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Sea-level rises will not threaten nuclear power station

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: October 01, 2012

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Your correspondent Barry Prickett (WMN, September 17) trots out many problems with siting the proposed Hinkley C nuclear station on a cliff overlooking the Bristol Channel. He foresees floods, tsunamis and cancer-driven infant mortality as likely outcomes, omitting to mention that generating electricity by low-carbon nuclear processes may actually help slow down the rise in sea level.

The question of wave and storm effects has been dealt with in previous letters of mine, but perhaps Mr Prickett did not become interested until recently and has not seen the factual data I presented then. While tsunamis are rare in this country and the maximum sea surge is assessed as moderate, a more significant hazard is the collapse of a volcanic island in the Canaries; however, a recent analysis suggests that the effect in the Bristol Channel would be no larger than 2m.

It is inconceivable that such effects have been ignored in the studies supporting the design of this installation. Design of the freeboard of Hinkley C has taken all these into account, plus a safety margin: and queries such as from myself have been adequately answered.

But I am surprised that he quotes an estimate of 6m for sea-level rise to the end of the century. Sea levels have been rising for thousands of years following the Ice Age, which ended about 12,000 years ago, and at Newlyn the rate has been measured at 20cm per century (2mm per year), increasing very slightly in the past decade. To go from 20cm to 6m, as Mr Prickett quotes as his "worst-case scenario", would be a dramatic 30-fold acceleration involving a 6cm rise every year, and as of today there is absolutely no evidence of such a rapid rise. A long-term rise of 6m is predicted to result from the complete melting of the Greenland ice cap, which – if it happens – will take several centuries.

So I would suggest he checks his sources, as the highest predicted rise I can find for the end of this century is 60cm (averaging 6mm per year). This has been taken into account in designing the sea defences for Hinkley C – if it had been ignored, the designers would not have been doing their job properly. They used the best data available, not wild predictions by scaremongers or the ill-informed.

But, even if the extreme amount of 6m should come about, be not afraid: it will not happen in just one night, not even by next Tuesday, but a long time ahead and will be apparent to everyone for decades beforehand. Events such as the Thames Barrier being overwhelmed and Amsterdam being submerged will be reported long before the station needs to be shut down. The life of Hinkley C is planned for 60 years, which is about the same period as I have been watching the sea at Exmouth – and any change in sea-level there has been almost imperceptible so far. I am sure Mr Prickett will stand ready to let us all know when the sudden leap in global sea levels begins, in case it doesn't get into the newspapers.

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