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This blog post asks whether plastics in water could potentially damage power plant cooling systems and if there were a risk identified would it lead to an insurance claim? If the answer is yes, then we want to explore how such a claim could be mitigated and whether it is in the insurance industry’s interest to take a lead role in reducing plastic entering the seas and rivers.

Photo: Martin Nikolaj Bech under Creative Commons


Kloe Wu is on a work placement at the Waste.Agency, tasked with coordinating a series of events discussing plastics in the seas and rivers.

This is a subject gaining traction around the world, as more people become aware that plastic remains present in microform within water and entering the food chain through sea creatures’ consumption. A broader realisation that humans may now be eating the very plastic that was discarded only a few years previously is opening up a whole new debate about the relationship with the ubiquitous material.

The Waste.Agency main focus is to discuss the economic model built on consumption and wastefulness, travelling abstract routes to develop the discussion. It was while discussing the parameters for the upcoming series on plastics in the sea that thoughts turned towards power plants, which are often situated by water. The reason assumed for locating near water is the need to have a source of cooling for the heating systems.

Phase One of the Waste.Agency is deliberately located in the heart of the insurance district in the City of London. Many conversations have taken place regarding the role of the insurance industry within the economy and whether it has any role to play in broader world affairs. A number of people, including James Greyson of Blindspotting, have highlighted a potential influential role for insurance in developing a more sustainable economy.

It was with these conversations in mind that the discussion turned towards whether power plants were at risk from plastic in water, damaging the cooling systems reliant on that water;-

Could the plastic potentially damage the cooling plant? If so, could it lead to an insurance claim? If so, could measures be developed to prevent a claim?

On Friday afternoon, (21st Nov 2014) a catastrophe broker visited from Lloyd's of London to look around the Waste.Agency. Intrigued by the art and the questions raised, the conversation turned towards the idea of power plant cooling systems becoming damaged. This generated great interest and he outlined how catastrophe insurance works and then explained that the fire insurance industry spun out from a system of prevention. The London Fire Brigade has an excellent page explaining the overall role of insurance fire brigades [here], and the ‘Tooley Street Fire’, which is ‘often referred to as the greatest fire since the Great Fire of London.’ The Tooley street fire page is particularly interesting when considering the hypothesis of the insurance industry demanding action on plastic in the seas. The result of the Tooley street fire was the formation of a publicly funded fire brigade;

The Lloyd's broker pointed out that it was the insurance industry that took the lead in developing and enforcing fire prevention and that this model is something he had not considered before in relation to sustainability. He left with the words that he would be ‘discussing this with colleagues’.

Kloe is putting together a programme of artists, academics and industry specialists and we hope to attract some expertise from the insurance industry to consider potential synergies of thinking.

To become involved or be kept updated, email Kloe at

Event dates to be confirmed.

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