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Last Updated: Monday, 23 January 2006, 12:04 GMT
Living near a nuclear power station
Dungeness: a unique home to wildlife, and two nuclear power stations.

A consultation process into the UK's energy policy is under way, with an expansion of nuclear energy a possible conclusion. So what's it like to live next to a nuclear power station?

Within a decade, the UK may be generating only about 80% of the electricity it needs.

As the government surveys the options to plug the gap, while maintaining its commitment to curb carbon emissions, it is coming under pressure to consider what would have been unpalatable in recent years - a nuclear revival.

Nuclear power stations currently generate 20% of UK electricity but they are nearly all facing decommission.

Despite industry efforts to reassure the public about nuclear power, any decision to build new reactors around the UK would doubtless be highly controversial, particularly among communities living nearby.

But what's it really like to have a reactor on the doorstep? Dungeness, in Kent, is a coastal beauty spot, but is also home to two nuclear power stations: one opened in the mid 60s, the other in the mid 90s. Together they account for hundreds of local jobs. Here residents and others involved with the power station give their views.

Louisa Whenday
Louisa Whenday is secretary of the Dungeness Residents Association.
Most people were not here when the plant was built, so most aren't worried because you wouldn't move here if you were. I find it no threat at all. The company is very transparent and open. I live not more than 100 yards from Dungeness B and it doesn't worry me. I think it's exceptionally well regulated. The greatest fear for us is terrorism but even that would take something really big, much bigger than an aeroplane or a bomb. To be honest, everyone is so used to seeing it, they'd miss it. I think it's really quite gorgeous, especially at night when it's lit up. It looks like a ship at sea. It is one of our major employers so the 10-year extension is economically good for the area. It means a lot of accommodation is required and local shops and services benefit from it.

Trevor Bunnie
Trevor Bunnie, 38, is a lifeguard.
Given the choice, I'd like to see it go but even when these things are shut there is still a bit of danger. The material remains active for hundreds of years I think. Once here it is here to stay. All the time there is a potential threat of an accident. Although I'd like to see it shut you have got to get energy from somewhere. It's six of one and half dozen of the other. Other stations are not good for the environment. If it was to shut down, a lot of people would lose jobs and it wouldn't help the local economy. There's no other big employer, people would have to go elsewhere for jobs.

Owen Leyshon manages a 300-hectare nature reserve bordering the site.
The power station is not impacting on any vegetation, shingle, fauna or flora outside the perimeter fence, which has been there 50 years. There's lots of monitoring of radioactivity but I get no reports to say it's detrimental to the national nature reserve. But I can produce reports showing how the 600,000 visitors to this area drive their quad bikes or four-wheel drive cars or fly-tip, which does have an impact. I work closely with the power station on initiatives to clean rubbish along the beach in front of it. They've been very receptive to our 'shopping list'.

Roger Higman, spokesman on nuclear power for Friends of the Earth
Roger Higman is spokesman on nuclear power for Friends of the Earth
Nuclear is a dirty, dangerous industry that can only be made safe by putting incredibly difficult measures in place which still present risks we are better off avoiding. Prolonging the life of Dungeness B involves the production of more radioactive waste and the government has no idea what it is going to do with that waste. It's irresponsible. The English Channel is washing away the peninsula the power station actually sits on. It was a stupid site for a power station in the first place. I'm sympathetic with the residents and recognise it is a major employer and there's not a lot else around, but there are alternatives. The local wind farm could provide jobs for example. We recognise jobs have to be found for people but don't really think people would genuinely prefer an industry that leaves such a toxic legacy. If the government deposited waste at Dungeness I am sure the people would be up in arms.

William Richardson
William Richardson, 60, lives less than a mile away from the site.
It's completely changed life, for the better. It's brought work into the area and the population has trebled. I've heard people say they get some comfort from all the lights burning at night. If it wasn't there, it would be black. We've not had any health scares at all, although I wasn't pleased when they issued these [iodate] tablets, which are preventative against radiation, because it makes you think we're in danger but apparently it was due to a change in health authority rules. I think the power station has probably saved lives because it's given people on the sea a landmark. Before they built the power stations, little yachts were hitting the point which juts out, a couple of miles out. It's sad that A is closing, but we're hoping they'll talk about a Dungeness C.

Joe Thomas, 23, is a local fisherman who grew up almost next to the plant and still lives nearby.
Dungeness B has been there all my life so I don't know what it was like here before the plant. Given the choice, I'm happy for it to stay open. It hasn't given us any fret over the years and it keeps people in work. The most annoying thing about the plant is that it makes a noise every now and then. It sounds like a kettle boiling, like a very big kettle going off. In summer that happens quite regularly. A couple of times a week it will go off continuously all day. It also goes off if it is hit by lightning or in a thunderstorm. To be honest, I don't worry about it being dangerous at all. I was born in Dungeness and brought up with it so I don't know any different. If it was not here before I might be a bit annoyed by it.

Sam Denton
Sam Denton is assistant director of public health at Shepway primary care trust
Dungeness B, which is in our boundaries, has given us no cause for concern. For radiation to be a health threat you're looking at very large doses. Levels are monitored so closely we'd know if there was a problem before it reached dangerous levels. We distributed potassium iodate tablets so people had quicker access to them. We have an automatic phone system that, in a major incident, notifies everyone in the area if they need to take them. Large doses of radiation can result in an accumulation of radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland which can increase the risk of thyroid cancer. The tablets help but only need to be taken in a big incident. Our emergency planning is always evolving and we have regular exercises, sometimes involving actors, so we understand how to respond to different situations. We also work with other emergency services, the police, fire and ambulance, the county council.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

I think we should definitely start to use wind power a lot more.

If we human beings thought of the long term consequences of our actions we would be living in a more benign, sustainable way. There is a saying: 'There's enough on this earth for everyone's need but not for everyone's greed'. Many organisations and individuals have been arguing for decades for effective energy conservation measures, investment in renewables etc. Successive governments haven't valued and invested in these approaches. Our greedy, consumer-rights driven society goes unchecked. It is possible that nuclear now may help a little bit in the very short term, but will only shore up greater problems for the future, as well as distract us from genuinely sustainable solutions. The real costs of units of electricity produced by nuclear are still unknown, as waste management goes on for many years after decomissioning. And how is the damage to the environment calculated, even when it is acknowledged? How can anyone seriously want a source of energy production where a disaster, whether accidental or deliberate could bring misery and damage to people and the environment for many generations. The real answers to meeting energy needs in a genuinely sustainable way are unpalatable for many because some reduction in current living standards would be needed. Many people think it their right to walk around their centrally heated homes wearing summer clothes in the middle of winter, or buy as many electricity guzzling gadgets as they desire and generally live in a wasteful manner. Individuals and governments must share responsibliity in this.
Jo Wheatley, Wivenhoe UK

I grew up on the Romney Marsh and have lived in Lydd and Littlestone. The power station was always nearby, but never caused any concern. Now, at the age of 25, I feel that to ever lose it would be a catastrophe for the local economy. I can't think of any local person ever having an issue with its existence.
Brett, Kent

I was brought up living very close to two nuclear reactors at Heysham in Lancashire. The primary school I attended must have been only 1.5 miles away and everyone was well versed in what to do in the event of an accident. I'm well aware of the dangers but cannot see a viable alternative that can produce the amount of energy required. Another important factor is that the power stations bring much needed jobs to what are usually remote areas.
Karen, Hampshire

This is a catch-22 situation. The Greens want us to use more renewable energy, but people hate windmills. Nuclear doesn't produce greenhouse emissions, but does produce radioactive waste. People want power, but they don't like the way that it's produced. Until nuclear fusion is perfected (non-poluting, no waste) then there will always be people who will complain.For the short- to medium-term, nuclear power is the only option.
Stuart, Norwich

I live within a mile or so of the powerplant and I dont have any problems with it. It provides jobs for a large proportion of the population of the area. If people dont work for the power station then they normally work for Eurostar. Quite honestly I'm more concerned about the pollution and noise to the area from the proposed expansion of Lydd airport. It will bring nothing but misery to the residents.
Stuart Elsey, Greatstone, New Romney

I was visiting Dungeness only 2 weeks ago for a day out. I don't think the 2 power stations are a problem in the slightest, in fact they add to the area in my opinion. Afterall, where else in the world would you find a miniature steam-train, 2 light-houses and 2 nuclear power stations within walking distance of each other?
Stuart Robinson, London, UK

I live three miles from the biggest nuclear power installation in Europe - Heysham I & II power stations. The only noticeable result is that employment in this area is a lot better off for their existance. A huge amount of nonsense is generated about nuclear waste. For example - "low level" nuclear waste, which has to be vitrified and stored underground, consists of really dangerous stuff like polystyrene coffee cups, sandwich wrappers and newspapers! Anything brought onto the site has to leave as low-level waste - yet in truth, the safeguards in place in the stations means that the 'background' radiation levels in there are actually lower than they are outside, and what has to be stored as "nuclear waste" is actually safer than similar residue from, say, a teashop in the (mildly radioactive) granite areas of Cornwall. In other words, safety in a nuclear installation in Britain is at an amazingly high level, yet there is still uninformed scaremongering about nuclear waste. I played golf at Heysham Golf Club, which is in the shadow of the power stations, and the biggest irritant came from a local solvent recycling company, not the nuclear installations at all. And now the cold war is over, at least we don't have to worry that in a plotting room somewhere in Russia, there is a map with a huge target on it, and in the bull's-eye - Heysham!
Hedley Russell, Morecambe England

" It,s all been said, people at Dungeness have been brought up with it and they haven't had any problems.It's also provided employment and I can assure everyone that Dungeness was a pretty bleak place before the power stations arrived I remember when the power stations were built every large town had it's own gas works where coal was processed into coke (smokeless) and the by products petrol ( National Benzole ) and tar (roads). You would think that with the technology in emission control having improved over the years that re using coal and the improved safety standards they apply to nuclear energy would more then cater for our required energy needs in the future. As one of the previous writers said he had more problems with the pollution created by 4 x 4's etc then he ever had with nuclear power stations."
Pat Borst, Kenmare Irland

Predicted power shortages are a global, not UK issue. There is international distrust of many Countries' legitimate exploration of nuclear based power production. Surely there's an argument for creating a number of internationally managed, policed & guarded centre of Nuclear Energy production. They would be sited in disparate, remote parts of the world with facilites for immediate isolation should a major problem be identifed. These stations can have the power thus generated sold to any nation at a cost basis. This would be difficult with regards politics and security but given the international issue here, it shouldn't be impossible. I'm sure the biggest stumbling block would be a few ego's.
andrew bell, liverpool

If every business building in UK cities had five solar panels, the national grid would not only be generating more than enough power for the whole of the UK, but the unused power from the solar panels would actually add to the power that the nuclear powerstations create. That's green and sustainable.
Anna, Perth, Australia

My dad worked at Dungeness power station and I grew up living close to it and I think it adds to the Dungeness landscape as the lighthouses do, making it a unique place. I'd rather nucelar power stations were built than coal or oil and will be sad when Dungeness A closes down. I think the area would be suited to wind power but I would be concerned over the damage the windmills might do to the local bird reserve.
Chris Bates, Southend-on-Sea

I remember seeing a cartoon recently showing a couple standing beside their cottage and behind it was a newly built Nuclear Power station. The woman was saying to her husband " I bet you are really glad you objected to that wind farm!"
Richard, Dundee

Our 'local' at Hinkley Point cant be to much of a worry - the residents of the immediate area would rather have this over the wind farm they are fighting so hard to stop!
paul bailey, willition somerset

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