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Graduate engineers split over nuclear power

Graduate engineers were evenly split on the merits of building new nuclear power stations following a lively debate at the ICE this week.

Chaired by ICE president Richard Coakley, four distinguished academics – two for and two against nuclear power – debated whether the UK should build eight new nuclear power stations to keep the country at the forefront of nuclear research. UK Energy Research Centre professor Jim Skea also sat on the panel acted to offer neutral comment.

A vote of around 70 graduates was declared an even split by Coakley after all speakers had made their case.

University of Manchester nuclear fellow John Roberts and Imperial College materials physics professor Robin Grimes argued the UK must build the planned new eight nuclear power stations to keep at the forefront of nuclear research and to ensure that there is enough energy.

“It’s important that the UK is not left behind in terms of nuclear research,” said Roberts.

Grimes added that the UK needs nuclear research to allow existing plants to operate longer and to provide innovative ways to deal with nuclear waste.

University of Warwick nuclear researcher Paul Dorfman argued against any nuclear construction because the risks of another accident such as the Fukushima disaster in Japan have been under-estimated. Dorfman added that the UK has a huge amount of nuclear legacy waste to deal with and that current nuclear construction sites in France and Finland have gone “well over budget”.

Green party member, and chartered engineer Jonathan Essex said the engineers to think about the wider effect of electricity supply and how we use energy.

“We need to focus on local supplies and reduce demand,” said Essex adding that nuclear doesn’t fit into that model.

Eight new nuclear power stations are planned in the UK, but none have been fully signed off and much is dependent on the energy market reform currently being developed by the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

Readers' comments (3)

  • Hmm, if Graduates split like atoms, maybe we should harness the resulting energy to generate electricity?

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  • David Solan

    A very interesting debate. However, I believe the actual motion voted upon related to further investment in the nuclear sector (i.e. R+D) rather than the construction of new nuclear plants.

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  • This is from the ICE website "Spent nuclear fuel from Dounreay’s fast reactor breeders could be transported to Sellafield in Cumbria for treatment, according to plans outlined by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) this week.
    Transporting the fuel to Sellafield will take between 30 to 60 train journeys during a six year period beginning in 2014/15 while treating the material on site will mean the construction of suitable facilities, which would take between eight an 10 years to build."
    The real challage is what to do with Nuclear waste which will be with us for hundreds of years to come?

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