Talk - Nuclear Energy

Nuclear Energy – what is it and do we need it?

Wednesday 4th June 2014

Report of a Meeting Organised by Cold Ash Greening Group to Discuss Generation of Electricity from Nuclear Energy

There was a turnout of more than 30 on Wednesday 4th June at a talk arranged by Cold Ash Greening Group to discuss the role of Nuclear power in the generation of electricity in the UK.  Organised as part of a programme to provide a better public understanding of the issues related to climate change the talk was given by Dick Phillips a retired Harwell scientist with more than 30 years experience in the civil UK nuclear energy programme.

Dick summarised the processes involved in generating electricity from nuclear fuels compared with more conventional combustion processes involving carbon rich fuels such as coal, gas and oil.   In considering the advantages and disadvantages of the various nuclear reactor types which are used for this purpose throughout the world Dick noted in particular the low levels of carbon dioxide emitted from use of nuclear fuel and the high reliable electricity  outputs which could be produced.  This was clearly important if the UK is to meet its obligation to reduce current levels of carbon dioxide emissions and meet future electricity demands.  The risks associated with use of nuclear energy and the difficulty in reconciling the public perception of these risks with the actual risks were also discussed.   The issue of treatment of nuclear waste was of significant public concern but Dick discussed how many of the technical issues associated with the safe storage of this had been largely solved. There had not however been the political will in the UK, to implement these.

In France more than 75% of electricity needs are, and have been historically, produced from nuclear energy and some is imported into the UK.  In the UK, once a world leader in research, development and manufacture of this technology, a maximum of 25% of annual demand had historically been produced.  Now due to closure of reactors without their replacement this had  fallen to less than 15% and was likely to fall further.  Similarly environmentally unfriendly coal fired power stations had been closed to be replaced mainly by gas.   Meeting the shortfall with renewable sources such as wind and solar is technically impractical and expensive.  A decision had recently been made to reinvest in nuclear energy in the UK if carbon emission targets were to be met.   The favoured initial reactor design was French but the time delay in obtaining approval and getting a system in operation would be considerable.  The possibility of power shortages in the UK  in the future had therefore to be addressed.

After the formal talk a lively discussion took place during which a number of participants expressed their thanks to Dick for the usefulness of his talk and the opportunity to discuss a subject not often available for public information.