguay’s power needs plus 20% of Brazils demand; it was called a modern wonder of the world when it came on stream. Its sibling the Yacryeta` dam built further along the Parana River where it becomes the border between Argentina and Paraguay supplies 19 gigawatts of power to both Argentina and Paraguay. It may be thought that hydroelectric plants were nearing their maximum size and development but there was bigger to come.
In China the work on a project said to be in excess of the effort required to build the Great Wall of China. In 2007 with only 14 of its intended 32 generators installed the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River was supplying near to 14 gigawatts of power. This one installation is capable of producing more power than 5 Hoover dams and can outstrip 15 nuclear piles.
The scale of each one of these projects is mind blowing but none produce carbon dioxide or dangerous radioactive material. The carbon footprint is becoming more feint as more of these projects come on stream but there is a cost to the environment that was planned for at the inception yet despite all precautions has claimed fatalities on a massive scale amongst the wildlife of each of these areas. In the Yangtze whole species of fish and mammals have disappeared and in the Parana River the effect upon wildlife has been similar. One of the principle reasons is thought to be the suppression of oxygenated water collecting in reservoirs behind the dams and the constant agitation caused by the driven turbines. Some plant species are also suffering recessions.

In the UK the lust for power has spawned a new threat to wildlife in the Estuary of the River Severn [England’s longest river] It is not a particularly significant river in fact it does not appear in the list of 160 of the world’s longest rivers but it does have an attribute that is almost unique. Apart from the Bay of Fundy in Canada this river can boast a tidal rise/fall of 15 metres, the second highest in the world and the power behind its spring tides will overcome the flow of the river and carry a 2 metre high tidal wave inland for more than 100 miles. Surfers have tried to ride the wave and in March 2006 a surfer broke the world record for a continuous ride of one hour and sixteen minutes whilst riding the Severn Bore [that is what the tidal wave is called The Severn Bore]. The plan is to construct a barrage across the estuary from a point just south of Cardiff the Welsh capital to a point near Weston-Super-Mare in Somerset, England. The more famous sons and daughters of Weston-Super-Mare include John Cleese and the late Jill Dando. The project will be the biggest attempt so far to harness tidal wave power to produce electricity.

The currently proposed plan would see a concrete structure built from the extreme end of Brean Down out across the estuary connecting small islands, some natural some man made in a 10 mile [15 kilometre] structure to Lavernock point in Glamorgan, South Wales, it would also carry a road across the top. It would house around 216 forty-megawatt turbines and yield a power output of around 8640 megawatts, which would account for approximately 6% of the expected requirement by the time it is completed in 2017. The consortium claim that it will displace three nuclear piles but
the generation of power whilst it will be “Green power” with no carbon fallout and non nuclear creating no radioactive waste will wrest its “Price” from the environment.
Somerset has already been reclaimed from the sea once when it consisted of wetland bogs and marsh it seems likely that the exercise will have to be repeated in the second decade of the twenty-first century.

There is a smaller example of tidal power generation at La Rance in Brittany in France but that is only one thirtieth of the size of the proposed Severn Estuary Project. It will take approximately eight years to construct and require several Acts of Parliament to enable work to begin. Currently a consortium of six companies have put a price tag of 14 billion pounds sterling on the project but if the experience of building the new Wembley Stadium and the Scottish parliament building are any guide that cost can be expected to at least treble during the construction stage.

The question is, ”Is it worth it”. Environmentally the scheme will devastate a delicate eco-balance that has been carefully nurtured over fifty years. It will destroy sites of special scientific interest that a lot of people have taken much time to preserve. It will destroy a Napoleonic Fort at the end of Brean Down and drive away colonies of birds that use the estuary for breeding. Low lying parts of Bristol [England’s 3rd largest city] and Burnham-on Sea will be at serious risk of flooding and many of the small bays and inlets on the English side of the Estuary will collect the silt carried by the incoming tides. If proof of what will happen is required then a visit to Sand Bay just north of Weston-Super-Mare could prove illuminating. Thirty years ago the estuary was deep dredged to allow the safe passage of shipping, sand Bay began to collect silt. It continued to amass silt until the sea no longer came to the sea wall. The waters edge is now more than half a mile from the sea wall.The measure was intended to alieviate flooding and it worked but the proposed lagoons will raise the residual water level by several feet. The lagoons that collect the water to drive the turbines will have a similar effect all along both the English and Welsh coasts. The Estuary tidal flow will be halved by the construction of the barrier and no amount of conservation will ever compensate for its loss. So “Is it worth it?” No, probably not but that will not stop the massive amounts of money power and influence behind a new Prime Ministers need to be “Seen to be green” and leave an indelible scar on the landscape to mark his passing. The sop of a possibility of a “Green Power” alternative energy strategy however will not stop the construction of the new generation of Nuclear power stations though this Prime Minister will most likely give weight to the Severn Estuary barrage his predecessor has already approved the Nuclear option and construction is under way.


Posted: May 21, 2007 ,   Modified: May 22, 2007

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