Fuel to the nuclear debate

In the 1970s disenchantment with nuclear generation of electricity was endemic among the leading utility companies of the leading industrial nations.

Information was accumulating about low-load factors, high product costs, hidden decommissioning costs, uninsurable risks and the insoluble problems of waste disposal. All of these negative implications are still with us today.

No announcements were made of these doubts, or of retrenchment or changes in policy, but no new projects were initiated in the most technically-advanced countries, and only those projects under construction and beyond the point of cancellation were allowed to proceed.

The US stopped building atomic power stations in 1975.

Then came Three Mile Island and Chernobyl. During this period the nuclear manufacturing industries of the heavily industrialised countries were free to sell nuclear power to stations elsewhere. Oil prices were rising, coal made CO2 and acid rain.

Meetings were held, funds were allocated, a neutral location (Vienna) was selected and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was set up to promote — dare one say proliferate? — the use of nuclear generation globally, but outside the leading countries.

The edited extracts from the IAEA’s directorgeneral Dr Mohamed ElBaradei’s speech at the agency’s recent conference make it clear that the original brief of the agency has not been abandoned, despite coy references in the media that it operates as the ‘UN’s nuclear watchdog’.

I wonder if The Engineer could enquire what exactly is the present-day function of the IAEA, and who is funding it.

Hugh Llewelyn Davies

Consulting engineer

High Peak,


I read with great interest your editorial ‘Adding power to the nuclear argument.’

After studying alternate power with the Open University, it is apparent that sadly such a power requirement for the UK cannot be supplied by such seasonal systems (and the vast quantity of such units required) as these.

What is the bigger blot — one station or several thousand acres of wind turbines (which funnily enough never seem to be rotating when I go through the countryside)?

I suppose we could always build the stations at the bottom of quarry pits. What no-one seems to have mentioned is just how long these stations require to come on line, and of course to get into their ‘profit’ margin.

We may agree to build them, but it will take a couple of years — then it will be another few years to get them up to a productive level. So although Tony Blair has opened the debate, we are looking at many cold years before we can get the benefit of nuclear.

Pete Bennett

Projects engineer,

Spirax Sarco

Cheltenham, Glos