Problems in the UK.

From The Independent, spotted via

Britain is in the grip of a fresh oil crisis, with supplies to hospitals, petrol stations and households all under threat, according to independent wholesalers and retailers. NHS Trusts on interruptible gas contracts have begun frantically shopping around for oil supplies to heat hospitals, while petrol stations in the South-east are said to be begging independent wholesalers for fresh stocks. Some heating oil distributors are reported to be refusing to supply business or domestic customers because they do not know when they will be able to get new stocks, and householders who rely on oil to heat their homes are facing delays in getting supplies just as the country braces itself for a cold snap.

The looming crisis has been caused by a combination of factors such as bad weather, Hurricane Katrina, the Buncefield oil depot fire and fears that the dispute between Russia and Ukraine over gas supplies would cause a run on oil. But it has been exacerbated by the sharp rise in gas prices, which has prompted some gas-fired power stations to switch to gasoil and kerosene. This has reduced the amount of refining capacity available to produce petrol and diesel and also threatens to squeeze supplies of home heating oil which many householders in rural areas rely upon.

Full story at The Independent.
Lesson 1: do not believe your government every time they say 'it will not be a problem'. Everyone, everywhere, needs to be aware of this, particularly henceforth.

Much of the time they will hopefully be correct and honest but at important times and on important subjects they will sometimes be not. In the immediate aftermath of Buncefield the utterances were 'not a problem, it is only 1 of 43 such places, there will be no supply shortages' yet within a week airplanes were being rationed on aviation fuel at Heathrow (haven't noticed any recent news on this).

I will admit I'm a mite surprised by the article, I haven't heard of any real problems and I live fairly nearby. Perhaps there is a bit of conjuring in the story. But it leads on to...

Lesson 2: the infrastructure that supports our lifestyle is more fragile than nearly everyone presumes. Beware that presumption for it will bite you.

But today I came here for another reason: Ariel Sharon. He's someone I am ambivalent about, has been bad, has been almost good at times, but is certainly significant in the politics of Israel, Mid East and world atm. Currently he seems likely to survive but a long period of recuperation is almost inevitable. I wish him well in his fight for life and his recuperation struggle. Maybe he is the last warrior king in the line from independence to now.

It's very strange being in my head atm. World turns, wheels click inside, most of my brain feels like it is sorting through a multitude of impressions that didn't make sense before and are beginning to partly clarify. It's awful hard to write / type and I keep spontaneously weeping (not for Ariel, it's a side effect I've noticed before when things are 'clarifying', weird).

Previously I scrabbled for reasons: is Sharon assassinated in the election run up, does he launch an attack on Iran to attempt help his campaign, why isn't he 'there' (=significant) in late March? I guess I can relax on that thread now. It could take me some days for the sort through of internal data about this, maybe a month to see if things ahead have changed.

Sorry for this ramble, it might make sense to some.

just bad timing on the Sharon thing.
Someone please tell me again how many nuclear power plants have been or are scheduled to be permanent closed in the UK?

Would those who have vocally advocated such policies in the UK, Sweden, the US and elsewhere please raise their hands?

In public, please.

Hmmm, I don't know, LOL, nor do I care too much. I think there are a couple of magnox reactors due to close in the next 5 years but beyond that, no idea, but keep them going where possible. I don't and never have had, a phobia about nuclear power, but I would prefer green energy and think that (plus judicious use of additional nuclear) needs to be progressed rapidly.
Nuclear may not be the answer. See "Goin' Fission for Uranium"
By SPENCER JAKAB in Monday, January 2, 2006 Barrons online. The article indicates that "Annual demand for nuclear fuel is now equal to 180 million pounds [about 82 million kilos] of uranium, while only 108 million pounds of ore were produced in 2005, according to estimates by Ux Consulting. Mine output will not increase substantially until the huge Cigar Lake facility in Canada run by Cameco comes online in 2007, but even by 2008 output will be about 130 million pounds. BHP is considering a huge expansion at its Olympia Dam site in Australia, but this would not hit the market until 2013 or later. A number of smaller projects are also coming.

Meanwhile, there are about 140 new reactors planned worldwide, many in Asia, versus the 440 existing today. Of the 104 U.S. reactors, most have applied for or have received multi-decade license extensions, and the first approvals for new plants since the 1970's are expected soon by industry observers."

If I recall the frequently cited BP annual data on oil, gas and other reserves correctly, there is a 42 year proven supply of uranium at current levels of use. But just about everywhere, nuclear is seen as the answer - or at least a major one - to the fossil-fuel supply problem. We see in the above excerpt from the Barrons piece that 140 new reactors are being planned. I live in Japan, and can tell you that the nuclear industry is a real fan of peak oil (even featuring peak oil articles on their lobby group's web site). Like the UK nuclear industry, they see the fossil-fuel pinch as a great business opportunity. And they have lots of voices backing them, including the UK science advisor David King.

Personally, I'm agnostic on nuclear while being wary of cost, waste problems, the proliferation issue, and other concerns. Yet the fuel-supply issue appears to have received inadequate attention. At present, the supply gap is being filled from 100 million pounds of stockpiles as well as "downblending" old USSR warheads and recovery from mine tailings. But the gap appears to be a problem that will only worsen as new plants come online. To the extent that this is true, we seem to risk wasting a lot of time and intellectual/physical/financial resources if we shift massively to nuclear technology rather than pursue energy alternatives that have more abundant supplies.

The uranium mining industry has been stagnant for decades and is now getting a pulse of new demand.  Nobody has been exploring for new ore bodies since there was no market - now there is.  New production will come on line promptly through the miracle of the capitalist system.

The geologic situation for uranium is considerably different from hydrocarbons.  Every atom of uranium can be used in the process while only certain hydrocarbons in certain formations can be profitably extracted.  Uranium is more common in the earth's crust than lead and is responsible for earthquakes and volcanos and continental drift in general.  Seawater has huge resources, albeit at low concentrations.

An appraisal of the world's uranium situation is here:

The Bush Administration is moving to spent fuel reprocessing which could fuel the production of a trillion dollars of electricity at wholesale - but the Brits already do that.

If you are still worried about uranium resources, consider thorium:

The Magnox reactors are getting on in years but I bet Blair wishes that the UK had started construction of new plants ten years ago.

Standard light water reactors, existing and planned, can be fueled for at least 50 years. I see this as a bridge to breeders that will first consume the actinides in existing spent fuel (meaning only a vastly smaller volume of short-lived waste need be stored) and subsequently consume what must be thousands of years worth of U238, thorium, and the actinides bred from them. For a description, see teh Dec 05 issue of Scientific American.
There are 23 operational Nuclear reactors in the UK with a total installed capacity of 11.82GWe
You seem to be implying that the shut down of these reactors is an environmental decision as is the case in Sweden. This is not so. All are being decommissioned because they have reached the end of their lives. Several have been push well beyond their originally projected life times. There are 8 Magnox (magnesium oxide clad fuel elements) on four sites commissioned between 1965 and 1971 that will be decommissioned by 2011. Four of the AGR (Advanced Gas Cooled Reactors) are over 28 years old. There are efforts to try and prolong the lives of some of the others but the Safety inspectorate, although basically cooperative is reasonably insisting on ever more rigorous safety precautions as these reactors get older and this eats into the generating capacity and increases costs.

I will certainly admit the obvious - I'm not an expert on the UK nuclear industry.  However, most operational US reactors have had their orignal 40 year licenses extended another 20 years.  Considering the 5 to 10 year construction period which may or may not have counted against the original 40 year license, US plants can expect a 45 to 60 year operational life.

I do own (and cherish) a book on Calder Hall, the first Magnox plant.  They are small and less efficient and, again, I am no expert on their end-of-life problems.  However, so often in situations like this, where there is a will, there is a way.

Still, I think that those who have vocally opposed construction and operation of nuclear reactors need to consider the consequences of their public positions.  They will be held accountable.

What is the guy who is cold, hungry, and out of work due to energy shortages going to say to the people who have insisted that we spend our capital on windmills?

I have not heard many people suggesting that the safety inspectorate is being over cautious. The magnox reactors are certainly showing their age. Many years ago I worked at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell x-raying the magnox fuel elements. Most of the rest of our reactors are AGR  types that operate at a gas coolant temperature of over 600°C which increases stress corrosion in the containment vessel compared to the water cooled reactors common in America.

Although there was environmental pressure to prevent more reactors being built there was not all that much pressure to build them either as the costs escalated and North Sea gas and then oil came on line. The public enquiry about the last of our reactors, Sizewell B took so long that governments took the easy way out and licensed fossil fuel power stations

Perhaps the policy that will be regretted more will be the  virtual close down of the British Coal industry by Margaret Thatcher. There were economic arguments but most observers agree that the political aim of breaking the power of organised labour unions was the main motive. We went from producing almost 100M tons of coal a year to almost none. There is still plenty of coal underground but it is unlikely to be now dug up.

I do support the building of more nuclear power stations but we could have done with a great deal fewer if we had developed alternative energy twenty years ago. We have massive wind wave and tidal resources relative to our size. We have the second highest tides in the world in the Bristol Channel and with a multi-basin scheme could develop 5GW continuously from them. Recent research has show that the UK  could produce up to 30% of its electricity from the right mix of alternative sources without the need for much additional standby conventional generators.

Also nuclear waste disposal is much more of a problem in our crowded island. Nowhere in England is more than seven miles from a tarmac road. There are no unused deserted mountains to hide it in.

I think there are more problems with nuclear energy than the supply of uranium and nuclear waste as an alternative to hydrocarbons, or as part of an alternative energy supply after Peak Oil & Gas.  

Nuclear power plants generate electricity, which is, as anyone here will know, not as versatile as hydrocarbons by a long shot.

The main point I would like to stretch out, is that the construction, maintenance, operation, and finally dismantling the plant after 45-60 years requires huge hydrocarbon inputs. How much I really don't know. Anyone? Also uranium itself, I suppose, is mined by hydrocarbon driven machinery.

How will this play out in the mid- to long term when the required hydrocarbons will be less and less available, let alone affordable?

To me it seems Nuclear power is really a derivative of an underlying fossil fuel infrastructure instead of being an independent alternative in and of itself.

Nothing in our technospehere is truly independent of the fossil fuel infrastructure and production. But this is not a grave problem since there will be expensive oil available in large quantities for a very long time even if very cheap oil in rediculously large quantities will be missed.

If another energy source produces much more energy in a usefull form like electricity then it needs lubricants, hydraulic fluids, diesel etc it can pay for very expensive hydrocarbons. It will more or less multiply the hydrocarbon input into a lot more electricity then burning the hydrocarbons would give.

Nuclear power, wind power, etc can then use heavier and scarces oils, then oils cracked with hydrogen made with electricity, oils syntehisized from coal, biological oils or oil synthetisized from raw biomass and hydrogen from electricity.

If no technological breakthrus are made I suspect that the latest generations of nuclear powerplants will be used for a lot longer then 45-60 years. You can not let the structure or systems deteriorate due to the security needed so minor subsystems are replaced as they wear down. This leaves large parts as the preassure vessel as the limiting parts while the rest of the systems are in good shape. They can be heat treated in place to release stresses in ther crystaline structure built up by irrradiation. The inner surface layer with most of the radioactivity can be etched away and then it is possible to work inside them and inspect and replace parts but they do wear out. I suspect that it then will make sense to even swap out reactor vessels. My guess is that the life lenght limiting part will be the concrete in the walls. I have no idea how long it will last, perhaps hundreds of years?

One point i find intresting is that a lot of the parts are metallic and can be melted and the metals reused, often directly and for some parts after a long period of underground storage to wait out the radioactivity. The largest volume of waste from the plant itself seems to be ion exchange filters and misc clothing and tools. It ought to be possible to reduce this waste stream with new materials that are washable but I am speculating about that. I get the impression that a nuclear technology that use breeder reactors can be sustanable more or less indefinately digging up the parts buried a few thousand years ago and remelting them along with fresh low grade ores for the next generation of powerplants.

I raise my hand.

I've been opposed to nuclear fission. Still am. And I have no regrets. Were you downwind of Chernobyl in 1986? It rained in Scotland, it rained all over us. And then two weeks later they told us that we shouldnt have been drinking milk either. I don't trust the government safety statements or nuclear power any more. I also have a friend who was in Belarus in '86; his stories are scary indeed. We dont need another disaster like that.

Nuclear fission is bogus power source. U238 is limited and has exceedingly dangerous other uses; there is nowhere to deal with the waste either. Fast-breeder reactors do generate plutionium, and you could argue that the sellafield THORP reprocessing facility is a site in the fast breeder process, but today it just creates more waste.

The biggest issue with nuclear is that it distracts money and effort from alternate solutions for generating electricity. We have wind, we have tide. I dont think Solar is too great this far north, but panelling on housing could probably generate some electricity for less cost than retail electrons.

I also think nuclear fusion is a potentially viable technology, one that should get more support. I think it would take a long while for supplies of H3 to run out in the oceans, and the waste products should be much less. Yet the amount of money being invested in fusion R&D is a fraction of that being spent cleaning up current and past nuclear fission sites.

As an aside, living in the SW UK, the area mentioned in the paper, I have already encountered some diesel shortages. the local petrol stations only have about half their diesel pumps active. This will only lead to more panic purchasing and knock on consequences. Cost of fuel is still less than immediately after Katrina though.


I predict that the verdict of history will show you wrong.  I would use the recent events in the UK as some early evidence to support that.

We'd had better be sure because getting our energy sources wrong will have major consequences on the future of Western Civilization and on the health and welfare of billions of real live human beings.

It is easy to dream of alternatives but this is something we can't toy with.  My point again is that we all must be responsible with our public positions since we will be held accountable.  As someone whose career has been in the energy business, I feel that responsibility personally because my neighbors turn to me for questions.  Granted, this makes me rather conservative because I know the perils of getting it wrong.

I'm not impressed that advocates of alternative energies feel that same sense of civic responsiblity that I do.

Nuclear-an attempt to solve a problem of civilzation with more complexity.  The UK can't afford the nukes it has now.

We can't have more power. We must use less.  Greenhouse gasses must be reduced by 50% in 15 years.  Eliminating Corporations and building railroads and bikes.  Get simple.

Or the planet takes over.  It'll take at least 7 to get your nukes up and running.

How much oil, if any, did the UK send to the United States after Hurricane Katrina?
Would not the same treaty or NATO or G-8 agreement requiring the Europeans to send Post-Katrina gasoline to the U.S, require the United States to send heating oil and/or other distilates to the U.K. in a crisis?  Are those not agreements of mutual aid?
No. Sorry but the UK is a colony of the US.  
As with the Great india Co, the benefits travel in only one direction.

Except with Israel.  I would suggest you ask them if the US could divert some of it's aid from Tel Aviv to London.

Good Luck.



The imports and exports of petroleum product by country are available at the Energy Information agency / DOE website.  The home heating oil discussed in the article is in the mid-distillate family (Heating oil,  Jet , Diesel etc)
Gasoline is a lighter boiling product which is not generally useful for home heating.

YTD through october the United Kingdom shipped 17.8 million bbls of gasoline to the United States.  The United States shipped 4.6 million bbls of mid-distillates, mostly jet fuel back to the United Kingdom.  In 2004 the United Kingdom shipped 15.5 million bbls of gasoline.

The increase from 2004-2005 is probably related to US price increases and possibly specification waivers post Katrina..

Thanks Doug.  That's great information.
Japan is also having a very cold winter, which has pushed up the price of Kerosene there to record levels. They don't seem to have quite the problems the U.K. is but "The agency believes the average temperature during the winter between December and February is likely to be lower than usual in northern Japan, eastern Japan and the Nansei Islands for the first time in 20 years."

Hmmm. Makes one wonder about their definition of "usual"
How can something be 'lower than usual for the first time in 20 years'?
Stuart - your sarcasm was better than mine (and earlier)
"Lower than usual for the first time in 20 years"
I blame global warming.
I had thought of leaving the mild Southern California beach area and retiring back to my native England - Devon perhaps, but North Sea depletion and peak oil have put a chill on my spirits and plans.

I have seen the charts of projected North Sea oil and gas leaving the UK with precious little domestic production ten years from now. I am somewhat surpised that the proverbial sh*t is hitting the fan so soon.

Does anyone have projections on how UK domestic energy demand will be supplied in 2015, or 2020?

There's a good discussion by George Monbiot (Guardian columnist) here.
This is a good website about the energy situation in UK ( It seems that they extended the life of one nuclear reactor up to 2018 (See below). However, as far as I know, they will have to close most of nuclear reactors by 2020.

UK reactor life extension
The first of British Energy's Advanced Gas-cooled Reactors - two 571 MWe units at Dungeness B in Kent - have been granted a ten-year life extension, to 2018. The plant has been operating since 1983. BE is investigating other life extension possibilities for its AGRs. (BE 15/9/05)

Ah, c'mon, lets be honest and realistic about this without sweating out the details.

These kinds of shortages are likely to occur in various regions (here, the UK) as things go forward in the next decade. All this is too chaotic to predict by region and global effects can't be known, but realistic assumed error margins in production don't obviate the overall trend toward decreased incremental flows (resulting in large price volatility and higher prices in the future). These effects are pretty clear as we go forward regarding available natural gas and oil supplies given ever-increasing demand.

I have been more and more convinced by the fact that it is getting harder and harder to bring oil and natural gas--(in this case, there are important physical restrictions, eg. pipelines versus NGL)--to market. This may be based on scarcity in some cases but also based on inefficient allocation of the resources (oil & gas) in other cases. It's not getting any better and prices for these resources are artificially low, even for natural gas as the UK is now starting to understand. Even if this situation is alleviated in the short-term, this will only be a temporary solution.

This observation should not be dismissed. Rather, it should be considered an important matter of immediate concern. But, unfortunately, this has not been a policy priority of the powers that be. Nor for conventional oil which, it would seem, is either 1) inexhaustible or 2) seamlessly replaced with alternative fossil fuels with low EROEI's.

So, now what?
I wonder how bloody miffed Blair is not getting any of Iraq's oil. It's amazing that the Lib-Dems or the Tories haven't gone political over an energy crisis that Blair has mucked-up. I see a great opportunity for Greens and Respect.

I predict the coal mines will be unsealed and producing by year-end.

Happy new year TOD! Off topic I know but it is related to UK energy supplies:

Recently driving through Scotland I spotted banners objecting to a proposed windfarm directing people to I'm in the process of composing a polite email as to why I think their objections are irrational, selfish and short-sighted.

I remember seeing (possibly here) a post taking a survey of residents after construction of a wind farm, and a majority actually supported expansion of the wind farm if I remember correctly. Can anyone help me find this link?

saw a fantastic example of NIMBY recently in Devon, the locals managed to stop the construction of a power station that was going to be run on elephant grass, apparantly it would have supported 27,000 homes and reduced CO2 by 140,000 tons a year.
Locals didnt want all the trucks rumbling past.
you gotta laugh.

take care everyone

The proposal was obviously not imaginative enough.

Why use trucks to move raw material?  The power station is going to be served by transmission lines strung between towers.  The lines bear a strong resemblance to the cables used by ski lifts.  Why not transport the elephant grass bales via overhead cable-car, built as part of the transmission towers?  As long as the cable-car route goes past the fuel farms, the truck routes could be short or even zero.

What a vanity society the UK has become! By God, I am appalled that someone would protest a windfarm! I suggest that the powers that be offer an alternative to those 'happless' folks: have a windfarm in your backyard or a coal plant or get disconnected from the grid. I wonder which alternative they'd go for.

I live in the so called industrial heartland of Eastern Canada: Saint John, New Brunswick. We have an oil refinery, two paper mills, a huge coal fired station, a nuke plant, a bunch of open pit mines and soon to come a drywall factory, a plastics plant and a LNG terminal. All that plopped right into the middle of the city. Yes, it all looks and smells as bad as it sounds. And the city council keeps wondering why nobody wants to settle in the city.

It enrages me that someone would object to a windfarm in their area. I'd take thousands of windmills over one pulp mill or one refinery except I don't have that choice as it's the Irving family and not me who decides what sort of industry will be plopped into Saint John next. And what is being announced for this year sounds far nastier than windfarms. I can't get over that someone would set up a protest group to piquet windfarms! Bunch of retards. They should all be sent on a compulsory weeklong trip to Saint John.

What if the best place to put a rebuilt BPThunderhorse would be on the recently flooded city of New Orleans?

But we've got to get those royalty claims taken care of first.