Letters: Energy solutions

Artificial photosynthesis is the only solution to our energy needs
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The Independent Online

Sir: That the Government has given approval to the building of new nuclear power plants is a welcome and valuable decision ("Opposition changes tack and backs nuclear power plan", 11 January). It will buy us time and provide short-term energy security in the UK.

The problem is that the world supply of uranium is limited. Using current technology and the presently known resources, and supplying the current energy share, the world supply is estimated to last about 72 years. The world nuclear energy contribution is currently about 6.5 per cent. If that share is multiplied to 30 per cent, to account for all nations building more plants, the supply – even including recovery of weapons-grade material – will collapse in about 12 years. If we can solve the problem of core cooling in fast-breeder reactors, then their improved efficiency will perhaps buy us another 10 years.

New finds and better extraction methods may double that and so we may have about 50 years of supply. But even that assumes the current world energy use will remain somewhere about the current level, whereas we must expect it to double and more in 50 years, especially as even Africa finally comes on line as a major economy. In short, nuclear is just a sticking plaster that, however logically necessary right now, will work for maybe 25 years.

The only viable long-term solution is artificial photosynthesis, where, on a continual basis, we produce starch (sugars) directly from sunlight, water and, most importantly, carbon dioxide. This will be in vast, industrial "artificial leaves" built in the great deserts. There are a few minor projects, notably in Australia, to solve this massively complex problem, which is harder than that of curing cancer. Humanity needs this solution much more than it needs to cure cancer, because without it we will be forced to cut down all the forests and turn them into farmland within a hundred years just to produce food and the so-called bio-fuels that will be our only form of energy. We need a Manhattan Project right now to work out how to trap energy organically directly from sunlight without agriculture and the annual destructive harvests that we presently depend on. There is nothing more important.

Mike Bell


Sir: When the five-turbine wind farm at Westmill, in Oxfordshire, got planning permission, a condition was placed that a fund of £50,000 be lodged with the council to cover the costs of decommissioning.

To give parity between the different energy-production methods, shouldn't nuclear power station developers be obliged to lodge an upfront decommissioning fund of several billion pounds? This might focus people's minds on the true long-term cost of nuclear power.

Paul Rea


Dental data were deeply flawed

Sir: Your article on the comparative cost of providing dental care to patients in different European countries ("Ouch! British dental care the most expensive in Europe", 10 January) highlights important issues about dental care in the UK.

Unfortunately, it is based on deeply flawed data that do not allow sensible comparisons to be made between the nations it has surveyed. The data for England and Denmark is based on responses from those working in community dental services, while the data from the other nations is from high street practitioners. Dentists working in community dental services care for patients with special needs who often require far longer appointments than patients at high street practices. Additionally, the size of the sample used is, as your article notes, very small. The results for England are based on the responses of four clinics. The total number of dental practices in England is in excess of 9,000.

It is also important to remember that the research referred to alludes to the cost of providing the care, not the price paid by the patient. In the scenario on which the study was based, of a 12-year-old receiving a filling, there would have been no charge to the patient at all in England.

The expenses incurred in providing dental treatment are significant and increasing at a rate above inflation. The surgeries, equipment and staff necessary to provide modern and safe dental care all cost large amounts of money. There is a worthwhile discussion to be had about the costs of providing dental care in England, but a tiny, non-representative study that might or might not show that special needs patients cost more to care for in England than patients at high street practices in a number of countries in continental Europe is not a credible starting point for such a debate.

Peter Ward

Chief Executive, British Dental Association, London W1

Sir: I am an NHS dentist, and if I saw someone who required 12 fillings and three root fillings, they would be in a band 2 category and only have to pay £43.60, which I think is very good value. There is no upper limit on the number of fillings that can be provided in band 2; root-canal therapy is also included and would not take the patient into the more expensive band 3.

Robert G Hill


Sir: I am puzzled as to what was so bad about the so-called unnecessary orthodontic treatment outlined in your article. The vast majority of orthodontic treatments are and always have been for purely cosmetic purposes. In my experience most people appreciate this. Only the very worst disfiguring problems are now treated on the NHS and any dentist worth their salt would be able to identify that a case didn't meet the criteria "immediately". It isn't a difficult diagnosis.

The claim that crowded teeth are more difficult to clean and could well lead to long-term gum problems is also a perfectly reasonable statement by the dentist. It all boils down to what you consider necessary treatment and what value you put on a nice smile for your child. It's a subjective judgement, but I'm sure Kath Diamond's daughter will reap the benefits of her mother's investment for years to come.

Stephen Dodding BDS


Regulations geared towards developers

Sir: Terence Blacker makes a robust defence of so-called nimbyism (4 January). As a district and county councillor, I see almost daily the damage being done to our local democracy as well as to our environment by Government attempts to clamp down on all action by those wishing to preserve the natural amenities they enjoy.

Developments from new housing estates to wind farms are bulldozed through the planning process by constant weakening of regulations in favour of developers. And when this process fails, there is always the possibility of resort to the appeal process, heavily weighted in favour of those who want to ride roughshod over the wishes of local people for the boosting of their own profits.

I sometimes wonder what useful purpose elected councillors can serve when I witness them having to rubber-stamp edicts from central government. No wonder there is the greatest difficulty in finding suitable people willing to stand as local councillors and the turnout at local elections is so pathetically low.

CLLR Ron Forrest

Mendip District and Somerset County Council

Spellings should develop naturally

Sir: Reading Richard Butterworth's letter on spelling reform (10 January), I thought for a moment that I'd bought the Daily Telegraph by mistake. Mr Butterworth's analogy with Nineteen Eighty-Four is completely false. The hyperbolic standardisation in the novel applies more to grammatical usage than spelling. Hence, the superlative of the adverb "well" would not be "the best" but the ridiculous "double plus goodwise", which satirically makes the point that language should be left to its own natural development. The suggested standardisation of our mongrel spelling system bears no comparison.

But what really grates is this correspondent's insinuation that weak spellers are "victims of poor education" and previous advocates of change are "apologists for lousy teaching". My own view is that the ability to spell is like any other natural ability, and there is only a limited effect that even the best teaching can achieve. I personally, no doubt like Mr Butterworth, always found spelling easy, but no amount of brilliant coaching or teaching could ever attain more than a minimal improvement, despite my efforts, in my skill at, say, kicking a rugby ball straight or hitting a cricket ball off the square.

Graham Griffiths


Supermarkets play a part in alcohol abuse

Sir: In response to Jeff King (letter, 10 January), may I add that supermarkets should reconsider their role in promoting alcohol. During the football season in my local Tesco and Asda, each big match is promoted, not just in the booze aisles but at the front entrance as well, by immense displays of 24-can boxes of various lagers. Also, in Tesco's beer aisle is a huge flat-screen TV showing recorded footage of events. Why not in their sizeable sports department?

As Mr King suggests in relation to birthday cards, the assumption seems to be that a person cannot enjoy a football match without consuming copious amounts of alcohol. I perhaps alone endorse his feeling that drunkenness, particularly that leading to football-related thuggery and violence, should be associated with being a loser.

The supermarkets could increase their sales in many other areas (such as sportswear, fitness equipment or healthy eating) in conjunction with all kinds of sporting events, and leave responsible promotion of alcohol to the pub and high street off-licences.

U Burns


UK border agency's duty of care to young

Sir: In reference to your claims about the detention of children ("Battle to halt deportation of girl, 3, puts spotlight on UK asylum policy", 2 January), I would like to expand on our policy. While it is preferable for those with no right to remain in the UK to return home voluntarily, it is regrettable that not all choose to do so and in those circumstances it may be necessary to enforce removal.

Detention of families is kept to the minimum period, subject to frequent and rigorous review, and very few families are detained for more than a few days. Where detention lasts for longer periods, it is often because of attempts to frustrate the removal process. We take seriously our duty of care for those detained, and depending upon the individual circumstances of each case, we will always endeavour to keep families together. We continue to seek alternatives to detention and we are currently piloting a scheme where families here illegally are housed in supported accommodation rather than a detention centre. Should this pilot be successful, we would explore extending it nationally.

We are also introducing a code of practice for the Border and Immigration Agency, developed in consultation with children's charities, ensuring that there is a statutory duty to keep children safe from harm.

Jonathan Lindley

Enforcement Strategic Director, Border and Immigration Agency, London SW1

How Hillary can win

Sir: I always find the suggestion of sexism in the democratic process curious ("Is it worse to be a woman than a black man?", 8 January). Unlike gay or black minorities, women form roughly half of the US voting population. If every woman in the US voted for Hillary Clinton, she would undoubtedly win.

Daniel Emlyn-Jones


Bird brains

Sir: In "What are we eating?" (Extra, 7 January), you write about the "not altogether erroneous view that relatively unintelligent birds are well suited to intensive conditions". Why do we have less respect for the right of less intelligent birds to natural, free-roaming, fulfilling lives? My chickens cluck with obvious satisfaction when they are let out into the garden to peck for grubs, roll in the dust and run around. All animals have an equal right to roam freely with the sun on their backs as they used to. We need to care enough to pay for it.

Dianne Stokes

St Neot, Cornwall

Dinosaur extinction

Sir: The sex of sea turtles today depends on the temperature at which their eggs are incubated ("Why did dinosaurs die out, and why should it matter 65 million years later?", 8 January). Below 28C, the hatchlings will all be male; more than 30, all female. Turtles are related to dinosaurs. If 65 million years ago the world had suddenly become colder, through whatever cause, might not the result have been that all dinosaur hatchlings were the same sex?

Monica Swinburne


The wrong man

Sir: In your article on Sir Edmund Hillary (11 January), you include a photo captioned "Edmund Hillary on the summit of Everest". While there is no doubt that the great man reached the summit, there is no photographic record of him there. The picture you show is of Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. As Sir Edmund wrote in High Adventure, "I didn't worry about getting Tenzing to take a photograph of me. As far as I knew, he had never taken a photograph before and the summit of Everest was hardly the place to show him how." Fair enough.



Wartime values

Sir: As part of an oral history project, recording the early memories of local elderly people, I have been struck by the great skills they developed in the Second World War to manage on very little. Avoiding wastage, conserving energy, creating recipes with leftovers, recycling and re-using all became second nature. We could learn a great deal from their expertise in our latest war against climate change, in which the issues are similar. Some of the slogans are as relevant now as they were then: "Dig for Victory", "Let Your Shopping Save Shipping" and "Is Your Journey Really Necessary?"

Susan Monson

Marlborough, Wiltshire

A new me

Sir: Having looked at the "A New You" calendar (11 January), I decided the first thing I should do was get my eyes tested, as I was unable to read the small print you used.

Olwen Poulter