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experts react to Tony Blair’s speech on energy

Prime Minister Tony Blair has launched a review of UK energy needs which could pave the way for a new generation of nuclear power stations. We provide further reaction from the energy and nuclear power community.

Dr Robert Kirby-Harris, chief executive of the Institute of Physics, said:

“The Institute of Physics believes that the UK needs a secure, clean and safe supply of electricity, generated from a mix of sources. To achieve this we need to urgently address the lack of specialist skills in critical areas such as nuclear power and renewable energy.

“The UK will only realize its ambitious energy targets if there is sufficient investment in research and development in vital new technologies and also a major push to attract more students into essential subjects such as physics. Physics is essential to many of the new technologies, such as solar and wave power, which will help us produce clean energy in the future.”

Miles Seaman, Chairman, Sustainability Subject Group at the Institution of Chemical Engineers, said:

“It seems that government still haven’t grasped the nettle in developing sustainable energy. Promoting nuclear power is a probable medium term fix. The non existent strategy must engage the whole nation (and world) in living low carbon lifestyles. The potential for developing technologies to enable this is immense but the Prime Minister trying to pick winners wont get us there fast enough.”

Andrew Furlong, Head of External Relations for the IChemE (Institution of Chemical Engineers), said:

“We are neither pro-nuclear, nor anti-wind but we are in favour of solutions that will work. Chemical engineers in the UK need a clear signal from government on the future direction for energy policy. End the uncertainty and then we can get on with the job of keeping the lights on…”

Dr David White, an energy consultant, said:

“45% of the UK’s generating capacity needs to be replaced by 2020 because of age. There is no hope that renewables can fill that gap. We need new nuclear, clean coal, gas and capture and storage with renewables where they make economic sense.”

Jeremy Leggett, Chief Executive Officer at Solarcentury and member of Government’s renewables advisory board, said:

“Nuclear is un-necessary because of the many options in energy efficiency and renewables. Even if it was necessary, we couldn’t get enough of it installed in time, or without making the risk of nuclear terrorism unconscionable.”

Raj Aggarwal, Head of Electrical Power & Energy Systems Group, University of Bath, said:

“Nuclear power is one option (this is a very expensive option and I suspect that the consumers will have to foot the bill) in order to meet the carbon emission targets under the Kyoto agreement and solve the problem of existing conventional power stations, many of which are coming to the end of their life.

“However, for the longer term sustainability of security of power supply coupled with curbing the climate changes, the Government needs to have a balanced energy policy comprising of conventional generation (nuclear,gas) and renewable (wind, tidal wave, solar). Equally important, the Government has to put in place, measures to reduce consumption through reducing losses, more efficient equipments (industrial and domestic), etc.”

Simon Shackley, Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, said:

“A friend of mine reminded me yesterday of the £60 BILLION fund that the government has had to be make available for nuclear decommissioning. Just think what could have been achieved on furthering sustainable energy in all its guises with £60 billion!!!!

“What I find most remarkable about the current ‘debate’, is that nuclear is being presented as the only viable large-scale supply option as if fossil fuels with carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) didn’t exist!!”

“A review of the ‘non-renewables’ energy sector is a good idea but only if it covers all of the options. Otherwise it is not a review, but a political fix.

“In terms of sustainability (on all three counts of environment, economy and society), coal with carbon capture and storage wins hands down over nuclear. The risks are much lower, it is likely to be much more acceptable to the public and stakeholders (as shown by our Tyndall work and reinforced by David Reiner / MIT’s recent survey work) and it does not come with an unknown, but likely to be huge, price tag that nuclear does.”

A spokesperson from the Power Industries Division committee of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said:

“The Government should action the assessment of internationally available nuclear reactor designs by the safety, environmental and security regulators. This would require the regulators to be adequately staffed and able to exploit the work already completed on licensing these designs elsewhere in the world including USA, Finland and France. This will help to remove the key critical path item shortening the potential deployment timescale and mitigating one of the key risks for potential investors in new nuclear plants.

“A poll just carried out by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers asked 2,200 members if they thought the Government should build new nuclear power stations to cushion a predicted energy shortfall? Results just in show 68% said yes, while the remainder said investment should be in renewables or other energies such as solar power.”

Charles Curtis, Head of Research and Development Strategy, UK Nirex Ltd, said:

“1) Radioactive waste still needs to be dealt with irrespective of the new build debate.

2) Contrary to many press comments, the technology is available to deal with the wastes now and for the long term. It is very much in the public interest to move forward with this.

The obstructions to effective long-term waste management are not technical (there is an international technical consensus on this) but socio-political. There is a lack of open debate which is also exacerbated by those who choose, for their own ends, to amplify understandable public fears of nuclear technology. One way forward is to address all the issues in open, evidence-based debate.”

Brenda Boardman, Head of the Lower Carbon Futures team at the University of Oxford’s Environmental Change Institute and Co-Director of the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

“If you reduce demand through better energy efficiency, use small scale local power generation and involve the population, then the need for new nuclear is no longer there. This would be popular with voters and save them money, in comparison with a centralised, unpopular technology with substantial risks attached for both the present and future generations.”

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