Tidal barrages or nuclear power – U-turns and twitchers
On October 18th 2010 Chris Huhne, the UK Energy Secretary, publicly scrapped plans for a Severn tidal barrage that would have generated 5% of the UK’s future energy needs. In its place he announced eight potential sites for building new nuclear power stations by 2025 that would generate an equivalent amount of electricity.
There are several facets of this that are disturbing. From the political point of view this represented another huge LibDem U-turn. Huhne stood on a no-nuclear ticket at the general election and had long been a vocal opponent of nuclear power. Here’s what Huhne had to say about nuclear power in 2007:
“Nuclear is a tried, tested and failed technology. New nuclear would be economically foolhardy, environmentally irresponsible and pose long-term security questions that are impossible to address. “If we opt for a new generation of nuclear reactors, future generations may rue the day. We will be encumbering them with high costs and enormous and unknowable liabilities. We will miss a key opportunity to pioneer a green future.”
One of the major objectors to the Severn Barrage was the RSPB, who were primarily worried about the effect on the habitat of wading birds. There is no evidence that a long-term decrease in overall UK wader populations would occur despite strenuous efforts on the RSPB’s part to show otherwise, but they seemto be an unnaturally powerful body. This remarkable little quango of middle-aged cardigan-wearing twitchers seem to have taken over swathes of our countryside for no logical reason and with little success (think corncrakes) even by their own standards. In addition to their barrage wars they have objected to every major windfarm, making them de facto friends of the nuclear industry.
Nearer to home, the only estuary in Scotland with potential for a useful tidal barrage is the Solway. The largest scheme looked at here could provide nearly 6GW, a useful percentage of the UK’s total future needs. Guess what Peter Robinson of the RSPB said about it:
“We need to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on feasibility studies for old-fashioned technologies such as tidal barrages.”
Yes, It’s wading birds again. So, no wind turbines, no tidal barrages, not anywhere, not ever. Well, we’ve got news for the RSPB – if we allow runaway global warming to happen climate change will cause more damage to the Severn and Solway estuaries through rising sea levels and species diversion than a barrage ever would. Yes, the environment will change if we build a barrage. Some niches will disappear, other new ones will open and wildlife will adapt to the new environment. In the Rance estuary – the only large-scale tidal barrage in Europe, commissioned in 1966 – there are the same number of bird species (120) as there were before the barrage was built, and it attracts over 200,000 tourists every year.
Nature can adapt, unlike the dinosaurs of the RSPB.