Dungeness and Dungeness Power Station

The philosopher Alain de Botton has rightly described Dungeness as a ‘beautiful rugged stretch of shingle coast, dotted with vividly painted clapboard houses’ and pointed out that for decades artists and writers (most famously the late Derek Jarman) have been drawn “by the sublime empty skies and bracing winds.” (The Telegraph, 25 Nov. 2008).  But he went on to encourage visitors to ignore the “unprepossessing” nuclear power station that dominates the beach.

Many would say: Don’t ignore the power station. While it may not be a thing of beauty  there is much of interest about it.

In 1965 the first nuclear power station at this site , Dungeness A, was in operation. By 1983 Dungeness B, an advanced gas cooled reactor was producing power for homes, schools and factories. On a typical day, the power stations now produce 30 million kilowatt hours of electricity – enough to power the whole of South East England.

Surrounded by a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which extends to land within the perimeter fence of the station, the Power Station is very aware of the needs for environmental protection and complies with all statutory requirements, as well as enhancing environmental awareness through active involvement of staff and public.  (Photo © Copyright Ron Strutt and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.)

In conjunction with English Nature, nature trails allow controlled access to the shingle ridges, and herbicides are no longer used, so that wildlife is conserved. Built on Dungeness, the Power Stations are on the largest surface area of shingle in Europe -some 12km by 6km in extent.

This great mass of shingle ridges has taken more than 5,000 years to develop. Some 100,000 cubic metres of stones are carried round Dungeness Point every year, creating a ’ness’, nose, or cuspate foreland.  (Photo © Copyright Mark Duncan and licenced for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence. )

Wave action from the SW carries shingle eastward; erosion of shingle on the south shore threatens to undermine the power stations, so it is necessary for a great fleet of lorries to constantly carry the shingle, built up on the eastern shore of the foreland, back to the western side. From here it is washed by sea action, round the point again, ready to be picked up and transported again…and again…and again.

Water circulation–and bird life

Sea water for the power stations is drawn in at a rate of 100m litres per hour. Fish, seaweed and other debris is removed by filters and the water passes to condensers. The water circulates through tubes in the condensers and steam passes over the tubes, and condenses back into water before returning to the reactors’ boilers. The water returning to the sea is about 12°C warmer, and emerges in upwellings or patches which attract many birds seeking food and roosting sites.

Folkestone and Dover Water Services Ltd abstract water from the aquifer of Dungeness to provide water to the coastal communities between Lydd and Hythe. The diagram shows the Dungeness station water circulation system.  Increased demand for water – some 2 million gallons a day, has resulted in a 370% increase in abstraction since 1960. The freshwater accounts for the exceptional biodiversity of Dungeness – so maintaining a balance between wildlife and human requirements, is essential.

There are no rivers or streams in the area; rainwater drains quickly through the shingle so there are few areas of natural surface water.

Gravel extraction has created areas of open water in the old gravel pits, and there is now close cooperation between the gravel extractors and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), to produce ’natural’ habitats for wildlife.
(Photo courtesy Barry Yates, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve).

On Dungeness, the RSPB manage close on 1,000 hectares, of which they own 650 hectares. Different habitats – freshwater wetlands, seashore, ancient and recent shingle ridges mean there is a wide variety of plant and animal life within the Reserve.

At least 300 bird species are listed with 180 bird species recorded annually. Some 430 plant species, 250 species of moths and butterflies (including the rare Sussex Emerald Green butterfly), more species of bumble bee than elsewhere in Britain, the largest colony of medicinal leeches, a wide variety of insects and thousands of invertebrates are all to be found in this unique area.

First posted in Romney Marsh on 8th October 2009
Last updated: 9th December 2012
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