Archive for October, 2016

IEA chief says we can’t be picky about energy technology

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on October 27th, 2016

The Executive director of the International Energy Association, Fatih Birol, has spoken out on the need for a diverse solution to the decarbonisation challenge, including nuclear. With the climate and energy crises worsening, the solutions are growing more urgent. At the annual Singapore International Energy Week, Birol argued;

“we don’t have the luxury to pick just one technology”

At an event dominated by renewables, he championed the importance of also pursuing energy efficiency and nuclear power, saying:

“for me, the number one is improving energy efficiency. All countries have different resources, but they can all take action on energy efficiency. And in some countries nuclear power, which can generate without creating emission problems, will be part of the solution”.

The future of nuclear was questioned at the event, with public opinion cited as an issue that could prevent progress. However as Birol continued, 2015 had been a kind of “golden year” for nuclear with 10 new reactors, the highest number in almost three decades. Weinberg has reported that progress in China and India as well as new initiatives for nuclear in Canada, the US and the UK is keeping the industry moving. It is vital that new technologies continue to be pursued. As Birol said,

“we have to accelerate innovation because the current technologies will not be enough.”

A diverse, holistic and innovative approach to energy and decarbonisation, based on an “all of the above” strategy, is very much needed. This will need to include renewables, but as Birol said, efficiency and nuclear too, as well as other technologies like carbon capture and storage and interconnection. It is through diversity that we are most likely to achieve energy security and climate protection.

Industrial Strategy Consultation – Weinberg’s submission to BEIS

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on October 17th, 2016


The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy committee launched an inquiry this summer to which Weinberg Next Nuclear submitted a response. Our recommendations have now been published and can be found below or at this link:


A commitment to industrial strategy is welcome, and must include sustainable development, decarbonisation and energy security at its core.

The debate on the extent of state involvement, in reference to climate change and sustainable development, is a valid one. However, the market is far from free. It would only be free if all externalities were included, but they are not. If there was a strong carbon price the government would be able to be less involved, but there will always be a need for some government intervention. Examples of this include research and development for industrial innovation that often requires initial government support.

The government must ensure that the Climate Change Act remains central. It has now been proven that the costs of action on climate change are far less than the costs of inaction (Stern review), with key industry and market leaders in agreement. The CBI says:

Ensuring that we maintain a secure, affordable and low-carbon supply is vital to British business. Additionally, we must continue to use energy more efficiently. The CBI is lobbying for government to provide a long-term, stable policy framework to enable continued business innovation and investment in the UK’s low-carbon transition.[1]

The Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney said:

The combination of the weight of scientific evidence and the dynamics of the financial system suggest that, in the fullness of time, climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer-term prosperity. While there is still time to act, the window of opportunity is finite and shrinking. [2]

Christine Laggard, of the International Monetary Fund, agreed saying:

If climate change issues are not adequately addressed—if we keep running those nice energy subsidies, if the price on carbon is not adequately set, if policymakers dont have it on their radar screens—then financial stability in the medium and long-term is clearly at stake.[3]

It is thus essential that this significant threat to industries, markets, and the environment is mitigated.

The government also needs to accompany the targets on climate change with action by investing in future solutions. Research and development must continue to nurture infant industries that not only have the potential to benefit the UK’s energy and environmental security, but could also offer exciting new export potential. Initiatives like the Swansea tidal lagoon (a world first), advanced nuclear power including the SMR competition, floating offshore wind farms, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and advanced bioenergy from algae are all great opportunities for the UK to pursue. Until externalities are internalised, low carbon energy industries will often require public financial support. The UK Government should provide this, where necessary, from taxes not consumer bills, and should also stop subsidies to unnecessary high carbon energy, including coal-fired power stations

An industrial strategy should be about developing new industries, whilst providing what existing industries need. Developing sustainable energy options not only consolidates the UK’s position in the growing green economy but also contributes to achieving affordable, sustainable and secure energy that is essential for existing industries. Some options, such as CCS, could give new life to declining existing heavy industry as a new report suggests[4] and development at already approved nuclear sites could help improve the rural economy in those areas. Combining heat and power provision through systems like district heating, also offer promising mutual benefits once the initial investment and development is made.

Industry needs security, but in the uncertainty wrought by the Brexit vote it also needs consistency. Blocking low cost, green solutions such as onshore wind, is unwise. A consistent approach should be used between energy sources. For example, if local communities are not allowed a veto vote over shale gas developments, they should also not be allowed a veto on wind farms. Whatever is decided on veto policy, it should be consistency across technologies.

Similarly, industry needs consistency over time. Regulatory stability and long-term agendas help investor confidence. One of the key mechanisms for delivering regulatory stability was EU membership. In the Brexit scenario that the UK now finds itself in, it is essential that a stable, consistent and long-term approach to policy is developed, to maintain confidence and ensure industrial progress.

The UK must also ensure it stays competitive and open to EU and global markets, whilst also maintaining its leadership in certain fields. One of these fields is emissions. The Industrial Emissions Directive, is a key policy that keep relationships with Europe strong whilst protecting our local and global environment. It is essential that that this, and other environmental initiatives are maintained and strengthened to allow the UK to continue to be a key part of Europe’s sustainable industrial future.

Finally, the UK should take inspiration from around the world. In the USA, Obama’s “all of the above” strategy allows security in energy to be achieved through variety of supply. Germany became a world leader in wind and solar development largely due to its Stromeinspeisungsgesetz law, ensuring a very attractive feed in tariff for renewables. This policy was so successful they now need to invest in storage and interconnection to integrate the renewables into a wider energy system. Sweden’s NUTEK created demand for new technologies with greater energy efficiency by technology procurement and government guarantees for market demands. By keeping abreast of these policy developments elsewhere, and future-proofing industry by investing in sustainability, the UK can ensure it continues to prosper.

A well-designed industrial strategy can propel the UK into a leading role in a number of policy areas, including energy, as well as provide some much needed clarity in the post-Brexit environment.






Weinberg Next Nuclear are delighted to share this submission from May 2016 by Professor Wade Allison to the Science and Technology Committee of the UK Commons. Wade Allison is Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford where he researched and taught for 40 years as a Fellow of Keble College. He has studied the risks involved in radiological and nuclear accidents as seen from medical, scientific and popular perspectives. He has published two excellent books, in 2009 Radiation and Reason: The Impact of Science on a Culture of Fearand in 2015 Nuclear is for Life: A Cultural Revolution, which Weinberg Next Nuclear highly recommend.


1. Summary

Life is naturally well protected against all but the very highest radiation exposures and evolutionary biology has ensured this so that life may survive. The low casualty record in all radiological and nuclear accidents confirms the effectiveness of this protection, as do laboratory experiments and the benefits of radiation as used in clinical medicine for over a century.

The commonly held view that radiation is exceptionally dangerous has been sustained by: a) residual memory of Cold War threats; b) unfamiliarity with the broad role of biology; c) a taste for the more exciting stories of accidents offered by the media; d) the guidance offered by a network of international safety committees that prefers caution to scientific evidence. This guidance has resulted in national regulations that specify that any exposure to radiation should be kept As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA), for no scientific reason.

While the radiation released in a radiological or nuclear accident has a small health effect, if any, the emergency procedures taken with international guidance themselves cause suffering, loss of life and severe socio-economic damage, sometimes on a global scale. Current policy that aims to appease public concern rather than educate people about radiation has caused plans for new nuclear plants to be strangled by unjustifiable regulatory hurdles and escalating costs, resulting in uncompetitive energy prices and increased carbon emissions.

Two conclusions:

•          Bottom up, on radiation and  nuclear energy we need a fresh programme of science-wide public education in schools and in the community as a whole via the media, omitting the ghoulish images used in the past. Local UK-based initiatives should contribute to worldwide re-education, for example through the BBC.

•          Top down, on radiation safety we need a complete change in international guidance. This should be based on scientific understanding and evidence, not the unjustified precaution inherent in the ALARA/LNT philosophy.[3]Initiatives for such a change should be pursued and supported by the UK more formally.[4]

2. Scientific background

Because radiation has always been part of the natural environment, life has evolved protection against attack by it. Biological experiments and a century of clinical experience with life-saving radiotherapy have confirmed the efficacy of this protection, even for quite high doses. As for accidents, only in a handful of instances have radiation dose rates been high enough for this natural protection to fail causing loss of life; the largest being 4 deaths at the radiological accident at Goiania (1987) and 43 deaths at the nuclear accident at Chernobyl (1986). Further, because radioactivity (and the radiation it emits) do not catch and spread in the way that fire and infectious diseases do, nuclear and radiological accidents have a rather low direct impact on life, in strong contrast to what is generally supposed.

3. The accident at Fukushima Daiichi

Two weeks after the accident[5] I published an article on the BBC World Service,[6] We should stop running away from radiation. It discussed why the response to the accident was scientifically and sociologically inappropriate. In December 2011 I made a written submission to the Commons Science and Technology Select Committee on the subject.[7] Since the accident I have visited Japan four times, given public lectures there and discussed with doctors, social workers, community leaders, evacuees, school teachers and others involved on the ground.

4. The public view

The real impact of such accidents is transmitted through public opinion and the media. The damage to health is essentially social and mental – it manifests itself as public panic and a loss of confidence in science and society. At Chernobyl and also at Fukushima those who were exposed to radiation felt themselves condemned as if by a curse, resulting in alcoholism, family breakup and attitudes of hopelessness.[8] Few knew anything about radiation except for the historical link in the public consciousness between radiation and nuclear weapons including testing. During the period of the Cold War and Nuclear Arms Race fear of radiation was heightened for political and strategic reasons. However most people are surprised to learn that 99% of those killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki died from the blast and fire and that only 1% died of cancer from the radiation explosion. Furthermore the medical records of the survivors families now available after fifty years confirm that there has been no detectable inherited effect from the radiation. The same is true for data from accidents and laboratory studies.

5. The view of the authorities

In their situation for the past 70 years national and international public authorities have been anxious to appease public concern about any radiological accident, and they have adopted an exceptional precautionary safety policy. By legalising radiation exposures only at a very low level it was believed that the public that they would come to no harm. Such a cautious approach may be appropriate for a technology before it is fully understood or when practical experience of it is limited, but for radiation high levels have been in regular clinical use worldwide for over a century so that this policy is restrictive. Nevertheless regulations in all nations do treat radiation as if it were an extraordinary hazard and safe limits are set As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA) – in practice this means a small addition to the radiation that would be received anyway from natural processes. Thanks to the protection provided by nature this guidance is overly conservative by a factor in the region of a thousand.

6. When “the impossible” occurs

Under this draconian safety regime it is supposed that accidents should not happen, although this does not  reassure the public about nuclear safety, nor should it. There is no design of nuclear reactor that cannot be overwhelmed by nature and the public should be prepared for this unlikely event. Otherwise, when they see “the impossible” happening, they panic and loose all confidence in the authorities and in the ability of science to protect them – that is a fair description of the disaster that occurred at Fukushima in 2011. Recovery from such a loss of confidence is difficult. Unfortunately the nuclear authorities worldwide see their task in terms of engineering and management only, not radiobiology, teaching and psychology. Their natural reaction has therefore been to improve the physical safety of reactors even further. Unfortunately trying too hard to apply the wrong solution drives up costs without reason. This is the story of Hinkley C, perhaps, designed to be safe beyond the bounds of what is buildable, economic and necessary.

7. Education for confidence and safety

To be effective safety policy should concentrate on education to explain and make dangers more familiar. For example, fire drills are held regularly in institutions to train everybody so that they know what to do in the event of a fire. In addition from an early age every child is taught the danger of fire and how it can easily spread. Although nuclear radiation is far safer than fire people still need to become familiar with it, to know how it is detected with a simple alarm[9] and how to minimise personal exposure to it. Issuing instructions after an accident has occurred and the population is in a state of shock is too late. The public needs to understand beforehand so that individuals can take rapid and decisive action. This provides confidence at all times and informed response to an accident. What happened in March 2011 in Japan in response to the tsunami provides an example. The Japanese are taught about earthquakes and tsunamis at school and in public education. As a result they are prepared, and in the event 96% of those in the inundated region reached safety with only 30 minutes warning after the earthquake. The loss of 18,800 lives was seemingly understood and accepted, but the release of radioactivity from the damaged reactors at Fukushima Daiichi was not, even five years later. For this radiation there had been no public education and no proper plan. The result was widespread public shock even though there was no hospital admission due to the radiation itself – and the scientific evidence shows there will be no loss of life in the next fifty years. However the immediate loss of life caused by the inept and unnecessary evacuation has been put at 1600; wider social effects, from alcoholism to power shortages and increased reliance on carbon fuels, occurred as a result of the mutual loss of trust between the public and the authorities. None of this would have happened if there had been honest explanatory education about radiation, what it does to life (and what it does not), and discussion and familiarity with practice, as for earthquakes or fire.

8.  ALARA and the LNT Model

The authorities with responsibility for radiological accidents and radiation safety have pursued a policy based on ALARA dating back to the 1950s. Its rationale is a hypothesis called Linear No-Threshold (LNT) which basically says that any radiation exposure however slight is harmful. But this is not based on evidence. It is a pseudo-science like alchemy in earlier times. In that case the human emotion of avarice overrode the evidence encouraging the hope that base metals might be turned into gold. Here it is the human emotion of fear that makes the simplistic LNT attractive in spite of the contrary evidence. LNT contradicts the known principles of evolutionary biology and was discredited at length in a unanimous Joint Report published in 2005 by the Académie des Sciences and the Académie Nationale de Médecine, in Paris.[10] The evidence in this report has been denied by the international safety committees who also have not faced up to the cost and suffering for which their guidance based on ALARA/LNT is responsible. There is widespread concern amongst those who understand at this departure from science-based knowledge. In the past couple of years an international ad hocgroup of about 100 professional engineers, doctors, oncologists, biologists, physical scientists and others has joined forces to pursue this injustice in academic journals, internet media, professional societies, lectures, personal and political contacts in countries around the world. Of course it is very hard for any long-standing officially constituted international committee to execute a U-turn, but that is what is required and the policy of the UK should be to press for that.[11]Nations that first wholeheartedly embrace this new perspective of the human relationship with radiation should enjoy an important competitive advantage in the years ahead through cheaper energy, cultural leadership and a cleaner and safer environment.[12] The UK should be one of those nations.


Professor Wade Allison can be contacted for questions via this address:


[1]ISBN 978-0-956275615 in paperback and Kindle editions

[2]ISBN 978-0-956275646  in paperback and online editions.

[3]Acronyms for As Low As Reasonably Achievable and Linear No-Threshold hypothesis, see later

[4]A report quoting an example of such initiatives

[5]In this brief submission I use this accident as an example. The Goiania, Chernobyl and other accidents are covered elsewhere..




[9]The technology of a domestic smoke alarm could provide a cheap solution if built into a mobile phone.


[11]There is a superfluity of  such bodies UNSCEAR, ICRP, NEA, IAEA, WHO, etc. and many national ones too (in US: NAS, NRC, NCRP, EPA with more in UK and Japan).


We need to talk about Plutonium….

Posted by Suzanna Hinson on October 6th, 2016

An agreement between Russia and the USA to work together to dispose of weapons grade plutonium has been suspended. The deal dates back to 2000 when both nations agreed to reduce their nuclear weapons by disposing of 34 tonnes of plutonium each, enough to build approximately 17,000 nuclear weapons.
The strategy behind the agreement was a good one. Through a ‘sword-to-plough’ approach, the weapons grade material would be reprocessed and turned into clean energy to power homes and industry. The bilateral plan reduced the amount of weapons-grade plutonium and in turn burned it, thus producing vast amounts of carbon dioxide-free energy, whilst also strengthening the relations between the two countries with a very tense geopolitical history.
Unfortunately it is a breakdown in these relations that appears to have ended the deal. The annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ongoing war in Syria have tested the relationship to breaking point. The failure of the recent Syrian ceasefire seems to have been the breaking point, with the US announcing that they will suspend discussion with Russia over Syria. Russia however claims that these are distractions and that the real issue is the USA’s reprocessing is insufficient and bombs could still be made from their plutonium.
This claim stems from the fact that Russia dilutes their plutonium and makes it into Mixed-Oxide (MOX) fuel which, in turn, would be used to generate electricity in reactors. This approach would see the plutonium permanently destroyed, whilst the Americans decided to scrap their MOX plant after Fukushima and opted to bury the plutonium instead. This, the Russians argue, contravenes the deal as the plutonium would still be retrievable.
Without this deal, the plutonium issue remains a significant one. There are large volumes of the material left over from nuclear weapons production. Plutonium is also produced by nuclear power stations. The UK is far from immune to this problem, burdened with the biggest plutonium stockpile in the world.
But with every crisis, there is an opportunity. Advanced reactors have the potential to burn up plutonium much more efficiently and easily. The US, Russia and the UK are all investing in new, Generation 4 designs that can deal with the problem. Plutonium is a domestic security issue and combatting it with advanced nuclear power not only reduces this insecurity but also simultaneously increases energy security.
International disagreements, however serious, should not be allowed to stand in the way of national or international actions on turning plutonium from a vice to a virtue. Weinberg Next Nuclear’s will soon be addressing this issue in a new report, discussing how the UK should deal with its legacy waste, including the plutonium stockpile.

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