UK nuclear on a healthy path once public confidence retained –NIA

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The Nuclear Industry Association’s annual conference saw a broad consensus from both industry and non- industry leaders of the need to retain public confidence in the sector as any strides made were deemed to be inconsequential without it.

Stephen Bray, Public Affairs and Consultation Manager at NuGen spoke about the most recent survey published by the industry, which showed that 30 per cent of those polled knew little about nuclear power. He said the industry should see that as a positive.

“It’s a big opportunity to place some good impressions in people’s minds. There are two fundamentals to nuclear – safety and support or acceptance of the people. Look what happened in Germany for example. They had no safety problem but there was no support so are closing their plants.” De Rivaz

Robin Grimes, Chief Scientific Adviser with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reinforced that opinion with reference to the German example, adding, “It is incredibly important to get your population to understand the importance of nuclear in a low carbon future.”

In a bid to emphasise the urgency required in combating climate change as a means of understanding why nuclear is essential, Grimes painted a picture of the type of cataclysmic events set to beset the planet and humanity if action isn’t taken.

He said the temperature rise was expected to be somewhere between 3 and 7 degrees depending on models used, but the resulting consequences would be ‘extraordinarily non-linear’ with the world coping well with heatwaves up until 4 degrees after which crop failures and water shortages associated with dramatic heat stress kick in.

An earlier session dealing with the current British political landscape saw members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Nuclear generally agree that without nuclear power there was little hope of Europe achieving its decarbonisation targets.

Conservative MP David Mowat told the gathering, “The human race is capable of solving the waste issue but it is far from clear if humanity has it within itself to solve the climate change issue. That argument needs to be made more vigorously.”

“There is no chance of the world meeting its climate change objectives without nuclear. The industry doesn’t talk enough about the fact that 33 per cent of the (EU) bloc’s energy comes from nuclear – if we accept the climate change argument there really is nowhere else to go. Eventually when you are right the world comes with you.”

An indication of the strength of the cross-party consensus was seen in Labour MP Jamie Reed’s careful dismissal of the queries about his leader, Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to the industry.

“Irrespective of the leader’s opinion 32 years held there is a broad, deep and reliable cross-parliamentary consensus on nuclear,” Reed said. “There’s nothing technical stopping us solving the nuclear waste issue. It’s politics that stops us solving it.”

The politicians at the event were sceptical about the possibility of renewables filling the gap as 20- per cent of old plant in the UK is retired. The power generated by the UK’s nuclear fleet avoids around 40 million tonnes of emissions per year, and according to the NIA claims that will have to be compensated with by imported power if new nuclear isn’t developed .

Mowat said, “When you look at the numbers it’s very difficult to get there with renewables and I don’t think anyone us in this room is against renewables.”

Reed concurred, adding nuclear comes close to being the magic bullet for energy and economy and environment. I don’t think it’s an argument that can be beaten frankly.”

Earlier, the chief executive of EDF Energy, Vincent De Rivaz (pictured above) reflected on the hard work it had taken to get new nuclear in the UK to this phase, and pointed out the resilience of the industry as a major factor in overcoming opposition to Hinkley Point C in particular.

“We have overcome many obstacles over the years to reach this point and are part of a long history of resilience – we owe a lot to our predecessors and owe a lot to our successors. Once the final decision on Hinkley Point C is made we will move on to Sizewell B once regulatory approval is granted for Chinese 3rd generation 1000 MW reactor technology.”

“Each time a new important milestone has been reached we will continue until Hinkley Point C generates its first power.”

He went on to say that the injection of £6bn in Chinese investment was a massive vote of confidence in the industry in the UK but would not provide an exact date for when the Hinkley Point C nuclear project was likely to take place

“Be confident and be patient,” De Rivaz said. “It will be coming soon.”

John Clarke of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority expressed his gratitude for the £11bn in support to be provided during the course of this government towards the clean-up of the country’s old sites, and how important it was from a reputational point of view.

“Decommissioning is an end in itself. It is important to tidy up the legacy of history, and key to new build from a public acceptance point of view, an essential enabler to that agenda. It’s about tidying away the old toys to allow the new toys to come out.”

More on the Nuclear Industry Association Conference

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