The Ghost of Winfrith

Today it is hard to believe that just outside Winfrith, a small village in Dorset, there used to be one of the most dynamic and technologically advanced locations in the world. All there is now is a fading building, some rusty sidings and a halting and occasional de-commissioning exercise.

The decommisioning is run by RSRL, or to give it it's full name - Research Sites Restoration Ltd - See Here. The old Winfrith site is set among trees and is well back from the road. Today most drive past without even noticing it.

Winfrith was a nuclear  research facility but it never held a large reactor. The largest was a mere tiddler with a maximum power rating of 63 MW.

Even though this was designed specifically for research purposes it still provided a useful, regular and reliable output to the grid of 50MW.

While it was in operation, Winfrith was serviced by many small companies all based in the surrounding area. These companies were in turn serviced by other small companies providing everything from stainless steel to sandwiches.

Today the remains of the once dynamic industrial site between Winfrith and Wool, now renamed Dorset Green, is a mere shadow of its former self. Most of the jobs, along with the carbon free power generation from the Winfrith reactor are long gone.

It is interesting to compare the effectiveness of the 60 year old Winfrith research reactor to recent plans for so called "renewable" energy in Dorset.

Last year the Dorset Energy Group were bragging about a "reasonable scenario" of building 180 2MW turbines in Dorset. Frustratingly for the zealots in the DEG this number has evidently now been trimmed down, or at least obfuscated so not to frighten the locals.

Let's say the 100 turbines would now be their dream target.

We know that in 2010 the wind turbine capacity factor for the South West was a measly 17.7% (the lowest in the country). But let us round it up and say that these turbines would be over 10% better than their peers elsewhere in the South West.

That gives us a capacity factor of about 20%.

So the output of these 100 turbines would actually amount to 100 x 0.2 x 2 = 40MW.

These turbines would bring very few jobs and no technologically based business park. Virtually nothing would be added to the local economy. The only real local gains would be made by the already rich land owners who, to be fair, would make a killing.

These 100 turbines would utterly ruin the ancient county of Dorset. Every village would be blighted. Every viewpoint would be polluted.

All for 40MW.

Reduce the number of turbines and you also reduce the already ridiculously poor power output. So they get even more ineffective. Though collectively somewhat less ugly.

Now compare that to the old Winfrith site that provided many good jobs and singlehandedly provided the power equivalent to 120 huge wind turbines. Remember also that the tiny Winfrith reactor also provided consistent on-demand output unlike the intermittent and unpredictable wind turbine output.

Most of the people who designed Winfrith have not only retired but many have now died of old age. Yet 60 odd years ago they produced plentiful carbon free electricity that was, at the time, generated by the very leading edge of technology.

If you really wanted to reduce carbon emissions from coal and gas plant then even the old Winfrith research reactor would be a step forward from the wind turbine fiasco.

But today far more effective nuclear technology is available. Exciting new developments with MSR or LFTR technology promise massively plentiful yet utterly safe and secure power generation.

The next generation nuclear reactors will be developed by dynamic establishments - like Winfrith used to be.

Unfortunately Winfrith will no longer be one of them.


Anonymous said...

shall we gloss over the health impacts on local villages then and the Leukaemia cluster in Poole & Bournemouth (under prevailing westerly wind)?

Looking at this and your other blogs, I suspect you are part of a very well funded propaganda program.

Is this true?

BilloTheWisp said...

Dear Anonymous,

Firstly can I say how flattered I am to think that anyone would believe I am paid to write this blog. I admit I spend far too long on it, and for every hour spent writing I probably spend another 4 researching reports, other blogs and related "stuff".

Regrettibly nobody pays me. Which my bank manager can confirm is a real shame.

The link you provided is a report on a French study which is related to an earlier German paper (Kikk report). Both of these reports are good science although they are
restrictive in their target sites (aka nuclear sites only).

Neither has any data directly related to any part of this country. So it is a little disengenious to put the link under
a your statement claiming a leukemia cluster in Bournemouth & Poole as if it is directly relevent to that claim.

If you look past the lurid news report and actually read the French paper (or at least the abstract) you will find that reality is quite different from the hype.

Certainly this report (like the Kikk report before it) actually strongly militates against any possible Bournemouth or Poole leukeamia cluster caused by Winfrith.

Both reports specifically could find no correlation beyond 5Km (on excruciatingly small numbers) and then also could find no correlation at all due to any "downwind" aspect.

Both reports state that they find it difficult to assign the vanishingly small increase to any radiation factors. Both suggest other possibilities.

Even then, the French report, when using a different technique found the increase vanished.

Similar Finnish and Swiss reports failed to find any correlation.

The UK report on the Kikk study reported on similar anomolies to that found in the Kikk report around arbitrary non nuclear sites as well.

Certainly no clusters, epidemics or plagues.

Incidentally I would be interested to now why you think there is a cluster in Poole & Bournemouth, whatever its cause.

As for the health effects on local villages, again what is your basis for this supposition that Winfrith has been detrimental?

It has been proved that nuclear workers (i.e. like those that used to work at the sharp end at Winfrith) actually have better health and a longer life expectancy than average.

No -I don't think that due to radiation either. It is more likely due to lifestyle.

So, in summary, and rather boringly, I go unpaid. Neither am I a member of any exciting dark conspiracy.

But if you have the address of the conspirators perhaps you could share it with me. Then I might be able to tap them up for a few quid.

Anonymous said...

I think you are a teeny weeny bit obsessed with nuclear energy. Not that I’ve got anything against it myself, but there are other worthwhile alternatives to fossil fuel. For example; a while back Dorset County Council approved a planning application from New Earth Energy Company, for a Combined Heat and Power plant (CHP) to be sited at (you’ve guessed it) Dorset Green Winfrith.
The plant will produce at least 10 times as much power as the proposed wind farm at East Stoke and run consistently 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Furthermore, it will be unobtrusively sited at a business park unlike the wind turbines which would be on top of a hill and visible from many miles away. Also it uses elephant grass(miscanthus), as part of it's fuel source and provides farmers who grow it with EU subsidies which is even better!

You might also like to consider the Southampton District geothermal energy Scheme which serves buildings within a 2km radius of the energy centre, via 12km of insulated distribution pipe. Users include TV studios, a hospital, a university, a shopping centre, a civic centre, residential buildings and a hotel. The Scheme produces over 40,000 MWh of heat per annum, 26,000 MWh of electricity from the CHP plant, more than 7,000 MWh of chilled water.

For more information go to Southampton-geothermal. It is estimated that this scheme, provides around 7% of the energy requirements for Southampton which is the 2nd largest city on the South coast after Plymouth with a population of 236,000.

Itinerant Indigent

BilloTheWisp said...

Dear (2nd) Anonymous,

You are perfectly correct about the the small (though very useful) thermal plant planned at Dorset Green and also the geothermal plant in Southampton.

Both are examples of excellent, effective and worthwhile energy generation. All in all, both offer a massive improvement in output and practicality when compared to the illusionary benefits of carpeting Dorset with wind turbines.

As to my obsession with nuclear. Well, I freely admit to being an advocate for nuclear, but the purpose of this particular post was really just to show how dreadfully ineffective a massive commitment to wind turbines would be - even when compared to obsolete 50 year old technology.

Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to use the Dorset Green Thermal plant as a bench mark instead of the old Dragon reactor. But hey, you comment does that quite well anyway.

Even so I am sure you realise that while Dorset Green plant is highly worthwhile, we do actually need considerably more energy than that is available from burning waste, or geothermal or (in this country) from hydro.

If we are to cut co2 or even just plain old pollution, we need to move forward with both nuclear and gas.

We could go down the German route which entails building coal fired power plant. Which is a wholly retrograde step. (They are actually increasing their carbon emissions)

Or we can get what we can from biomass, hydro and geothermal (all of which are effective) and then rely on a mix of nuclear and gas.

To do this though we do need to build more nuclear as all of our nuclear plant is old. My apparent obsession with nuclear is really an attempt a levelling the playing field by telling the real truth as opposed to the lies half-truths and superstition that often buries the reality regarding nuclear.

Anonymous said...

ha ha ha h aha haha ha ha ha,

what a good laugh you've given me today.

So why then don't you tell the real truth about wind turbines????
As opposed to the lies, half-truths and superstition.

BilloTheWisp said...

Dear (3rd) Anonymous,

I am so glad I gave you a laugh. Clearly you think my views and analysis on wind turbines is wrong.

Fair enough.

But I do hope you have something other than propaganda, wishful thinking and a closed mind to back that up.

Have a look through my many posts on wind turbines, read the linked reports and check the data - then shoot me down in flames.

If you can.

Assuming you can come up with something I will of course print it here. (I am not interested in suppressing contrary opinion).

If you can prove me wrong I will happily 'fess up to my errors. But before that I will carefully check through your supporting data (if you have any).

So it had better be good.

Are you up to the challenge?

Or are you just a another closed mind locked into a quasi-religious political fairy-land?

Anonymous said...

ok, let's look at the whole "subsidy" thing.
According to you, the ROC system allows the 'carpet-baggers' to make a fortune whilst ripping us off, and yet you also say that a 10% reduction would make development unviable - make your mind up please.
Are they making fortunes out of it or only just making it viable?
You have to remember that when you have millions to invest you expect to see a return in the region of 6-10%.
ROC's are not really subsidies as they are paid by power suppliers (sometimes known as the big six) to electricity generators and comes out of the suppliers operating costs. If they choose to pass that cost onto their customers or take it out of their profits is their choice.
Incidentally, according to the 'Yes to wind' website, these costs have increased domestics bills on average by just £6 a year.
The annual bill increases due to gas prices is said to be around £290.
No money comes from tax payers to fund wind farms.

Fossil fuels & Nuclear power is subsidised to the tune of £6.4bn and £13.2bn respectively. See Ofgem review, 'Power TransmiT'.

So replacing nuclear facilities and gas consumption with wind is actually saving us money, (empthasis on the word consumption).

There are also legal implications.
The UK is required to get 15% of it's power from renewable sources, if wind farms are withdrawn from the ROC system then no further investment would go into the industry and with no other technology coming close to providing that level of power, we would not achieve that target.

BilloTheWisp said...

Dear (4th) Anonymous
The big mistake you are making is that you are looking at the whole of the wind turbine fleet as a level playing field. Then your view is further obscured with your rose tinted glasses.

True there are a few turbines that actually turn out a CF of 30% (the usual propaganda "average" figure from BWEA) Actually though, only about 7% of the English on-shore fleet ever achieve this.

These elite turbines are in fact just about viable even without the ROC and so make a huge profit. They could easily absorb a ROC reduction - as was originally planned.

But there are very many turbines which, having been built in inappropriate places then stagger along with a capacity factor in the low twentys stretching down to the low teens. Still, solely due to the ROC, they remain very profitable. Though not very productive.

As the BWEA propaganda puts it "A turbine in a good windy site (aka 30% + CF) is becoming increasingly competitive with new nuclear and gas build".

Clearly anything with a lower CF (like the other 93%) is not.

Turbines with a CF of 15% (like the Reading turbine) is profitable solely because of the ROC. In 2010 the average CF across the existing wind farms in the South West was 17.7%

If you are keen on making an easy profit you can build a turbine in a hopelessly inappropriate site (Like Reading, or Silton or East Stoke), as long as you break 15% CF you make a profit, guaranteed by the government for 25 years.

But in reality, if you were not paid twice for the electricity the thing would be pathetically uneconomic.

If your turbine is this ineffective then you are wholly dependant on the ROC.

The ROC, if you remember, was put in place to encourage development NOT to encourage freeloading.

You say the ROC is not a subsidy. (there goes another flying pig). Perhaps you need to look on the DECC website which put the price hike for 2010 at 12% of electricity or 7% total energy bill this rises to 22% for non domestic consumers.
See Chart 1

To suggest that the ROC is not a subsidy would a bit like the govt hiking the road tax on public transport and then saying that it would not affect the fares.

As for energy companies reducing profit to help their customers - are you having a laugh? Live in the real world.

In 2010 almost half of the wind generated energy was produced by a mere 16 wind farms ( and if I remember correctly) 11 of these were off-shore. That leaves the other 283.

I have not done the figures properly but I reckon you could probably close down the bottom third and barely affect the output.

Put it another way - Nearly 50% of the output was produced by 5% of the fleet. So why are we still building, and subsidising hopelessly unproductive on-shore turbines?

Nothing about any of these turbines is going to magically get better. If anything the CF will get less as they get older. The 93% that are dependant on the ROC will remain dependant on it forever. Consequently any attempt to reduce it ( as originally planned) will be fiercely resisted by the wind energy cartel.

Anonymous said...

yea, usual trick, a smoke screen to avoid the fundamental arguments.
And lets not forget the large sums of money being wasted on schemes which never get through planning.

So lets move on the next myth;
Scottish law of a 2km separation zone from homes.
In reality this only exits in the minds of the anti turbine brigade.
The fact is this is only a guideline to help Scottish councils prepare regional strategies and relates to wind farms over 20mw and distance to settlements.
"Authorities should be clear that the practice of introducing zones
around communities as a means of guiding developments to broad
areas of search, along with the guideline separation distance of up to
2km between areas of search and the edge of cities, towns and
villages, is applied solely to guide developments to the most
appropriate sites, but decisions on individual developments should
take into account specific local circumstances and geography."

Next up ecology;
Any wind farm that does not satisfy Natural England as statuary consultees, is dead in the water. Natural England will ensure there is no significant harm done to wildlife or the environment.

Covering Dorset in turbines;
Dorset is covered in AONBs, Conservation areas and SSSIs, no wind farm development would even be attempted in these areas, so how is Dorset ever going to be covered by wind turbines?

Roughly 50% of the wind energy hitting the blades is converted into electricity. It's a free resource anyway so why does that matter?
Even if it's only producing 20% of the maximum rated turbine power (capacity factor) it's still producing huge amounts of electricity all of which is offsetting fossil fuels.

Not offsetting fossil fuels;
er, sorry, that's just plain wrong - it does!

Wasting tax payers money;
covered in ROCs above, not true for tax payers but you will see that nuclear is wasting far more tax payers money, so why not complain about that. Or any other business substantially subsidised by the tax payer such as coal or aviation?

There are large companies such as Siemens who are looking to make considerable investment in the UK wind industry but are hanging back for the government to make clear indications whether they support it or not.

That investment means British jobs.

People like yourself, blogging mis-information, clouding the truth and ranting against wind farms based solely on an intense dislike of their appearance, are seriously putting those jobs and peoples livelihoods in jeopardy. You should think very carefully about your responsibilities.

BilloTheWisp said...

Dear Anonymous (5)

What smoke screen? What are these fundamental arguments? Please elucidate

One thing I do to a fault is to openly display my data and where I got it from.

I am unsure what the first myth I have supposed to have expounded is. You are unclear

Truly large sums of money are wasted. But that is usually paid by the poor sods fighting (and sometimes failing)
to defend a democratically voted planning refusal.

Your carpet bagging idols are awash with money. That is why they always appeal - they make so much
money out of this scam. The wishes of the local councils and the people who are directly affected
come a very long way behind their greed. Or the fantasy of their adoring followers for that matter.

Next time you go to worship at your hero's well heeled feet just spare a thought for the poor sods
(like at East Stoke) who have had to club together with their hard earned cash to try and defend their community.

Apparently you think the 2Km guidleline is a myth. Or do you think I believe it is an abolute law?
Why is that? Because you think it should be ignored?

A Guideline is a Guideline. Guidelines should be followed. That is what they are for.

I would be most happy if that guideline was used in Dorset but instead you and your mates came up with the DEG scanarios (Wardell Armstrong report - read it) which used a separation distance of 600m. That is less than one third the Scottish guideline. Is that a myth?

Natural England are a consultee with a narrow writ which certainly does NOT include looking out for the local people or complaining because the things are so damn useless.

Dorset: AONB is 44% of the county. Within this area the population is sparse.That means you beloved turbines get packed in next to the people who live here. Hence the Wardell Armstrong 600m. If they had set it to 2Km they would never have managed to pack in anywhere near the maximum (360 turbines) or the so-called "realistic"
scenario (180 turbines)

Nuclear: Produces (compared to wind) huge amounts of energy. Not a ROC in sight.

"Nuclear is wasting far more taxpayers money?" Beyond mouthing the propaganda - where are your independent sources? Where are your figures? Or am I just supposed to believe you because you, or your idols, say so? I am not interested in chanted propaganda. Give me the figures.

Efficiency: The theoretical energy extraction from a fluid by an infinitely thin disk is 59.3%. Practicalities of turbine design reduce this to (at best) the low 40%'s BUT as you say this does NOT matter and it is NOT the CF.
The crucial output is the actual amount of electricity produced, which is very far from huge. For the expense, damage and squandering of resources that epitomise wind turbines, it is derisory and not worthwhile.

That brings us to a real myth (actually one you seem to have reluctantly accepted) that is the 30% capacity factor myth.
It seems to have clicked with you that the CF in Dorset is going to be 20% (possibly less).

Offsetting: Actually I think it is possible that a small amount of CO2 is offset by the most effective wind turbines. (30% CF +)
(i.e. NOT by anything planned for Silton or East Stoke) But greater minds than mine have suggested that actually that is not the case and the overall offset is negative. Read the latest indpendent reports (see my later posts for links).
Try and look past the RenewableUK propaganda for a change.

The number of British jobs produced by the billions squandered so far is very low. (as you know) There is little to suggest that more wasted billions would improve the situation.I will blog on this in the near future. (figures and all)

Misinformation? I deal in figures and facts not propaganda. If you can coherently argue against these figures rather than just spouting propaganda please do so.

I do not oppose turbines simply because they are ugly.

Wind turbines are a hopeless and grossly wasteful technological blind alley. That is why I oppose them.

Anonymous said...

A conventional power station has a capacity factor of around 50% and then wastes half it's energy up the cooling towers - now that's inefficiency!
But I don't hear you ranting about having those monsters claiming our countryside and polluting our skys.
Why? Because it's usually someone else's problem and you still want the selfish luxury of electricity on demand.

I would be quite happy to use the Scottish GUIDELINES on preferred separation to the East Stoke case as it only applies to wind farms over 20MW.

Lets face it, you don't like wind farms because you think they're ugly.
Why not 'fess up? You've moved to a rural refuge without ever understanding the economics or needs of the countryside and now think it should become a museum for your pleasure.

Please, go back to whatever town/city you come from and leave the countryside to people who know and love it.

BilloTheWisp said...

Dear Anonymous (5 maybe 6?)
You confuse thermal efficiency with capacity factor. They are very different things.

As for the footprint of a powerplant - look at Winfrith. Winfrith is hardly noticable from the main road. Even the OLD (60MWe) research reactor had an reliable output equivalent to 100 intermittent turbines.
Are you seriously telling me that the Winfrith site has more of an impact than 100 turbines? Now compare that to a 500MW plant (nuclear of CCGT) on the SAME size site: that equates to over 1000 turbines ( each 2MWe at over 20% CF). Are you serious?

Oh yes and we do NEED electricity on demand.


Infact I cannot really believe you said that. Are you proposing we live with power cuts just to accomodate your dogma?

Most worryingly is your apparent gloating over the prospect of wind mills being built far too close to the people of East Stoke. I take it that you regard yourself as a local. it is a shame you choose to knife your neighbours in the back rather than support them in their fight against greedy multinational corporations.

As to me thinking Purbeck/Dorset should become a museam piece - please read the post again! I lament the loss of jobs from Dorset Green and point out that this is due to the head in the sand luddite tendency you represent so well.

Finally you make such fanciful assumptions to try and back up your preconceptions! I have lived in Dorset almost all my life.

But so what? Is this not a free country? Can not people live where the damn well choose?

Or do you propose some form of ethnic cleansing or some racial examination so the "wrong types" are removed. Maybe in cattle trucks to some "processing centre"?

Think it through.

Ignore your doctrinaire ideology for a while and look at facts and the consequences of your dogma.

People are far more important than your beloved turbines.

I hope one day your will see that.

Anonymous said...


Really enjoyed reading your blog. You seem to have a refreshingly critical analysis in your writings.

Found this blog when searching to see what was happening at Winfrith these days after listening to a Radio 4 program yesterday about the positive future for coal power. Interestingly coal reserves are geographically not co-located with our world oil reserves. Personally I think we should have nuclear and coal for base electric load provision and only use gas for balancing the load of the renewables like wind. The "dash for gas" was a mistake. Should have kept North Sea Gas for central heating our houses for which it is ideally suited.

BilloTheWisp said...

Thank you Spud for your comment.

Of course the most important aspect of all this is that whatever generation methodology is used, it must be practical and effective. The traditional generators (including nuclear) all fit this criteria. There is also small proportion of the current wind fleet that could be economically employed and, as you say balanced by gas, although actually, if the purpose is to reduce emissions gas produces much less CO2 than coal.

While I appreciate your point regarding gas being the best method for space heating, I'm not a fan of coal, although to be fair, it is obviously the power source of choice for many countries (bizarrely the Germans are replacing their nuclear with brown coal!).

Thanks again for the comment. I hope you find other stuff here thought provoking.