Up to 400 people die prematurely every year because of pollution from Aberthaw power station. That is one of the findings of a new report from Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace which shows that plumes of toxic nitrogen dioxide and particle pollution from Aberthaw spread as far afield as France, the Republic of Ireland and across huge swathes of southern Britain. Apart from the cost in human suffering and grief, these fatalities cost society more than £220 million each year. Further costs are associated with ill health caused by the pollution, which includes 195,000 days of illness per year, 3,400 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, 260 cases of bronchitis in children, 290 hospital admissions and 20 babies born with low birth weight. Friends of the Earth Cymru have previously calculated that the coal-fired power station costs society £950 million in environmental and health costs every year.
Director of Friends of the Earth Cymru, Gareth Clubb, said: ‘The pollution impacts of Aberthaw power station are startling. This one power station has prematurely ended the lives of thousands of people through its polluting emissions. To rub salt into the wound, Aberthaw is busily hoovering up tens of millions of pounds from electricity bill-payers in order to stay open in 2019. We’re all literally paying this power station to churn out polluting gases for years to come. It’s a clear demonstration of the critical importance of the UK retaining its environmental legislation once we leave the European Union. People right across the UK are signing up to our pledge asking MPs to keep our environmental protections – but we need thousands more to do so. The gargantuan scale of the pollution, the needless curtailing of the lives of hundreds of people every year, and the damage caused to our children’s lungs leave us with one course of action: Aberthaw power station must close.’
Greenpeace UK air pollution campaigner Areeba Hamid added: ‘The pollution from this coal plant is exacerbating a major public health crisis already affecting tens of thousands of people across the UK. EU air quality rules are among the most effective tools to put pressure on government to act on the problem, but Brexit is now putting them at risk. Our government has a duty to ensure its citizens are not forced to breathe illegal levels of air pollution. Ministers should act swiftly to put in place a new Clean Air Act to tackle air pollution and protect our health and that of our children.’
As the Herald reported earlier this year when we covered Reclaim the Power’s occupation of FFos-y-Fran opencast coalmine, RWE’s Aberthaw power station burns around 35,000 tonnes of coal per week burned. And the majority of this coal comes from FFos-y-Fran. The largest opencast coalmine in Britain, FFos-y-Fran was established in 2007 under the pretext of being a land reclamation scheme. Despite legislation decreeing a 500 metre boundary, the mine is sited just 36 metres from some people’s homes. It is scheduled to mine 11 million tonnes of coal by 2025. If society allows this coal to be burned in power stations like Aberthaw, as well as nitrogen dioxide and particle pollution, it will emit around 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. As the UK’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions to mitigate climate change recedes with each passing day of Theresa May’s government, it looks increasingly as if this 25 million tonnes of carbon dioxide will be permitted to enter our atmosphere. One of Theresa May’s first acts on becoming prime minister was to scrap the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC).
Sited near Barry in the Vale of Glamorgan, at 1,555 Megawatts Aberthaw claims the capacity to supply around 3 million households. In January this year Aberthaw received a public subsidy of £27 million pounds to continue operating, money taken from people’s electricity bills. At the time a spokesperson for Reclaim the Power said, ‘Imagine the reaction of certain British newspapers if that subsidy had been to a windfarm!’ Aberthaw has been taken before the European Court of Justice because it emits more than twice the legal limit of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx). NOx emissions can cause severe respiratory problems and aggravate heart disease. On 25th April, Aberthaw suddenly announced that it was downgrading its operations due to ‘challenging’ market conditions. Henceforth it would only produce electricity at times of peak demand, mainly during the winter. So, when you use electricity this winter, think about those 400 people who will die before their time because our government refuses to close anachronisms like FFos-y-Fran and Aberthaw and invest in clean, renewable forms of energy. As a voter maybe you can’t do anything for a while, but as a consumer you can choose to switch to a supplier that offers ‘green electricity’ today.
Friends of the Earth’s campaign: ‘After Brexit: help protect our environment’