Dr Justin Butler, Managing Director of Ambiental, speaks about flood risk to UK properties on BBC News on the 15th of November, 2007.
Nick Highham: At the end of Gravesend pier standing on the sea wall that protects Gravesend from flooding. You can see we’re several feet higher than our satellite van there parked in the road.
These are some of the defences. This is a great big heavy duty gate that can close and the sea wall continues along there. Now, if you look down you’ll see the tide is just on its way in at the moment it all looks very peaceful but last week when that storm surge came down the east coast I’m told that the water came to about 3 feet above where I’m standing so these defences certainly did their job.
Just across the river, huge great power station at Tilbury sitting on the flood plain behind defences very similar to these which the Environment Agency say are good against a storm, the sort of storm you get only once in 1000 years.
Well, I’m joined by Dr Justin King [Butler] of Ambiental. You model flood risks, 1 in 1000 year floods, is this power station safe from flooding?
Dr Justin Butler: Well I don’t think anywhere is safe from flooding, especially if you’re located in a tidal of fluvial flood plain and really the degree of risk is controlled by the quality and the nature of the flood defences as well as the type of flooding that we’re facing.
Nick Highham: And of course the threats changing, sea levels are rising with climate change.
Dr Justin Butler: Absolutely, that’s correct. The recent IPPC Report suggested that sea levels are rising quite dramatically in the UK and around the rest of the world and that means that with increasing sea levels the relative impact of flood events in the UK, especially from storm surge, will be greater as the sea level increases.
Nick Highham: Now, it’s unlikely, clearly, because these are pretty robust defences but if the water were to get in through these defences, what could it do to a power station like that?
Dr Justin Butler: Well, certainly if we’re looking at tidal flooding that could lead to the over-topping or failure of flood defences, we can get sever erosion and quite kind of catastrophic flooding from fast flowing water which breeches defences. Certainly with power stations we’re looking at significant business interruption losses as power can’t be supplied, as well as damage to property, and potentially dangers to life if evacuation can’t happen quickly.
Nick Highham: Now we’ve got some helicopter shots I think of another power station at Kingsnorth a few miles from here which is on the Medway. Now, there are 4 power stations on the flood plain on the Medway. There are 2, the Tilbury one that we can see and the Little Brook here on the Thames. What’s the danger, the likelihood, that all of these could be affected simultaneously?
Dr Justin Butler: Well one of the issues we have in the Thames Estuary is the kind of funnelling effect of tidal surges as they come up the estuary. So that acts to increase a surge by up to potentially 30, 40, 50 centimetres above the normal level and obviously, all other things being equal, that kind of level can over-top the defences for one and then all other power stations immediately upstream so there’s certainly a risk of that happening for very extreme events when they do occur.
Nick Highham: How well do we understand what happens in these cases? I mean, it’s your job obviously to try and model flood effects. Do you think we understand enough about what floods can do?
Dr Justin Butler: Well certainly recent improvements in meteorological modelling, weather modelling, as well as flood modelling can help us to ascertain exactly which areas are likely to be flooded when these kinds of pressure systems move in the vicinity but I think what we need is much more detailed modelling as well, to look at those kinds of situations, i.e., when flood defences are over-topped, where will the water go
Nick Highham: Okay, Dr Justin Butler thank-you very much indeed.
Those six power stations I mentioned, between them account for more than 10% of the UK’s entire generating capacity but Npower who run this one across at Tilbury say: Well, it hasn’t flooded in 50 years. They’re obviously confident because they want to build another power station to replace this one on the same site so they don’t believe it’s going to flood any time soon. Back to you in the studio.
Studio: Alright Nick thanks very much.
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