Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has brought a heightened focus on powering both the UK and Europe in general. We review technologies and trends that might define the future. The tragic invasion of Ukraine has shone a light on Europe’s power demands and the global geopolitics that influence where business gets its energy and what the energy roadmap will look like.
Add sustainability into that mix, and the complexities of planning energy purchasing, availability and security are troubling for modern business.
And of course, business means people. We too need the juice that powers our computers, or the jobs that pay the mortgage working within the energy systems of the future. So, not counting renewables, to which we will return again in these pages, what are the options for tomorrow?
Nuclear experts at The University of Manchester have recently outlined what they consider some of the key actions needed to deliver a responsible nuclear sector in the UK’s Net Zero future.
Their new report, ‘Siting Implications of Nuclear Energy: A path to Net Zero’, maps some nine actions required to understand the whole nuclear energy lifecycle better, to help ensure the sector can realistically and responsibly deliver the scale of development required.
Much of the challenge surrounding the UK and nuclear is about scale, money and time. Hinkley development is way behind schedule and way over cost. These are obvious concerns, but there are equally valid issues surrounding safety.
Some feel that nuclear simply isn’t the way forward on that basis, though the scientific middle ground generally sees consensus that at least some nuclear is necessary in the UK across the sustainable energy transition.
Authored by the senior leadership team at The University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, home to the largest and most advanced nuclear research capability in UK academia, the latest paper considers how policymakers and industry decision makers should tackle key issues such as spent fuel and waste management strategies, safety standards for licensing (and de-licensing) sites, the kind of legacy we might tolerate from our nuclear sector and the role of local communities in determining the suitability of sites for nuclear development.
These are all essential metrics for how and under what circumstances the nuclear sector in the UK develops and powers our activities across the coming decades.
Professor Francis Livens, Director of the Dalton Nuclear Institute explains: “In the UK, nuclear energy seems at last to be returning to the fore after decades of comparative, if productive, obscurity.
“With the expansion necessary to help deliver our Net Zero ambition and the new applications envisaged for nuclear energy, the limited number of nominated nuclear sites in the UK is insufficient. Delivering on these ambitions will therefore require new nuclear sites to be identified, and new communities to accept nuclear facilities.
“This is not a trivial task, and common to all discussions about nuclear energy generation is the ever-present question of waste. Now would be a good time to ask ourselves questions concerning our future waste policy.
“Delivery of nuclear energy is a complex process, and we must aim to understand the whole lifecycle if we are to make the right decisions. This report aims to further discussion on the matter and provides recommendations on how to use nuclear energy responsibly to deliver Net Zero.”
Co-author Professor Gregg Butler continues: “It is only by addressing this issue now, taking time to understand the impact of the whole lifecycle, that we can achieve the scale of siting required.
“In this paper, we set out recommendations for a future waste policy that – once in place – will ensure the path is clear for nuclear energy to deliver on its Net Zero potential.”
These are broad and perhaps a little complex for these pages, but the paper essentially calls for more, better integrated controls on nuclear waste and guidance and for better management of spent fuel to help the UK nuclear sector pave the way to Net Zero safely with business and community buy-in.
At the very least, it candidly admits there are many aspects to achieving public acceptance of a significant programme of building new nuclear energy facilities at national, regional and local levels.
Transportation and accidents are other areas where confidence is lacking. The strategy for storing spent fuel appears concerning too. The paper explains that given the potential to have multiple different
operators for fission new build, there is a need to define a cohesive UK strategy for spent fuel management.
Historically, the fuel from the Magnox reactors was transported to Sellafield for reprocessing. Spent AGR fuel is shipped for storage in the Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant (THORP) ponds at Sellafield, but this was essentially a tactical rather than a strategic choice (i.e. the ponds were available).
Sellafield, remember, is today among Europe’s most toxic industrial sites. The Government will need to do far, far better to usher in the next wave of UK nuclear power. But the UK now has a coherent policy on nuclear energy which envisages a significant role for this low carbon energy source on the path to achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The job for policymakers then, is to get on with making this safe and acceptable to both business and the public, to help this energy transition get underway.