Thursday, 8 September 2016

Managing our legacy

Yesterday’s Western Mail contained an outline of the processes involved in decommissioning a nuclear power station.  I can’t find the story online, but it doesn’t really matter – with a few changes of verb tense, it was identical to this story published in the same paper in December last year.  (As I commented yesterday in relation to another issue, I suppose it saves on the cost of journalism.)
The article itself set out the steps which need to be taken to decommission a nuclear power station, in a process which is planned to take a total of 90 years.  In the case of Trawsfynydd, we’re already more than 20 years through the process – only another 70 to go.  In the case of Wylfa, we’re just starting; almost all of the people born this year in Wales will be dead before the job is finished, to put things in a human perspective.
Wylfa 2, if it is ever built, is scheduled to produce electricity for 60 years before its own 90 year decommissioning process starts.  According to the plans, the company which runs the site for those 60 productive years will be paying for the 90 years’ decommissioning process at the end of that.  I doubt it – that’s not the way capitalism works.  The belief that any profit-driven company will put enough money aside over six decades to fund an essentially unknowable cost over the following nine decades strikes me as being akin to believing in fairies.
But worse still is that no-one knows what to do with the waste recovered in the decommissioning process.  As the report to which I linked above puts it: “Meanwhile, everyone is crossing their fingers and hoping that someone will find a safe place to bury it before [the 2040s]”.  Yes, that’s right – it depends on a vague hope that someone will come up with a solution which has eluded us for the past 50 years.
We can’t do much other than hope for a solution in relation to the nuclear stations which were built so optimistically in the 1950s and 1960s.  We’re stuck with the legacy of nuclear waste bequeathed to us by those who took the decisions at the time.  We can do something, though, about the legacy that we leave to our great, great, great, great, great grandchildren in relation to Wylfa B.  We could resolve not to leave them the same legacy that was left to us, by not building the plant in the first place.


Penderyn said...

"But worse still is that no-one knows what to do with the waste recovered in the decommissioning process. "
Even better (or worse), waste management has been devolved, so although the Welsh government has little say (most likely has no say) about the need, the planning and conteuction of Wylfa 2 (or "b" or "new", probably "newydd"), the welsh people will be responsible for cleaning up and disposing of the waste produced there. At least that will provide the local jobs that have been promised.

Leigh Richards said...

Lets face it you couldnt make it up! We get a new nuclear power station built in wales but we in wales have no say in it (and please no hair splitting from wylfa apologists about it not being 'new'). Yet it's a welsh government that's going to be saddled with the onerous task of deciding where in wales the hazardous waste wylfa b will produce should be buried.

And then to cap it all - as Penderyn points out - in all probability the enormous cost of the clean up for wylfa b will fall on wales and the welsh government of the day. And given the prohibitive cost of cleaning up a decommissioned nuclear power station (the bill for sellafield has risen to 70 billion) this would certainly bankrupt any future welsh government (maybe that's the whole idea?).

These are all very pressing reasons why no one who supports self government for wales should be backing plans for wylfa b.

Anonymous said...

It really is a great shame that Rhun ap Iorwerth (Plaid AM) fought so tirelessly to bring Wylfa B to Anglesey. He did so on the premise of bringing much needed, highly skilled jobs to the island. But why didn't he just ask Tesco (or any other large company) to relocate its head office to Cemaes Bay? Better jobs, more skilled work, and a much, much safer working environment. The deal clincher, the massive government subsidy on offer year after year after year. A subsidy so large it would dwarf any normal annual trading profits!

To remind ourselves, the UK government always made it clear that no community would have new nuclear forced upon them. A clear majority of that community had to be in favour. And so dear Rhun enlisted the help of Albert Owen MP and the Welsh government and somehow proved that the people of Anglesey were crying out for new nuclear.

It wasn't true then and it isn't true now. But that's Plaid for you!

John Dixon said...

Anon 23:24,

I'm not sure that it's factually correct to paint Rhun ap Iorwerth as the leader of the campaign to bring Wylfa B to Ynys Môn. As I recall, others (including his predecessor as Plaid's AM and the Labour MP) were supporting the idea whilst Rhun was still a BBC journalist.

Penderyn said...

There is no doubt that jobs will be created. During the construction period, these will be mostly as subcontractors to the bigger international "specialist" works contractors. Nothing wrong with that. However, the highly paid engineering work will be mostly provided by the companies who win the contract i.e. EdF and the chinese consortium. They have their own highly trained specialist staff, who will be put on the project. Local input will come during the construction period, no sooner. This will be in the form of steel fixers, concreters, brickies, fencing contractors....

Then, once construction is complete and the plant is in operation, the operating company will require suitably qualified staff. Sure, there will be a training programme, and some of those who worked at the old Wylfa will be taken on a retrained. However, in the present time, more and more things are automated and monitored remotely, with only a skeleton staff of maintenance operatives permanently on site.

I speak from experience. I am a consultant engineer employed by a large German company who designs power stations globally. It is my job to put such tenders together, and hence the teams who design, build and operate them.

When I see the numbers bandied around by politicians in particular with regard to "jobs created", it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. These are not even estimates. Figures can be easily proved by breaking them down. This breakdown is what should be published.

I fear all the local jobs will be short term unskilled. The only benefit to the local economy will be during the construction period when there are a lot of people on site, living in local digs, spending their money in the pubs and restaurants, and in the burger vans at lunch time. Once construction is complete, the flow of cash will reduce to a trickle.

Anonymous said...

Penderyn, I do so agree with your comments.

John Dixon, for many years Plaid had a policy of 'no nuclear'. Rhun ap Iorwerth almost singlehandedly morphed that policy into 'no new nuclear' meaning (in his eyes) Anglesey could go forward with Wylfa B because it was an existing nuclear site. Laughable.

It's time we started to hold our politicians, Cardiff Bay politicians, to account!

John Dixon said...


There were other people in Plaid who were arguing that 'new' didn't include Wylfa B long before Rhun became a candidate for the party. Don't misunderstand me here - I'm not trying to excuse any of those, such as Rhun, who made that argument, which is, as you say, laughable. But over-personalising it, and trying to reduce it to the sins of an individual, is to overlook the extent to which it is a collective, rather than an individual failure.