Nuclear risk up in a warming world

Higher risk of flooding in a warming world must be factored into plans for new nuclear power stations in the UK, the Met Office has said.

Rising sea levels, stronger winds and more powerful storm surges caused by climate change would strongly affect nuclear plants, traditionally built in remote coastal areas where cooling water is always at hand.

The Met Office study, commissioned by nuclear power company British Energy to assess the impacts of climate change on nuclear plants, concluded that the stations would need better flood protection and coastal defences, and would also need to be built further inland.

If current high carbon emission trends continue temperatures will rise by 5-6 degrees by the end of the century, precipitation will go up 30-35% in the winter but reduce by 40-60% in the summer. Winds will be 10% stronger in winter, and storm surges will increase in height by 1.7m at Sizewell, the most affected site.

"We work in consultation with a number of agencies with an interest in sea defences across the UK to develop a long-term strategy for these sites that would take us forward into the decommissioning phase, as well as into potential new build," said David Norfolk from BE's strategy team.

"A strategy on sea defences for all of our nuclear power stations was developed as part of the original safety cases for operating the stations. The current defences in place are monitored on a regular basis to ensure they continue to offer adequate protection.

"We work in consultation with a number of agencies with an interest in sea defences across the UK to develop a long-term strategy for these sites that would take us forward into the decommissioning phase, as well as into potential new build," he said.

The results of the research will be followed by further studies carried out by an engineering consultancy.

Goska Romanowicz

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