The UK government must work with industry on a long-term nuclear strategy to avoid leaving future generations with a legacy of spent nuclear fuel to deal with, according to experts.
A report out last week from the Royal Society says that the UK’s nuclear new build programme, which the government signalled is pressing ahead, must take into account reprocessing waste nuclear fuel and any inherent security and safety issues.
Adequate research and development programmes will be needed from the outset, says the report.
“The last time any UK government articulated a coherent long-term plan for nuclear power was in 1955,” says Roger Cashmore, chairman of the Royal Society working group and head of the UK Atomic Energy Authority. “[A long-term, holistic strategy for nuclear power in the UK] must encompass the entire nuclear fuel cycle, from fresh fuel manufacture to disposal.”
The government needs to “face up to the issue”, he says, which can no longer be an afterthought.
“While the government has made some positive moves towards an integrated approach to nuclear power, more must be done,” he says.
Speaking to the Royal Society last Thursday, Energy Secretary Chris Huhne acknowledged the scale of the problem:
“We manage the world’s largest plutonium stocks – more than a hundred tonnes – and they will need guarding for as long as it takes us to convert it and build long-term deep storage. And if we don’t, we will have to guard it for tens of thousands of years.”
Half of the Department of Energy and Climate Change’s budget – around £2 billion – currently goes on managing nuclear waste and this will increase to two-thirds next year. And the total nuclear liabilities of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority are £49 billion and could rise further.
“Nuclear policy is a runner to be the most expensive failure of post-war British policy-making,” admitted Huhne. “If we are to retain public support for nuclear as a key part of our future energy mix, as I believe we should, then we have to show that have learned the lessons from our past mistakes.”
Huhne reiterated the government’s promise to move ahead with nuclear power but without any public subsidy to ensure that this “will never happen again”.
He justified the stance, saying it offers the cheapest low-carbon source of electricity, at £66 per MWh (according to Arup), even taking into account waste and decommissioning costs.
For further information:
UK report on Fukushima backs continued nuclear development (11-Oct)
Scottish and Southern Energy pulls out of nuclear development plans (23-Sept)
Siemens follows German lead pulling plug on nuclear power (21-Sept)
EDF Energy takes steps towards UK’s first new nuclear power station for 20 years (1-Aug)
17 October 2011