Select Committee on Environmental Audit Written Evidence

Memorandum submitted by The Dalton Nuclear Institute at The University of Manchester

  The Dalton Nuclear Institute at The University of Manchester welcomes the opportunity to respond to the Environmental Audit Committee's Inquiry, Keeping the Lights on: Nuclear, Renewables, and Climate Change. The Institute is the focal point for the University's nuclear research and education programmes and is playing a leading role in UK academia in addressing the future skills shortages faced by the nuclear industry. The following memorandum highlights the Institute's concerns and opinions in the context of the inquiry.


  The Dalton Nuclear Institute at The University of Manchester believes that both nuclear and renewables have a role to play as part of a balanced, low carbon energy mix.

  Whilst we will leave the detailed justification for a nuclear renaissance to others we believe nuclear power to be the only large scale carbon free generating alternative that will be financially competitive in the liberalised energy market. Advances in design and construction techniques have given confidence that plants can be delivered on time and to budget and waste related obstacles are political rather than technical with long term waste solutions being delivered in other countries.

  However, the current policy of keeping the nuclear option open gives uncertainty for the future which concerns both industry and investors alike. This uncertainty is reflected in the decline in the UK's nuclear skills base, a skills base that would be called upon to select, license and operate a new fleet of nuclear power stations should the opportunity arise.

  When considering options for investment in meeting future energy requirements it is essential that the associated skills base is considered, regardless of the technology. In the context of nuclear this means investing not only to maintain the skills to allow the nuclear option to be opened but also to undertake research to develop innovative waste management solutions and next generation reactors.


  The uncertain future for the nuclear industry has resulted in a reduction in investment in research and education. Using nuclear fission as an example, research funding has fallen from around £500 million in 1974 (at year 2000 monetary values) to close to zero today. This has resulted in key centres of national expertise in industry, government and academia being closed, which in turn has led to a declining number of research staff, new graduates and up-to-date facilities being available.

  Industry projections, backed up by Government and independent reports, indicate that the skills base has reached such a low level that it threatens the UK's ability not only to re-open the nuclear option, but also to deliver on the legacy requirements for decommissioning and clean-up. For example the Council for Science and Technology, in a recent report, highlighted the need for new investment in the UK nuclear R&D and skills base in order to sustain the UK's nuclear industry ("An Electricity Supply Strategy for the UK", May 2005).

  If the nuclear option is to be kept open investment in nuclear research and education must be increased from its existing levels to ensure we have the necessary skills, capability and infrastructure should we decide to deploy.


  The Dalton Nuclear Institute is taking steps to address the decline in the UK's nuclear skills base. The Institute pulls together Manchester University's well established nuclear research centres to pool resources and address broader research challenges. Additionally the University is self investing to establish new nuclear research centres to allow us to undertake research programmes across the broad spectrum of the nuclear field. However, the Institute alone cannot address the problem, it must be supported by Government and industry investment in research programmes to grow and sustain the skills base while re-establishing the UK's position as a major nuclear player. Unless this happens the skills base will continue to decline and the nuclear option will be closed.

  The UK's nuclear industry and academia require a clear and positive direction on the role of nuclear power in the future energy portfolio. This should be supported by a research programme of sufficient size to attract the high calibre engineers and scientists in to the sector to secure and grow the skills base.

  In July 2003 an independent nuclear task force were commissioned to undertake a study titled "An Essential Programme to Underpin Government Policy on Nuclear Power". The task force identified the research programme that would be required to secure the skills base to keep the nuclear option open. The report concluded that investment of £20 million per year in nuclear research is required to support existing operations, keep the nuclear option open, keep us abreast of new technologies and manage the nuclear waste legacy. Since the report was published there has been little or no increase in investment and consequently the UK skills base remains in a perilous condition.


  The Dalton Nuclear Institute believes that nuclear power has a role to play as part of the UK's future low carbon energy mix. However, the Institute is concerned that the lack of investment to maintain the UK's nuclear skills base may close the nuclear option before an energy policy decision can be taken. To avoid this scenario the Institute recommends that increased investment in nuclear research should take place to maintain the skills base and allow the nuclear option to be re-opened in the future.

22 September 2005

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