Former chief scientific advisor plays down fears of delay post Fukushima
Former chief scientific advisor Sir David King has said the UK’s new build nuclear programme is not under threat of delay due to the ongoing fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima reactor in Japan.
Speaking at the launch of a report by Oxford University into the possibilities for the £7bn construction of new reprocessing facilities in the UK, King nevertheless described comments by the German chancellor Angela Merkel since the earthquake and tsunami as “very unhelpful.”
Merkel has said the German government will review its plans to extend the lives of existing reactors and has immediately shut down some reactors at the end of their lives.
But Sir David, who is now director of the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment at Oxford, said the political situation in the UK was unlikely to see any delays to the new build programme. He said: “Look at the reaction of the government and the opposition to this event. There’s no groundswell to delay things. There’s not even much groundswell from the public for it.”
This is despite the fact energy secretary Chris Huhne has commissioned the chief nuclear inspector Dr. Mike Weightman to complete a report on implications of the Japan disaster for the UK. He said: “What we have with Dr. Weightman’s review is a parallel approach that will work alongside the Generic Design assessment. There’s no need for a delay.”
He said: “The message from Japan is that not one person has so far died from radiation, despite 15,000 being killed by a tsunami. The second generation reactors overall performed well.
“Rational reporting of this is absolutely required. The reactions of the German chancellor and energy commissioner in Europe were very unhelpful, and I don’t know to what extent they were driven by anticipated public reaction. The question is whether we take a backward step in dealing with global warming?”
King comments were backed by former chief nuclear inspector, Laurence Williams, now professor of nuclear safety at the University of Central Lancashire, who said he thought it unlikely Dr. Weightman’s report would require any significant changes. He said: “I wouldn’t expect something really significant will come up. I’d be surprised if there was any delay from Fukushima to those [new build nuclear] plants.”
However, King is a known supporter of nuclear power, and had to defend the report from accusations of bias after admitting that it had been part sponsored by nuclear suppliers Rolls Royce and Areva. King said: “The report had no influence at all from ours funders. Our integrity is here for you to examine.”
The report, an economic assessment of how to manage spent nuclear fuels in the UK, highlights four options to re-use existing spent fuel, which would require a capital investment of anything between £2-7bn, depending on which was chosen.
25 March 2011
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