Centrica announced today that they were planning a new build coal-fired power station in the north east of England. If it goes ahead it will be the first coal fired power station built in the UK for thirty years. Addressing fears that it will only add more ‘fuel’ to the pace of greenhouse gas induced climate change, Centrica have stated their aim of geological sequestration – that is, extracting the carbon dioxide released by the burning coal and piping it into under-sea storage caverns which themselves once contained oil and gas.
It sounds a simple solution to the problem of carbon dioxide emissions. But I was thinking… if the CO2 were to be released, it would dramatically affect the global climate. Imagine if the caverns were to suffer catastrophic failure (ie collapse) which vented the gas to atmosphere in one massive eruption. Given the time-scale of global warming, we are talking about the storage of these gases for hundreds, even thousands of years. In fact, we’re talking about the same time-scales for this waste as for nuclear waste.
Going further, in a thousand years the nuclear waste, although still active, would be less harmful than when it was first stored. The CO2 would still have the same destructive effects (or at least, greenhouse potential) as when it was locked away. Hmm.
There are other problems inherent in geological sequestration; a science yet to be fully validated. The reservoirs which once contained oil and gas will have to be very well sealed (despite their being multiply punctured over the decades by drilling rigs) otherwise the – highly pressurised – gas will escape. CO2 Gas release will acidify the local ocean, possibly making it uninhabitable, and will physically weaken the geology around the leak by local acidic reaction.
I’m no chemist, and I’m only thinking aloud in a rambling stream of consciousness, feel free to correct me (please)… but everyone ‘knows’ about nuclear storage issues, while carbon sequestration seems to be a palliative used by the media as a solution to all our ills. I fear the only solution is to use less power (says he typing away at his ‘pooter.)