The UK is on the verge of building a fleet of new nuclear power stations.
The steps required to reach the point where the UK can build Generation
III+ plants are a complex mix of energy and financial policy and
technology. The issues connect with the fuel cycle, waste disposal and
public opinion. Failure in one of these areas could derail the new build
programme. Starting in 2011, finishing July 2012, the University of
Birmingham led a Policy Commission into the Future of Nuclear Energy in
the UK. The Commission has been part of a number of national processes
which have influenced and shaped UK policy and thinking in nuclear energy.
In 2013 the UK Government published its stance. Recommendations made by
the Policy Commission on key topics such as nuclear research capabilities
and national nuclear policy bodies are reflected in the Government's
report and subsequent actions. Impact has been in terms of public
engagement and influencing public policy. Nuclear new build could be an
investment of £40bn into the UK economy.
The case study describes the impact on society of research on the history
and politics of nuclear
weapons and non-proliferation. Specifically, it demonstrates how this
research has informed and
shaped public understanding, discourse and debate on the nature of the
regime. The research underpinning this impact examines the effects of the
nuclear revolution upon
international politics, and the consequences of these effects upon the
regime. The research identifies a number of negative consequences arising
activities of the so-called `nuclear non-proliferation complex'. The
active dissemination of the
research findings has generated considerable media coverage of research
claims. In part through
this extensive media exposure, the research has impacted, in a distinctive
way, discussions over
nuclear non-proliferation among a wide range of societal beneficiaries:
members of the public,
commentators, policy observers concerned with nuclear affairs, and civil
society and NGO actors.
The impact has been generated both within and outside the UK.
Professor Matthew Jones was selected as a Cabinet Office official
historian in 2008. His research has provided a historical context and
knowledge base for senior Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defence officials
currently engaged with strategic nuclear policymaking. Jones' research
(including insights into the costs overruns, technical uncertainty, and
delay of previous nuclear deterrents) has contributed to the process of
policy-making, informing how senior officials responsible for dealing with
debates over future options in the strategic nuclear policy field will
deploy public expenditure of over £20 billion.
The research groups of Professor Laurence Harwood and Dr Michael Hudson
(now retired) at the University of Reading have developed new and highly
selective extractants for spent and reprocessed nuclear fuels. These novel
extractants remove specifically the components in nuclear waste that have
the highest levels of long-term radioactivity. The extracted components
(minor actinides) may subsequently be converted — "transmuted" — into
elements with greatly reduced radioactivity. Storage times for high-level
nuclear waste can thus be reduced by a factor of a thousand, typically
from 300,000 to 300 years. This significant advance in the management of
nuclear waste means that next-generation nuclear power production will be
safer, more economical and more sustainable, as well as increasing the
wider acceptance of nuclear power as a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
The newly-developed extractants are now available commercially through
This research underpins assessments of nuclear reactor longevity and
safety and has contributed to EDF's project to extend the life of nuclear
reactors by 100+ reactor-years. So far this project has achieved 48 years
or nearly £9bn in benefit. The Sussex contribution is accruing value to
the UK economy of an estimated £100M at today's prices, with about £40M of
that achieved already. Graphite in nuclear reactors is susceptible to
neutron damage, and accurate estimations of the rate of graphite damage in
reactors are critical to safety and to predicting reactor lifespan.
Research from Sussex has developed models for graphite damage that now
underpin one component (of six independent components) of the safety
assessments conducted by the nuclear industry for Advanced Gas-cooled
Reactors. The research demonstrated that a previous model employed for
this purpose was invalid, and developed alternative models that have been
adopted by the nuclear industry.
The University of Huddersfield leads the UK in the development and
advocacy of the thorium nuclear fuel cycle as an alternative to the
uranium/plutonium cycle. We have set the design parameters for feasible
thorium fuelled accelerator driven subcritical reactor assemblies for
power generation and waste management and for fertile to fissile
conversion of thorium [A]. Our high media profile [G,H] and extensive
interactions with the public [I] and policy makers both in the UK and US
[B,C,E,F] has led to growing acceptance of thorium as a realistic, safer,
cleaner and proliferation resistant alternative fuel for nuclear fission
reactors. Consequently our research is now influencing nuclear policy both
at home and overseas [D,F].