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The Inside Story of Nuclear Power: Part III

In this final part of the talk I had with my father, who has spent his entire career in the nuclear power industry, we began by discussing renewable energy. My father believes that every country should aim to have a balance between all the forms of energy production; fossil, nuclear and renewable. No country should solely depend on one form. His opinion of renewable energy sources is that they are adequate secondary sources – most can never be entirely depended on.

Offshore-Windpark Nysted / Offshore wind farm Nysted

As an example we discussed wind power, the most harnessed renewable energy in the UK. North West Wales has several windfarms, made up of numerous wind turbines, but the energy they produce is miniscule compared to a nuclear power station. The problem lies in the fact that on a windless day they generate zero energy. They were built to satisfy climate change international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. The biggest benefactors of the windfarms are the landowners whom are paid money by the government for having them. Windfarms, including off-shore sites, are a good secondary source of energy but are also used as a tool to keep the international community and environmental political parties happy. A little like “look at the effort we are making!” Tidal energy is the newest renewable energy source in the UK but is still in its infancy.

A major public concern relating to nuclear power is its waste and how governments manage and secure it. The UK accepts waste from countries from all around the world – even as far away as Japan. These countries pay the UK to store their waste. If a terrorist attempted to steal nuclear waste they would instantly die from the radiation. There are no concerns regarding nuclear waste in the UK.

nuclear-waste

Since 9/11 world governments have increased security at all their nuclear sites and my father’s, Wylfa, is no exception. Training exercises are carried out in preparation against attack – such as an attack from a truck filled with explosives being driven through the main gate, even though Wylfa has a staggered entrance. Along with the regular security systems (ID cards, CCTV and 24-hour armed guards) the entire site is protected with an electrified fence. There are certain areas with laser protection. All personnel must have criminal record checks and members of the public are not permitted on-site, such as school trips. Even if a plane was to hit the main building it would not cause any damage due to the 12-foot reinforced concrete walls. I asked my father if all of the security systems were necessary and he replied that they were to satisfy public opinion – the public demand such precautions.

If a terrorist got inside the main control room and put a gun against a controller’s head and demanded an explosion take place, the controller could not cause one. It doesn’t work like that. It is impossible for anyone or any number of workers to blow up the site. The system is designed to want to shut itself down, in a controlled manner, that’s how it’s designed. The workers literally struggle with the systems to keep the station operating.

To end the talk I wanted to know about Wylfa’s future. The typical lifespan of a site is around 40 years. Only four or five of the fifteen stations operating when Wylfa was opened are still operating today. Wylfa is reaching its 40 year lifespan and will close in the next year and a half. The facility that produces the type of fuel that Wylfa requires has already closed down but also the facility that decommissions the fuel that Wylfa produces is planned to shut in five years’ time. Wylfa’s future is controlled by outside factors. It will close but it will take three more years to empty the fuel resulting in a reduction of the workforce by two thirds. But to end on a positive note there’s talk of three more stations being built in the area in five years. Existing transmission lines are in place for any future stations and local workforce expertise is also present.

I hope I have achieved my aim to inform and you’ve learnt a little about a not too often discussed industry.

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