Energy events put spotlight on transport and nuclear industry

Jason Ford

News Editor

Energy dominates this week’s events, with hydrogen and fuel cells for transportation plus the aftermath of Fukushima high on the agenda.

Tony Roulstone MA CEng FIMechE MIET is delivering a lecture tomorrow entitled ‘Fukushima — new wine in old wineskins?’

Taking place at IMechE, central London, the free lecture is based on the premise that events at Fukushima have cast doubts over the inevitability of a nuclear renaissance.

The event’s publicity material states: ‘The scale of the accident, involving multiple reactors and the way it ran across the global news for weeks…has challenged the idea that the nuclear industry has learned the lessons and is now a safe-and-sound means of generating electricity.’

Roulstone’s talk will focus of what went wrong at Fukushima and the response from Japanese authorities, moving on to consider whether the effects of the accident might be felt more by old reactors such as those at Fukushima, or newer ones such as those planned to be built in the UK.

In April, the investment bank UBS is reported to have said that the scale of Fukushima was the biggest yet to test the credibility of nuclear power, given that the disaster took place in one of the world’s largest economies.

Rolling TV news coverage brought constant updates into people’s homes and the inevitable comparisons with Chernobyl in 1986 were made plausible when the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INES) rated Fukushima a level 7 accident.

Last week, that rating was criticised by Prof Richard Wakeford of the Dalton Nuclear Institute, Manchester University.

Writing in the Journal of Radiological Protection, Prof Wakeford queried the decision to rate Fukushima a Level 7 event, given that the crippled plant released 10 per cent of the radioactivity released by Chernobyl at the time the INES announcement was made.

Similarly, Mike Weightman, executive head of the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the UK’s chief inspector of nuclear installations, last week published a report that acknowledged that lessons should be learnt from events in Japan but that the UK’s own nuclear operations should not be curtailed.

Weightman’s report identified 25 recommended areas for review ‘to determine if sensible and appropriate measures can further improve safety in the UK nuclear industry’. Click here to read more and to access the interim report, entitled ‘Japanese earthquake and tsunami: implications for the UK Nuclear Industry’.

Energy of a different kind now — and news that the London Cleantech Cluster Event taking place tomorrow will focus on the theme of hydrogen and fuel cells in transport.

According to the organisers, this event will explore whether London’s existing hydrogen vehicles — namely a fleet of buses and soon-to-be-introduced black taxi cabs — are the precursors of a fully fledged hydrogen economy in the city and the extent to which the UK is developing a hydrogen cluster.

Panelists from business and academia will discuss whether London needs a hydrogen infrastructure for transport, given that it is rolling out an electric-vehicle charging infrastructure. The economic feasibility of running a hydrogen or fuel-cell vehicle will be open to discussion too.

Attendees will include clean-tech entrepreneurs, investors, research institutes and local development agencies.

This event comes after the announcement last week that Honda is joining the Clean Energy Partnership, a European fuel cell vehicle and hydrogen infrastructure demonstration project. The automotive giant will contribute two FCX Clarity fuel cell electric vehicles to the project to demonstrate the viability of fuel cell technology.

Cranfield University this week hosts ’National Manufacturing Debate 2011 — investment, incentives and innovation’. Taking place over Tuesday and Wednesday, the event will incorporate tours and demonstrations of Cranfield’s facilities to provide an oversight of work in progress and future research activity.

The main event, namely the National Manufacturing Debate, will consider the motion: ‘Can the manufacturing sector create a significant number of long-term jobs and a regional balance?’

Keynote speakers include Mark Prisk MP, minister of state for business and enterprise; Philip Greenish CBE, chief executive, The Royal Academy of Engineering; and Andreas Pelz, global chief of service engineering, Rolls-Royce.

Finally, Tata Motors is to release its full-year results this week. In March, the Indian company announced that it was expanding its UK research centre at Warwick University to focus on low-carbon technology. In the same month, Tata-owned Jaguar Land Rover awarded more than 40 UK companies contracts worth £2bn to supply components for the Range Rover Evoque.