The debate surrounding our future energy needs rollercoasters onwards.
What a rollercoaster NCE 27 February was. Opening with an inspirational editorial on the need to embrace a sustainable energy future, backed up by the lead story warning of a potential blow to such a plan, it then plummeted into the out of date bickering about nuclear versus renewables.
As a profession we know we need energy to make society work and that we cannot keep doing what we are doing. The argument is really about sustainable energy systems versus reliance on fossil fuels.
At present rates of consumption we will release the considered safe limit of 565bn.t of carbon in just 16 years. The fossil reserves may well be nearly 3,000bn.t, but that is five times the safe limit and we need to avoid needing to burn that lot.
So while some want to set nuclear against renewables we need to ensure the focus is shifted to reducing the carbon. It is not about the land take needed for energy generation, nor is it about the time it takes a technology to generate an economic return on investment; it is about whether we can build a sustainable system that will serve the needs of the present without compromising the needs of the future.
- Neil Kermode (F), firstname.lastname@example.org
Energy: Is safe nuclear power just a pipe dream?
In deciding to build nuclear power stations there are certain key considerations.
Nuclear power stations are so dangerous that no one will insure them. Our government solves this problem by limiting the liability to £140M. Estimates of the total economic losses arising from the Fukushima disaster range from £150bn to £300bn.
The power companies make the profits and we, the citizens, take the enormous risks - financial as well as physical.
There have now been four grave nuclear reactor accidents: Windscale in Britain in 1957 (the one that is never mentioned); Three Mile Island in the United States in 1979; Chernobyl in the former Soviet Union in 1986; and now Fukushima. Each accident was unique, and each was supposed to be impossible.
Charles Perrow, an international authority on industrial accidents explains in his book Normal Accidents that it is impossible to make nuclear power stations acceptably safe.
Although the public had a right to expect that nuclear power stations would at least become safer over the years, each disaster has been worse than the previous one.
Fukushima is the worst ever industrial accident; it has been ongoing for three years and according to former nuclear industry executive Arnie Gundersen and others it threatens the entire northern hemisphere.
Since nuclear waste will be dangerous for thousands of years we are dumping our energy problems on future generations instead of using the benign and sustainable methods of creating energy which are available to us.
The current suggested solution of burying the waste in bedrock and sealing off access for ever is unconvincing.
- Jim McCluskey (M), 3 St Margarets Road, Twickenham, Middlesex. TW1 2LN.
Flooding: Somerset can learn from other schemes
As a Reservoirs Panel engineer who has carried out statutory inspections on many flood storage reservoirs, I would like to add to the flooding debate.
Over the last 15 years I have carried out inspections of many flood storage reservoirs in the East of England, owned and operated by the Environment Agency, with 1 in 50 or 100 year return period protection to villages downstream and also the town of Market Rasen and properties near the River Witham in Lincoln.
These schemes appear to be very effective solutions, with the farmer compensated for loss of crops or other income due to the flooding. Is there not scope for more such reservoirs elsewhere in the country?
In the context of the recent flooding of farms in the Somerset Levels, the work instituted by the Agency at the River Witham Controlled Washlands Project to protect Lincoln may be of interest.
There are two farms, including houses and farmyards, which would be flooded by any impoundment, and these have been protected by 1m high enclosing embankments supplemented by low height concrete retaining walls with attractive brick facings, steel flood gates at entrances and the provision of drains with flap valves plus automatically actuated sump pumps.
One of these farmyards is 320m long by 80m wide, so possibly not of a dissimilar size to farms at the Somerset Levels; from the TV pictures, there was no evidence of such works there and one wonders why?
- Chris Wagner (F), email@example.com
Flooding: Dredging may bring extra benefits
While engineers appreciate that dredging is an ongoing battle against nature wanting to restore channels to their regime capacity based on the dominant flow, the politicians have decided that dredging of some Somerset waterways should be undertaken.
Has consideration been given to achieving the maximum benefit from the dredging by using the spoil to create raised land which could, after due time for consolidation, be used as refuge areas within the flood plains?
This would be a long-term benefit even after the waterways have restored themselves to their natural size.
- John Ratsey (M), firstname.lastname@example.org
Flooding: Rational plans can combat flood impact
Is the risk equation being properly deployed to bring clarity and equitable treatment to communities threatened by floods? A national standard of the probability (magnitude) of the flood that communities were to be protected from would, with a little instruction, be clear to everyone and ensure equitable treatment for all.
Rational plans, free of postcode lotteries and political interference, could be drawn up to provide over time the same standard of protection to all communities at risk.
The consequences of flooding could be diminished by making homes within the national standard floodline more resilient. Flood warnings would be more specific. Flood protection schemes could be designed to optimise the balance between the height of flood banks to protect communities and the use of areas of low-lying farmland as floodplains to store floods temporarily.
I suggest that the 1 in 25 year flood be adopted as the national standard for communities, and the 1 in 5 year flood for farmland. To limit procrastination, these standards should be derived from the datasets to date, and recognise that although climate change may increase the extent of flooding, our innovative skills will improve standards of resilience and thereby reduce the consequences of more frequent flooding in future.
- Rodney Bridle, email@example.com
Flooding: Give EA power to curb building on floodplains
Now that the furore of recriminations regarding responsibility for extensive flooding is abating perhaps we should be looking at some extra factors.
Frequent complaints highlight the long standing problem of planning authorities ignoring advice from the Environment Agency and its predecessors. Why not give the Agency legal powers to prevent inappropriate development? Pre-1974 the former Thames Conservancy had such powers.
Recent changes in farming practice include the abandonment of deep ploughing in favour of light surface cultivation.
This must surely imply that there is compacted non-absorbent earth under only a shallow loose absorbent layer.
This coupled with a lack of proper land drainage must surely lead to greater and faster run off.
The difficulty we are going to face will be a lack of joined up thinking.
- Geoff Longlands (M Retd), 45 Westminster Drive, Bognor Regis, PO21 3RE
Profession: Spreading the word
The deluge of correspondence concerning recent weather events is understandable, and in the main the writers are preaching to the converted. However there is a wider issue. They demonstrate yet again how poorly these issues are understood by the media and public and how few people understand the vital role of the civil engineer in society.
In an attempt to widen the understanding of civil engineering I leave my copy of the NCE and ICE publications in my local library. May I suggest that readers adopt a similar practice?
- Brian Dawson (F), firstname.lastname@example.org
Flooding: Act now to cut the impact of future floods
I refer to the various recent articles and letters about flooding, and the opinion -presumably ICE policy - expressed on behalf of all of us members by our president Geoff French (NCE 20 February).
There is talk of the softly spoken “lessons must be learnt”, the “political blame game”, ICE impartiality etcetera which lets the “fatuous, politically motivated and technically incompetent views” (Letters, 20 February) take centre stage. Brunel and Telford would have had no truck with this.
Oxfordshire suffered significant flooding on our infrastructure. This impacted on our fast growing economy.
If little is done - and little proactive work has been done so far following past flooding - the high tech and cutting edge businesses we are courting for our continuing economic growth may reconsider where they set up - to the detriment of the national economy.
- David Smith (M), Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet - Environment, Henley town councillor, email@example.com
Profession : The Dawlish response showcases civil engineering at its very best
A fantastic article by Jon Masters in this week’s NCE on the rebuilding of Dawlish railway (NCE 6 March). It showcases civil engineering at its very best and it needs to be used for recruiting young engineers.
Let’s hope all those involved get the recognition they deserve, especially for the long hours they have worked.
- Graham Ward (M), firstname.lastname@example.org
Transport: Let money flow into the regions
Baroness Valentine’s case for Crossrail 2 (NCE 27 February) is a grotesque piece of special pleading.
Her case may be summarised thus: “London is intolerably overcrowded. Crossrail will ease this, so more people will flow in until London is again intolerably overcrowded and Crossrail 2 is needed.” Etcetera ad infinitum.
The money would be much better spent on improving the transport infrastructure both in and between our other major cities the UK.
That would yield a better balanced nation, and will probably lead to a more successful one.
- Mike Keatinge, Highbank, Marston Road, Sherborne, Dorset, DT9 4BL
- NCE welcomes letters from readers. We attempt to print as many as possible, which means letters longer than 200 words are likely to be condensed. Contact: The Editor, NCE, Telephone House, 69-77 Paul Street, London, EC2A 4NQ; email: email@example.com