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Something lurking in the mist

Updated Monday, 4th June 2007

Mike Dodd visits the site of Dungeness nuclear power station where Common Dodder is running riot.

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Common Dodder Copyrighted  image Icon Copyright: Mike Dodd
Common Dodder.

So what’s this alien looking creature on the right? It's Common Dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) a parasitic plant that grabs hold of its victim, attaches to the stems and ‘eats’ them. It's usually found on heathland growing on heathers and gorse and is not particularly common. However at this particular location, just beside Dungeness nuclear power station, it was absolutely everywhere, carpeting the ground with its red and yellow thread-like stems and parasitizing a wide range of species especially Nottingham catchfly (Silene nutans). I’ve been visiting the site for 20 years and never noticed it anything like as extensive as this.


The weather was warm and sunny but with a dense sea fog right on the coast so you could not see the power station, seemed there was a looming giant just hidden in cloud. I started wondering if this was the time to reassess nuclear power as a green energy source. Ever since the 1970s I have campaigned against nuclear power so to think about reassessing it now seems rather strange especially since the technology does not seem to have moved on significantly. There are still large arguments against nuclear such as cost, terrorist threats, no way of disposing of the waste to name a few. In the 70s these things were all cloaked in secrecy and the costs were not believable since there was still a hang over from needing the waste to make nuclear bombs so the government would go ahead with the power stations whatever but now this is less of an issue so perhaps there is a chance for a more reasoned debate and a public enquiry to get everything out into the open.

Of course, at Dungeness there are a couple of extra little issues such as the power station being built on a shingle bank that is being moved by the sea in any big storms so there needs to be cranes on standby to rebuild the defences at short notice or the power station could be washed out to sea. The second issue at the moment is airport expansion very close by, How long before a plane crashes into the power station accidentally or by terrorist. But again these are simply risk factors that could go into the enquiry and be compared to other major items of infrastructure.

The big problem with all of this is that a public enquiry is likely to take years and things could well change along the way, so what about a new way of doing things via a web enquiry, some way of stacking up the ‘for’ and ‘against’ and the neutral evidence. Perhaps a small team would regularly look at the evidence coming in to prioritise it so that after say a year an inspector and a small group of independent people could pull it all together and make a report. 'Totally naïve, it would never work,' I hear you cry, but it might and it would certainly save a huge amount of time and money (especially on legal bills) and could even come up with more representative decisions than the current system.

[Photograph showing common dodder © copyright Mike Dodd]





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