UK government 'troublingly complacent' on nuclear

22 November 2011

The UK will lack the expertise to cope with its future nuclear program unless steps are taken, according to the country's House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. Serious government support for research and development is required for the challenges of the mid-century, it said.


A report published today by the committee, entitled Nuclear Research and Development Capabilities, claims that the UK government is not doing enough "to maintain and develop UK nuclear research and development (R&D) capabilities, and the associated expertise to ensure that nuclear energy is a viable option for the future."


The report concludes that, "The absence of leadership and strategic thinking in government in this area has resulted in a lack of co-ordination of nuclear R&D activities and a perception amongst international partners that the UK is no longer a serious player in the field. There is also a failure to recognise that although, at present, the UK has a number of strengths in nuclear R&D and expertise, those strengths are built on past investments and will soon be depleted as many experts near the end of their careers."


Committee chairman Lord Krebs said, "The UK's expertise was built on past investments in research and a lack of investment over the last two decades means that the UK is now in danger of losing this expertise. As a result we are in danger of placing ourselves in a position where we will be unable to ensure a safe and secure supply of nuclear energy up to 2050."


The government's view that R&D capabilities can be met without government intervention is "troublingly complacent," according to the committee. Furthermore, it is unlikely that nuclear energy can remain an option for the future "if the present haphazard arrangement for the support of nuclear training and research continues."


In order to ensure that nuclear energy remains an option, the committee makes 14 recommendations for the government to bring about the "fundamental change" in policy that it says is needed. Key recommendations detailed in the report include: development of a long-term nuclear energy strategy; development of a nuclear R&D roadmap; and establishment of an independent nuclear R&D board to advise on and oversee the roadmap.


The committee says that a long-term nuclear strategy is needed to maintain the R&D capabilities and associated expertise that would help to keep the nuclear energy option open beyond around 2025. Central to this strategy would be the nuclear R&D roadmap, which would provide for closing gaps in UK nuclear R&D, such as in fuel reprocessing and recycling. The committee says it finds it "astonishing" that there are no current plans to maintain R&D in fuel reprocessing and recycling, given that these technologies "will be required in most future scenarios up to 2050 and beyond."


The roadmap would also aim to establish the UK as a credible partner for international collaboration. Such collaboration should include the resumption of active participation in the Generation IV International Forum "at the earliest opportunity," the report recommends.


"Government have stated that nuclear energy will play an important role in the electricity supply in the future," Lord Krebs said. He added, "Without action now, in our view, the government's nuclear energy policy simply lacks credibility."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News