UK has 'lost understanding' of building nuclear plants says top engineer

UK industry has lost a lot of “in-built understanding of what it means to work on a nuclear site”, according to a leading engineer.

Dr Tim Fox, head of energy and environment at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said this had happened simply because it has been a long time in the UK – and most of Europe – since a new nuclear power plant had been built.

Dr Fox was speaking today at a nuclear debate at the UK Parliament’s Energy Select Committee and his view was echoed by John Earp of the Institution of Civil Engineers, who called for a re-education of nuclear build across the whole supply chain.

He also said that “conservative decision making” – where building is stopped and advice sought if there is any doubt over a particular aspect of construction – is “fundamental” in building nuclear plants.

Earlier during the debate, a leading academic offered a view on why UK public perception to nuclear power remained largely unchanged following the disaster at Fukushima.

Professor Nick Pidgeon said it was a “genuine puzzle” why the UK had registered no significant dip in support for nuclear such as that seen in other European countries.

However he put forward three explanations. Firstly, that Fukushima was seen by the UK public as being a natural disaster rather than a nuclear catastrophe.

Secondly, he said there was simply “a distance perspective”: Japan is a long way from the UK and in turn the negative response to Fukushima was less pointed than that in many mainland Europe countries.

Thirdly, he said “several leading figures from the environmental movement” had stated that their previous opposition to nuclear power had changed as a result of the possible role of atomic energy in “the debate about climate change and energy security”.

However, he added that before Fukushima there was a “core ambivalence” in the UK towards nuclear, which was seen as being a “devil’s bargain”: while many people may feel opposed to nuclear, this opposition was outweighed by their desire for energy security and, more recently, lower emissions.

Prof Pidgeon was giving evidence to MPs on the first day of the Energy and Climate Change Select Committee’s meeting, Building New Nuclear: The Challenges Ahead.

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