Keith Parker answers your nuclear questions – Part one

In this week’s readers’ Q&A session, Keith Parker, chief executive of the UK’s Nuclear Industry Association, answers your questions.

In the first of two posts, Keith answers your questions on what constitutes a nuclear meltdown, whether there is likely to be a public backlash against nuclear in the UK and how the industry should now change.

In the second post, published later on Friday, he will discuss whether the events in Fukushima are a good advertisement for the industry, what are the full costs of nuclear power and what the industry’s view is of renewable power.

Next week, Amrita Sen, oil analyst at BarCap, answers all your oil-related queries. Email questions to energy.source@ft.com by the end of Sunday, March 27th.

But for now, over to Keith:

Nuclear meltdown

If what happened at Fukushima isn’t a meltdown, what is it?
Chris Connolly

At Fukushima we’ve had an extremely difficult situation after a tsunami took out power supplies to core cooling systems. As a result the cores have overheated and it now seems sure that some damage has resulted in three of the reactor cores.

The word ‘meltdown’ means that the fuel in these cores have entirely melted and gone all the way through the reactor vessel as well as the containment to the concrete floor of the building. This is not that case here, where we expect to find partial melting of the cores, but retained within the important safety barriers of the reactor vessel and containment.

Public response

Do you think the UK could see a public backlash against nuclear similar to that seen in Germany, and if so, what would that do to the chances of a ‘nuclear renaissance’?
Kiran Stacey

We have not seen the same level of fear or negativity directed towards the industry in the UK as has been witnessed in Germany for example. A poll commissioned by Friends of the Earth in the week following the accident shows that whilst support for nuclear power had dropped, those in favour still outweigh those against. A principal reason for this has been the calm and responsible approach that our government has taken in the aftermath of the extremely serious situation in Japan.

Both David Cameron and Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, have rightly recognised that our current nuclear fleet has an excellent safety record and is a crucial part of our low-carbon power supply. Professor Sir David King’s independent report found that the case for a new build programme “has never been stronger”.

Clearly public support is important. Once the report by Mike Weightman, the chief nuclear inspector, is concluded, I hope those whose confidence in nuclear power has been knocked will be reassured by the security and robust safety measures in place throughout the UK.

Industry response

How do you see the industry changing to implement all the necessary changes in the wake of Fukushima?
Young Professionals for Energy Security

It is too early to say. The industry wholeheartedly supports the government’s decision to commission Dr Weightman’s comprehensive report of the facts of what has happened in Japan and the implications for the UK nuclear industry.

The interim report will not be finished until May, so until then I cannot say what changes, if any, the nuclear industry will be required to make. Operators have already taken measures to assess their existing safety and emergency procedures in the light of Fukushima.

Operators have already taken measures to assess their existing safety and emergency procedures in the light of Fukushima

The industry is committed to contributing to Dr Weightman’s investigation in any way necessary and to applying fully any lessons learned. It is too soon to anticipate the outcomes, but safety is, and will remain, an absolute priority for the industry. We cannot and will not be complacent.

As well as Dr Weightman’s report, EU leaders have agreed to run “stress tests” on all nuclear power plants and the industry will make any changes necessary as a result of these tests.

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