The Academy has issued the following statement in response to the publication today of the Office for Nuclear Regulation’s report on Fukushima and the nuclear industry
The engineering challenges facing the UK’s future energy system are enormous. The UK needs a secure, affordable supply of clean, green energy to power society. The Academy’s 2010 study News release: Making the UK's energy systems fit for 2050 identified that if legally binding 2050 carbon emissions targets are to be met, all possible options must be vigorously pursued including demand reduction, renewables and low-carbon thermal generation which includes nuclear power.
For over half a century, nuclear power has a proven track record of providing predictable, low-carbon electricity. The nature of nuclear power means that it is suited to steady, base-load electricity generation. A future energy mix without nuclear would put the stability and security of the grid in jeopardy with potentially serious consequences for business, industry, health and wellbeing, and standard of living.
Like all forms of power generation nuclear power is not without risk. The seriousness and potential global nature of accidents in the nuclear industry bring particular challenges. Continued vigilance, transparency and cooperation by all countries and organisations must be maintained on issues of safety and security. The potential scale of a disaster means that, despite the fact that accidents are rare, traditional probabilistic methods of assessing the risk should be supplemented with contingency plans to deal with all conceivable eventualities.
Nuclear waste management remains a serious issue. Modern nuclear power plants produce on average only 10% of the waste of previous systems, but the UK has a sizeable legacy of radioactive waste and a long-term solution must be found. Deep geological storage remains the only plausible way forward and every effort must be made to resolve the remaining difficulties and move this forward. Lessons must also be learnt from similar initiatives in other countries.
Nuclear power is a contentious issue that elicits strong emotions on both sides of the debate. It is important to view the evidence as objectively as possible. Ultimately, our society relies on a reliable supply of energy and no single fuel or technology is perfect. Our 2010 study Generating the Future identified nuclear as a vital component of the probable range of future energy scenarios. As no significant new technology has reached maturity in the time since that study was carried out, nuclear power still has a vital role to play in the UK’s future energy system. However, as with all forms of power generation, the benefits provided have to be balanced against the risks.
Notes for editors
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.
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