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Your View | Ethics vs freedom of speech

nuclear plant for web

I object most strongly to members of our Institution making accusations of immorality against fellow members because of differing beliefs (New Civil Engineer, October). We are a professional body and as such should be able to express our views honestly without the threat of being accused of being immoral.

Nuclear power has served this country extremely well. There is a challenge as to the best means of dealing with high level nuclear waste, but with the knowledge gained and the right political will this challenge can be overcome.

The government’s aim is to produce 15% of our electricity from renewables by 2020. The reality is what percentage of our total requirement is produced when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine? I would suggest that we could not run our essential services, including hospitals, if we argue that renewables are the end game.

  • Derek Godfrey (F) derek_g_godfrey@btopenworld.com

Editor’s note: Fair point regarding making accusations Godfrey, but it’s worth pointing out that although the wind does not always blow and the sun does not always shine, the tides do come and go twice a day without fail.

Will renewables overtake nuclear?

The proposed Hinkley Point nuclear reactor will take more than seven years to implement. By that time there will be a revolution in both alternative and nuclear energy with production prices dropping to a quarter of the negotiated Hinkley rates. New developments in solar and air-lithium batteries will allow individual house owners to produce and save their own electricity. 

Other alternatives include LENR’s (the new name for cold fusion) with the Italian, Andrea Rossi’s company developing prototypes and aspiration to build micro-systems that could provide home electricity and heating. 

And then there are the small modular reactors including thorium salt reactors being developed in Canada, Norway, India and China that do not require expensive pressure vessels, are fail safe and can burn up nuclear waste.

Consequently the Hinkley Point investors, developers and political supporters could end up with egg on their faces as the public declares home rule or obtains its electricity from small alternative providers.

  • David Meigh (M) jdavidmeigh@gmail.com

Adapting to survive

The idea of adaptive structures seems to be an innovative and rightly praised design theory. My main concern would be the application to combat wind loading on tall buildings. 

Wind loading is generally a very instantaneous load - especially in the extreme events for which it would be used. How quickly can these structures change shape to resist the extreme force? Would it need localised weather forecasting to determine when it should change shape and for how long, or could it respond as instantaneously as the load is applied to prevent a ‘lag time’?

  • Stewart Marshall, posted online on article headed  “Super tall, super smart: adaptive structures” 

Planning reform is urgently needed

The Lighthouse article, “Engagement is the key to driving the infrastructure agenda” New Civil Engineer October) is incorrect. The key to driving the infrastructure agenda for UK is a better planning system. It takes twice as long in UK as France to get the spade in the ground because France has an ascription of major schemes to be of national importance and an associated recognition in its planning system. How many of the schemes announced by then chancellor George Osborne three years ago will be on site within the next five years?

euston visual

euston visual

Infrastructure schemes: Clearer timescales needed

Before politicians announce such programmes the best and first strategy they could instigate for the benefit of the country is a much improved planning system which gets spades in the ground within five years of a scheme’s announcement.

  • John Franklin (F), 11 The Ridings, East Horsley KT24 5BN

 

Quotas questioned

By introducing quotas, companies become forced to employ women based on their gender, rather than their ability to do the job. This could also result in men being overlooked for a position because of their gender. From a personal perspective, I would feel discouraged applying for a position where there is a quota, because if I was successful, I would always wonder if my success was down to my ability or down to my gender.

Gender balance in engineering can only be solved by starting at grass roots - changing stereotypes and promoting engineering to children as a job that both men and women can do.

  • Frances McCord posted online on article headed “Analysis ‘Quota’ is not a dirty word”

Are smart motorways such a good idea?

Can’t say I’m terribly comfortable using smart motorways. Overhead variable signage – on which it all depends – can be rather hit and miss, with restrictions being altered apparently randomly, messages displayed relating to problems that don’t seem to be there, etc. 

A worrying percentage of drivers seem to think the red cross means that lane is specially reserved for them. Does anyone ever get prosecuted – or is that left for the poor unfortunate who ends up running into the back of them as they swerve out of lane at the last moment?

  • John David Gartside, posted online on article headed “Go-ahead for £860M M4 smart scheme”

Smart motorways spell disaster for motorists

If it goes anything like the M25 between J5 and J7 it will be a disaster. Every time a car breaks down, which happens at least three times a day, there is a massive tail-back of traffic. 

Why not just widen the motorway and have a new hard shoulder? Alternatively, if cost savings are required, fast reaction breakdown vehicles at regular spacings along the motorway are required that can clear broken down vehicles immediately. 

However, it must be noted that once the inside lane is blocked, there is no route for emergency vehicles to pass.

  • David Weller, posted online on article headed “Go-ahead for £860M M4 smart scheme” 

Renewable option

I used to be very keen on nuclear but things have changed. We have still not solved the problem of nuclear waste. Renewables are now cheaper than nuclear. Tidal lagoons and tidal stream are predictable and can provide round the clock supply if deployed appropriately. We should be investing much more in renewables.

  • Geoff Evans (M)  posted online on article headed “Hinkley Point C: Industry reaction”

 Taking stock of roads

Sometimes the best way to take stock of one’s own work is to assume the position of the consumer. And this is not difficult to do for civil engineers involved in the design and construction of our highways, as the majority are drivers themselves.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of driving here in UK, and in mainland Europe, and marvelled at the engineering ingenuity on European motorways.

This is by no means belittling the tremendous work that Highways England does but, in all this driving, I have observed that there are relatively more roadworks on our UK motorways than the other European countries. Travelling across England in the last two summers, nearly every motorway I used appeared to have a section under repair. At times, the cordoned-off section runs for miles when the actual work is only happening on a stretch of half a mile. Already, the maximum speed limit is lower in UK than mainland Europe.

Why are our motorways under constant repair? Are the roads overloaded or overused? Is it damage from relentless rain? Are the underlying soils not strong enough? Are our designs or workmanship up to scratch? Perhaps these are improvements to get our motorways aligned with automated vehicles or suchlike? Or are we just creating work for ourselves? Maybe we are just not communicating enough.

The answer is probably an amalgamation of the above but I feel that the driving experience is disproportionate to the amount of time and money we invest on our motorways.

The blocking of roads when no works are taking place for prolonged periods is some form of wastefulness, going against sustainable design and construction. In this digital age, we should be able to coordinate better our national maintenance plan and improve the driving experience on our motorways. As civil engineers, let us stand back and reflect on how we can reduce this waste and play our part in sustainable development.

  • Tendayi Munyebvu. tendayi.munyebvu@iter.org

 Site stereotyping

 A general complaint about women in engineering is that they are only depicted out on site in hi vis and hard hat (and presumably other appropriate PPE), which it is generally felt is offputting to young women. Would it be possible to show a picture of a woman in a smart suit in an office leading a meeting and talking through drawings shown on a computer screen as a more enticing image to young women?

  • Vicky Bache, posted online on article headed “Girls encouraged to take STEM subjects”

 Reassuringly engineered

I am always slightly conflicted when I read about projects like the Brighton Eye. When the print version of NCE landed on my doormat this week I suppressed a guilty chuckle at the front cover as I had previously been stuck in the similar, but smaller, Jurassic Skyline tower at Weymouth in 2012. I started having Engineers’ thoughts such as ‘how do we get out if it gets stuck?’ but the conflict arises when I reassure myself that these structures are, of course, designed by members of my own profession so ‘of course it will be alright!’ 

  • Julian Smith (M), posted online on article headed “Technical problems on i360 explained”

Are quotas the best way forward?

The article talks about equality and parity in numbers in the same sentence. However, equality is not about parity in numbers, it is about equal opportunities. Setting quotas is the exact opposite of equal opportunities. 

The only way to achieve gender balance and increase the number of women in engineering is by promoting engineering to children as a career for both men and women. By increasing the number of women choosing engineering as a career, and choosing to study engineering at university, the numbers of women in engineering will increase naturally without the introduction of inequality measures such as quotas.

  • Joe Pitkin, posted online on article headed “Analysis: ‘Quota’ is not a dirty word”

 

 

 

 

Readers' comments (1)

  • Having attended the BCIA awards tonight I was disappointed at the speech given by Mark Hansford. Whilst he may have personal views over the decision to leave the EU he should not denigrate the majority view of the people of the United Kingdom. The referendum reaults decided to leave the EU. Full stop. The discussion now should be regarding how we ensure that the government spends on the right elements of infrastructure, not thinly veiled comments over how the vote to leave was wrong.

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