Sunday, 5 October 2008

Cancer fear over plans for £50m waste plant

4,500 sign petition as GP warns of heart attacks, asthma and depression
Paul Kelbie
The Observer,
Sunday October 5 2008

A plan to develop a waste-to-energy plant in Aberdeenshire has sparked a massive protest campaign over fears it could cause health problems.
More than 4,500 people living in and around Peterhead have signed a petition against the £50million plant which developers Buchan Combined Heat and Power Ltd claim will burn a third of the north-east of Scotland's rubbish and produce enough power for approximately 10,000 homes. Six hundred letters of objection have been submitted against the proposal.
Residents are concerned it will spew a deadly mixture of chemicals over the area, causing increased rates of cancer, heart attacks, clinical depression, autism, asthma and coronary heart disease. Their fears have been fuelled by a retired GP from South Wales, Dick Van Steenis, who claims research into similar plants in other parts of the country has demonstrated an alarming rise in serious illnesses in surrounding communities.
'The company's own environmental statement says it will emit arsenic and dioxins which are highly carcinogenic. One of the main things it emits apart from mercury, arsenic, cobalt, and lead is particulate matter,' said John Askey, a father of two who organised the petition. 'Particulate matter are very fine particles. In a smog you get very big particles, but it's the fine ones you can't see that cause an awful lot of illnesses like heart disease, eczema, asthma and cancer.
'Buchan already has the highest cancer, heart disease and stroke rate in the whole of Grampian, so we don't want this incinerator adding to our woes by blowing these fine particles over Peterhead.' Concerns about the plant have also been raised by NHS Grampian and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency which both questioned the suitability of the proposed location of the plant on an industrial site outside Peterhead.
In a submission to Aberdeenshire Council's planning department, NHS officials said they were concerned that the incinerator will be located right beside a children's nursery and less than a mile from the small community of Invernettie.
However, Buchan CHP insists that, if its plant goes ahead, there will be no significant risk to human health, and its director, Glenn Jones, has insisted that any emissions will be 'no more dangerous than those from a domestic car or a wood-burning stove'.
'All our research and documentation are based on fact and in-depth analysis of the process and the technology,' said a spokesman. 'We would be very interested to see Van Steenis's research papers and analysis and find out where it has been reviewed by experts or peer-reviewed by recognised academics.
'These plants are operating cleanly, safely and effectively in Shetland, Switzerland, Germany and Scandinavia, among many other places. Contrary to what a handful of objectors are saying, the plant will not use gas to support the burning of waste; ash and emissions from the plant will not affect human health or local water supplies and monitoring of the emissions will be a continual and robust process.'

Wave of anger over tidal power funding

Published Date: 05 October 2008

By Eddie Barnes Political Editor

SCOTLAND is in danger of squandering its status as the world's wave and tidal energy capital because of a lack of Government support, according to top industry figures.
A special grant fund for technology firms has dried up, amid warnings that several nations are set to overtake Scotland as the big global players in this important new market. Industry leaders are calling for fresh Government backing so that the world's first viable tidal power programme is made in Scotland.The Pentland Firth, where the tidal flows are among the world's fiercest, has been described as a potential "Saudi Arabia of tidal power". Industry figures say a lack of backing means it could be another 10 years before the energy is transformed into electricity on the grid.The complaints come despite millions of pounds being ploughed in by both the Scottish and UK Governments. In Edinburgh, ministers are offering the £10m Saltire Prize to a group that demonstrates a breakthrough invention in marine energy. It has also announced plans to give greater subsidies to firms that produce marine energy in Scottish waters. However, a £13m grant programme set up by the previous Scottish Executive, which gave grants to R&D firms in Scotland, has now dried up. In the US, the department of energy has recently awarded several five-year grants to a number of schemes. In Ireland, a ?26m fund was set up earlier this year to fund projects until 2013.A spokesman for the Scottish Council for Development and Industry said: "We are the Saudia Arabia of renewables. But we also want to be the Silicon Valley, or the Houston, Texas, where the technology is created. Certainly it is a concern for technology companies. We welcome the progress that has been made on renewables, but we are still a long way from a world-class system in Scotland, and if we are going to get there we need to anchor the technology companies in Scotland. There was funding available for one year but that is no longer available. There is more than enough money flushing around in renewables. In Ireland and the US there is new support, and Spain and Portugal are both very keen as well to welcome these companies."In a submission to the UK Government's Renewable Energy review, SCDI add: "The technologies are still at least five to 10 years away from scale commercial deployment. The UK still has a technical lead, but the Iberians and Irish are working hard to catch up."Barry Johnston, managing director of ScotRenewables Ltd, a research and development firm in Orkney, which won funding from the Government in 2006 said: "The £13m was excellent but, quite honestly, even if that was £130m, that still wouldn't be much to get an industry with this potential off the ground."It is estimated that a tidal power station in the Pentland Firth could provide 5% of UK electricity.A Scottish Government spokesman said funds could be available in the future.

Nuclear fusion energy project could lead to limitless clean electricity

By Richard Gray, Science Correspondent

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 05/10/2008

The power of the sun is to be recreated in a new £1 billion science project which aims to provide a clean and almost limitless source of energy.

British scientists will this week begin work to create a nuclear fusion reactor, which will use the same powerful reactions that take place in the Sun to provide energy and, ultimately, electricity.
Scientists have previously only been able to replicate the reaction inside hydrogen bombs.
Now, however, they believe they are on the verge of achieving controlled fusion in a laboratory for the first time.
Laser beams with enough power to light up every home in Britain for a few microseconds will be used to heat up the nuclear fuel to millions of degrees centigrade in order to trigger the reaction.

If successful, the reactor will be a prototype for future commercial power stations, providing a cleaner and safer replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, which use nuclear fission to produce energy.
Unlike nuclear fission, which tears apart atoms to release energy and highly radioactive by-products, fusion involves squeezing two "heavy" hydrogen atoms, called deuterium and tritium together so they fuse, producing harmless helium and vast amounts of energy.
Previous attempts to harness fusion have failed due to the huge amount of power needed to start the reaction and keep it running, leading to more power being put into the system than is ever given out. But scientists at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, near Oxford, hope their approach will generate useful power for the first time.
Leading a consortium of physicists from across Europe they will tomorrow launch the three year process of planning and designing the High Powered Laser Research (HiPER) facility.
Professor Mike Dunne, director of the central laser facility at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and one of the scientists leading the fusion project, said that fusion could provide a safe source of energy with no carbon emissions and plentiful energy supplies.
He said: "HiPER is aiming to bridge the step between proving nuclear fusion is possible and a commercial power station.
"It should prove that a big enough laser can be built, with a high enough repetition rate and efficiency, which are the critical building blocks on the route towards fusion energy."
Fusion reactors are already under construction in the US and France using two separate approaches to creating the intense pressure and heat required to trigger the nuclear fusion reaction.
The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, is aiming to use powerful lasers to create the intense pressures required to trigger the reaction when it is switched on next year, but the lasers are so powerful it is likely to use up more energy than it produces, meaning the technology would be useless for a commercial power station.
A separate approach at the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in Cadarache, France, is aiming to use powerful magnetic fields to spark the reaction but this is again not thought to be terribly efficient. The HiPER project will adapt the American laser approach and improve its efficiency so that it can trigger the reaction at lower pressure.
"The National Ignition Facility will prove fusion can be achieved with lasers and we are then the next step," said Professor Dunne.
"If you think of the NIF as being like a diesel engine – the lasers compress the fuel pellet until the pressure causes the fusion reaction to start.
"HiPER is more like a petrol engine where the fuel is compressed a little by the lasers but then a second more powerful laser acts like a spark plug to trigger the fusion reaction."
The researchers have received £13 million for the first phase of the £1 billion project to build the HiPER facility. Most of the funding has come from the UK government funded Science and Technology Facilities Council, together with contributions from the European Commission.
It comes at a time when the Government is facing intense opposition to its plans to build new nuclear fission power stations in order to meet rising energy demands as fossil fuel supplies begin to run low.
Unlike nuclear fission, the fusion reaction produces only produces very small amounts of low-grade radioactive material and does not carry the risk of radioactive meltdown.
Fusion fuel, deuterium and tritium is also readily available in seawater. Just 2lbs of fusion fuel is capable of producing the same amount of energy as 10,000 tonnes of fossil fuel.
A spokesman for the STFC said: "The future location of HiPER is being explored over the next few years, with the UK being a prime candidate."
Martin O'Brien, fusion programme manager at the UK Atomic Energy Authority, added: "Fusion is increasingly recognised internationally as a possible long term clean energy supply. The UK is very much in the leading position on nuclear fusion."

Mexico tourism boom kills coral quicker than climate change

Published Date: 05 October 2008

By Jason Lange in Cancun, Mexico

DAINTY blue fish still dart around coral shaped like antlers near the Mexican resort of Cancun, but pollution is threatening one of the world's largest reefs.
Parts of the reef, nestled in turquoise waters, have died, and algae – which feed on sewage residues flowing out of the fast-growing hotels in the tourist city – has taken over.Coral in areas such as Chitales, near the northern tip of a Caribbean reef chain stretching from Mexico to Honduras, are dying as people and cities put more stress on the environment.Climate change alone could trigger a global coral extinction by 2100 because carbon emissions warm oceans and make them more acidic, according to a recent study.But local environmental problems, such as sewage, farm run-off and over-fishing, could kill much of the world's reefs decades before global warming does, said Roberto Iglesias, a biologist from Unam university's marine sciences station near Cancun."The net effect of pollution is as bad or maybe worse than the effects of global warming," said Iglesias, a co-author of the study in the journal Science.Human waste, like that from Cancun's hotels and night spots, aggravates threats to coral worldwide, such as overzealous fishing, which hurts stocks of fish that eat reef-damaging algae. Coral reefs are covered with tiny animals called coral polyps, which build the reefs by slowly secreting calcium carbonate over thousands of years, creating structures that can dull the blow hurricanes deal to coastal cities. The polyps also give the reefs their dazzling shades of pink and purple.Across the Caribbean, the amount of reef surface covered by live coral has fallen about 80% in the past 30 years, the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network says.In the Pacific, between Hawaii and Indonesia, reefs have been losing about 1% of their coral coverage annually over the past 25 years.It is hard to tell how much of that damage was caused by global warming and how much by local factors such as pollution.Some scuba diving instructors around Cancun are worried about the future of their trade. Jorge Olivieri, who has been taking tourists out diving in the area for the past 16 years, says some reefs are so damaged he would not take an experienced diver to see them. "There are still fish and coral, but it isn't like it used to be," he said.Fixing problems like poor sewage treatment and over-fishing are among the few things that countries and cities can do to help their reefs."The local factors are the only things we can manage at this point and they are absolutely critical," said Drew Harvell, a biologist at Cornell University.In the late 1960s, Cancun was barely inhabited.Then Mexican bureaucrats, hungry for foreign currency and armed with statistics on sunshine, hatched a plan to turn the area into a tourist area. Today millions of people each year pack into hotels running the length of the strip.

Study looks at ways to slash energy bills

Published Date: 04 October 2008

A £130,000 feasibility study of a project aimed at reducing power bills for residents in Craigmillar has been launched by housing developer Parc.

The study into the use of combined heat and power (CHP) as an energy source will examine the potential for three local energy units to supply heat and power to the new developments, including homes and schools, being built as part of the area's regeneration.The study has been awarded a £65,000 grant from The Scottish Government Climate Change Fund. Parc, the company spearheading the £200 million regeneration of Craigmillar is matching this with a further £65,000 funding.John Quinn, general manager for Parc Craigmillar said: "Energy from a CHP source is typically twice as efficient as conventional power stations. "In a CHP scheme rather than waste the heat generated it is used to heat homes and other buildings in addition to producing electricity."The initial phase of the study, to look at the technical, financial and commercial viability of the project, will be completed in October. If successful, this will be followed by a more detailed financial study and community consultation.

Hutton's move to MoD will clear way for greener agenda

By Geoffrey Lean, Environment EditorSunday, 5 October 2008

Gordon Brown's Government will become greener as a result of his reshuffle. The promotion of his close ally Ed Miliband, to head a new Department of Energy and Climate Change, shows the Prime Minister is to put an increased priority on global warming.
And moving the former business secretary John Hutton to the Ministry of Defence suggests that controversial plans to build the UK's first coal-fired power station for 34 years, at Kingsnorth in Kent, will be examined more critically. Downing Street regards Mr Hutton, who was shortly due formally to give his verdict, as "ideologically committed" to the plant. Mr Hutton came under heavy pressure – from cabinet colleagues David Miliband and Hilary Benn as well as environmentalists – not to permit the building of the plant until it was equipped with technology, still in development, to capture the CO2.
Mr Miliband will review the proposal for the plant – which would emit three times as much carbon dioxide as the country of Rwanda – with an open mind before taking the issue to Cabinet for a full decision on whether it is to go ahead. The Government's commitment to nuclear power remains unchanged. The reshuffle is also likely to help Britain's drive to get 15 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.
The reappointment to the Cabinet of Margaret Beckett, who campaigned on combating global warming as both Environment and Foreign secretary under Tony Blair, will also help green the Government. And even Peter Mandelson has become more interested in climate change while serving as a European Commissioner.

Britain's rivers could run dry

Flows in Severn and Mersey might drop by up to 80 per cent by 2050, experts warn
David Smith
The Observer,
Sunday October 5 2008

Britain's rivers could nearly run dry because long hot summers caused by climate change will not be sufficiently compensated by wetter winters, researchers predict. It is a scenario that would endanger wildlife and send household water bills soaring.
Flows in the Mersey and Severn are likely to be reduced in summer by up to 80 per cent by 2050, according to a study by the Environment Agency. The Thames's flow is likely to decline by up to 50 per cent during the same period.
It had been hoped that, as global warming leads to more extreme seasons, summer droughts would be offset by an increase in winter rainfall. However, while wetter winters are expected, they will not be damp enough to make up for the lack of rain during the hotter summers.
The news might come as a surprise to people in towns such as Tewkesbury in Gloucestershire, who have suffered flooding due to extraordinary downpours during the past two summers. But the agency claims that, while such extremes are a hallmark of climate change and wet summers will still occur, the overall average trend is towards drastically reduced river flows across the country.
Ian Barker, head of water resources at the Environment Agency, said yesterday: 'For a long time, we've known climate change would result in wetter winters, which would increase winter flows in rivers, and that it would also result in drier summers.
'The received wisdom was that the two would balance each other out and overall we'd end up with the same amount of water, just distributed differently throughout the year.
'But we wanted to understand how much extra rainfall we might get in winter, and how much less rainfall we might get in summer. The net effect is that overall, although winter rainfall might increase by 10 per cent, the period of higher river flows is reduced, so it's perhaps only December, January, February, maybe into March. The period when you'd see lower river flows because the rainfall is significantly less would extend from April right through to November in some parts of the country.' Barker warned: 'Overall, it means that, by the 2050s, there's a net reduction in the amount of water resources available for water companies to pump out of rivers, farmers to use for irrigation and also to support wildlife in rivers.
'If you get reduced flows, in summer the temperature of the water will increase, there's less water to dilute pollution, and that will also affect what is in our rivers.'
The research used climate projections from the UK Climate Impacts Programme and shows that by 2050 river flows in winter may rise by 10 to 15 per cent in England and Wales. But river flows in late summer and early autumn could fall by as much as 80 per cent in some places. These patterns would result in a drop in total annual river flow of up to 15 per cent.
But Professor Stuart Lane, executive director of the Institute of Hazard and Risk Research at Durham University, issued two caveats. 'First, something that's quite clear in the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report issued last year is that our ability to forecast rainfall precipitation is particularly poor when compared with our ability to predict temperature,' he said.
'Second, these kind of average figures often overlook what most people will experience - indeed, a lot of people find it very difficult to relate to predictions like these because we will always have both wet summers and dry summers, and wet summers are actually quite normal.
'What that means is these are average changes and it's quite possible that the kind of drought scenarios that are being talked about here could be much worse or not as bad on a year-to-year basis.'

Seas turn to acid as they soak up CO2

Robin McKie, science editor
The Observer,
Sunday October 5 2008

The Bay of Naples is renowned for its breathtaking beauty and glittering clear waters. For centuries, tourists have flocked to the region to experience its glories.
But beneath the waves, scientists have uncovered an alarming secret. They have found streams of gas bubbling up from the seabed around the island of Ischia. 'The waters are like a Jacuzzi - there is so much carbon dioxide fizzing up from the seabed,' said Dr Jason Hall-Spencer, of Plymouth University. 'Millions of litres of gas bubble up every day.'
The gas streams have turned Ischia's waters into acid, and this has had a major impact on sea life and aquatic plants. Now marine biologists fear that the world's seas could follow suit.
'Every day the oceans absorb more than 25m tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,' said Hall-Spencer. 'If it were not for the oceans, levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere would be far higher than they are today and the impact of climate change would be far worse. However, there is a downside: it is called ocean acidification.'
Scientists calculate that the seas are absorbing so much carbon dioxide that they are 30 per cent more acidic than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution. The change is three times greater and has happened 100 times faster than at any other time during the past 20 million years.
Tomorrow hundreds of scientists will gather in Monaco for the 'Second International Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World'. One focus of debate is likely to be the Plymouth study. The seas off Ischia - which are affected by carbon dioxide from volcanic activity - offer a first-class opportunity to investigate what might happen in the next few decades.
Scientists found that in Ischia's highly acidic water:
• Biodiversity of plants and fish has dropped by 30 per cent
• Algae vital for binding coral reefs have been wiped out
• Invasive 'alien' species, such as sea-grasses, are thriving
• Coral and sea urchins have been destroyed, while mussels and clams are failing to grow shells.
The conference will also tackle the dangers posed to fish larvae, which are sensitive to high levels of acid, as well as the threat to commercial fish stocks.
'Many developing countries have seafood as their prime source of food,' said Dr Carol Turley, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory. 'If they lose that, the result could be famine.'

Power industry welcomes creation of super-ministry

The Times
October 4, 2008
Robin Pagnamenta

A new ministry to oversee energy and climate change policy was created on Friday.
The move was welcomed by the power industry. Senior executives said that the shake-up, which will merge parts of the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (Berr) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) into a single organisation to be led by Ed Miliband, reflected the growing importance of energy policy in Downing Street.
It comes as Britain struggles to upgrade its ageing power infrastructure, meet tough carbon emissions targets and secure adequate long-term energy supplies as oil and gas output in the North Sea declines.
Nick Horler, chief executive of ScottishPower, said: “This is an opportunity for a holistic and co-ordinated approach to the giant challenges of ensuring energy security and protecting the environment.”

Another power company chief executive said: “Anything which provides a more co-ordinated approach to climate change and energy issues has to be encouraging.”
However, there was regret at the loss of John Hutton, who has been appointed Defence Secretary. The former Business Secretary was seen as being among the most successful ministers dealing with energy issues in years. “In an ideal world it would have been Hutton being appointed to head this new department,” a source at one of Britain's big power companies said.
The industry is hoping that the creation of the new structure will bring to an end infighting between Berr and Defra over key areas of energy policy, including fuel poverty and the types of incentives required to channel fresh investment into green energy projects.
Neil Bentley, director of business environment at the CBI, said that the new structure could prove problematic if one faction were to gain the upper hand: “Both climate change and energy security are vital national interests that need the Government's fullest attention and urgent action,” he said. “Combining them may help to identify both synergies and trade-offs, but we must avoid either becoming subordinate to the other. Ultimately, sound, timely policy decisions matter most, not departmental names or structures.”
Others expressed uncertainty about how Mr Miliband, the former Cabinet Office Minister, was likely to handle his new brief. His approach will be crucial on areas of energy policy, including negotiations over new European Union targets for the amount of energy generated from wind and wave power. Since January, Britain has been committed to raising its share of renewable power generation from 4 per cent to 40 per cent by 2020, a target that experts say is unachievable.