The nuclear debate: Monbiot v Simon…

Wow…

Probably the most interesting 5,000 words i’ve read for many years. If you are into energy production, the environment or sustainability, this small exchange between George Monbiot and Theo Simon will really bring the issue of nuclear power into focus.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/apr/10/monbiot-simon-nuclear-letter

The article in full: Theo Simon response to George Monbiot

The two issues which really do need to be investigated are the ‘need’ for new nuclear power (can renewables fill that gap and quickly enough to prevent runaway climate change?) and the issue of what happens to the nuclear waste?

As things stand, i’m in favour of a new generation of nuclear waste-processing power stations, not power stations which will create the next waste legacy for generations to come. I’m also very interested in exactly how renewables will fill the gap, but fear that coal and gas will inevitably fill the gap instead, as is happening already in Germany and Japan.

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Incineration considerations…

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The Gloucester incinerator (AKA: energy from waste facility). Well, my heart says ‘no’ but my head says ‘maybe’. It’s useful sometimes to analyse each part of the argument, rather than focussing on any single area. I’m reading the Complete Works … Continue reading

Black bin and waste reduction progress…

Recently we started only putting rubbish in our normal bin if we absolutely have to. This means virtually all of the things we used to call rubbish are now being recycled or composted and it’s amazing how little waste we’re producing now.

This Friday was bin day and this week our black bin was only a third full! We used to have weekly rubbish collections, then this was changed to every other week, in order to try and reduce waste and boost recycling. Before this new scheme was introduced, we were filling our black rubbish bin every week.

Now, we’re down to the third full every other week, which means we’re throwing away 6 times less than before. Even compared to 3 weeks ago, when we started not throwing most stuff away, it’s gone down by 3 times.

I’m really surprised at how easy it’s been to do this. All we’ve been doing is putting anything plastic in a separate black bag and composting all our food waste. This has reduced our waste by 6 times from before.

Once we have a full black bag of plastics waste, we just save it until we can take it up to Claire’s grand parents in west Brom, where their Council operate a co-mingled collection scheme and who take all of this type of plastics material, plus all of the other usual materials, such as glass, metal and paper.

Virtually everyone can do this and if they did, there would be huge amount of waste reduced, not sent to landfill, a huge amount of energy would be saved by recycling the existing packaging and not making new packaging from depleting raw materials.

Plus, you get loads of amazing compost from the food waste which is way better than anything you can buy in the shops! It’s a win-win-win situation.

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No waste(?) + incinerator energy…

We recently made the next jump in our sustainable lives… recycling all plastics and dramatically cutting down on the black bin rubbish we produce.

I’ve recently been looking into the proposed incinerator just south of Gloucester and the implications of waste management and a recycling level which is way below other European countries. This has finally prompted me to start collecting all our plastics waste, with the intention of sending this away for recycling. In the end, this hasn’t been necessary, as Claire’s grandparents local authority collect this type of waste for recycling, but it’s really reduced what we need to throw away.

Claire has just put the icing on the cake by actually shifting our old ‘waste’ bin into the back toilet room, which is a way of making it harder to just throw something away which could easily be recycled.

So, now we have our indoor ‘green box’ container, which is for things that our council will pick up as part of their weekly collections (cardboard, paper, glass, metal, plastic bottles etc), our brown food waste bin (which we just tip directly into our compost bin in the garden) and a bag for collecting any other type of packaging (including foil, aluminium, plastics, wrapping, crisp packets etc).

The whole incinerator thing has made me realise every single person needs to first get their own house in order before attacking the County for what they are trying to do with our waste. How many of us can really say we recycle 70% of what we consume?

The one really positive thing about the incinerator is the energy output. This will be 14MW, which is equivalent to 10 (2MW) wind turbines (based on an estimated output from a 2MW turbine of 1.4MW, due to the wind not blowing the whole time!). An example of this is the Ecotricity wind turbine which is by the M4 near Reading. That turbine is a 2 MW type, which powers over 1,000 homes. This would mean that the incinerator could power around 10,000 homes.

I wonder if the County would get planning permission for a 10-turbine project in the same area?

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The Gloucester incinerator: public consultation event…

A small group of us cycled over to the second consultation event at Javelin park on Sunday, for some first hand information from the two remaining bidders and the representatives from the County Council.

The Complete Circle website

The Urbaser Balfour Beatty website

There were three Portakabins just by the car park, with the two bidders on either side. I went into the Complete Circle cabin first as I had already viewed all their factsheets and website material, so felt I knew the most about their scheme.

Well, after 10 minutes in there, I was pretty sure I knew more about their scheme than they did! I lost track of the number of times a couple of them said ‘i’ll have to ask someone else’. Their design is bland and bulky and at around 45 metres in height over most of the building, this presents a large intrusion in the local landscape. There were very few answers to some of my only slightly probing questions and I honestly felt like the object was to just display their website information without the ability to expand on it.

Next was the Urbaser & Balfour Beatty cabin, which was a marked improvement on the first bidders efforts, in a number of ways. The UBB team were technically better prepared and able to comment on and explain both the principles involved and their own scheme design + why they had altered some of the elements from the first consultation.

Their efforts were greatly helped by an interesting overall design, a real model of the facility and a computer fly-through. Their design is broken up into distinct sections, which fall in height along the building, giving a lower overall mass, also broken up by large green sections. Their technical people were able to answer all my questions and the overall impression was far more convincing and reliable.

The County cabin was last and was in many ways the important one, considering they are in charge of the tendering process. They were able to answer my questions and they seemed fully aware of the many issues involved, particularly surrounding the problem of getting to the magic 70% recycling rate (which only Austria have hit in Europe).

The next stage for them is to seek to co-mingle all the recyclable materials in a single bin (much like other districts), which would certainly boost the present 48% rate. Their example of Tewkesbury Borough Council going from 32% to 54% in a year, after introducing this type of scheme, is a good indicator. 48% could go to 60% in a year and get to 70% based on continuing to support and promote recycling.

My questions and issues:

1) Why no pre-incineration sorting of the ‘rubbish’? This was the main issue, given that so much of what people put into their black bins can be recycled.

2) What are the overall emissions, in terms of particles and CO2?

3) Will the emissions data be fed live onto the website?

4) What frequency of bin lorries will be required and will their be any non-local deliveries?

5) How will the ash be disposed of?

6) What is the CO2 output per tonne of waste?

7) What is the visual impact of the proposals? This was particularly interesting, given CABE’s response included the quote, ‘…fits seemlessly into the countryside.’!

I’ve also just sent off a query to UBB concerning wanting information on the WRATE system information which they are submitting. This will hopefully give an overall comparison figure for the NET emissions issue.

‘WRATE (Waste and Resources Assessment Tool for the Environment) software compares the environmental impacts of different municipal waste management systems.’

One of the main conclusions from the process that day was picking up on both bidders assertion that NET CO2 emissions would be reduced by more than 20,000 tonnes per year, when compared to landfill. I did ask if this included all the linked processes, such as all delivery vehicle movements, but neither bidder had this information with them, but this was included in their environmental assessment package.

The other major plus for the incinerator approach is the production of electricity. I forgot to ask about the proposed solar panels on the roofs, but energy production is certainly a very important element of the package.

So, the overall winners by some way were Urbaser Balfour Beatty. I’m going to have to look into the NET emissions figures further, partly because of the Methane issue – methane as a green house gas in more than 20 times more powerful than Carbon and is released in huge amounts from landfill.

I’m certainly not as opposed as I was and accept that landfill is not a good approach to waste management. My main concern is still the burning of waste which could otherwise be recycled, therefore making more efficient use of what are valuable and limited resources.

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Waste incinerator issues…

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Some interesting but scary quotes from: ‘The Health Effects of Waste Incinerators – 4th Report of the British Society for Ecological Medicine (Second Edition June 2008)’ IncineratorReport_v3[1] ‘Incineration has been reported to be more expensive than alternative waste strategies even … Continue reading

Sink-side worktop finished…!

At last the sink-side worktop is finished.

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We had made great progress with it but came to a bit of a stop 2 weeks ago, when the waste pipe for the dishwasher wouldn’t fit on the Ikea waste properly. But after fixing that with magic plumbing tape it’s all done.

Much cleaner and brighter and the new sink is bigger than the main bowl of the last one and the washing up bowl fits in perfectly.

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Film: ‘Into Eternity’…

A human made structure capable of lasting 100,000 years, designed to store nuclear waste. The Onkalo nuclear waste repository.

This is the subject of the documentary film Into Eternity, directed by Danish director Michael Madsen. We just watched this last night and it was an amazing film. It explores the psychological, political and philosophical issues behind the very long-term storage of nuclear waste.

One of the lasting images was the ‘landscape of thorns’; one of the potential methods of depicting to future generations what is stored there. One of the major concerns was if at some distant (or not so distant) point in the future, human society had broken down to a level where the knowledge of the facility had been lost, but also our modern communication methods and languages had also changed. What if humans tried to uncover the facility and could not understand the markers left behind by our generation?

The main conclusion was that we cannot predict what the distant future will hold and what the fate of Onkalo will be. The scientists and engineers interviewed basically said they had to deal with the theories and information that exist as at this time and the necessity to deal with the nuclear waste legacy of the previous generations (as well as our own) was too big a responsibility to just ignore. They had to take action and after considering all the issues, this was their conclusion.

There will have to be many more Onkalo facilities in other countries, but the issue of reprocessing waste still needs to be very carefully considered, if we are to reduce the waste stock and try and get as much use out of the limited resources. Thorium also needs to be considered as an alternative to plutonium, given it only stays radioactive for roughly 100 years!

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