UK construction grapples with roofing and timber shortages
High demand, rising prices for shipping and delays at British ports are causing a shortage of roofing materials and timber, according to the Building Materials Foundation (BMF).
The BMF - whose members manufacture around 76 per cent of building products in the UK – has received reports of long lead times for some roofing products, while timber prices are surging by an average of 20 per cent.
John Newcomb, Chief executive of the BMF and co-chair of the Construction Leadership Council’s Brexit Movement of Building Products and Materials Group, said: “We’ve had a report of a merchant being quoted as far ahead as August availability for some roofing products, particularly pitched roof tiles. We are also facing significant issues with timber supplies. Merchants have seen an exceptional demand for building materials since the first lockdown."
On the plus side, November saw an average year-on-year growth of nine per cent in membership, in tandem with the industry's expansion. UK construction output grew by 12.4 percent in the three months to November, according to the Office of National Statistics.
“Looking at December’s figures, we are predicting that growth could be double digits, and that’s unprecedented. We know a number of roof tile manufacturers are taking extensive steps to meet this exceptional demand.
“Through the Construction Leadership Council, we are also working together with Government to address the issues we face, but it’s a complex situation with many different factors leading us into this position.”
The BMF is also looking into the massive surge in costs of building products shipped in containers from the Far East.
Newcomb added that it continues to see issues with the availability of products imported in containers, mainly from the Far East, such as screws and fixings, tools, plumbing items, bathroom suites and shower enclosures.
"Since then, the situation has only got worse. However, we need to ensure access to these goods from around the world, to keep the industry running.”
Lakes Showering, a manufacturer and supplier of showering spaces, walk-ins and bath screens, is a family-owned business, based in Tewkesbury, which imports into the UK, via the China-Europe shipping route.
Sales and Marketing Director, Mike Tattam, said it is facing "a perfect storm" caused by a shortage of containers because of unprecedented demand, ships mothballed with their containers and crew, and carriers reluctant to take bookings for the UK because of port congestion.
“The latest development is that we’ve found the shipping companies are not even quoting contract rates, it’s all based on spot pricing, where you get what’s available at a price, on that day. Currently we are looking at the cost for a container of around $15,000. This time last year it was $2,100.
“We’ve even heard reports of costs going to $30,000, and that’s untenable. It’s having a very serious impact and it’s a situation that’s getting rapidly worse.”
China starts building underground lab for high level waste
China has begun constructing its first underground research laboratory in the Gobi Desert - following more than 35 years of research - to determine its suitability for storing future high level radioactive waste.
As part of the support from the International Atomic Energy Agency, 35 Chinese and 11 international experts took part in a six-week virtual expert mission earlier this year to provide input, guidance and recommendations to support plans for the in-situ laboratory.
“The safe disposal of high level radioactive waste is one of the critical missions for the sustainable development of China’s nuclear industry,” said Liang Chen, Vice President of the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology (BRIUG), which is constructing the underground research laboratory.
China has been working on identifying a suitable site for a HLW repository since 1985, and since 1999 those efforts have been supported by the IAEA.
The country’s strategy for HLW disposal consists of three stages, with stage one – laboratory studies and preliminary site selection – completed in 2020. The second stage, underground in-situ testing, is set to take place from 2021 to 2050, following the construction of the underground research laboratory. The final stage – the construction of the disposal facility – is planned to take place from 2041 to 2050, assuming the in-situ testing confirms the area’s suitability.
High-level radioactive waste can remain radioactive from thousands to hundreds of thousands of years. The internationally accepted solution for its safe and secure long term management is geological disposal in a facility several hundred metres underground. A geological disposal facility is under construction in Finland. (Watch the video Onkalo – A Solution for Nuclear Waste for more details).
“The construction of an underground research laboratory is an opportunity for advancement in the science and engineering of geological disposal facilities and an essential component in a sustainable energy future for countries,” said Stefan Joerg Mayer, Head of the Disposal Team at the IAEA. “Despite the constraints of the pandemic, we were able to design, organize and lead an innovative virtual mission to provide expert assistance to China in the construction of this new R&D facility.”
BRUIG requested the IAEA to provide support on characterisation of the rock mass, as well as scientific research, prior to construction.
The broad range of areas covered resulted in recommendations related to construction, but also guidance related to the implementation of its laboratory R&D plans during the construction phase.
“This virtual Expert Mission was very timely as construction of the underground laboratory began this summer and it provided critical support to this effort,” said Chen. “It has made a great contribution in promoting the sustainable development of China's nuclear industry.”
Nuclear power, as well as hydro power and other renewable energy sources, could collectively replace coal as China’s primary sources of power.
China could have an installed nuclear capacity of 182 gigawatts by 2030, an increase of 74 gigawatts over the policy scenario’s goal, according to McKinsey.
China manufactures 70 percent of the equipment necessary for nuclear plants, and the cost for this equipment has been falling. If the country develops nuclear power to the fullest extent, by 2030 carbon emissions could fall by 470 million tons, at a cost of €3 per ton.