Carbon capture and storage at Kingsnorth power station

Materials World magazine
1 Jul 2008

As a nuclear buff I should have been cheered by George Smith’s article ‘Going nuclear – again’ published in the March issue of Materials World, in which he describes the UK’s nuclear renaissance.

In fact, I was depressed. Firstly by being reminded of the folly of the destruction of our nuclear industry and its supporting laboratories at a time (say the early-90s) when anthropogenic-induced global warming was already a distinct possibility, and the finite lifetimes of our oil and gas reserves were becoming pressingly obvious. And why, just as it was becoming apparent that a nuclear boom was imminent, did we sell Westinghouse, aworld-leading nuclear construction company?

It was also clear from Smith’s article that the likely UK nuclear construction programme will be slow in starting and slow to proceed. It seems inevitable that much ofthe nuclear power coming on stream in the next 15 years or so will simply replace the electrical generation lost by the retirement of older nuclear stations. In other words, there will be no net increase in carbon-free power.


Kingsnorth coal-fired power plant and carbon capture units

On the conventional generation side, the Government is expected to approve a £1.5bln coal-fired plant at Kingsnorth, near Ashford in Kent, with the contract probably going to the German company E.ON. However, should David Cameron become prime minister in two years’ time, his government would only permit the station to operate if it incorporated a carbon capture and storage (CCS) unit (a facility to capture carbon dioxide emissions and sequester them deep down in, for example, depleted gas or oil fields).

The cost of a CCS unit is about £1bln per station, with pipes to transport the exhaust gases to suitable burial sites costing another £1m per mile. This would make Kingsnorth’s electricity hopelessly uneconomic. The cost of retrofitting an ageing coal-fired plant would also be about £1bln.

E.ON has announced that should the Conservative-inspired conditions be imposed it would only proceed with its bid if CCS had been successfully demonstrated and someone else, presumably the Government, paid for the unit. Britain has seven other possible sites for new coal-fired stations so research on CCS is urgently needed.


The threat of global warming

The global situation is equally bleak – the International Energy Agency, based in Paris, France, predicts that the world’s use of power will increase by 50% by 2030, with 77% of that coming from fossil fuels. The position is dire. The world community is simply not rising to the level of events. Of the several situations defined by the Stockholm Network think tank, we are edging towards the worst case scenario where, by the end of this century, the West Antarctic ice sheet collapses and the Siberian permafrost melts. This would lead to massive releases of methane – a gas far more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide – with unimagineable consequences.

To those who consider that I exaggerate the importance of the threat of global warming I respond by drawing parallels with Pascal’s Wager on the existence of God. He argues it is prudent to believe in God because if you are wrong it does not matter, but if correct everlasting bliss is yours. Contrariwise, to disbelieve in God and be proved incorrect leads to eternal misery.

It appears it is sensible to bet both on the existence of God and of global warming.

Further information:

E.ON’s Kingsnorth proposal

E.ON and carbon capture and storage