Case 'never stronger' for reactors
Despite the nuclear crisis in Japan, the case for a new generation of reactors in the UK has never been stronger, a former government chief scientist has said.
Professor Sir David King made his comments as it emerged radioactive water was leaking from the tsunami-hit Fukushima plant in Japan and plutonium has seeped into the soil at the site, which has suffered explosions, fires and radiation leaks.
He said: "Despite the terrible events in Japan, the economic, safety and carbon case for a new build programme in the UK has never been stronger."
According to a new report from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, of which Sir David is the director, recycling used nuclear fuels to generate more power could offset the costs of cleaning up the legacy of the UK's ageing nuclear power plants.
There could be a £10 billion opportunity in reprocessing used fuels as part of a "renaissance" in nuclear power in the UK.
But the report warned that the industry in the UK was not set up for new nuclear build and a "holistic" approach was needed which dealt with the legacy of old power plants alongside a new generation of nuclear reactors.
The UK has 19 nuclear reactors, which generate around 18% of the country's electricity. Ministers have said that a new generation of plants are needed as part of the energy mix to cut carbon emissions and ensure energy security in the future.
Last year, the Government gave the green light to eight sites for new nuclear power plants. And earlier this year, it launched a consultation into what to do with plutonium currently stored at Sellafield and Dounreay, including the possibility of recycling it into new fuel.
Responding to the report, Neil Bentley, deputy director-general of business group the CBI, said: "The terrible events in Japan are a horrific reminder of why safety has to be the number one concern when it comes to nuclear energy. At the same time, nuclear has to remain a solution to fulfilling our objectives to secure a future low-carbon, affordable energy mix for the UK.
But Greenpeace's chief scientist, Dr Doug Parr, said: "By reprocessing nuclear waste and turning it into fuel, you create even more nuclear waste than you would otherwise have to deal with anyway. Reprocessing would also lead to increased multibillion-pound taxpayer handouts to the nuclear industry, and that's before you consider what it would mean for our ability to constrain nuclear weapons proliferation around the world."