Tuesday, 15 March 2011

An unnecessary risk

No surprise at all that recent events in Japan are causing a number of people to think again about the proposal to build a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK.  The problems being experienced in Japan highlight an aspect of this type of risk which most of us have difficulty in getting our heads round effectively – whilst the probability of an event is extremely low, the potential seriousness of it is high.
The problems in Japan haven’t changed the probability of a nuclear accident at Wylfa should the plans go ahead.  That probability remains extremely low, and Wylfa is rather less likely than Japan to suffer either an earthquake or a tsunami (although it’s worth noting that ‘rather less likely’ isn’t the same as a ‘zero’ probability).  What the problems have done, however, is to draw attention to the danger that even highly improbable and well-planned for events can get out of control and have a wide-ranging impact.
All human activity has a level of risk associated with it, and we all take risks on a daily basis, often without giving them a second thought.  Governments and companies also take collective risks on our behalf on a regular basis, although the fact that they are doing so is not always obvious.  Taking a level of risk is unavoidable in securing our collective futures.
Some risks, though, are entirely avoidable.  We don’t need nuclear energy – we can meet all our needs from renewable sources.  That will be both a faster and a lower-risk way of meeting our future energy needs.  I hope that those who have argued that securing jobs on Ynys Môn is more important than building a renewable energy future (always a weak argument in any event) will be prompted to revise their views.


Anonymous said...

I may stand to be corrected but I believe post Chernobyl restrictions are stii
in place on some farms in North Wales.

Nuclear power in Wales exists by imposition not the free choice of the people of Wales however the consequencies of nuclear accidents will impact upon our devolved responsibilties

Earthquakes and Tsunamis have occured in Wales in fact the former occur more often than is publically known especially in South Wales

Events in Japan may lead may lead us to look at Wylfa and possibly Trawsfynydd with new eyes but we should not lose sight of the huge risks to us in South Wales that revolve around the activities in the Cleddau

Anonymous said...

..extremely low.. ??? actually it is more common than that - there was a 6m tsunami in 1607 that came up the Severn estuary and killed thousands - and would have affected the two nuclear power stations on the English side of the estuary.

The risk is too great.


Anonymous said...

There is a very good technical description of the 1607 tsunami in the link below:

Now take a look at the map of wave height - figure 16 page 265 - and then mark on the position of Hinckley Point power station.

Then start to worry.



John Dixon said...


"Nuclear power in Wales exists by imposition not the free choice of the people of Wales"

I think that's a little unfair. Maybe it's not the choice of the ordinary people, and it's certainly a technology of which we have no need - we can meet all our requirements from renewables. But there are many of our elected representatives in Wales, from a range of parties, who actively support the building of new nuclear stations, and under our system of democracy, one has to assume that they represent at least a strand of public opinion.


If we use the 1607 tsunami as a reference point, I think that most people would concur that a once in 400 years event is something which has an "extremely low" probability. But its impact would be large.

Part of the point that I was making was that we are collectively not good at assessing how to take 'low probability, high impact' events into account in our planning. If an industrial plant has a 60 year life, to what extent do we worry about the impact on it of a 1 in 400 years event? Or how about a 1 in 1000 years event?

I don't have a simple answer to that question, but I know that there's ultimately a trade-off which comes down to making a judgement, and that we should try and make as well-informed a judgement as we can.

In the case of nuclear energy specifically, I find it an easier judgement to make, because we just don't need nuclear energy at all. There are enough alternatives available.