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back to article Hutton: UK must become world No 1 in nuclear power

The Brown government has revealed plans for a massive resurgence in the UK nuclear power industry, not just a replacement of existing infrastructure. Business Minister John Hutton said yesterday that he would like to see Britain's new generation of nuclear stations deliver a greater proportion of the national electricity supply …

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Pirate

UK no 1

Nothing like a little patriotism to stoke the fires , eh? Still, directly after his recent pandering to the Antiscience lobbyists , I wonder where he's going to find these Physicists? He certainly won't find any on his back benches .... nor any molecular biologists neither .

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Waste?

Interestingly the BBC website cited notes:

"Insurance and the cost of potential accidents are complicated concerns to factor in, as is long-term disposal of waste, which is difficult to budget for when no definite solution has yet been established"

- no definite solution eh? Grand.

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Anonymous Coward

The French do not need to build more nuclear power stations...

How come they are tendering to build some over here then?

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Tom
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Hutton is BUSINESS minister

Of course he wants more Nuclear power - it would be very good for business'. An extremely costly and inefficient method of power generation is always going to benefit business. He's too stupid to realise it will be French business' though.

The fact that it will cost the UK taxpayer and our childrens children for hundred of thousands of years to clear up after us is irrelevant.

I should add that I studied Nuclear Engineering as part of my Engineering degree so I happen to know a lot more than most (all?) politicians on this one.

And I dont get lucrative contracts to change my mind either.

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Ah, that's why Sarkozy is here

He's come to accept our generator programme for EdF, who will build the power stations for free in return for a thirty year operating licence. As for disposing of the waste, well, that's someone else's problem, isn't it?

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Go Nuclear!

Its easy to be an environmental group and simply say "no" to everything without making any actual decision.

However, at last there's something from the Government that I actually support! While nuclear isn't a perfect energy source, its a heck of a lot better than burning more gas or oil.

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Unhappy

Rain power?

"....This is also true of wind power, the main renewable technology suited to the UK climate...." Hmmmm, what aout rain, we seem to have plenty of that? More hydro power, maybe? After all, it is not only green, it has plenty of building work involved so lost of short-term jobs, and most of the likely sites are in the kind of economic backwaters that Labour usually wants votes in (like Wales and Scotland).

Joking aside, I support the idea of a nuke industry and think more nuke stations are inevitable. Unfortunately, any new power stations will probably be an open bidding process, which means our moribund (thanks to Old Labour and its ex-buddies the Greenpeckers) nuke industry will have to compete against the healthier French and the Yanks.

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Another example of joined up thinking

Hutton being a minister in the government that just flogged off state-owned BNFL's Westinghouse reactor-building business to Toshiba in return for a quick buck. So rather than the taxpayer (finally) getting some money out of BNFL, we're all going to have to pay to import technology we once owned.

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Stop

Renewables

The UK has got some of the highest tides in the world, a prevailing westerly wind and sits on the windy side of a large ocean with large waves. here's an idea. How about we become world leaders in developing and exporting renewable energy technology?

Imagine for a moment that all the money spent on Nuclear power in the UK had been put into developing renewable energy. Wouldn't we have just solved this problem by now?

Here's another one. We've got a large part of our population concentrated in dense cities and suburbs with large numbers of new build housing developments. How about we invest in local combined heat and power generation plants and become world leaders in that as well.

Oh, wait, Nuclear is highly centralised, mega-engineering dominated by a small number of companies that spend a fortune on lobbying government.

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Anonymous Coward

Consultation

Whilst I'm for the Nuclear option, I thought the government was going to undertake a fair consultation process..seems as if they've already made up their minds.

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Flame

Nice Graph

I note that the BBC graph conveniently excludes the cost of decommissioning nuclear power stations, supposedly because that's outside the "lifespan" of the plant and (from the article) "is difficult to budget for when no definite solution has yet been established" - sort of like saying, "Our children will pay the bill, so it's free!" Together with the spent fuel, there's quite a long "zombie period" for which, of course, Britain has no strategy.

Power generation from nuclear fission has had quite enough government pork. It's time to invest properly in the alternatives.

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Coat

Wither the nuclear physicists?

Interesting that the same government that is scaling back research into particle and nuclear physics, with their cuts to STFC, now wants to have more physicists to make the UK more nuclear.

Since 80% of undergraduates in physics cite particle or astrophysics as the motivator for getting them into the subject it sounds as if there'll be no Brits to do the work.

Joined up government or wot?

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Foreign owned

It may be a good idea to let foreign (i.e. probably French) companies build and operate any future nuclear power stations. If the deal was set up such that all waste was returned to the supplier country which would also have to supply guarantees covering the decommissioning costs. Perhaps then the inevitable decommissioning and waste processing/dumping problems could be paid for by someone else's taxpayers for a change.

But then again if one presumes we don't need nuclear reactors with Union Jacks painted on them could not a lot of the power simply be imported?

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Re: Nice Graph

The BBC article also notes:

"Nuclear power also looks more cost effective when a financial value is put on carbon dioxide emissions, as assumed in the Royal Academy of Engineers' estimates"

So it looks like the cost of dealing with the waste from fossil fuels is counted but that from nuclear is left out. What sort of a comparison is that?

I would not want to think that the Royal Academy of Engineers sees lots of jobs for the boys in the a future nuclear pork fest, oh no.

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Paris Hilton

Waste

- half life of plutonium 239: 24,100 years

and it remains dangerous for several half-lives, requiring long term storage that needs to be entirely stable without any minding for all that time. Say 75,000 years.

We can build facilities with a servicable lifespan of 75,000 years?

Am I missing something really fundamental, something that removes this as a problem?

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Alert

@Foreign owned

"But then again if one presumes we don't need nuclear reactors with Union Jacks painted on them could not a lot of the power simply be imported?"

- EXACTLY. I suspect this might cause problems which are purely political , given the eurosceptic nature of politicians and their constituents this side of the channel......

Also.. dosen't scotland have an opt out? Also, the uk record on interaction between scientists and politicians was poisoned to an extent after windscale : If I recall correctly... the scientists were scapegoated for the fire when they were actually ordered to file the cooling fins of the uranium rods , and this contributed directly to the buildup of wigner energy... Someone correct me if im wrong on this , as I'm relying on memory, and cant quote a referrence offhand.

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@Waste

Unfortunately you're confusing waste with fuel. Plutonium, far from being a waste element is a valuable fuel material in its own right. The only snag to its greater use, in fact is that in normal reactors the production rate is very small. Too small, in fact to rate as a viable fuel source. Hence the work on the fast breeder reactor. Another concept that we've thrown on the scrap heap.

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World No. 1 in Nuclear Power?

I think that the French may well have something to say about that. Particularly since we have long since thrown all our own nuclear power generation research and manufacturing expertise on the scrap heap. Added to which, the French now own (I believe) the greater part of this countries power generation manufacturing facilities anyway. So where is the UK input into all this? We'd be hard put to place the security guards on the gates of these new generating stations

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75,000 years

What politician our businessman cares about what happens 100 years after his death? As long as he gets into the Dictionary of National Biography, the fact that his great great grandchildren will be reading it with their three eyes is no concern of his.

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Coat

Oh that Hutton...

I thought maybe Alan had broadened his horizons since his move to Tottenham.

Mines the blue one with the RFC logo.

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@frank

Pu239 is a fissionable fuel and is often used in nuclear power plants today, this makes good sense as more energy is produced for each tonne of uranium dug out of the ground. The drawback is that the spent fuel needs to be reprocessed to extract the Pu239, reprocessing spent nuclear fuel is difficult and dangerous.

That may remove the problem of Pu239 but it still leaves plenty of other isotopes with very long half-lives, the technologies available to burn these up are generally in their infancy and problematic.

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Stop

Let's cover the country with one of the most dangerous technologies known to man

Has everyone just forgotten Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Windscale (not to mention less spectacular Sellafield disasters of late)? Or is the assumption just that human error, engineering defects and natural or man made disasters have now been permanently abolished? Actually why not just pretend they never happened, and cover the country with the one of the most dangerous technologies known to man? I hope John Hutton has got a firm promise on his Westinghouse / Halliburton / Bechtel / EDF directorship.

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Ru

Not much innovation in the land of nuclear power

Too bad pebble bed projects seem to have vanished, at least from the western world, and fusion funding seems to rank only a little higher on the government's list of priorities than astronomy... it does seem that nuclear power is the only real way to go in the short term.

Its certainly nice of greenpeace to complain, given the general opposition to onshore windfarms, the expense of offfshore windfarms, and the apparent inability orf anyone to come up with a tidal power system that won't cause all sorts of problems. I can see big tidal barrage projects being the next generation of environmentally disasterous hydroelectric plans.

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Flame

Dangerous technologies

Chernobyl was caused by people trying a foolish expeiment so dangerous that the safety systems had to be shutdown to allow it to take place.

TMI is an excellent example of how the safety systems work extremely well even in the face of a disaster.

Over the past 50 years I think you'll find that casualty rates in mining and oil industries, and deaths from pollution related to burning coal and oil, far outweigh those from the use of nuclear power.

We can't continue to burn fossil fuels, they'll run out too soon. Renewables like wind and solar are too unreliable in terms of supply (see recent IET article for an interesting account of how Denmark's dependency on wind power results in big problems and very costly electricity).

Unless we're all happy to return to the stone age, and I am not, nuclear is the only viable option we have in the medium term. Get over it.

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Coat

@Let's cover the country with one of the most dangerous technologies known to man

I suspect this post was by one of the Antiscience lobbyists (Subgenera - Ecofeminist)

This situation is one where the likes of cardinal o'Connor are proved false . Scientists need to improve the boundaries of science all the time . They DO need to know everything , so that accidents can be prevented . Nothing wrong with the technology, if ONLY competent scientists are involved ... leave out the priests and politicians .

What i was saying is that since scientists have been screwed over for so long , especially in this field , they should leave this area of expertise to the french . Why not ? better unions , better working hours... and no meddling by Brown et al...

Windscale was caused by politicians trying to rush to build the bomb ... the Brown atomic age part deux is simply a local c@ckfight.

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ian
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Stop

Yes!

No doubt after we dump vast amounts of money into developing cutting-edge fission technology, someone will hit on a way to make fusion work, instantly obsoleting fission tech.

Buggy whips, anyone? Get them while they last!

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Anonymous Coward

Global warming complete bollocks, says patio heater manufacturer

Hutton is the feller who wants to get rich, is he not? Before long there will be a nice warm seat on the board for him.

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Paris Hilton

Alas

Alas , no one is saying a word about the 250,000 year pollution problem associated with this wonderful technology , or even offer up a simple solution to clean up the generation one mess in a place called Hanford in Washington State in the land of the prisoners of the state of paranoia and spied upon across the sea of doubts to the west of blighty island !

May appear to be functional technology , but has many short comings yet to be resolved !

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Flame

"recent IET article"

Yes I read it too, it was in the same issue as the article which totally ignored the fact that the UK in general has had a "dash for gas" in electricity generation post privatisation (the article came from Northern Ireland, where the dash for gas didn't happen, but this fact wasn't acknowledged, because it would have demolished the article's relevance outside NI). I'm a bit disappointed with the IET lately.

Renewables like wind and solar are indeed too unreliable round here, that's why British Sea Power isn't just a pop group, it's something the government should have been investing in. Or maybe even the "market" should have been investing in, they are supposed to know best about these things (they certainly know that nuclear power is commercially irrelevant, and needs government backed insurance, and government funds to pay for cleanup). But developing and particularly *manufacturing* in heavy industries in the UK is an irrelevance, we don't need it, we got the financial services sector to keep us all afloat, said Maggie, and Tony, and Gordon... Assuming the City make it through the next big crisis (and if it's not sub-prime mortgages maybe it'll be the inadequacy of the Thames barrier).

As for CHP: it was being talked about by the folks in Harwell's Energy Technology Support Unit and elsewhere when I was at college (er, a long time ago). It works, it's effective, but in the UK at least, it's mostly invisible. Why?

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Jim

Here we go again...

@ Ru

Yet again we get the "you can't please the greens" mantra.

Greenpeace have no problems with wind power, maybe you are confusing them with RSPB or NIMBY Inc. Or maybe it is just so much easier to ignore the 'greens' if we just lump them all together so that everything 'they' say is contradictory.

@Barnaby

Pu reprocessing, as currently carried out (PUREX), to produce MOX fuel is probably worse than not bothering. The extra energy recovered from the fuel is just 1% of the potential energy in the fuel, though that means they get 6% rather than 5% from a conventional fuel cycle. It produces shed loads of extra low and medium level waste. It also requires significant transportation of fuel from power station to reprocessing plant and back that, which adds more risk of a contamination accident or fuel theft.

Oh, and fuel can only be reprocessed once.

@AC "Dangerous technologies"

Describing (fission) nuclear as anything but short term is unrealistic. The availability of U235 is not sufficient to support a large growth in LWR plant, as envisioned by the nuclear industry, for any meaningful length of time.

It is interesting that fast breeders could extend the available resources by increasing fuel utilisation to 90%+ and even allow the use of Thorium 233 as a fuel. Unfortunately, despite 50 years of work, fast breeder technology just hasn't been able to get beyond the experiment phase so thankfully nobody here has bothered bringing up that chestnut.

Going back to the article, I am actually rather confused about where the idea that Britain has any expertise came from. If you want under-performing gas-cooled technology we have plenty but my understanding is that LWRs are very much the preferred option. For this tech we have to go to the yanks, the japs and/or the french. The only LWR manufacturer we have is Rolls-Royce and they only build from licensed designs provided by the US.

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Stop

Get over it?

To the other anonymous coward who wants us to get over it.

I take it you'll be lobbying to have one in your back yard will you?

I still remember the Not the Nine o' Clock News sketch from the eighties. "Give your kids that Ready Brek Glow, move to Windscale".

I can't quite fathom the engineering hubris of the pro nuclear fission lobby. Three Mile Island was minutes away from a meltdown that would have made Chernobyl look like a hiccough.

I don't know if you saw the BBC documentary on Windscale recently. The hubris of the engineers there was such that they didn't even want to put a filter on the air cooling tower, as they couldn't imagine anything ever going wrong. Luckily Cockcroft, against concerted opposition, persuaded them to do so or they would have irradiated the whole of the North of England even more successfully than they managed to when the core caught fire.

But of course nothing like Windscale, Chernobyl, or Three Mile Island will ever happen again will it.

Have an accident with a coal mine and you might kill a few hundred. Have a good one with a nuclear power station and you could manage a few hundred thousand or more - let alone what you'll do to the surrounding area for decades/centuries.

Nuclear fission is the stoneage technology. It is firmly rooted in an era where people thought radiation was next to harmless and that engineering was so foolproof that nuclear accidents could never happen.

It seems people either never learn or have extraordinarily short memories.

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No problem

I bet I can find a buyer for the nuclear waste without much of an effort. Plenty of organisations out there that would be in the market for that sort of thing, even some governments. Syria and Iran for instance, now I bet they'll be only too happy to buy all the nuclear waste we want to sell them.

What? We had no problem selling better weapons than the British Army was equipped with to Iraq, not exactly entire years prior to the first Gulf War. Besides, if we sell these countries our nuclear waste, the Government will legitimately be able to say they pose a threat to national security and we'll finally have a use for all that fancy equipment at Heathrow.

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Unhappy

Nuclear fanboys?

"Unless we're all happy to return to the stone age, and I am not, nuclear is the only viable option we have in the medium term. Get over it."

You're so wrong.

I'm amazed and saddened how many nuclear fanboys there are on here.

See this video: http://tinyurl.com/27g5je

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Anonymous Coward

@Get over it?

> Have an accident with a coal mine and you might kill a few hundred.

Who mentioned mines? The last "pea-souper" smog in London, before the Clean Air acts banned coal burning, is said to have killed 4000 people. How many more die each year from similar pollution-related illnesses near fossil fuel power stations? (Which, incidentally, emit more radiation into the environment than nuclear ones, because coal contains trace elements that exit via the smoke stacks).

It would be really nice and cuddly to have free energy with no potential of any risk at all, but life doesn't work that way, sorry.

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Joke

@No problem

No I've got a better idea.

Why not bomb the shit out of the Iranians for building nuclear power stations and help the Americans help the Saudis build nuclear power stations instead. We all know what a stable, democratic, balanced regime Saudi Arabia is. (Anyone remember the Shah of Iran?)

Oops - I think that idea may be taken already. Part 2 (helping the Saudis go nuclear) underway already.

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Let's face it, there is no long-term solution...

U235 is going to run out; petroleum and NG are going to run out. The reality that no one wants to face is that the status quo is not going to last another century and unless someone in power starts doing something serious to change people's expectations about personal transport and standard of living the bottom is going to drop out rather suddenly.

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Stop

@@Get over it

The point is not that coal is good or viable - it is that nuclear is disastrous in every respect: economics, sustainability, safety (even if you overlook the possibility/likelihood of truly enormous catastrophes)

The repeated assertion that nuclear is the only viable option is factually incorrect.

The German government recently conducted a large scale, real world experiment proving conclusively that distributed renewables can supply all the country's energy needs.

The trial is described in the following article:

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/jeremy_leggett/2008/02/renewed_energy.html

Late last year, a German economics ministry experiment showed that distributed power can indeed produce reliable baseload in a secure and reliable manner. Thirty-six decentralised renewable plants - a mix of biogas, wind, solar (photovoltaics, or PV) and hydropower - were linked by three companies and a university in a nationwide network controlled by a central computer.

The nub of the problem not technology, it is that the UK government is under the exclusive influence of a bunch of large corporates as so eloquenty described in the "Renewables" comment by Julian Bond above.

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Anonymous Coward

@AC

"Real world experiment proving conclusively that distributed renewables can supply all the country's energy needs."

Well, you obviously read the article. Did you read the rebuttals in the comments as well? They boil down to "it's not that simple".

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Alert

Nothing's that simple

I think that's one thing we might agree on: "Nothing's that simple".

Covering the country in nuclear power stations is, however, just plain f**king bonkers. That's reasonably simple...

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Government types profit from oil and gas ...

and think they can be sufficiently far from the sources of their wealth. Realization that they cannot changes them; they realize they would rather have a nuclear plant over their back fence than a gas pipeline or a coal rail line, even if it does mean five-billion-plus-special-taxes in natural gas is replaced by 0.2 billion in uranium.

What Frank is missing about plutonium, aside from the fact that it can be removed from nuclear waste and burned, is that its radioactivity is of a kind with which all life is familiar. The top centimetre of the Earth's dry parts contains ten million tonnes of uranium, which like plutonium decays by emitting alpha particles; in the process of transforming to something more stable than itself, it emits eight of them where plutonium emits one.

Since it emits them over a much longer period, ten million tonnes of it are as alpha-active as only 400 tonnes of plutonium. If we someday choose to bury thousands of tonnes of the latter a kilometre or two down, we will then be in a position quite prudently to forget that it's down there, just as we are sensible not to worry that the saltshakers in the Titanic, if they lose containment, will render the oceans undrinkable.

--- G.R.L. Cowan

http://www.eagle.ca/~gcowan/boron_blast.html --

let the baby light matches in the fuel storage room!

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Coat

Iran has some nuclear scientists

We need a radio active symbol.

OK, so for years Global Warming was not happening and we closed the UK coal mines because of sulpher polition and acid rain and had the dash to gas.

Now we are replacing Trident and using Global Warming for our desparate need for nuclear power. Quick, we must go nuclear before the world ends. Except Iran.

BTW, Iran will soon be given Nukes by America. They will most probably be delivered by Tomohauk from warships in the Gulf. And not soon enough is what I say, the whole place is run by mad mullas... sorry encitement to violence and racial hatered...I will get my orange jump suit and pack my waterbaord.

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