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Laid to waste
Peter Brettell's letter (NCE 11/25 December 1997) understandably applauds the idea of a commission to assist in resolving the cat's cradle of radioactive waste disposal. Unfortunately the Parliamentary Office of Science & Technology's report (Dumping credibility and Nuclear power for a cool planet. NCE 4 December) has blurred the original proposal for such a commission which was first made by the Radioactive Waste Management Advisory Committee- Advisory Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations Study Group three years ago. The study group was charged by ministers with the examination of site selection and safety criteria for radwaste disposal sites and was required, in particular, to 'ensure that criteria are so framed as to afford public confidence'.
The study group recommended that the developer (ie the nuclear industry) would continue to select, investigate and construct sites. However, the developer would submit shortlists of sites to the commission which would then have responsibility to interface with government at all levels, as well as with the public. The commission would recommend sites, from the developer's shortlist, for progressive stages of investigation, and eventually recommend the finally selected site to government. By such means the developer would be detached from the actual decision as to which sites or site were actually selected at each stage. There was wide support from the local authorities and public interest groups who gave evidence to the study for the detailed proposals put forward.
Brettell also argues for a less adversarial legal approach. The RWMAC addressed this issue in its 1990 annual report and recommended that there should be a two stage inquiry, the first inquiry seeking planning permission for an RCF. That inquiry would need to be carried out in an inquisitorial environment identifying the questions which would have to be responded to at the eventual substantive inquiry seeking planning permission for the eventual repository. It is regrettable that this perceptive proposal was not adopted.
Sir John Knill (F), Highwood Farm, Shaw, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2TB.
While catching up on reports of Kyoto after being abroad, I was surprised to see Will Howie article (NCE 4 December 1997) remarking that the sea's emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere are about 15 times those of man's industrial society. It is of course true, but it is also true that the same quantity, or slightly more, is re-absorbed by the sea. Similarly land mass emissions are re-absorbed, again slightly more that emitted. Man, however, produces an extra 7GtC annually, only half of which is re-absorbed by the sea and land (as described above). The crucial point is that this, admittedly small, out of balance amount of 3.5GtC is building up in the atmosphere at the rate of 0.5% per year. It is set to double the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere by 2100. These recorded changes are thought to be a cause of global warming. They are shown in Figures 1.1 and 1.3 from the IPCC's 1990 Report on climate change.
Kyoto was trying to improve on Rio's intentions five years ago to stabilise CO2 emissions at 1990 levels by 2000. At American and Australian insistence, the Kyoto target has been watered down from a reduction in 2012 of 15% below 1990 levels to only 5%. This is a start but, if we aim to halt global warming, let alone reverse its effect and return to levels earlier this century, we need to halve today's CO2 emissions.
I entirely support Will Howie's enthusiasm for controlled nuclear power and so the effective search for solutions to its waste disposal problem, in order to meet Rio's intentions. Waste incineration through CHP, wind and, perhaps, wave energy may also help but the other solution will be solar power through photovoltaic cells: its commercial breakthrough is just beginning and a sensible energy policy would support and encourage its introduction.
Sydney Lenssen's article (NCE 27 November) discusses the possible demise of the coal industry despite the government's review of the gas fired electricity generation programme. Progress has been made in clean burn technologies and in district/industrial heating to improve coal's overall energy efficiency. We have the coal resource in UK and the workforce to exploit it. The unrestrained dash for gas, while reducing CO2 emissions, could soon leave us at the mercy of foreign supplies through foreign pipelines and likely price rises beyond our control.
Yes, ICE (perhaps jointly with IMechE and IEE, through the Engineering Council?) must take a lead as it did some five years ago prior to the Nuclear Review. We should present an informed and unbiased recommendation to government on a balanced energy policy that would preserve the UK's national interest, follow the intentions of Rio and improve on those of Kyoto. We should also use our special link with ASCE to persuade US to ratify and improve on their Kyoto treaty commitments too.
EJM Hepper (F), WSP International, 814 Brigton Road, Purley, CR8 2BR.
I was interested to read about the experience of encouraging cycling at the Mott MacDonald consultancy reported in your letters page (NCE 4 December 1997).
The Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions firmly believes that employers have an important part to play in encouraging cycling by providing good cycle facilities at the workplace.
Based largely on the experience of our Cycle Challenge projects we have produced Traffic Advisory Leaflet 11/97 Cycling to work. The leaflet gives advice to employers on establishing cycle facilities at the workplace.
Copies of the leaflet are available from the department on (0171) 271 5169 (answerphone) or by fax (0171) 271 5313.
MF Talbot (M), head of driver information and traffic management division, Zone 3/25, Great Minster House, 76 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DR.