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Nuclear comes in from the cold

Energy debate - Preparations for the government's review of future energy policy, to be launched next week, are igniting passions as engineers square up on either side of the nuclear fence.

Next week the government is launching an energy policy review, three years after publishing a White Paper committing support to renewable power, especially wind energy.

The 2003 energy White Paper pushed nuclear to the margins, saying only that the option of building new plants should be 'kept open'. But the next review is expected by many to be very much more nuclear friendly.

With the Ukrainian gas crisis fuelling concerns about the security of the UK's gas supply, there is already a new bullishness in the beleaguered nuclear camp.

It is promoting nuclear fuel as a low emission, sustainable and above all reliable power source.

But others feel deep anxiety about the historic and future problems of nuclear power - the operating safety and security of nuclear installations, waste management and disposal, the dangers of transporting fuel and the £50bn plus cost of decommissioning the UK's existing nuclear sites.

An NCE poll of 519 engineers shows that many believe renewables have not been given time to prove themselves. Others call for reduced demand through improved domestic and industrial energy saving, obviating the need for much new capacity.

More again put the case that new emissions controls can make coal fired stations a viable, major part of the UK's forward energy mix.

But overall the results were strongly pro-nuclear with 53% in favour of reviving the nuclear programme, versus 38% against and 9% unsure of the issue.

Nuclear appears to be supported grudgingly as a necessary stop gap while better alternatives reach maturity.

An overwhelming 90% of respondents wanted more public money invested in renewable energy generation and 57% felt that renewables posed a realistic alternative to fossil fuels.

Asked whether nuclear waste was an acceptable byproduct of nuclear power, 49% of engineers said no versus 45% yes. Only a third of respondents would be willing to live within a 16km shadow of a nuclear plant.

A staggering 94% said they would be prepared to spend money on making their homes more energy efficient. A narrower majority - 56% - said they were prepared to change their lifestyles to help cut Britain's energy consumption and 51% said that they would change their lifestyles to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, but would need to be pushed by taxation or legislation to take those steps.

These contradictions suggest that more needs to be done to focus the minds of both the profession and the country on Britain's future energy policy.

And it would appear that the engineering profession could do more to encourage this - the survey shows that 71% of respondents feel that engineers are not doing enough to influence the debate.

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