Ryeview – November 2005

Our energy supplies are dwindling

John Clark writes…

First published: November 2005(2) – Gazette & Herald

I remember being told that nuclear energy was a massive advance for the human race. One of my memories from the fifties was the claim that the energy from one grain of wheat could light the whole of New York. The length of time is beyond my memory but even if only a few seconds it is still an impressive ‘fact’. Nuclear power would eventually produce electricity so cheaply that it would not be worth the cost of charging for it. This was another ‘fact’. The future of electricity production was positive, exciting and cheap.

Nearly half a Century later we are no longer so impressed. Nuclear Electricity generation receives massive government subsidy. Nuclear waste accumulates and the debate is how it is treated and where it is stored.

The massive cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations was not even thought of let alone covered in the original cost.

North Sea Oil, discovered in the 1960’s, was so huge that Britain would be self-sufficient way into the 21st Century. We sold the oil and gas so as to cover up for other inefficiencies and to avoid high taxation. Now, as we face a ‘cold winter’, the North Sea oil and gas supplies are dwindling. The cost of importing oil is rocketing. Europe in general has controlled gas prices. Britain enjoys the ‘Free Market’. Britain faces gas shortages and increased prices at the same time.

The other memory was that we were told that British Industry was on an island of coal. Britain had three hundred years supply of coal. In the 1970’s we were the front-runners in coal burning technology. Now the majority of our coal mines are shut, we import vast quantities of coal and we no longer lead in ‘clean burn’.

The Climate Change is the result of historic energy use. Climate Change also dictates our future use of energy. The latest enthusiasm for Renewables is taking us in a completely new, albeit very old, direction. Renewable energy is very much in the early stages. To complete the circle there is a renewed interest in Nuclear Energy. Enthusiasts claim it emits zero Greenhouse Gases and it is the only way forward. Having lived through the previous ‘blind faith’ I am much more cautious. A return to nuclear has so many negatives ranging from cost to safety.

A range of renewables is obviously more likely to succeed than having the countryside completely covered with be-calmed windmills.

This brings me to Ryedale. A proposal has been made for a Biomass burner north of Pickering. I am excited by the prospect of a local lead. My enthusiasm is tempered by the nuclear experience. It is essential that everyone involved in the decision making process examines all the factors.

  • Exactly what is going to be burned?
  • How far is it going to travel?
  • If waste wood is collected at a recycling tip, why not burn it on site with the same burner?
  • If forestry brash is to be burned, why not have a generator in the forest?
  • If farmers are to specifically grow for the burner
  • How much Soya will be imported to replace the food that would have been grown?
  • How much rainforest will be destroyed to grow the imported food?

What is the Environmental Impact of all of the above?

It is good that someone is looking into the possibilities. However, it must be done right. It will be better for all if a full Environmental analysis is done now. Small burners are a sensible idea. They must however be burning the right material in the right place.

When nuclear was in its infancy, detailed questions should have been asked. If they had we wouldn’t have been in the present nuclear mess. I believe that, unlike nuclear, the benefits of burning biomass will outweigh the costs. We must however find all the hidden negatives before the flame is lit.


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