Experts want honest, open and public conversation on nuclear energy
Decisions about nuclear energy require honest and open conversation, informed by up-to-date information. Especially as nuclear power could play an important role in reducing greenhouse gasses and be a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
That’s according to ‘Making Sense of Nuclear’ a new public guide launching today (Wednesday 28th June). Sense About Science produced the guide with input from leading experts from the nuclear industry and academia. These include The University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, Imperial College London, National Nuclear Laboratory, the Institute of Physics and Energy for Humanity. The guide explains what we know about nuclear energy, how that knowledge has changed in recent years and the impact it has had on the debate around nuclear energy.
Professor Francis Livens, Director of the University’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, said: ‘The nuclear industry and government nuclear programmes have in the past been quite secretive and closed. And while that has improved, up-to-date information about the sector must continue to be made available. We need it to inform discussions about alternatives to oil, gas and coal.’
As well as looking at reducing emissions while energy demand is rising, the guide also looks at other areas of the nuclear debate including, long term health effects, managing nuclear power programmes, nuclear weapons and the sector's changing technologies.
Prof Livens added: ‘We all — researchers, environmental groups, science bodies — have to press for a frank and up-to-date picture of how nuclear reactors and safety systems compare and their changing costs and benefits. Whether we’re open-minded opponents, reluctant accepters or strong advocates of using nuclear power, we need an open and honest discourse.
‘That’s why we were keen to contribute to this guide and try to bring discussions up-to-date. The nuclear sector in the UK is one of the safest and most highly regulated industries in the world, but there is still a stigma attached to it, and that has to change.’
In recent years, some prominent environmentalists have become advocates for nuclear power. These include parliamentarians, journalists and environmental campaigners. So much so there is now tension in the environmental movement about whether nuclear power should be part of a low-carbon future.
Prof Livens added: ‘To reduce greenhouse gas emissions while also creating affordable energy for the world, people are having to reconsider the trade-offs between different methods of energy production — particularly whether no nuclear means more fossil fuels.’
We all — researchers, environmental groups, science bodies — have to press for a frank and up-to-date picture of how nuclear reactors and safety systems compare and their changing costs and benefits. Whether we’re open-minded opponents, reluctant accepters or strong advocates of using nuclear power, we need an open and honest discourse.
Other key reasons for the changing attitudes towards nuclear include better data on the long-term health effects of exposure to radiation, more experience of managing nuclear power, and improved and new technologies that increase safety and efficiency and reduce waste.
However, the guide also concedes nuclear power has a legacy of suspicion attached to it, which hasn’t been helped by the sector’s historical closed door policies. The shift in recent decades to greater openness must continue, with new developments and learnings being shared.
Adrian Bull, Director of External Relations at the National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) who also contributed to the guide said:
"This Sense About Science report recognises that the nuclear industry has been somewhat closed in the past, but that has improved dramatically over recent years. We in NNL fully appreciate the need to have as much up-to-date information as possible available to underpin a fact-based discussion on the subject, and we're delighted to have participated in the production of this report."
Tracey Brown, Director of Sense about Science, said: “This guide is not about promoting nuclear as the sole route to a low-carbon energy system. There are many other considerations about what kind of energy generation is suitable in any given situation. But none of us wants to make decisions based on outdated information.”
Energy is one of The University of Manchester’s research beacons - examples of pioneering discoveries, interdisciplinary collaboration and cross-sector partnerships that are tackling some of the biggest questions facing the planet. #ResearchBeacons