Saturday, July 31, 2021

Nuclear Theddlethorpe 02

If the proposal to create a Deep Geological Facility (GDF) for high level nuclear waste at the former gas terminal at Theddlethorpe is to be opposed effectively then one must concentrate of arguments that will sway the opinions of Radioactive Waste Management, planning inspectors and politicians, locally and nationally.

Concerns about safety, however natural, heartfelt and understandable, are unlikely to influence decision makers because the industry will be able to assure government that the project can be completed safely.

Which leaves the two issues that could determine the future of the project:

1. the suitability of the site for a major industrial development, and

2. the suitability of the geology for a nuclear depository.

1. Industrial Development

The gas terminal was built on a greenfield site in a rural area on agricultural land with the assumption that, on decommissioning, it would be returned to its former state. It must, therefore, now be regarded as if the gas terminal had never existed, a greenfield site. In such an area, and lacking major road and any rail connection, the site would never normally be considered for a major industrial project. Such development would more likely be directed to a large brownfield site such as an ex-steelworks. Scunthorpe comes to mind as having a large redundant site with a railway running through it, nearby motorway links and a large, skilled potential labour force. I mention Scunthorpe as the underlying geology is similar to Theddlethorpe's. If any decision maker should balk at locating the facility in an urban area it might suggest that they do not have confidence in the safety of their project.

The scale of the project is, perhaps, under appreciated by many. It is doubtful whether the footprint of the Conoco gas terminal is large enough to accommodate the GDF and the timescale has not been much talked about. It would probably take more than a decade to develop the facility and then the work of emplacing waste might continue for a hundred years before it is finally sealed and the surface ground returned to its previous state.

2. Geology

Underlying a few metres of superficial marine and glacial deposits is some 200 metres of the Chalk. This is a very permeable rock, about as much use as a wet sponge for sealing nuclear waste. Below the Cretaceous rocks lies the Jurassic, of which the Ancholme Group is probably the rocks of interest. The objective would be to find a thick and homogenous layer of clay, sufficiently impervious to radionucleotide migration to prevent leakage for hundreds of thousands of years after the initial protection of the copper containment vessels has broken down after many millennia.

The Ancholme Group is a complex series of mostly clays but with sandstone and other more permeable horizons. A sufficiently thick clay layer needs to be found.
The Ampthill Clay Formation is the shallowest such layer and is just over 100 metres thick here. Below this lies the 20m thick West Walton Formation and below that the Oxford Clay Formation. This is the same layer as the Callovo-Oxfordian in which the French plan to deposit their high level nuclear waste in the CIGEO facility. But in our area the Oxford Clay is only about 30 metres thick.

The underlying Lias Group of the Lower Jurassic is a rather mixed bag of rocks and probably does not present a good location for nuclear waste disposal but below this in the Upper Triassic is the Mercia Mudstone Group. This is a sequence some 250 to 300 metres thick and may be the most likely location for a waste facility. (Some folk will recall the 1980s and Fulbeck site that targeted these rocks.)

That's a brief and sketchy summary of Theddlethorpe geology. For a much more detailed account, and the one that will be used as the introduction to the topic by decision makers, see the British Geological Survey's National Geological Screening:
Eastern England region, Minerals and Waste Programme, Commissioned Report CR/17/092

If the UK Government chooses a soft-rock Geological Disposal Facility, such as Theddlethorpe's geology allows, the closest exemplar is the French CIGEO facility but note that French law currently requires that the disposal remains potentially reversible, allowing the material to be retrieved by a future generation. This is in contrast to the approach in Finland where the policy is to seal the waste permanently. Theirs is a hard rock solution with the waste buried in caverns dug some 500 metres down into granite. 

In the UK we have not yet had the important debate about whether to adopt the French or the Finnish philosophy. They are fundamentally different. The choice is still to be made between soft rock, in which case Theddlethorpe is in the frame, and hard rock, where we have to turn to Cumbria, or better still, Scotland, for a site.

One further aspect, which has been acknowledged by Radioactive Waste Management, is that the sedimentary rocks of Lincolnshire contain hydrocarbons, oil and gas. While our current civilisation, wary of climate change, may choose to leave them in the ground, a future civilisation, say 1000 years hence, might be tempted to extract this valuable resource. Do we have an ethical duty to keep it free from nuclear contamination?

Further reading: Deep Time Reckoning by Vincent Ialenti.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Nuclear Theddlethorpe 01

On Friday 23rd of July 2021 news was reported on the local BBC radio and TV stations that Lincolnshire County Council has been in discussion with the Government owned firm Radioactive Waste Management (RWM) about locating a deep Geological Disposal Facility (GDF) for high level nuclear waste at Theddlethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast. It is as yet unclear how far any talks have gone between RWM and Conservative Party councillors but Labour councillors and the local MP, Victoria Atkins, had not been informed.

To facilitate public discussion I set up a Facebook group, which within 48 hours had been joined by about 2000 people and had received comments from over 200. All of the comments appear to be hostile to the proposal.

The proposed location at Theddlethorpe is on the site of the former Conoco-Phillips gas terminal, where North Sea gas came ashore and, after some processing, fed into the gas pipeline grid. It closed a couple of years ago and the site mostly cleared, in compliance with the original planning consent requirement for reinstatement to agricultural land. Today an office block is about all that remains, so it should be regarded as a greenfield site in a rural setting, surrounded by a National Nature Reserve to one side and agricultural land to the other. It is not a brownfield site.

Theddlethorpe is poorly served by transport links; the nearest railways come to Cleethorpes, some 30 kilometres to the north and Skegness, a similar distance to the south. There are no motorways in Lincolnshire and not even a dual carriageway to the east of Lincoln, almost 50 km away.

In common with some other coastal towns, nearby Mablethorpe is an area of considerable social deprivation and a major industrial investment in the area will bring some jobs and economic prosperity to the area. This must surely weigh on the minds of local councillors and may have led to the discussions, but no information has been released as yet.

There is an undoubted need for the ultimate disposal of high level nuclear waste, somewhere, and we do need to find the least bad place to put what we have created. The question is where. Understandably, many people are fearful of having a nuclear dump near their homes and are concerned about accidents, leaks and the risks to health from radioactive contamination. Personally, I'm not so worried about this. The purpose of a deep geological repository is to keep the waste away from people for tens of thousands of years, effectively forever, immune to sea level rise, to earthquakes and future glaciations and to the passing and re-emergence of civilisations. Once completed the repository can be forgotten about, lost from human consciousness. 

Since creating the repository must not create any radiological hazard there is no reason why it should be located in a remote area with a low populations density. A rural location has little advantage over an urban site. The overriding factor must be the geological suitability. When that has been determined other factors that affect any large scale industrial development come into play. Preference should be given to brownfield sites with good transport infrastructure links. A place such as the steelworks at Scunthorpe comes to mind. Acres of abandoned industrial land with a railway running through the site, excellent road links and a large local pool of skilled labour. 

We should allay our fears about radiation and concentrate on the factors that will determine any planning inquiry. Is Theddlethorpe a suitable location for a major industrial development with activity lasting decades?

But the overriding factor must be the geological suitability. 

And before going further I suggest reading Michael Stodhard's piece in the Financial Times from five years ago.

And watch the Michael Madsen's 2010 film about the Onkalo in Finland, Into Eternity.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Hawkmoth Emergence

You've heard of the Butterfly Effect, in which a small change in initial conditions causes big changes further down the line. Now we are witnessing the emergence of its lesser known and much darker cousin, the Hawkmoth Effect. The recent extreme weather events around the world, particularly the western Americas 'heat dome' and floods in Germany and Belgium, have prompted many people to comment that this weather was more extreme than expected from their interpretation of the climate models' outputs.

"We need to better model nonlinear events.” said Dieter Gerten, professor of global change climatology and hydrology at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, looking at the German flooding.

Former Met Office chief scientist Prof Dame Julia Slingo told BBC News: "We should be alarmed because the IPCC models are just not good enough. We need an international centre to deliver the quantum leap to climate models that capture the fundamental physics that drive extremes. Unless we do that we will continue to underestimate the intensity/frequency of extremes and the increasingly unprecedented nature of them."

Julia Slingo calls, very properly, for vastly greater spending on climate modelling. But shear computing power is not enough by itself. Wisdom is required too.

The Hawkmoth Effect is a phenomenon described by Erica Thompson thus:

The Butterfly Effect is well-known as the sensitivity to initial conditions displayed by some dynamical systems, meaning that a small perturbation to initial conditions can result in a large change to the state of the system after some length of time (dynamical instability).

The Hawkmoth Effect, by analogy, is the sensitivity to structural model formulation, meaning that a small perturbation to the system itself can result in a large change to the state of the system after some length of time (structural instability).

Essential further reading for all who use computer models, whether they be climate models or in other fields, is the paper by Erica Thompson and Leonard Smith 'Escape from Model Land'.

A couple of weeks ago a seminar was held, now available to view on YouTube. Hosted by The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), it comprised a presentation by Dr Anthony Hodgson, entitled 'Systems Thinking and Tragedy of Consciousness', and discussion with Erica Thompson and Nico Aspinall of B&CE, with introduction by Tan Suee Chieh of IFoA.

Perhaps only watched by a few hundred people, this seminar occupies a small niche in the vastness of human discourse, but it is the sort of thinking presented here that may prove invaluable as we try to mitigate against and adapt to the unfolding climate crisis.

It is worth watching.

And if you came here looking to read about the other sort of Hawkmoth, well, sorry, but this is a good moment to join the very excellent Butterfly Conservation. It's all connected.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Worst news since the Ice Age

Southeast Amazonia is no longer a carbon sink

"Atmospheric measurements show that deforestation and rapid local warming have reduced or eliminated the capacity of the eastern Amazonian forest to absorb carbon dioxide — with worrying implications for future global warming."

That's the heading to Scott Denning's article in Nature about the paper by Luciana V. Gatti et al. also in Nature (though this may be behind a paywall for you).

Other summaries are available from the Guardian, The New York Times, iNews and elsewhere.

Many folk have assumed that the vast tropical rainforests absorb at least some of our carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels but the latest research confirms what some have suspected, that we have damaged some areas of forest so much that they have become carbon emitters instead of sinks.

The IPCC emission scenarios have been widely criticised but the results from this Amazonia study keeps the outcome of the RCP8.5 forcing a possibility.

That may be the worst news humanity has received since the Last Ice Age. It's that bad.

 Carbon fluxes in different Amazonian regions. From 2010 to 2018, Gatti et al.2 measured vertical profiles of atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide above four regions in Amazonia (the two locations shown in northwestern Amazonia were counted as one region), and thereby calculated regional carbon fluxes upwind of each site, measured in grams of carbon per square metre per day. In the bar charts, net biome exchange (NBE) represents the average annual balance of CO2 absorbed by forests for photosynthesis compared with the amount of CO2 produced by the decay of organic matter (negative NBE values indicate that the forest acts as a carbon sink); ‘fire’ represents the average carbon emissions produced by fires; and ‘total’ represents the sum of NBE and fire emissions. The NBE values indicate that most regions of Amazonia are weak carbon sinks, but southeastern Amazonia is actually a carbon source.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Coronavirus 56 Two Herd Immunities

Herd immunity occurs when a sufficiently large proportion of the population are immune to infection that the R number is well below 1, the virus finding it hard to find a new vulnerable person. The epidemic then dies out.

Herd immunity is achieved by either vaccination or by people catching the disease and recovering, their immunity improved. The advantage of immunity by vaccination is that one does not become ill. The whole point of the vaccination programme is to create herd immunity without people becoming ill. To be successful most of the population needs to be vaccinated, and that includes children.

The UK Government has adopted a hybrid policy, vaccinating a large proportion of only the adult population and allowing the infection to spread amongst the unvaccinated. This has been the policy from the outset, with the rate of disease spread managed to 'flatten the curve' and 'save the NHS' but minimising death and disease has never been the priority. The zero covid strategy of suppression and elimination, adopted by many nations, particularly in the eastern hemisphere, has never been accepted by the UK Government.

The relaxation of covid measures, announced yesterday and coming into effect on the 19th of July, confirms that the Government are relying on herd immunity created, at least in part, from people catching the disease and recovering with immunity.

The difference between herd immunity by vaccination and herd immunity by infection is the morbidity and mortality rates. The inevitable outcome of the Government's policy is more death and disease. It will reduce the health of the nation.

The Government's approach is criminal.

It is tremendously important to listen to the doctors and scientists. Following the Government's announcement an emergency press conference was held. I commend it:

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Coronavirus 55 Two Approaches

Approach 1

Zero Covid: Suppression, Elimination, Eradication.

Understand that if nobody goes near anybody else the virus dies out in a very few weeks. For a modern society to survive some people have to meet, to work in, for example, the health services, energy, farming and food and telecommunications industries. Recognition that SARS-CoV-2 is essentially an airborne spread virus, personal protection, distancing, ventilation,
 hygiene, and the rest minimises transmission amongst these whose work is life-critical to society. Testing finds those who are infected, isolation with sufficient support prevents further community transmission. Minimising travel into an area and effective quarantining of those that must travel stops community re-infection.

This approach is led by governments putting minimising deaths as the top priority over everything else.

Examples with their covid deaths per million population.

Laos 0.4
Vietnam 0.9
China 3
New Zealand 5
Singapore 6

Approach 2

'Herd Immunity'

Assume that the virus cannot be stopped, will have to be 'lived with' and accept that a great many people will die and a vastly greater number will suffer long-term and even permanent ill health. ("Take it on the chin; let the bodies pile high" in Mr Johnson's words.)

A minimum of restrictions are applied, not to suppress and eliminate the virus but to manage the spread of the disease such that the health services are not totally overwhelmed. 'Flattening the curve'. Vaccination is used as a tool, almost of first resort, for the more vulnerable sections of the population while leaving children to catch the disease and develop natural immunity, at least in those who survive.

This approach is led by governments with a laissez-faire attitude, putting  popularism ahead of leadership that informs its population about scientific understanding with honesty and integrity. 

Examples, again with covid deaths per million population:

USA 1866
UK 1879
Brazil 2446
Hungary 3113
Peru 5775

Several of th
e poorest performing countries have suffered a thousand times worse than several of the best. It's not about political system, or size, or wealth, or physical geography. Success has been about governments that put lives first, and governments whose populations trust them to act for the common good. 

We in the UK are now at a critical moment, the government intent on relaxing restrictions further and, having raised public expectation by promising to do so, have left themselves, deliberately it seems, with little room for political manoeuvre. New cases are rising exponentially, doubling about every nine days.  There is no plan for children to be vaccinated. The case tracing and isolating system is still dysfunctional. Long-covid is consistently ignored by government despite affecting a significant proportion of young people, and with unknown consequences for lives in the long term.

Thanks to the vaccine, infection fatality rate is a small fraction of that experienced earlier in the pandemic, but most of the world's population remain unvaccinated, as do younger adults and children in the UK. Every new case is a further opportunity for the vaccine to mutate to a variant that escapes the vaccine, jeopardising progress made to date.

Until R approaches zero and there is no community prevalence, restrictions should remain; the more effective the restrictions the quicker the pandemic will be over. Perversely, the UK government seems determined to prolong the pandemic, using our children to pursue their despicable so-called 'herd immunity' policy.

Numbers from Worldometers 04/07/2021

The data displayed on these graphs are not what should be described as 'very promising'.