Memorandum submitted by Professor R A
Williams, Centre for Particle and Colloid Engineering, University
I am providing comments on the above with specific
reference to the UK's Research Skills and the UK's Energy Technology
1. There is no doubt that action needs to
be taken on enhancing the UK's own position in nuclear energy
provision, since it provides the logical solution to alternative,
less environmentally attractive options and more risky (yet to
be delivered) alternative technologies (fuel cells).
2. The proposed energy balance mooted in
the energy review document does not add up (as widely cited, eg
The Chemical Engineer, March and April 2002 issues). The nuclear
option is the only serious contender to make a substantial impact
in terms of CO2 emission targets.
3. The UK has a strong, internationally
leading position in reactor design and operation that can be enhanced
to build a global business to benefit the nation internally and
externally. My own association has been through observing the
growing relationship between BNFL and Westinghouse and their new
pebble mill reactor that are able to provide the basis for future
4. In the UK the perception of engineering
as a university degree option is weak and nuclear engineering
even more so. We have recently started a new nuclear process engineering
option at Leeds since we see this as being a strategic need. Students
visiting BNFL at Springfields and Sellafield never fail to be
impressed by the quality and scale of the engineering there. However,
if we are to deliver the skill base there is an urgent need for
funding to promote nuclear education, through scholarship, and
for the UK to be proud and positive about its technology. It is
very sad to compare attitudes in the UK with those in France and
Japan who have adopted the logical solution to energy provision.
To provide trained graduates and research action is needed urgently
since the pull through to the user will be five-10 years. We must
keep our options open and ensure our skills base is maintained.
5. Specifically in relation to research
training I am confident this can be done, for example, based on
my recent appointment as Director of BNFL's Research Alliance
in Particle Technology at Leeds (some details are enclosed). The
drive and flair shown in the development of these Alliance activities
this, relatively, has been enormous and is attracting small numbers
of postgraduate researchers. Funding for research has been modest.
Such partnerships must be encouraged and real research funds must
be made available from the government to address key technology
challenges affecting the industry. In my view, this requires a
special dedicated initiative through EPSRC/DTI.
6. There are good opportunities for international
collaboration in research and funding sums need to encourage such
activities, eg UK-USA and UK-Japan. The University of Leeds is
exploring such approaches through its World Universities Network
There is an immediate need, in relation to comments
made in point five (above) for proactive support of undergraduate
training to ensure retention of the skill base against an overall
negative attitude to engineering and science in UK school leavers.
This requires urgent action and a change in attitude towards the
industry to be displayed by government. In the UK, nuclear engineering
should be rightly regarded as a valuable asset that is enabling
production of clean energy using British based ingenuity.
4 September 2002