Intelligent Energy

Do wind turbines block detection of forbidden nuclear tests?

Do wind turbines block detection of forbidden nuclear tests?

Posting in Design

With the world on the lookout for nuclear proliferation, proposals for wind turbines in one section of Scotland stand on shaky ground.

North Korea first tested a small nuclear device underground in 2006. The world quickly found out about the explosion, in part due to a network of seismic monitoring stations. Scotland’s Eskdalemuir station is one of those facilities and helps the UK fulfill its obligations to the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The CTBT Commission lists a total of 170 seismic recording stations around the world in their quest to verify any nuclear explosion on Earth.

A potential threat to the Eskdalemuir station’s seismic detection abilities, however, are wind turbines. Whirring on the region’s moors, the large turbines send clean electricity to homes but also send vibrations into the ground.

On Friday, Carlisle Council rejected REG Windpower's proposal for six turbines at a location about 25 miles away from the station. The Hallburn wind farm was also facing local fights over potential lost tourism revenue and noise pollution. But the matter is larger than this relatively small wind project.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) established a noise allowance for the region, which they say has been met. According to the MOD, additional wind farms would interfere with the performance of the station’s seismological array. As of now, no turbine with a generating capacity of more than 50 kilowatts is permitted within 31 miles of Eskdalemuir. The company told The Guardian that the MoD’s objections concerning turbine vibrations were blocking as much as one gigawatt of wind generating potential.

Currently across Scotland, the onshore wind industry, according to Scottish Renewables, stands at 2,500 megawatts of installed capacity. Yet growing that capacity in this corner of the Southern Uplands isn't entirely off the table.

In April, the MOD told REG Windpower in a letter:

Calculations are based on current turbine designs. If future technological solutions can be applied to turbines and be scientifically proven to reduce or remove the noise generated, the MOD will reassess its policies.

Matt Partridge, the development director for the company, says they're looking into ways to dampen turbine vibrations. Until then, the future for wind power near Eskdalemuir seems pretty shaky.

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Images: Wikipedia Commons, Flickr/mr_stru

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Melissa Mahony

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Melissa Mahony has written for Scientific American Mind, Audubon Magazine, Plenty Magazine and LiveScience. Formerly, she was an editor at Wildlife Conservation magazine. She holds degrees from Boston College and New York University's Science, Health, and Environmental Reporting Program. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure