Memorandum submitted by NNC Limited
NNC is a UK owned company, with nearly 50 years
experience in the UK nuclear industry. NNC and its predecessor
companies designed and built the UK fleet of MAGNOX, AGR and PWR
civil nuclear reactors, as well as the MAGNOX reactors at Latina
in Italy and Tokai-Mura in Japan. NNC has also been at the forefront
of the management of radioactive waste. In the UK the Company
is now a leading provider of nuclear services to British Energy,
BNFL, UKAEA, the Environment Agency and the Atomic Weapons Establishment
(AWE). Internationally NNC has won more nuclear work in Eastern
Europe than any other UK company and has recently developed a
significant presence in Canada making NNC one of the largest nuclear
analysis companies in the world.
NNC believes that the UK needs sufficient quantities
of affordable, secure, sustainable, safe and environmentally responsible
sources of energy. No single technology provides a perfect solution
to all these requirements; the challenge is to derive the best
overall mix in the eventual solution. To this end Government policy
needs to be founded on a risk-based approach that balances cost,
safety, security of supply, environmental damage and consumption
of natural resources.
2. BALANCE OF
The energy economy of the UK is dominated by
carbon-based fuels, of the 238 million tonnes of oil equivalent
worth of energy consumed by the UK in 2001 only 2% was supplied
by nuclear and only 1% from renewables technology, therefore 97%
of our energy came from carbon sources.
The percentage sector shares in total energy
consumption reveals transport 34%; domestic 30%; industry 22%
and the service sector 18%. Looking at all non-transport energy
consumption it is worthy of note that space heating and water
heating amounted to 82% of domestic use and 64% of commercial
use of energy1. This distribution of consumption indicates the
priority areas that should be targeted for action.
3. THE UK ENERGY
The UK market is highly competitive, with very
low energy prices, as the investment made by previous generations
is being exploited (Oil, Gas, Coal and Nuclear). There is little
incentive, even for mature technologies, to build capital plant
in the current market and no inventive to invest in developing
immature technologies like renewables. In addition there is very
little incentive to conserve energy for either the domestic or
It is true to say that significant R&D funding
is in place for nuclear fusion projects, and this funding
is essential as it addresses the long-term energy supply issue.
Whilst fusion has considerable promise for the future it will
not feature in the energy supply market until at least 2020, with
current expectations being 2050 or beyond. By contrast, despite
providing some quarter of our current energy, nuclear fission
is not attracting any research funding beyond safety support for
The lack of investment in the only proven source
of high-grade energy that is able to provide base load capacity
without carbon emission is slowly starving the industry to death.
No universities now run nuclear engineering courses and nuclear
physics courses are under-subscribed, add to this an ageing professional
workforce one is left with serious issues of the sustainability
of the UK industrial base for nuclear technology and Science and
Technology in general. The run down of the nuclear industry in
the UK's even more perverse given that it has an enviable safety
record and has demonstrated long-term availability and reliability,
the skills required to run and decommission existing nuclear plant
are not the same as those required for designing and building
new plant, the latter creative skills need to be honed by undertaking
directed and useful R&D work.
Funding on fission R&D needs to be directed
at stimulating the nuclear industry base so that it is prepared
for any new build programme. More specifically the opportunity
to do research into less costly, more efficient, intrinsically
safe, lower waste inventory plant needs to be supported, if the
wealth of experience in the industry is to be exploited. As a
particular item, research into optimising any new plant to deplete
the plutonium inventory should be pursued, current estimates would
indicate several hundreds of years of UK energy supply are available
from this source and its use as a fuel renders it unavailable
for other uses. Co-ordinated UK R&D funding would benefit
by sharing in international R&D expenditure.
Having invested in this research the UK can
Domestically by having a nuclear base load capacity
intrinsically safer; and
produces far less waste than older
Internationally by having the skills to operate
a global through life support market;
a growing new build market
NNC believes that the development of renewable
energy sources is essential to create the correct energy mix.
However, the three main drawbacks of renewable energy sources
are their low energy density, intermittency and transmission/distribution
difficulties. A further drawback is that very few are direct conversion
processes, thus they suffer compounding conversion inefficiencies.
NNC believes that the renewables sector has
a very valuable contribution to make in reducing the UK energy
sectors carbon dependency, but is convinced that the "market"
is unlikely to take the initiative. Thus R&D funding is required
to directly address the three main drawbacks and specifically
research direct conversion processes.
For the renewables sector, funding of Demonstration
projects is particularly necessary as they often combine established
technologies in a novel mix (eg wave power combines naval architecture
and marine engineering with power generation and distribution),
have practicability concerns or scalability issues. Demonstration
programmes that specifically address the implementation aspects
will help to mitigate the risks on full-scale projects and provide
confidence for potential funders.
Wind power is of low energy density, diffuse
and intermittent. Even before considering the level of unavailability
due to maintenance, on average for 15% of the time there is no
wind available to turn the generator. The cost of onshore wind
energy will fall with development to become comparable with current
generation costs, however for offshore the cost will be far higher
as distribution infrastructure cost will have to be recovered
and the maintenance cost (due to a harsh, remote marine environment)
will be high. The areas of land or sea required to site wind farms
of sufficient output to make a meaningful contribution to UK energy
supply is considerable, very large areas will have to be given
over to power generation and the environmental impact will be
The R&D effort should be concentrated on
making wind generation more efficient, providing transmission/distribution
solutions, reducing the initial cost and lowering the through
Whilst still having low energy density, it is
reliable and predictable. Wave and tidal power has many attractions,
not least of which is that it draws on the natural energy store
of the sea itself. Unfortunately there are only a limited number
of locations where the source of energy is sensibly close to the
users of energy and/or the grid distribution infrastructure. In
order to overcome this location problem it is likely that expenditure
on distribution infrastructure will be required. As with wind
power, the area the installations will occupy is considerable
with significant impact on the environment.
The R&D effort should be directed at how
best to harvest the energy, what is the optimum conversion mechanism
and what is the optimum distribution methodology.
Within the UK there are limited economic opportunities
for large-scale hydroelectric schemes. The technology is mature
and already integrated into the grid infrastructure. Where it
is exploitable it is an ideal solution. Unless the technology
could command an electricity price premium further exploitation
appears unlikely. In addition, large-scale hydroelectricity schemes
in other countries have required major changes in the landscape
causing significant environmental disturbance. Research into further
candidate sites and at what cost per Kwh they become economic
to build would be of value, if this has not already been done.
Solar power is of low energy density, diffuse
and intermittent. In addition in the UK it is seasonally out of
phase with demand. The traditional segmentation into passive and
active solar heating and direct conversion Photo Voltaic is helpful
in determining the most appropriate way of utilising this source.
126.96.36.199 Passive & Active Heating
The DTI figures 1 state that space heating and
hot water heating account for 82% of domestic energy use and 64%
of commercial use of energy. This activity substantially only
requires low-grade energy (for space and water heating). Heating
for habitability is conducive and active and passive solar technology
requiring only a "top up" with higher-grade energy as
required. This approach is only really appropriate for new housing
or industrial stock and possibly appropriate as a retrofit for
major renovations. In any event it will need incentivising for
builders to install it and owner to specify it.
188.8.131.52 Photo Voltaic
Photo Voltaic has a major advantage of being
a direct conversion device that uses semi-conductor technology.
Therefore the potential exists to increase the performance/price
ratio, as has been the experience with computer chips. Currently
the price is too prohibitive for wide scale adoption of the technology,
so RD&D should identify what technological breakthroughs are
required to exploit the full economic benefits of that technology.
4.2.5 Biofuels and Waste
Energy from biofuels and waste clearly has a
significant role to play in providing energy that should be carbon
neutral (rather than carbon free). Currently it provides over
85% of renewable energy in the UK2. This extraction of energy
uses established technology and can provide the energy as heat
or electricity. It is therefore well placed to substitute for
fossil fuels. It is particularly amenable to space and water heating
applications which as stated above account for 82% of domestic
energy use and 64% of commercial use of energy. Biofuels and waste
energy is medium-grade energy and therefore much easier to use
as a substitute to the high-grade energy sources of carbons and
hydrocarbons for heating for habitability reasons.
The major drawbacks are the acreage required
to grow biofuels and the fact that they are at best carbon neutral.
The RD&D issues are more those of optimising
size of plant, local distribution power or grid connection, transport
implications (fuel in-ash out), quality control of fuel supply,
cost reductions through innovation and of course the planning
4.2.6 Fuel Cells
Fuel cell technology is conversion technology
rather than an energy source. Taken together with hydrogen (see
below) it has many potential applications and should be pursued.
However the energy density remains modest and an infrastructure
to support its broad adoption will need to be put in place.
In order to utilise hydrogen as a commercial
source of energy, electricity will be require to create the hydrogen,
strictly hydrogen is an energy vector rather than an energy source.
In many ways hydrogen represents a very attractive solution, as
it is transportable and clean. Its drawbacks relate to the nature
of the primary energy source (what type of PowerStation is providing
the electricity and is it producing carbon?), together with the
significant challenges of the safe handling and storage of hydrogen.
Despite this hydrogen may be the key to migrating transport users
away from hydrocarbons and into using cleaner fuels, given that
transport is the largest energy user and there is significant
growth in energy use in delivery vehicles, the attraction of hydrogen
is clear. Hydrogen also has merit as an energy storage medium,
either to solve the intermittency of renewables or for energy
distribution remote from existing fixed infrastructures. The technical
challenges of making Hydrogen safe and practical in everyday use
are considerable, but so are the benefits.
The R&D technical issues are those of; production,
transportation/handling, safety and storage, whilst research on
the economic and environmental issues of moving to a hydrogen
economy needs to be undertaken. Demonstration and verification
of the safe use, economic benefits and environmental benefits
will be required if public acceptance is to be achieved.
The shaping of a cohesive transport infrastructure
is beyond the scope of this response, however since transport
is such a large user of energy NNC would make the following observation.
The growth in the use of goods vehicles continue
unabated. It is essential to shift the primary energy source from
hydrocarbons to carbon free sources. There will be little, if
any, net benefit to the environment if for example electric cars
were recharged by additional coal burning power stations.
5.2 Electrical Power Distribution
With renewables emerging as viable alternative
sources of energy, two distinct power distribution issues need
to be addressed;
Firstly, there are few places where exploitable
sources of bulk energy (offshore wind and offshore wave) are sensibly
close to the existing electrical distribution network. This implies
investment in new power distribution infrastructure to exploit
Secondly, many of the renewable sources are
more amenable to a modest sized local generation capability, rather
than large-scale power station. This implies a more diverse power
generation approach with a mix of large, medium and small producers.
Taking these two points together, there is a
need to research the best way to harness all potential power supplies
into the distribution system and drive the optimum generation
capacity mix of renewable; wind, biomass, wave etc.
The UK has an overwhelming dependence on carbon-based
sources of energy. Many sustainable alternative sources of energy,
that do not use fossil fuels, are available all carry advantages
and disadvantages. The carbon-based economy has developed an entire
infrastructure based on high-grade energy; therefore there are
significant barriers to entry for low and medium grade energy
providers. Renewables alone cannot provide the quantity of energy
to sustain the UK without large areas of land and/or sea being
turned over to producing energy as electricity or heat. NNC believe
that RD&D funding needs to address these issues to shape UK
energy policy and migrate away from depending entirely on carbon
Transport is a key area where few substitutes
for hydrocarbons exist; NNC would suggest this sector needs RD&D
on viable alternatives urgently.
The heating of domestic and commercial property
for habitability reasons consumes the lion's share of domestic
and commercial energy use, yet this demand does not intrinsically
require high-grade energy. The role of low and medium grade energy
in supplementing demand in this sector needs addressing.
The only technology that is carbon free and
can provide sufficient supplies of high-grade energy is nuclear.
Fusion technology is an energy source for the future and should
be pursued. Fission technology is available now and needs modest
RD&D funding to bring to market the next generation of lower
cost nuclear plant, producing significantly lower waste, that
incorporate all the gained knowledge of the past 50 years.
20 September 2002