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.