Select Committee on Welsh Affairs Written Evidence

Written Evidence from Dr Carl Iwan Clowes FFPHM

  We would like to present the following comments for your attention as part of your review of energy in Wales as we have major concerns about the suggestion of a new generation of nuclear power stations.


  Our biggest concern is the risk of a serious accident at a nuclear power station. The effect of the Chernobyl disaster in April 1986 is still felt on 359 farms in upland Wales where restrictions on sheep movement are still in force. A serious accident in any nuclear power station in Britain causing the leakage of radioactivity would have a serious effect on the health of thousands of people and force the evacuation of whole areas as was the case with the Chernobyl disaster. Indeed, if there was a North wind at the time of any such accident at Wylfa B, the whole of Wales would have to be vacated, possibly for several years. This is not wild speculation but based on previous history.

  People in the nuclear industry are as fallible as workers in other industries and machines and instruments are not without their faults. For example, it was the failure of an oil gauge in a reception tank and the failure of an overflow alarm that caused the blaze at the Buncefield Depo last year. Equally, closed circuit television operators failed to spot the overflow with the result that black clouds billowed from the terminal covering hundreds of square kilometres for many days. If this had been a nuclear accident . . . ?

  Similar defects happened at the THORP plant in Sellafield when 83,000 litres of nitric acid containing enough plutonium for 20 nuclear bombs leaked on to the building's steel floor. A large pool of radioactive liquid was discovered in mid April 2005, a whole nine months after the leak started and only when it had grown to half the size of an Olympic swimming pool. Once again, the unexpected happened. Other accidents in the nuclear industry include the Windscale fire in 1957 which led to the release of radioactivity into the atmosphere and Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979 when a partial melt-down of a reactor occurred.

  In 1993, it was luck more than anything else that prevented a far more serious accident from happening when a fuel grab fell into a reactor channel at Wylfa nuclear power station. Radioactivity was released into the atmosphere and Wylfa's operators Nuclear Electric were fined in Magistrate and Crown Courts for pollution offences and safety breaches.

  It is self-evident that there will be another serious nuclear accident somewhere in the world and we don't want to see such an accident happening under our watch.


  A terrorist attack could occur on a nuclear power station. An easier target, as the nuclear specialist Dr John Large argued in a recent report for Greenpeace, would be the trains carrying nuclear waste from nuclear power stations for reprocessing at Sellafield, travelling along the same lines at the same time each week. There is international evidence that terrorist groups consider the nuclear industry as a target. Russia recently foiled a plot by Chechnyan rebels to attack a Russian nuclear power station and, closer to home, documents and a map of Sizewell nuclear power station were found in the car of one of the London suicide bombers on 7 July last year.


  A debate has developed in Anglesey around the need for Wylfa B in support of Anglesey Aluminium, the other major employer on the island. Unfortunately, the arguments have paralysed any meaningful debate about the need for an economic development strategy not based simply on one industry. In the current climate, with the demands for metal increasing alarmingly, who is to say that the aluminium industry will not move nearer to the markets of the far-East, whatever the relationship with the local electricity supplier ?

  The concerns around waste disposal from the nuclear industry remain and, of course, the concerns in relation to terrorist attacks on deposited waste apply as above.

  There is no doubt that the nuclear industry has a negative impact on tourism in the north of the island, a factor that militates against development and further employment in the industry.

  Even if all the above objections were put to one side, we have serious concerns about the cost of a new generation of nuclear stations. It would appear that it is impossible to create a balanced business case for the stations without annual subsidies of many billions of pounds. As the industry has already had £billions of research money, it is difficult to deny that such investment would better be spent on conservation of energy and researching alternative sources of production.


  We would like to see consistency between your review of energy in Wales and the opinion expressed by the National Assembly Government. The Government with support from the Assembly opposition parties believe no new nuclear power stations should be built in Wales. We believe that there is great potential for renewable energy in Wales. Developing renewable sources such as wind, tidal and wave marine, solar, biomass and others, alongside a comprehensive programme of energy conservation would show leadership from a small nation in the effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

  Further, we emphasise that the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has opposed building new nuclear power stations and the Committee's report urged the Prime Minister to look again at the actual findings of the 2002 Energy Review which put great emphasis on renewable energy and energy conservation.

  We urge you, therefore, to present a report which will echo the opinion of the Environmental Audit Committee and Wales National Assembly and give renewable energy technologies and conservation a fair chance to be developed for the sake of present and future generations.

10 June 2006

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