U.K.'s Nuclear R&D Effort Lagging, Lords Conclude

With the United Kingdom committed to a major expansion of nuclear power, the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords—the U.K. Parliament's upper house—has taken a look at whether the state of nuclear R&D can sustain a booming nuclear industry. The answer? Not a chance, the committee says. "The absence of leadership and strategic thinking in Government in this area has resulted in a lack of co-ordination of nuclear R&D activities and a perception amongst international partners that the U.K. is no longer a serious player in the field," its report, published on 22 November, says.

The United Kingdom has not commissioned any new nuclear stations since the 1980s and its investment in nuclear R&D has steadily declined. Last year, government funding for nuclear research by the Science and Technology Facilities Council was cut by 29%. "Many of the U.K.'s experts in R&D on nuclear energy are nearing retirement age," committee chair John Krebs said in a statement. "The U.K.'s expertise was built on past investments in research and a lack of investment over the last two decades means that the U.K. is now in danger of losing this expertise. As a result we are in danger of placing ourselves in a position where we will be unable to ensure a safe and secure supply of nuclear energy up to 2050."

A "fundamental change in the Government's approach" is needed "to address the complacency which permeates their vision of how the U.K.'s energy needs will be met in the future," the report says. To remedy the situation, Britain needs a long-term nuclear energy strategy and an R&D roadmap that would coordinate facilities to carry out research on post-irradiated materials, deep geological disposal, the disposition of the plutonium stockpile, advanced fuel recycling and reprocessing, and so-called Generation IV technologies. Such a ramped up research effort will inevitably cost money. "Without an increase in funding for fission research in the order of £20-50 million a year, the Government's intention that nuclear should play a part in meeting the U.K.'s future energy needs simply lacks credibility," the peers conclude.