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22 May, 2009 04:51

Britain to plunge into darkness?

Britain could start seeing blackouts as early as 2016 if building new power capacity is not started immediately. But the government’s plans to build new atomic power stations are being thwarted by safety fears.

There are still restrictions on some farms affected by the Chernobyl disaster almost twenty five years ago.

According to experts, within a decade the UK could be suffering widespread blackouts. They say just around the corner lies a major shortfall in energy production.

“The forecast is that in about seven or eight years, a large number of our power stations will come to the end of their working life, and there will be a sudden drop in the output of the system,” said Robert Freer, civil engineer from Supporters of the Nuclear Energy group.

The Bradwell power station is one such generator. It is currently out of commission, but the government plans to bring it back online as the clean, green face of nucler power.

Traditionally, the Labour party is anti-nuclear, but late last year, a new, pro-nuclear energy minister was appointed, and a drive to re-commission and build eight new nuclear plants in the UK got underway.

However, that plan is being dealt a blow, as nuclear incidents hit the headlines.

This week, part of the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant in the north of England was closed after a fault was found. The plant, considered by Greenpeace to be one of the most radioactive places on the planet, was already under scrutiny after radioactive water was discovered to have been leaking for more than a year.

Perhaps more shockingly, the government has admitted that farmers, notably in North Wales, are still restricted in the way they use land and rear animals because of a disaster that happened 23 years ago – Chernobyl.

In April 1986, the number four reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine – then a part of the Soviet Union – suffered an unstoppable chain reaction, causing the worst man-made disaster in history.

“The Chernobyl fallout lasted for about 10 days back in 1986, spread across Europe, Scandinavia, central Europe, and then petered out in Britain,” said John Large, an independent nuclear consultant.

He says, “What we have in Britain are deposits of a radioisotope called cesium."

What is happening, he explains, “is sheep and particularly lambs that are taken up to the highlands where the concentration of cesium is high, gobble that up and of course they build up radioactivity in their flesh”.

And that’s not good for the UK’s newly nuclear-friendly government. It is fuelling the environmentalist lobby which wants to stop the building of new power stations, and concentrate efforts on renewables instead.

“Europe’s leading energy experts recently put out a report which showed that if the government in the UK met their legally binding targets of meeting 15% of all our energy needs from renewables and we implemented an effective energy efficiency action plan, we wouldn’t need to build a new power plant in the UK whether it be nuclear or coal,” said Nathan Argent, a nuclear campaigner from Greenpeace.

“So we believe that the government should get going and start delivering on its legally binding targets. That way we keep the lights on,” he added.

But there is no time to lose, because whichever path the government chooses to take, the building of new power capacity must start now, say experts, to prevent power cuts as early as 2016.