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Will Wylfa B help combat global warming or be one of its victims?
There are many arguments for and against the proposed replacement reactor at Wylfa B, but is it sensible to build a nuclear reactor on a site that could be flooded by the sea? This is a map of projected sea level rise for the UK.
This map is from the Hazard Research Centre at Benfield UCL and shows the projected change of the UK land area if the Arctic or The Western Antarctic ice sheet melts, which would produce a 7m rise in sea level. Googlemaps flood map also shows the areas of submerged land in more detail, but is not accurate, as the terrain is generated by aerial radar surveys which do not account for buildings. The true extent of sea level rise can only really be seen by looking at the 10m contour of Ordnance Survey maps.
The UK nuclear industry recognises that some of the current nuclear reactor sites are under threat from sealevel rise, but believes that Wylfa is not at risk because the site is 15m above sea level, however they do recognise that the site will be at greater risk of flooding due to storm surges and tsunamis as sealevels rise.
The current 1 in 1000 year tidal flood risk map for the UK in 2100 , produced by the National Environments Research Council looks very similar to the 7m sealevel rise map.
This map is based on the current IPCC estimate that sea levels will rise by 0.2 - 0.4 m by 2100 and the risk is expected to increase into the future if global warming continues.
The Nuclear Decommissioning Authorities plan for Wylfa is to clear the site of all radioactive material by 2125, and assuming Wylfa B's life will be similar to Wylfa A, we can expect the Wylfa B site to be cleared by 2180. So there is then small risk around (1 in 1000) that the Wylfa Nuclear site could be flooded. The risk of flooding may mean building sea defences, shortening the operating life of Wylfa B and a more rapid decomissioning of Wylfa B, all of which could shorten returns to the owners and operators of Wylfa.
The current IPCC estimate of sea level rise in the range of 0.2-0.4 m (Average 2-4mm/ yr) by 2100 assumes that humanity will manage to meet greenhouse gas targets, but the IPCC also say that the next 10 to 20 years are critical if we want to control global warming and sea level rise, roughly the same time that the proposed Wylfa B would become operational. If the greenhouse gas emissions have not been curtailed by then, then Wylfa B might not seem that good an investment. It is more likely that another site on higher ground would be a safer bet to potential nuclear investors.
If the historic rate (1993- present) goes above 4mm, then coastal flooding at Wylfa may be greater than current plans predict)
Copyright © Martin Hollingham