TEDx 2015: It is time to go small and nuclear
- Great Hall, Aston Webb
- Engineering and Physical Sciences, Lectures Talks and Workshops, Students
Ticket price: £20 (£14 students)
The UK is wrestling with its energy policy as it struggles to reduce its dependence on coal and imported gas in an attempt to boost low carbon generation and energy security. Offshore wind is now making a significant contribution. Shale gas, though not low carbon, is poised to make an impact. However, both are not without challenge; wind is intermittent and shale gas will require carbon capture and storage on a scale which remains to be demonstrated and credible.
Nuclear energy is poised to make a late entry to the market, dominated by French, Japanese and Chinese technologies. Ultimately, the nuclear contribution to the energy mix could be substantial; however, the price tag associated with the construction of a nuclear power plant and the loss of much of the UK skills base means UK led investment will be minimal.
The energy challenge is not just about electricity. Approximately 40% of the UK's energy demand is linked to heat, which in turn, produces 20% of the CO2 emissions – space and water heating account for up to 600 TWh per year. A significant fraction of this is linked to domestic heating associated with gas and oil fired boilers. In an urban context, there is an opportunity to generate and deliver heat in an integrated fashion. Management of heat and in particular waste heat is crucial.
An option is yet to be explored, which could provide a UK led nuclear energy revolution – combining solutions of waste heat with electricity production from a small nuclear power plant. The scale of investment required could open up the market to potential UK investors and the manufacturing capability exists within the UK.
Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are a technology that is demonstrated, which could potentially solve the UK's energy challenge. Will this put the UK at the forefront of international competition? Is the political ambition there?
Martin Freer, Professor of Nuclear Physics is Director of the Birmingham Energy Institute (BEI) and the Birmingham Centre for Nuclear Education and Research at the University of Birmingham. His main research area is the study of the structure of light nuclei, using nuclear reactions.
This research is performed at international facilities worldwide. In addition, he is actively engaged in promoting research and educational programmes to support the UK’s investment in nuclear power generation. He received the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Prize, Humboldt Foundation, Germany in 2004 and the Rutherford Medal (IoP) in 2010.