Shut Aberthaw Power Station; reflections on a day of protest

I have been very quiet recently and keeping a low profile. With the world slowly turning into a quagmire of shite at every turn, I have consciously decided to avoid adding my voice to the cacophony of doom mongers. I look back on everything I have written in such a vein over recent years and it is all panning out even worse than the most pessimistic of predictions. Talking about it without doing anything about just seems to perpetuate self-fulfilling prophecies.

With regards most issues, knowing what to do that might change things, or at least things that I am able and willing to do, is the big challenge. For some reason, assassinating Trump just crossed my mind as an example to illustrate this conundrum.

Of the issues and campaigns that I have been involved with, the one that I cannot seem to give up on is the anti-fracking/anti-fossil fuel/pro-renewables issue. For me, this still encapsulates the essence of everything that is wrong in the world today:

  • the capitalist mantra of profits before people
  • the rancid corruption of our governments
  • subversion of democracy
  • climate change denialism – denying both the science and the social impacts
  • the lack of respect for our life support system – planet Earth
  • reckless gambling with all our futures
  • the lack of any rationality in decision making (with the concurrent rise in religiosity being no coincidence)
  • the way all of the above leads to the refusal to grasp the solutions staring us in the face – in terms of renewable energy technologies
  • the continued prevalence of Thatcherite greed and selfishness

and so on and so on.

Perhaps more importantly, in terms of my continued participation in the campaigns, is that I know what we can do to affect change. I search through their blog for fracking and coal related stuff highlights the range of options that have had impacts:

  • we have won support from democratic institutions (local authorities; notably NOT national government)
  • we have won court cases
  • we have brought activity to a halt by occupying sites and blocking access routes
  • we have persuaded people to change their energy suppliers, especially to renewables suppliers
  • we have encouraged community energy schemes
  • we have raised awareness considerably, through various media and educational programmes
  • we have built a community of experts and activists that ensure the above will continue indefinitely, for as long as is needed.

Which brings me to today’s events at Aberthaw.

A number of groups co-ordinated today’s protest. Reclaim the Power, United Valleys Action Group, Bristol Rising Tide and the Coal Action Network held a public demonstration demanding the prompt closure of Aberthaw coal-fired power station and support for renewable energy in the UK.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-53-36The forecast the day before was pretty abysmal and that, to my certain knowledge, put quite a few people off turning out (for justifiable health reasons in some cases), but as it turned out, the weather was actually about as good as it gets for hanging around Aberthaw beach in January. So a turn out of somewhere between 150 and 200 hardy souls was pretty good I would say. Considering that many had come from Aberystwyth, Bristol and Gloucestershire, with some from as far away as London and Lancashire, it is always possible to be disappointed in the numbers from more locally, but hey!

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-53-22I am never sure whether to be disappointed or pleased at relative lack of familiar faces at such events. There are always some familiar faces from among the organisers of the respective groups, but today there were a lot of new faces, who if they had anything in common at all, from what I learned from talking with them, was that they came from downwind of Aberthaw (Cardiff, Newport, Bristol), i.e. in the firing line for many of its worst impacts. This throws up the thought NIMBYism always plays a big role in such protests. The big problem for the climate change campaign has been in creating that NIMBY mindset for a global problem.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-53-07

Pete the Temp

But wherever and for why people turned up today, on a bleak and remote beach in mid-winter, they were rewarded with a pretty good carnival atmosphere. For this, one man deserves enormous credit. Take a bow Peter Bearder aka Pete the Temp. Bristol-based Pete describes himself as a ‘poet, looper and educator’. I can’t believe I have not encountered him before. He was brilliant. Check out his Facebook page and blog. Chortle has this to say about him: ‘with fire in his belly, expert performance skills and a keen sense of mischief, he’s poetry’s answer to Mark Thomas, able to make the depressing enjoyable.’ (Here is a wee taster)

Spot on and just the tonic I needed, along with everyone else I suspect. Throw in some hot soup, homemade cakes and inspirational words from UVAC residents and the ever-reliable Marianne Owens from the PCS union and a good time was had by all in the wintery sunshine with rainbows as a backdrop. Ever an abrupt shower on the march from the beach to the gates of the power station could not dampen the spirits.

The one thing that did piss me off big time, however, and not for the first time at such screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-52-15events, was the ridiculously over-the-top policing. I anything give the lie to the Tory austerity agenda it is the criminal waste of public money that routinely seems to accompany these events. I counted in excess of 50 officers on the ground, 2 on horseback, and a relatively short-lived overhead helicopter presence (which costs around £2000 an hour in itself). When I quipped to one officer that it seemed like that there was almost as many coppers as protestors about, he laughingly agreed and said there were even more on standby ‘in case they were needed’! Welcome to Police State Britain.

By my reckoning, this must add up to a policing bill of somewhere between £10k and £15k, when half a dozen plods would have been ample to ensure the safety of the public and the protestors. What this actually represents is a paranoid security response to protect the assets of the capitalists who own and run the plant. As such, I hope (without any conviction that it will be so) that it is the company that picks up the bill rather than the taxpayer, who is told everyday how their more important services have to sacrificed on the altar of the Tory phoney austerity agenda. The police bill here would pay the annual wages of a nurse or a teaching assistant FFS.

Anyway, back to the substance of the protest.

It is my understanding that this protest was prompted, in no small measure, by the publication of a Friends of the Earth Cymru (FotEC)/Greenpeace report last September, entitled AIR QUALITY AND HEALTH IMPACTS OF ABERTHAW POWER STATION (available in pdf format here) This is yet another example of reality being even worse that I had realised. I used Aberthaw Power Station as a case study when I was a geography teacher in Barry (1995-2004). We knew then that it was a power station especially designed to burn the shitty quality coal that was left in South Wales. We knew that it faced technological challenges in burning this stuff while maintaining ‘acceptable’ pollution levels in its emissions. We were told that it was a ‘state-of-the-art’ and

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-22-52-28

The pollution from the stacks heading off towards Barry, Cardiff, Newport, Bristol ….

meeting those challenges with technological wizardry – that on closer examination seemed to amount to little more than some water sprays in the chimney stacks to ‘wash’ out the pollutants. We knew that they had been rapped my the environment agencies of the time, but were told that this simply proved how rigourous the whole regime was. I whiffed bullshit overtime I heard that on our annual school visits.

What the FotEC report, written by their then-Director Gareth Clubb and the Greenpeace coal and air pollution expert, Lauri Myllyvirta, uncovers is little short of a nightmare and national disgrace.

The full report is 25 pages long, but here is the Executive Summary:

Executive summary

The 1,500MW Aberthaw coal-fired power plant in southern Wales is among the largest
point sources of air pollution in the UK . In 2013 it had the 3rd highest emissions of nitrogen oxides of any industrial installation throughout the EU . Of the 12-highest nitrogen oxides polluters in the EU, Aberthaw is by some margin the greatest polluter relative to the electricity generated1 .

Hundreds of people’s lives are ended prematurely as a result of pollution from Aberthaw power station every year . This pollution also causes tens of thousands of days of lost productivity through sick leave, and hundreds of thousands of days of illness every year . The annual societal cost of the premature deaths resulting from Aberthaw’s NO2 pollution is £226 .4 million in total, and £37 .9 million in Wales alone .

The pollution is responsible for causing asthma symptoms in children, bronchitis in children, chronic bronchitis in adults, hundreds of hospital admissions every year, and low birth weight in babies .

Over the 45 years since it started operating, pollution from this one power station alone is likely to have caused the premature deaths of more than 3,000 people in Wales, and 18,000 across a wider area .

Governments and environmental regulators appear to be failing to comply with requirements of European legislation through failing to even monitor spikes in emissions from Aberthaw power station, let alone act on them .

The electricity produced by Aberthaw power station could be substituted by renewable sources, creating substantially more employment for Wales .

Given the particularly heavy pollutant load associated with this power station both in absolute terms and per unit of electricity generated, the serious health impact of this pollution and the massive quantities of greenhouse gases emitted, we call for the full and permanent closure of Aberthaw power station .

The data and methodology used are both rigorous and credible. The conclusions and recommendations it produces pull no punches. They underline pretty much all of my ranting points in the first bullet list above (indirectly at least). And this is why I hold little hope of any speedy resolution despite clear evidence that somebody dies and many fall ill every single day of the year directly because of this capitalist folly.
Here is the last page of the report:

Conclusions and recommendations

Extensive research into air pollution of the nature emitted by Aberthaw power station led the Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants to conclude that a precautionary approach should be adopted in planning and policy development76 . It is this precautionary approach that should now be adopted by the Welsh Government, the UK Government and Natural Resources Wales . Every pressure should be applied to RWE to cease its operations at Aberthaw power station with immediate effect .

The Welsh Government does not appear to be responding to the very real harm being caused to the health of the people of Wales as a result of the pollution from Aberthaw power station . This is despite the Welsh Government’s statement:
“Controlling air pollution in Wales is a high priority for the Welsh Government. The driver is not only compliance with European legislation, but a commitment to protect human health and the environment”77 .

We can find no reference to Aberthaw power station in the Welsh Government’s three Air Quality (NO2) plans for southern Wales, nor in the Respiratory Annual Report .

On average, pollution from Aberthaw is responsible for curtailing the lives of 67 people in Wales every year . This is equivalent to 64% of the death toll on Welsh roads – yet there is no special strategy for securing the accelerated final closure of the plant.

At a wider scale, the estimated health impacts due to NO2 exposure are 400 premature deaths per year . The emissions from the power plant are estimated to be responsible for 195,000 days of illness per year, including 35,000 days of sick leave . In other words, on an average day, 530 people are ill due to the harmful health impacts of the pollution .

Aberthaw power station has been generating for 45 years . It is an old power station that belongs in a different era . The fact that its pollution has been causing respiratory sickness and prematurely ending the lives of thousands upon thousands of people in Wales and beyond for decades has eluded scrutiny .

The time for proper public scrutiny is now upon us . The Welsh and UK Governments must do everything in their power to ensure that Aberthaw power station ceases operating . For good .

So there you have it. In the quagmire of shit that the world is turning into, here is one particularly obnoxious and noxious turd right on my doorstep. But hey, what a lovely day we had highlighting this fact, here in the asylum of the universe!

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