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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2007, 22:29 GMT
Climate 'to affect nuclear sites'
By David Shukman
BBC science correspondent

UK nuclear power plant worker
The government is soon to release its criteria for possible new sites
Rising sea-levels, increased wave height and increased storm surge height must all be considered in the planning of the UK's future nuclear stations.

Specialists from the Met Office make the recommendations in a report that assesses the likely risks to the industry from climate change.

It was commissioned by the nuclear power company British Energy.

All the current stations are on the coast, chosen for remoteness and guaranteed access to cooling water.

The study concludes future power plants will need to be further inland and may need added protection. The government is likely to release its criteria for possible sites in March.

Constant maintenance

At Sizewell in Suffolk, for example, site of Britain's most modern reactor, the prediction is for the most severe storm surges to be 1.7 metres higher in 2080 than at present.

And at Dungeness in Kent, the storm surge increase could be up to 0.9 metres.

We would locate the station within the site in such a position that we don't perhaps have to work quite so hard in maintaining these hard defences
David Norfolk, British Energy
Already the Dungeness plant, which is sited on land only two metres above sea-level, is protected by a massive wall of shingle which needs constant maintenance in the winter.

Waves erode so much of it that it needs to be topped up constantly with 600 tons of shingle every day.

Met Office researcher Rob Harrison told the BBC, "very large potential changes are in prospect; what we're trying to do is avoid a catastrophic effect.

"There's no immediate concern but in the future the extremes may become more severe, especially with the combination of bigger waves and surges. It's reassuring that British Energy are being proactive about this."

'Hard defences'

The Met Office study finds the rise in storm surge heights will be most extreme along the coast of south-east England - the shorelines at Dungeness and Sizewell bearing the brunt of the effects.

Hinkley Point nuclear power station
All working nuclear power stations in the UK are located by the sea
One option for the nuclear operators is to build stronger sea defences. Another is to site future power stations further inland.

David Norfolk, a member of British Energy's strategy team, said any new power plant could be located further from the sea to provide more of a buffer for any flooding.

"We would locate the station within the site in such a position that we don't perhaps have to work quite so hard in maintaining these hard defences - put it further back so we have more land, more space to absorb any water that comes over, to attenuate the energy of the sea."

The study follows a similar Met Office investigation last year into the impact of climate change on conventional power plants.

How power stations will be affected by sea level rise

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