By Hannah Ratcliffe
Dungeness power stations behind a Victorian lighthouse
Dungeness is a headland on the South coast of Kent.
In 1965 Dungeness A nuclear power station started generating power. In 1983 it was joined by Dungeness B.
Currently, neither plants are generating power. Dungeness A is being decommissioned and Dungeness B is offline for maintenance work.
In November 2009, Dungeness was rejected by the Government, on environmental grounds, as a site for a new nuclear power station.
There are three kinds of nuclear power station in the UK; Magnox, Advanced gas cooled reactors (AGRs) and Pressurized water reactors. At Dungeness, A was a Magnox reactor and B is a Advanced Gas cooled reactor.
Dungeness A is operated by Magnox South Ltd, it is now being decommissioned. It was retired on the 31 December 2006 at which point it was the oldest operating nuclear power station in the world.
While Dungeness A has earned its retirement after 41 years of operating, Dungeness B has had a troublesome career. Operated by British Energy Plc, B started generating power in 1983, 13 years behind schedule and at four times the cost estimated to get it up and running.
Dungeness B was the first commercial scale AGR power station to be constructed. Its design was based on a much smaller Windscale AGR prototype. Severe technical problems during the construction of Dungeness B led to the collapse of Atomic Power Construction Ltd and British Nuclear Design was appointed in its place.
Dungeness B is capable of supplying energy to over 1.5 million homes but currently neither of the two reactors at Dungeness B are operating. Dungeness Unit 21 has been on statutory outage, which we carry out on each reactor every three years, since July 2009. It will return to service when work is completed. Unit 22 has been offline since November 2009 following a minor fire in the boiler annexe. It will return to service when repairs are completed.
In April 2009, EDF Energy, of which British Energy is now a part, added Dungeness to a list of potential sites for new nuclear power stations submitted to the Government.
If they were to develop the site, EDF Energy have proposed a new European pressurised water reactor. However, EDF gave a commitment to the European Commission, in the context of the merger clearance for its acquisition of British Energy, to offer for sale land at Dungeness and Heysham and to conclude a sale of one of those pieces of land. The sale process was launched in 2009 and is still continuing.
Of the 11 locations on the list submitted to the Government, only Dungeness was rejected. The Government cited worries about the threat to the local eco-system from coastal erosion and flooding as reasons for rejecting Dungeness.
Shepway Council is challenging the Government's decision, insisting the arguments to exclude Dungeness are flawed. The council believes the rejection was partly based on figures that underplay Shepway's unemployment and "persistent deprivation".
Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, said one of the first things he did following his election was write to the new Energy Secretary, Chris Huhne, to press the case for Dungeness.
He said, "One of the advantages of the Dungeness site is that experts believe it can be brought online relatively quickly, before 2020. It's also the only site south east of London, in an area of critical energy need, that could be built. I think strategically it's an incredibly important station."
One group opposed to a new Dungeness power station on principal is the Green Party. Keith Taylor, Green MEP for Kent said "We don't think it's part of the energy solution we all desperately need.
"If we built all the power stations they [the Government] want to build, not only is it going to cost us huge amounts of money it's not going to actually make much of a reduction in carbon emissions, 4% I think by 2017. Now that is not just good enough for a return on the investment on the scale that's needed."
Nuclear Power stations require a large amount of water to operate. Dungeness B draws 100 million litres of water per hour to cool its turbines, therefore being on the coast is advantageous.
Dungeness is the largest area of open shingle in Europe
The coastline from Pett Level, around Dun geness, and along to Hythe is volatile. With global warming, more frequent and powerful storms and their associated waves and surges are possible and might increase the instability of the Dungeness headland.
Shingle extracted from north of Dungeness has been used by British Energy to maintain the shingle bund to the west of Dungeness power stations as part of a defence against any possible storm surges and coastal erosion.
This is currently being maintained by re-profiling existing material on the bund, while Kent County Council assess a joint planning application between British Energy and the Environment Agency to continue extracting shingle.
Despite the volatile coastline of Dungeness, British Energy believes it is an important site for a new nuclear build because "it has existing infrastructure and resources in place, as well as a good level of support from the surrounding community."