A report out tomorrow (2 July) from the University of Birmingham’s Policy Commission on nuclear power gives strong warnings to government about a ‘sense of drift’ in UK energy policy and suggests recommendations for a ‘roadmap’ which it says is critical to the future of the nuclear option.

The commission, chaired by Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, states that public consultation, greater cooperation between government and industry, and government led training and education to ensure a suitably skilled workforce, are all crucial in order that the UK can face challenges such as the threat of an energy crisis and climate change.

This report comes at a time when energy demand is predicted to rise, when the UK’s current nuclear power stations are approaching their design lifetimes – the last is due to close in 2035 – and when many coal-fired power stations are to be shut as emissions controls are tightened.

Martin Freer , Professor of Nuclear Physics and Director of the Centre for Nuclear Education and Research at the University of Birmingham, and member of the Commission, says: ‘We are facing the most significant gap between supply and demand that will have dramatic consequences if left unaddressed. The challenge for government and for those who seek to influence policy is to fill that gap as decisively and as effectively as possible.’

Like his fellow commissioners Professor Freer is convinced that the need for an all encompassing ‘roadmap’ supported by government, industry and academia is paramount. He continues: ‘The fact is that the financial risks associated with building new nuclear power stations are beyond the balance sheets of many utility companies and therefore need to be shared between the public and private sectors. The government should also ensure that as part of the negotiations with new-build companies the tremendous opportunities for UK businesses to engage in these projects are maximised.’

Similarly, the commissioners identify that the UK has fallen significantly behind its international competitors in many areas vital to successfully embracing the nuclear option. They say that the challenges around public confidence in nuclear energy, the disposal of nuclear waste, and safety, require better communication, more dialogue and appropriate incentives. In addition the wider understanding of the energy sector must be enhanced through informed and reasoned debate if the UK’s energy strategies are to gain public acceptance.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, formerly Minister of State at the Department of Energy and Climate Change, and Chair of the Commission, says: ‘The use of nuclear energy requires a long-term national commitment entailing many decades of responsibility. A country should foresee an elapse of at least a hundred years between the initial planning and the final decommissioning of the latest power plants, not to mention the management of long-lived radioactive waste and stewardship of disposal sites.’

He continues: ‘In terms of electrical energy supply the UK is now at a crossroads. Nuclear energy should be a significant part of the solution as it has the potential to provide low-cost, low-carbon energy.’

Notes to Editors
1. The launch of the University of Birmingham’s report from the Nuclear Policy Commission takes places on Monday 2nd July, 6pm at Smith Square Conference Centre, Smith Square, London, SW 1P, 3HZ.
2. The panellists include Tim Yeo MP, Chair of the Select Committee on Energy and Climate Change; Stephen Tindale, associate fellow at the Centre for European Reform; and Professor Martin Freer, Director of the Centre for Nuclear Education and Research at the University of Birmingham.
3. The University of Birmingham’s Policy Commissions bring leading figures from the public, private and third sectors together with Birmingham academics to generate new thinking on contemporary issues of global, national and civic concern. The aim is to tackle issues such as the shape and nature of local public services in a ‘big society’, the future of energy, healthy living in the 21st Century, and the challenges of security and freedom. For further information: http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/impact/policy-commissions/index.aspx  

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