Nuclear power? Yes please!

Government support for a future role for nuclear energy generation this week finally completed its transformation from Britain’s worst-kept secret to official policy.

And a very good thing too. The Engineer has argued for the best part of five years that not to include nuclear technology as part of the country’s future energy mix would be unwise to say the least.

Unwise but, as we conceded at the time, superficially attractive. After all, in the first few years of the new century nuclear was a distinctly unloved technology.

As a policy, commissioning new nuclear plants appeared to have all the allure of proposing that 12-year-olds should be sent back up chimneys.

It would have been easy enough to consign nuclear to the past and plan an energy policy based on less controversial ‘green’ energy technologies. Indeed, that was pretty much the approach taken by the government in its 1993 Energy White Paper.

Since then, of course, a dose of reality has been applied in the form of spiralling oil and gas prices. The last two years have made it clear that without the consistent, controllable bedrock provided by domestic nuclear generation the UK risked becoming a hostage to events well beyond its ability to control.

We welcome yesterday’s review for many reasons. In the spirit of a long-standing well-wisher, then, it is only right to point out a few of the obstacles which the government and industry must overcome to achieve the goals of its Energy Review.

Skills. Help needs to be given to bring on-stream the skilled engineers and technologists a next-generation nuclear industry needs. A start has been made, but more needs to be done.

Public opinion. The renaissance of nuclear does not mean it has become loved. The nuclear industry must explain clearly, and with the utmost transparency, the benefits and drawbacks of its technology, and how the latter can be minimised or eliminated.

Waste. Without a technically watertight, publicly acceptable resolution to the waste issue, the government might as well file its Energy Review in the bin. This is the single biggest hurdle of all.

Andrew Lee


The Engineer & The Engineer Online