Feedback: your letters

In our readers' letters this issue: is the UK rushing into its commitment to new nuclear build?

Nuclear 'parasites'

The suggestions made by Dan Lewis of the Economic Research Council in 'Nuclear power: is the white paper enough?' (#7, 2008) can be summarised like this:

  • Remove all of the checks that have evolved over centuries for any new development such as health and safety and planning consultations, and this will help nuclear to take off;
  • Give nuclear power companies a blank cheque and we will have hundreds of new nuclear power stations;
  • Force everyone to have energy generated by nuclear power and this will also help the nuclear industry (it is surprising that someone who works in economic research is promoting barriers to competition!).

Many other industries would like to have profits of billions of pounds guaranteed and their barriers to market removed by the government. Property developers, for instance, would love the ability to build anywhere in the country with no planning system in place to control when and where.

Many small high street food retailers would no doubt love the government to force customers to purchase a certain percentage of food from them instead of the big five supermarkets. This is exactly what Mr Lewis is expecting the government to do to make absolutely certain that our shores are riddled with new nuclear power stations. I'm sure this is something that most professionals and in particular professional engineers would be uncomfortable with.

I know of no other industry that has been given so many chances over the last half a century, that has absorbed so much tax money and that has left a legacy for so long that no one can sensibly deal with.

As a chartered engineer, I find Mr Lewis's statement that most engineers love nuclear power insulting. What evidence does he have to support this assertion? I certainly do not love it; most engineers I know believe engineering has to be ethical and sustainable. Nuclear power is neither.

Has Mr Lewis forgotten that the nuclear industry has been built on a series of broken promises, hidden taxpayer subsides and an appalling safety record? I believe that nuclear power is simply not compatible with the clause in the IET Rules of Conduct which states that, "Members shall take all reasonable steps to avoid waste of natural resources, damage to the environment, and damage or destruction of man-made products".

Nuclear power is not the answer to our energy problems. Only a few pages earlier in the same issue is an excellent article about the Swiss Tridel system of energy generation from waste, one of a plethora of much more sustainable forms of energy generation. Currently though, nuclear power is parasitically depriving more sustainable forms of energy generation of the funding and skills required to allow them to gain momentum.

Andrew Kelly, by email

Early colour film

'The factory of dreams' (#8, 2008) was interesting, especially the timeline of cinema technology. However, I was surprised that the achievements of Claude Friese-Greene (1898-1943) were omitted.

After making the black and white movie 'Caves and Coves' in 1920, Friese-Greene went on to record - on moving colour film - an epic road journey from Land's End to John O'Groats in 1924. For this task he used the 'New All British Friese-Greene Natural Colour Process' begun by his father, William, in 1898. This was a two-colour successive-frame process with alternate frames tinted red and blue. When projected at 24 frames per second the eye's persistence of vision merged the colours together to produce an acceptable coloured image of the subject.

While 'The Open Road', as the film was called, had good reviews in 1925, other emerging and less costly processes overtook it. The BBC made an excellent documentary on Friese's work in 2006.

Dan Little, Knebworth, Herts

Causes of diabetes

I've been an insulin-dependent diabetic for over 20 years, and found the news story 'Smart plasters help to treat diabetes' in the 10 May 2008 issue of E&T interesting, but have to take issue with one statement.

The majority of individuals treated by insulin, like myself, are 'type 1' diabetics, where the exact cause of the condition is unknown but suspected to be a failure of the immune system as a result of a viral infection. A genetic disorder is also suspected. Insulin-dependent diabetics are generally other-wise healthy at diagnosis. Your story implies that diabetics exist only as a result of "obesity, ageing populations and sedentary lifestyles". I accept that the incidence of type 2 diabetes is rising for the reasons you state, but this is irrelevant within the context of your article, which was targeted at insulin-dependent diabetics, as stated in the very next paragraph.

The trend in the media these days is to generalise about diabetes to the extent that all diabetics are perceived to be obese individuals who are an unnecessary burden on the health service because of their own laziness. Your article doesn't do much to reverse that trend.

MD Jenks, by email

In support of maglev

Dr Chris Elliott (Feedback, #8, 2008) suggests that since the rolling resistance of a steel wheel on a steel rail is very low already, there is no point in introducing maglev in order to reduce it to zero. Unfortunately this low rolling resistance also means that trains require a long distance to stop.

Network capacity is a problem on the railways and yet a line operating to full capacity can only have one train on every two miles of track to ensure safe operation. The electromagnetic coupling of train to track would provide fully controlled horizontal forces (drive and braking) overcoming the limitation of the low wheel to track friction. The addition of the vertical force (levitation) is simply the logical conclusion of the thought process, originally made by Professor Eric Laithwaite, the inventor of maglev. So maglev, even in its current early development, would offer considerable advantages both in terms of speed, capacity and flexibility.

A visit to any transport museum will demonstrate the power of the process of technological development. But that requires the courage to build the first train, steam ship, car, flying machine etc. Looking back to the past thousand years will not help us to solve the transport problems of the future. Energy and transport are two major challenges.

Only the imaginative use of science and technology can provide the required solutions.

Dr Stephen Gergely FIET, by email

Dr Chris Elliott has omitted that vital function needed to apply the forces from wheel to rail - friction. The friction of acceleration, deceleration and direction change causes wear to rail and wheel and the worn elements have regularly to be replaced. The lack of maintenance cost is more than sufficient to justify the use of electromagnetic forces in the maglev system instead of wheel and rail.

Henry Broadbent MIET, Victoria, Australia

Here and there

In his editorial in the 10 May 2008 issue, Dickon Ross mentions fictional themes that elude science, including teleportation. Such statements always present a challenge, and are worthy of a quick look at the possibilities. By taking a small leap from current science, a potentially feasible route to teleportation can be outlined (albeit with tongue in cheek).

Astronomers are currently studying the loss of star mass by radiation. If this loss of mass is as radiation then the reverse must also be true, namely that that mass can be created from radiation.

'All' that is required for teleportation then is to reduce some given mass to its radiation elements, transmit these over some well-directed carrier, and reassemble the mass at the receiver using the same principles as audio and image transmission. Of course we will need to have a method of reducing mass to radiation that has more finesse than current particle smashing approaches, which seem to be the equivalent of dropping megaton bombs on television receivers, catching the pieces and then trying to establish how television works.

So, as a first step, if anybody wants a 2020 challenge (and probably a Nobel prize!) all they have to do is develop a theoretical model showing how the characteristics of mass can be generated from a superposition of photons.

Jack Donald FIET, Chesterfield

Solar savings

It was very interesting to read 'Living a low carbon life' by Chris Goodall (#6, 2008). I installed a solar water-heating system way back in 2000 when I built my house, absorbing the cost of the system - 30,000 rupees ($800) - in the construction. The system, using a pair of 2x1m flat-plate collectors, can store 200l of hot water in an insulated tank, from where hot water pipes are run to two bathrooms, kitchen and wash area.

The system facing south as the standard practice, works on an average for nearly 300 days in a year, barring the rainy season. It has paid for itself many times over in the past eight years, saving huge amount on electricity bills by providing round the clock hot water at about 50°C in winter to over 80°C in summer, and operating satisfactorily with little maintenance requirement.

Undoubtedly, a system like this is a boon in tropical country and the idea is now catching up with almost every alternate house now going for an installation.

Dr SC Bhargava FIEE, Secunderabad, India

Into the black

As successive British governments procrastinate and fumble their way to an electrical energy supply crisis, now predicted for 2020, they are ignoring the immediate crisis in which we are essentially being held to ransom by the oil-producing states. The present, and continuing, price increases in petrol and oil will cause great damage to the UK economy and hardship to individuals if decisive action is not undertaken now. The government appears to be asleep on its feet.

We are 'an island built on coal' and so the answer is beneath our feet. We have at least 300 years of coal reserves untouched. During the Second World War the Germans ran desperately short of petrol and oil for their planes and tanks, although like the UK they had massive reserves of coal. Their answer was to create petrol and oil from their coal stocks. This is a well known process known as hydrogenation. By heating cola under pressure with hydrogen and a catalyst we can produce lubricating oils and motor spirit. So why isn't the government taking action on these lines?

Surely what the Germans could do under wartime conditions we can do in peacetime, especially with improvements in technology that have occurred during the last 60 years. The problem of petrol and oil supplies is going to get worse with world demand from such countries as India and China absorbing more and more of currently limited supplies.

Surely now is the time the government took firm action to hydrogenate coal, if not to end, then at least to substantially ease the current situation?

Alan E Lott FIET, Reading

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