Thursday, November 10, 2005

Britain buys into next generation of nuclear power

Guardian Unlimited Politics | Special Reports | Britain buys into next generation of nuclear power

David Adam, environment correspondent
Thursday November 10, 2005
The Guardian

Britain is investing millions of pounds in a US government project to develop a new generation of nuclear power stations, the Guardian has learned. The move restarts UK government funding for research into new nuclear reactor technology and gives its scientists access to international efforts to develop a "generation IV" nuclear power station by 2030.
The investment is not directly connected to the coming decision on whether to build new nuclear power stations in Britain, which would use existing reactor designs, but is significant because it shows the government has not ruled out nuclear energy as a long term solution. Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser, said earlier this year that any revival of Britain's nuclear industry would be limited to "one generation only."

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Richard Clegg, head of the Dalton Nuclear Institute at Manchester University and director of science at BNFL, said: "It sends a very important message that the UK government has a strategic interest in keeping the nuclear option open."
Britain joined the US Department of Energy's generation IV forum in 2000, alongside eight countries, including France, Brazil and Japan. It supported the project through BNFL but did not commit state funds directly.

Leading experts, including Professor King, David Sainsbury, the science minister, and Keith O'Nions, former chief scientist at the Ministry of Defence, have since lobbied for Britain to play a bigger role, so as to guarantee access to new reactor technology. Officials at the Department of Trade and Industry have now set aside £10m over two years.

Dr Clegg said: "In order to have a seat at the table and a voice in selection of reactor designs, the UK has got to contribute something. By participating in the programme, our scientists and engineers are able to keep abreast of these reactors, how they work and what they are about."

The generation IV scheme has shortlisted six possible designs, which it claims will be cheaper, cleaner and safer than current reactors. The move comes as a report turns up the heat on the nuclear debate by reiterating that new reactors are almost certainly needed if Britain is to meet future energy demands without busting greenhouse gas targets.

Based on a meeting of 150 scientists, engineers, economists and sociologists at the Geological Society, the report says nuclear power "will inevitably have a key role in a future clean energy mix". Without new nuclear build, it says, Britain will struggle to plug an anticipated 10,000 MW energy gap - some 20% of demand - which is expected to open by 2015 as existing power stations are retired.

Shaun Fitzgerald, an energy expert at Cambridge University, who helped to compile the report, said the poor response to energy efficiency initiatives showed public and government had failed to grasp the scale of the problem. "The 'do nothing' option is not an option."


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