Nuclear Power - the future was bright

This is a letter which appeared 17 Feb 07 in the Daily Telegraph, edited slightly for clarity.

Sir -

Fifty years ago, I emerged as a graduate in Physics into a world brightly illuminated with the prospects of nuclear power. I was aware of the need of "undeveloped countries" for the energy that would enable them to improve their living conditions. Fossil fuels were limited, and solutions would be found in Uranium - base load power was provided by gas- cooled Magnox reactors. There was the prospect of Advanced gas-cooled reactors, and later, nuclear fusion: power from the deuterium in sea water for millenia.

I joined Britain's fusion programme. There was talk of controlled fusion reactors, with their surplus neutron flux being capable of deactivating uranium / plutonium nuclear waste. Then we had Three Mile Island and Chernobyl.

The big-business and political interests which funded and designed these failed reactors put paid to the aspirations of the nuclear professionals in Britain. The politicians ran away. The media and environmentalists scared the public so much that sensible discussion of nuclear power disappeared.

I still believe that our base-load energy supply should be nuclear. This option offers a significant reduction of pollution from our fossil-fuelled power stations and gives a low-carbon source of hydrogen. The availability of locally produced hydrogen as a portable energy supply makes sense of electric cars, and might even be developed for pollution-free air travel.

Unfortunately, this country this country no longer has the resource of trained nuclear engineers. Physics education is under threat. The Prime minister is calling for technology to solve his problems. The solutions are recognised by China and South Africa, which are collaborating in the development of the small, low-impact pebble nuclear reactor.

It is important that we talk, consult, and exchange views about nuclear energy. Inform, educate and present some facts so that we can decide our future.


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