A fleet of new nuclear power plants could be worth £30 billion to the UK economy, as well as providing secure, low-carbon electricity, nuclear engineer Dr Sue Ion will tell the Royal Academy of Engineering next week when she gives the 2009 Lloyd's Register Educational Trust Lecture in London on 21 April.

A nuclear renaissance would provide great economic opportunities, Dr Ion will say. “Even though we will be deploying systems designed and developed elsewhere in the world, UK-based companies can become part of the growing global supply chain – some UK companies are already active abroad, supplying engineering skills and components to nuclear programmes in Finland, China and South Africa.”

“New nuclear build in the UK could regenerate our heavy manufacturing industry and provide a springboard for significant exports in the future. But we need political certainty to give investors confidence that the UK has ceased to be a basket case and that the risk/reward ratios are competitive enough for them to take the plunge,” she says. “We need to focus on the massive opportunity that new nuclear build in this country could bring to a new generation of engineers and scientists.”

Dr Ion, former Group Director of Technology at British Nuclear Fuels and one of the UK’s most senior women engineers, will present a compelling case for nuclear power as an essential part of our response to climate change. “Unless we do more than replace our existing nuclear plants we will not deliver on our carbon targets,” she says. “Even with a massive uplift in deployment of renewables we will struggle to stand still. Climate change is a global concern and other countries will inevitably have a greater impact than the UK but, as a technologically advanced economy, we should be prepared to lead by example if we expect others to play their part. We are falling behind in key technologies like nuclear power and carbon capture technology – and investment in renewables is lagging behind the pace expected or required.”

Dr Ion also sees security of energy supply as a major issue beyond 2020 as our older nuclear power plants are decommissioned. “You would have thought that Government might have recognised the need for a greater degree of self-sufficiency across the energy sector for the foreseeable future,” she says. “But opportunities have been missed again and again with studies and White papers as the Government ceded decisions to a market yet to be defined. Policymakers have failed to recognise the enormity of the engineering and deployment challenges ahead of us and that these present risks that might deter investors.”

Transport and domestic energy use dominate the carbon burden in the UK. “If we are to reduce our dependence on oil and gas we will have to rely increasingly on electricity for transport,” says Dr Ion. “Our future electricity must be low-carbon, safe and secure, and deliverable in large quantities to meet the demands of a 21st century industrialised society. For me that means it ought to be nuclear.”

Notes for editors

  1. The Lloyd's Register Educational Trust Lecture will be held at 6pm for 6.30pm on Tuesday 21 April 2009 at 1 Great George Street, London SW1. Journalists are welcome to attend but should register in advance with the Academy’s press office on tel. 020 7766 0636.
  2. Dr Sue Ion OBE FREng was Group Director of Technology and Chief Technology Officer of British Nuclear Fuels plc, a position she held from 1992 until 2006. Dr Ion was the winner of the Hinton Medal for excellence in nuclear engineering in 1993, elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1996 and awarded the OBE for services to the nuclear industry in 2002. Dr Ion has held a number of non-executive directorships associated with technology-based businesses and consultancies. She represents the UK on a number of international review and oversight committees including the US Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee and the Euratom Science and Technology Committee. Dr Ion has been Vice President of the UK's Royal Academy of Engineering, a former chair of its policy committee and a member of EPSRC's Council. She was formerly a member of Council of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council. She is a non Executive Director of the Board of the Health and Safety Laboratory.
  3. The Lloyd’s Register Educational Trust (LRET) is an independent charity established in 2004. Its principal purpose is to support advances in transportation, science, engineering and technology education, training and research worldwide for the benefit of all. It also funds work that enhances the safety of life and property at sea, on land and in the air.

    The LRET focuses on four categories:

    pre-university education: through appropriate organisations, promotes careers in science, engineering and technology to young people, their parents and teachers;

    university education: through universities and colleges, provides undergraduate and post-graduate scholarships and awards at first degree/masters levels to students of exceptional ability;

    vocational training and professional development: supports professional institutions, educational and training establishments working with people of all ages;

    research: funds existing or new centres of excellence at institutes and universities.
  4. Founded in 1976, The Royal Academy of Engineering promotes the engineering and technological welfare of the country. Our fellowship – comprising the UK’s most eminent engineers – provides the leadership and expertise for our activities, which focus on the relationships between engineering, technology, and the quality of life. As a national academy, we provide independent and impartial advice to Government; work to secure the next generation of engineers; and provide a voice for Britain’s engineering community.

For more information please contact

Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering
Tel. 020 7766 0636 or 07784 574857