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scientists and engineers react to Queen’s speech

The Queen’s speech includes measures for building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

Dr Paul Norman, University of Birmingham, School of Physics and Astronomy, said:

“I strongly support the idea of nuclear new build, and am pleased if this turns out to be the first firm indication that this will happen in the UK. It’s clear that, realistically, we will not meet our greenhouse gas reduction targets without new nuclear build, in fact we will be a long way off without it. We also need to have a diverse mix of energy such that we’re not relying on just one source, (e.g. Russian gas) for almost all of our power needs. Nuclear power also provides stability against fuel price fluctuations (in stark contrast to gas prices) because the cost of the fuel forms only a tiny fraction. Modern nuclear power is very safe – “another Chernobyl” is pure fiction, and not possible in current reactors – nor was it ever possible in British reactors. Therefore we can’t really afford to go without new nuclear power – it seems the sensible (and logically only real) choice.”

Professor Ian Fells, FREng, founding chairman, New and Renewable Energy Centre, said:

“The government continues to drag its feet over nuclear new build, as the poet Omar Khayyam has it “time is slipping underneath our feet”.”

Dr Miles Seaman, Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), said:

“The ‘aspirations’ of the climate change bill and the policies on housing, transport and energy represent a chasm between intention and likely achievement. Most of the policies in the Energy Bill, and the stated aims of Department for Transport and from the Department of Housing and Local Government focus on the time to 2020 and are by no means certain to be delivered. The Science and Engineering community is left on the sidelines to gasp at the audacity of government in stating the longer term objectives without providing a framework for delivery of the stated targets. Government thinking is no where near joined up. The aspiration of 60% reduction will remain just that until the government gets serious about delivery.”

Professor Jim Skea, Research Director at the UK Energy Research Centre, said:

“The energy, climate change and planning bills announced in the Queen’s Speech will allow faster progress on all fronts – energy efficiency, clean coal use, nuclear and renewables. Plus the targets and carbon budgets in the climate change bill will bring a revolution in the government’s accountability for its environmental policies. There will be no excuse now for slow progress or missed targets.”

Dr Luke Myers, Sustainable Energy Research Group, University of Southampton, said:

“Even with replacement of all existing nuclear capacity the UK is still overly reliant upon foreign-sourced fossil fuels. With the 2010 renewable energy target all but out of reach it would be encouraging for the government to increase the insufficient funding for renewable energy technologies and get tough with cutting electricity demand if we have any hope of reaching targets of 2020 and beyond.”

Mr John Baxter, President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE), said:

“On the Energy Bill – whilst making sensible proposals for ensuring a broad, secure and increasingly renewable energy supply mix, it is bitterly disappointing that the Bill appears exclusively focused on the supply-side. The opportunities for rapid reductions in carbon emissions and improving security of supply all lie on the demand side; eliminating energy wastage and improving the efficiency of energy use. It’s high time these options were given proper Government priority.

“On the Climate Change Bill — The proposals to provide a legal framework for achieving major reductions in emissions over the coming decades are welcome, but we need to focus on what we can do now and in the short term to get ourselves on the right path. There seems no logical reason for persisting with the upper limit on emissions reductions of 32% by 2020 – if we can achieve deeper cuts by then, in an environmentally, economically and socially acceptable manner, then why not do so?

“On the Housing Bill — With 3 million new homes to be built, this Bill must ensure that the new Housing and Communities Agency has a clear remit to deliver sustainable, energy efficient, low carbon houses, as part of a joined-up approach to the climate change and energy challenges. It’s not just the Energy, Climate Change and Planning Bills that need to work together, but Housing, Transport and many other policy areas also.”

Dr David Brown, Chief Executive, Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE), said:

“The Government is finally taking decisive action to tackle Britain’s energy crisis with the announcement of planning reforms which will speed up the design and build of nuclear power stations to meet our growing demands. Good news at last but not much use if we do not have the skills set to effectively run these new installations.

“The nuclear industry isn’t the only sector to be suffering from a chronic skills shortage. The UK’s entire science and engineering industry is facing a skills black hole and we risk losing our position as a global leader if this is not remedied. We are going to need 2.4 million science and engineering graduates by 2014 if we’re to avoid the looming crisis. In the chemical and process industries especially, future investment and growth will depend on keeping the talent pipeline flowing freely.

“Enthusiasm for science needs to start at school. Science and maths should be at the top of the curriculum and we need to attract further talent into teaching to ignite the interest of the next generation.

“We have to address the skills shortage now — it is no good having state-of-the-art facilities if we do not have the talent to take them forward.”

Dr Mark Morgan, Nexant ChemSystems, said:

“The carbon saving targets clearly point to a move to nuclear power generation. One of the challenges that come to mind in addition to the usual sound bites is the question who will pay. Investments in nuclear power in a climate of escalating construction costs will be tremendous. Nexant’s experience in the oil and gas industry in recent years points to massive inflation in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) costs. The EPC market is heavily loaded with projects on a global scale, be it new refineries, power stations, chemicals complexes, biofuels, etc. As a rough estimate this year alone EPC costs have risen circa 15%-25%, maybe 25%-35% last year and 25% or so in the preceding year. All this points to a monumental investment if nuclear is the way forward. How will such projects be supported? I suspect there could be some form of public-private partnership for the construction phase and operation phase of the nuclear operation. However, in a climate of investment uncertainty following the sub-prime market fall out in the financial sector, where is the finance to come from? More importantly in the long run will the government afford the decommissioning and environmental clean-up costs?

“There will need to be a serious examination of broader options than just the multi-billion nuclear approach and Government departments will need support these initiatives more proactively. In the United States where energy security as well as climate change drive the demand for biofuels, the US Department of energy has already committed over $400 million to the development of new biofuels technology. The UK has committed only a fraction in comparison. Something has to change.”

Dr Jim Watson, Deputy Director of the Sussex Energy Group, said:

“Today’s Energy Bill is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough and is confused in its messages. Measures to encourage renewable energy and carbon capture and storage technology are essential to meet the ambitious targets set out in Climate Change Bill – but further action to help people save energy and buy more energy efficient products are conspicuously absent. Strengthened incentives for investment in gas infrastructure are also welcome. However, these policies are overshadowed by the government’s misplaced faith in a new generation of nuclear power stations.

“Although nuclear power is a low carbon technology, it will not have a material impact on UK carbon emissions or energy security for many years.

“Rather, there is a serious risk that the long and open-ended process to support new nuclear will continue – and this may distract attention from quicker, more effective measures to reduce UK carbon emissions and maintain energy security. It is likely that further financial support will need to be provided by taxpayers or energy consumers before private investors are willing to commit to new nuclear stations. It is not clear that today’s Energy Bill provides for such support.”

Dr Jeremy Legett, CEO of Solar Century, said:

“The PM may want the private sector to finance and operate nuclear power, but the only way to do that is to write them a blank cheque on potential liabilities and hope for the best. He may want the private sector to build lots of gas capacity, but more and more people worry that the gas can arrive in enough volume to run it. Rather than mortgage national security this way, wouldn’t it be better to major on energy efficiency and renewables?”

Mr Justin Taberham, Director of Policy at Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), said:

“CIWEM feels that it is imperative that any expansion of UK nuclear energy generation is consulted upon effectively with as wide an audience as possible and plans must consider the whole life costs of nuclear power. This includes materials, construction, decommissioning and long term waste management.”

Miss Hannah Chalmers, Energy Technology for Sustainable Development Group at Imperial College London, said:

“I am pleased to see that the Queen’s Speech has proposed measures to support investment in new energy projects. It is, however, incredibly important that Government also establishes a stable legal and regulatory environment that encourages environmentally responsible use of energy once the initial investment has been made. Technologies such as carbon capture and storage will not be commercially deployed until investors have confidence that their spending to reduce carbon dioxide (and other) emissions will be rewarded in the longer term.”

Robert Freer, Independent Engineering Consultant, said:

“New nuclear should start at once, it should have started years ago. Today the bottleneck will be the supply of the conventional components, for instance no new orders for transformers (a component part of any power station) are likely to be accepted until 2011.

“Some renewables are worth considering, others (such as wind turbines) are a complete waste of money because they need continual subsidies. Under the system of Renewable Obligation Certificates taxpayers are paying £30 billion for just 1% of our energy. This is not good engineering or good economics. The politicians presumably like them because they are conspicuous.”

Richard Ploszek, Senior Policy Advisor at the Royal Academy of Engineering, said:

“The Government has finally begun to grasp the importance of taking action to ensure the UK has secure energy supplies for the future and to keep climate change mitigation as a priority.

“However, the scale of the engineering challenge to deliver the required infrastructure is unprecedented and must be taken into account for both reliable, secure supply and reduced demand.

“New and improved technologies are essential to address the twin concerns of climate change and security of supply. The critical clusters of technology are nuclear, carbon capture and storage (CCS), energy efficiency including low-energy buildings and vehicles, renewables and energy storage. We need all of these if we are to close the energy gap, it is not a matter of choice.”

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