History is in danger of repeating itself, with plans in the UK to build at least three new reactor types, as well as plans for Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) that are commercially unproven. Nuclear economics has always been a hotly debated topic for SPRU’s Professor Gordon MacKerron, who was critical of the government’s optimistic cost appraisals for nuclear new builds in the 1980s and 1990s. Professor MacKerron explains that increases in costs, due to more complex reactor design and higher safety standards, are not offset by cost reductions achieved through experience. In addition to nuclear economics, the handling of nuclear waste is another highly contentious area. In 2013, Cumbria County Council rejected an application for the siting of a geological waste disposal facility – an indisputable knock to public acceptability of an ambitious nuclear new build program. With the UK being one of few countries to construct nuclear-propelled submarines, research undertaken by Professor Andy Stirling, Emily Cox and Dr Johnstone at SPRU finds that workforce skills for the civilian and defence sectors in the UK appear to have some degree of mutual dependency. Sustaining the skills needed for nuclear submarines could therefore provide some explanation for the strength of the UK‘s commitment to nuclear new builds, while other (non-nuclear submarine) European countries, such as Germany, are moving to phase out nuclear. The differing democratic qualities of Germany and the UK have also been identified as a key factor in understanding the very different decisions taken by the two countries.
SPRU 28th Oct 2016 read more »