Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


APPENDIX 18

Memorandum submitted by the Institution of Nuclear Engineers

INTRODUCTION

  1.  This response to the Reference addresses items two, three, five and six of the Terms of Reference of the inquiry team, namely:

    (a)   (Item two): To identify which technologies are, or should be, receiving support, and how much investment is directed at research, development and demonstration respectively.

    (b)  (Item three): To assess the skills base and the state of RD&D for different technologies.

    (c)  (Item five): To establish the level of and rationale for international collaboration in energy RD&D and how the priorities are determined.

    (d)  (Item six): To examine the effect on energy RD&D of privatisation, liberalisation, regulation and changes in ownership in the sector.

  2.  In addressing the request for written evidence, the Institution of Nuclear Engineers (INucE) has focused on the nuclear energy sector, as this is the main thrust of the Institution's business.

  3.  The Institution of Nuclear Engineers was founded to promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, to advance the science and practice of nuclear engineering and to act as a focal point for those engaged in the field. The Institution's activities are organised by a Council, elected by its members, and this Council in turn appoints committees to deal with the various aspects of the Institutions work.

  4.  In common with other professional institutions, it is more than a learned society; in conferring membership, it endorses the high standards of education and training of its members many of whom are also registered via the Institution for Chartered status with the Engineering Council (UK). In maintaining these standards the Institution is performing an important function in the public interest. In so doing, it promotes the highest professional and safety standards for the nuclear industry.

  5.  The Institution helps maintain the professional competence of its members through many initiatives including publication of a journal, The Nuclear Engineer, provision of a programme of seminars and international conferences and supporting a programme of Continuing Professional Development. In addition, the Institution co-operates with other learned societies, institutions and universities with allied interests in the field of nuclear engineering.

  6.  The Institution makes a corporate contribution to the development of nuclear engineering as a discipline, through its contributions to standard setting in the fields of education and training and to the uses of nuclear medicine.

COMMENTARY

  (Item two): To identify which technologies are, or should be, receiving support, and how much investment is directed at research, development and demonstration respectively.

  7.  Currently the only proven non-carbon energy technology capable of meeting the UK government's emissions targets is nuclear generation. Whilst renewables must be supported and become part of a balanced energy mix, the difficulties with security of supply without significant investment in stand- by plant, would make claims for the installation of a largely renewable supplied system appear aspirational rather than realistic. The UK is currently on track to meet its Kyoto commitments due largely to the emissions savings brought about by nuclear generation, which accounts for almost a quarter of the UK electricity production. On current predictions, without the development of newer, safer and more cost effective nuclear generating facilities to replace existing plant, the UK will fail to meet its long term environmental commitments. The alternative would be a further "dash for gas", which together with increased emissions could not be met by UK gas suppliers and would instead, rely heavily on imports from potentially politically unstable suppliers. Whilst effective nuclear waste management remains a concern in the UK, a programme of RD&D similar to that being pursued in the USA would significantly strengthen the domestic nuclear case.

  8.  The US Department of Energy has recently proposed an increase in funding for nuclear research technologies to $46.5 million for fiscal 2003 ($12 million in 2002). The proposal forms part of a total nuclear research and development budget request of $71.5 million ($53 million in 2002). The US nuclear waste fund is around $212 million. UK spending, in relative terms, should be compared and considered in terms of the positive initiatives being taken within the US.

  (Item three): To assess the skill base and the state of RD&D for different technologies.

  9.  The DTI Skills Foresight Study of the Nuclear Sector is providing significant insight into the UK's present and future skills requirements in energy, health and defence. In addition, the HSE Nuclear Installations Inspectorate has undertaken a second study covering nuclear education in British Universities.

  10.  The DTI skills study has made recommendations with respect to:

    (a)  Co-ordinating and stimulating the development of the workforce;

    (b)  Enhancing secondary and higher education in core skills (N.B.—these core skills apply to all areas of engineering) and nuclear disciplines;

    (c)  The role of research councils in supporting better nuclear science and technology R&D (note: EPSRC has recently conducted a workshop to address applied nuclear research);

    d.  The industry working collectively to invest in their work force and provide support for the Skills Councils.

  These findings are consistent with the feedback obtained from INucE members within the industry and academia.

  11.  The HSE-NII study concludes that the UK nuclear education sector remains in a very fragile state and recommends a recovery programme to ensure the future education capability remains commensurate with the needs of industry. A strong education capability is also commensurate with a thriving RD&D programme that also supports industry.

  12.  It is noteworthy that the US has set up an "Innovations in Nuclear Infrastructure and Education" (INIE) programme with initial funding of $5.5 million. Elsewhere, Sweden has recently created an academic chair in nuclear engineering as the first step towards establishing an institution aimed at revitalising interest in nuclear education and R&D.

  (Item five): To establish the level of and rationale for international collaboration in energy RD&D and how the priorities are determined.

  13.  International Collaboration in nuclear RD&D has been a key strategy of Governments over many years driven by a issues ranging from security of energy supply (including nuclear) to industrial export strategy. Consequential exchanges and collaboration have developed.

  14.  More recently additional drivers towards international collaboration in nuclear RD&D have included:

    —  Improving the safety and performance of existing nuclear facilities.

    —  Developing nuclear systems (reactor and fuel cycle), which are safer, more reliable have lower cost, improved proliferation resistance, higher energy efficiency, provide energy products (eg hydrogen), and secure long term energy supply.

    —  Environmental management strategies.

    —  International regulatory collaboration.

    —  Preservation/transfer of knowledge and experience in an ageing skills base.

    —  Development of a new generation of engineers and scientists with the necessary skills.

    —  RD&D cost sharing.

  15.  The recent Generation IV international nuclear RD&D initiative by the US DOE represents a clear embodiment of these aspects.

  16.  A further aspect of international RD&D is the change in emphasis from "basic science" towards "applied" as the nuclear industry has matured from a basic technology to industrial application. This has led to a "rationalisation" of national R&D programmes and facilities including research reactors.

  17.  Industrial nuclear companies have been consolidating against a background of a mature nuclear industry. While much of this consolidation has been within national boundaries there are also signs of the emergence of a key set of transnational companies. This latter set will increasingly decide when and where applied RD&D is carried out on a commercial basis. However the investment climate for such companies has been very difficult with the consequent decline in support for RD&D.

  18.  The rationale for international collaboration in nuclear RD&D is clear and is a continuing development of the rationale outlined in the "Background" section above. However it is important that such a rationale is clearly expressed, and given a focus (managerial and investment) at Government level in order for the objectives to be realised and for all stakeholder interests to be included. A "patchwork" approach will not lead to blanket benefits nor to cost sharing and added value. Of course it is difficult to provide such a focus at Government level where the emphasis is on policy and strategy rather than on the technical management of programmes. However such technical programme management could be achieved through a new institute, which had the support of Government, regulators, industry and universities. This rationale will also need the support of an international platform established by Government including agreements, personnel and information exchanges, technology export/import management.

  19.  Nuclear RD&D, including international collaboration, has dramatically declined both in range and extent, particularly so following Government withdrawal form the research field and introduction of privatisation in the nuclear generating sector. This has resulted in an adverse effect on the UK's ability to collaborate with Government sponsored laboratories in other countries. (See also Paragraph 24).

  20.  Consideration of the level of international collaboration in nuclear RD&D needs to consider both the type of RD&D (from pure science to industrial investment) and financing provision (investment amount, investment vehicle). Since the USA is likely to be the main player in continuing nuclear RD&D the UK's focus needs to aim particularly at involvement in USA initiated programmes.

  21.  While the emphasis will be less on basic science some continuing international collaboration in this area is essential (eg radiological protection, material properties, environmental science).

  22.  The greater emphasis for RD&D needs to be on maximizing and building on our experience to meet the goals for future nuclear systems outlined above. Since this will largely be in the area of generic technology development significant levels of international collaboration supported by Government investment will be required.

  23.  The demonstration phase of nuclear systems is a particularly costly. These will be managed in a specific regulated environment. Such demonstrations should largely be the preserve of industry but may require Government "kick-start" involvement. The timing of such demonstrations is some way off so current considerations can be devoted to establishment of future strategy. A capability for participating in international demonstration projects should be assured by appropriate strategy development and agreements now.

  (Item 6): To examine the effect on energy RD&D of privatisation, liberalisation, regulation and changes in ownership in the sector.

  24.  The impact on energy R&D as a result of "privatisation" has in general been devastating as a result of the major ex-CEGB R&D establishments being totally eradicated, (as in the case of Marchwood and Leatherhead), or seriously depleted (as in the case of Berkeley). Post privatisation, few external R&D contracts were placed mainly as a result of institutions (utilities) driving for profits, a situation exacerbated more recently following reductions in the selling price of generated electricity. However there are signs of recovery with BNFL assuming responsibility for the management of Berkeley, establishing a state-of-the art technology centre and also setting up "Centres of Excellence" at selected Universities. It should also be noted that "privatisation" of the major UK nuclear R&D organisation namely the UKAEA into a "rump UKAEA" and a privatised AEA Technology (AEAT) resulted in the cessation of all nuclear R&D work at AEAT, which now concentrates on non-nuclear core businesses including rail network safety.

  25.  One aspect of "liberalisation" may include the opportunities for R&D work provided by European Commission funding through the EURATOM framework. This funding is keeping many R&D companies financially viable.

  26.  With respect to regulation, the necessity for it to ensure that free market forces do not run out of control is recognised. However, is the playing field level, especially with respect to nuclear energy? Some may argue not and suggest that regulation has had little effect other than to squeeze generating profits and hence reduce R&D budgets.

CONCLUSIONS

  27.  It is well recognised that nuclear power does not add significantly to CO2 emissions and electricity derived from this sector supplies about 25% of the UK's electricity. Therefore, in order to maintain support for the UK Government's Kyoto commitments, nuclear energy must be recognised as a viable future contributor to our energy needs. The Government's Energy Review supports this conclusion.

  28.  The development and application of nuclear engineering, science and technology within the UK has resulted in a long-term liability that will continue well into the foreseeable future. The UK must therefore maintain and nurture an organic capability to deal with emerging technologies for build, operation and disposal in all nuclear sectors.

  29.  While re-creation of the UKAEA in its former self may not be feasible, consideration should be given to setting up a Centre of Excellence in nuclear education and RD&D. Some of the potential satellites for such a Centre already exist (Universities of Manchester and Leeds for example) as a result of BNFL initiatives, but they do not cover all disciplines.

  30.  If the UK is to retain an organic capability, consideration should be given to build of a new research reactor either singly (or jointly as an international venture) that would meet our RD&D requirements. A low risk strategy would be to base such a facility on proven design and demonstration. An example is the US General Atomics 14 MW TRIGA reactor, which has been used successfully by Romania for support of its CANDU programme. A similar project is presently in an advanced state of planning in Thailand. Such facilities could be built for significantly less cost than recently constructed reactors Germany and Australia.

  31.  Education and training provide the seed bed from which RD&D grows and flourishes. The findings and recommendations from the HSE-NII study on Nuclear Education in British Universities and the DTI Skills Foresight Study of the Nuclear Sector should therefore be noted.

25 September 2002



 
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