Report says UK needs clearer long-term nuclear strategy

Clearer policy could help create a world-leading industry and more than 30,000 jobs as the planet decarbonises its energy supply, according to researchers from Oxford University.

A report by the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment (SSEE) found that the UK could also save more than £3bn by leasing its abundant source of mixed oxide (MOX) fuel to utilities for use in new-build reactors.

‘It is clear from our study that nuclear must play an important part in the energy mix but to do so requires a long-term pathway and critical insights,’ said SSEE director and former government chief scientific adviser Prof Sir David King.

‘The recent announcements on the Franco-British Accord and the desire to create a long-term strategy for nuclear up to and beyond 2050 are welcome, but we need to address the fundamental issue that energy provision is generally a 100-year programme and requires not just a long-term view, but skills and the science base to support it.’

The figure of £100bn given by the report authors includes the money the country would save by having a secure low-carbon power supply, the jobs it would create and the potential export of expertise.

The report found that the UK’s 2050 targets for reducing emissions would only be met if the country’s heating and transport infrastructure was decarbonised, as well as the electricity supply, and doing so would require ‘clear policies and levers’.

Impartial advice

The industry’s structure is aligned more to the previous policy of no new nuclear reactors than the current new building plan, it said, and an independent body was needed to evaluate and impartially advise on long-term nuclear strategy.

‘Examination of the history of nuclear power in the UK reveals a litany of “goes”, “stops”, changes of direction and changes of emphasis at a regular frequency of much less than a decade,’ said the report.

‘For an industry characterised by long technology development and implementation timescales, the wonder is not that the industry is in sub-optimal state, but that it is there at all.’

In reserve

Examining recent studies of the world’s supply of uranium, which is currently the main fuel for nuclear reactors, the report found that the amount in reserves was not a problem but extracting it at a reasonable financial and environmental cost would be.

Uranium prices could rise significantly if more and more countries use current nuclear technology to decarbonise their economies but further analysis was needed, it said.

The UK has a substantial stock of plutonium that could be reprocessed into MOX fuel for use in a new type of reactor, according to the report. One model for doing this would be to lease the fuel to utilities and include disposal costs in the price.

‘The development of fuel leasing… requires further investigation as every 10 per cent decrease in costs and increase in prices will save the UK some £0.5bn, which could eventually save [more than] £3bn from the public purse,’ the report said.