I NEWS: Nuclear power is safe and gets cheaper the more we embrace it – we need to get past its PR problem

Press/Media: Expert comment

Period13 Apr 2022

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Media contributions

  • TitleNuclear power is safe and gets cheaper the more we embrace it – we need to get past its PR problem
    Media name/outleti News
    Media typeWeb
    Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
    Description“Nowadays your average nuclear worker is probably getting less radiation than the average intercontinental pilot, with the cosmic rays,” says Richard Wakeford, a professor of epidemiology specialising in ionising radiation at the University of Manchester.

    Francis Livens, a professor of radiochemistry at the University of Manchester’s Dalton Nuclear Institute, says: “The amount of spent fuel coming out of a reactor is tiny compared to the millions of tonnes of fly ash that came out of coal-fired stations, or the carbon dioxide that comes out of gas plants.”

    That said, as Livens points out, “The volume of waste is tiny, but it’s really nasty. So you may only have a few hundred tonnes, but you really have to look after it carefully.”

    Luckily, we know how to do that. “My personal opinion is that waste disposal is not a technical problem,” says Livens. “All the technical problems are solved or solvable. If you look at Sizewell B, it’s been running for nearly 30 years, and all the fuel is stored on site and will be until it stops operating. You have a reactor and a spent fuel store, and it’s all on the same location.”

    Since it’s such a small amount of high-level waste, if you can find space to build the reactor, you can find space to store it, in heavily engineered concrete-and-iron casks. Later, after the reactor is shut down, spent fuel can be stored underground, or its concrete casks can be updated every few decades: either way, the space, risk and cost are trivial.

    But while it’s not a technical problem, it is a societal problem, says Livens. “Everyone asks about the waste,” he says. “It has a profile I’m not sure it deserves, but it does have it. The UK struggled for years with disposing of waste, because communities don’t like having it disposed of in their patch, until they stopped treating it as a technical problem and started treating it as a societal problem.”

    Previously, the government would announce that waste would be stored somewhere, in a model known as “Decide, Announce, Defend”. “The government decides it’s going to put the waste in Francis Liven’s garden,” says Livens. “They tell me, I say ‘You bastards,’ and then there’s a row.” Often, the government would then back down, so the D-A-D model became cruelly known as “Decide, Announce, Defend, Abandon”.

    PersonsFrancis Livens, Richard Wakeford

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  • Energy


  • nuclear energy