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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 July 2006, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Your energy questions answered
Carl Hughes, Paul Howarth, Catherine Mitchell

We've selected a panel of experts to answer a some of the questions you've sent us about the Government's decision to give the go-ahead for a new wave of nuclear power stations in Britain.

Carl Hughes is an energy industry expert, Paul Howarth is an authority on nuclear energy research and Catherine Mitchell is former journalist and adviser to the Government on energy.

IS NUCLEAR THE ONLY OPTION?

Let's build windfarms all over the loveliest scenery in England and Wales, ban all cars and buses and hope the way the rest of the world does likewise. Get real - nuclear's the only way forward.
David, Milton Keynes

Carl: "Nuclear power is one of a wide range of technologies that can help us meet our energy policy objectives. Unlike nuclear, some of the newer, emerging technologies have yet to be developed to the extent that they are commercially viable at a scale which would be able to make a significant contribution to filling Britain's power generation gap for the next 10 to 15 years.

Catherine: "Some renewable generating technologies are already nearly competitive, in particular onshore wind and landfill. Others, such as solar PV, have seen costs fall dramatically as technologies develop and improve. Britain is blessed with generous renewable resources, especially wind and wave, and we should be exploiting them more effectively. New technologies need support and the big difference between them and nuclear power is that renewables are new and innovative, and therefore merit this support. Nuclear power has been promising cost-effective generation for 50 years and has failed to deliver."

HOW LONG UNTIL URANIUM RUNS OUT?

I have nothing against nuclear power, but I can't see the point in getting too involved if the source (uranium) is due to run out - is there a risk of that happening and if so, when?
Justin, Exeter in Devon

Paul: "Current projections of the availability of uranium suggests there's plenty available. Even if the global nuclear capacity were to triple, we would still easily get to 2050 and beyond. The Government's Sustainable Development Commission which took a very critical review of nuclear concluded that "there are no major concerns over the availability of uranium". In Australia alone there is 150 years worth of uranium and 45 years worth in Canada, according to the Government's Energy Review, based on known estimates and production levels."

THE OCEAN AS AN ENERGY SOURCE?

Why all the focus on nuclear energy? Surely we should be capitalising on the huge amount of natural energy the ocean/sea can generate? I understand tidal power is not easy to harness, but with more investment, we could be saving ourselves enormous complications in the future.
Nick, Dorset

Carl: "Deploying marine technologies such as wave & tidal power would provide a low carbon and truly renewable alternative to burning fossil fuels and would enhance security of supply. Unfortunately, marine technologies are not yet commercially viable on a large scale and will be very expensive to build. Nevertheless, further research and development is vital if we are to achieve our energy policy objectives in the long term."

Catherine: "Britain has a huge potential wave resources but the technologies are relatively underdeveloped and need more government support to really become viable. At the moment, they're not getting this support because the subsidy mechanism used by the government only helps the cheapest forms of renewable generation. The UK has enormous offshore resources, but is failing to provide the necessary funds to develop the technologies and expertise, to eventually reduce costs. Not only are we missing the opportunity to use this resource ourselves, but we're also missing the opportunity to become world leaders in new and potentially massive renewable generating technologies."

SOLAR ENERGY

Why doesn't the government use the planning regulations to drive the building industry to provide more small-scale solutions such as solar panels for power generation and water heating?
Helen, Beeston in Leeds UK

Catherine: "The Energy Review says planning authorities should encourage more small-scale solutions and develop the possibility of selling any excess generation 'where viable'. Measures such as these will be vital in encouraging householders or building developers to incorporate sustainable energy technologies. However, the proviso that it will only be 'where viable' presents a bit of a Catch 22 situation. It'll only become 'viable' (ie cheap and probably easy) if they are widely adopted, but they won't be if there aren't strong requirements to do so."

NUCLEAR ENERGY OPTIONS

I'm the greatest advocate of renewable sources but we need additional power that shouldn't be derived from a fossil based sources - nuclear seems the only option. But is nuclear fission the only way nuclear energy can be generated and are there safer options?
Guy, London

Paul: There are two ways of generating energy from nuclear: fission and Fusion. Nuclear fission is splitting of heavy atoms (like uranium) into light elements which releases energy based on Einstein's famous equation E=mc2. The alternative means is fusion which is taking two light nuclei and fusing them together - again this releases energy based on Einstein's equation. At the moment we use nuclear fission in reactors to generate heat, that heats water that turns turbines to generate electricity. Nuclear fusion is currently being actively researched - this is the process that powers the sun - but you need to emulate the conditions within the Sun on Earth - you need very high temperatures, density and a confinement time in order to initiate a fusion reaction. The international community is working together to build a large scale experimental device called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in France which will test whether or not fusion is really possible. It is worth investing in fusion as it offers potentially limitless energy supplies without spent nuclear fuel from a fission reactor.

NUCLEAR SAFETY

Chernobyl has become the poster boy for the threat that nuclear power poses - is it justified and while we can't predict accidents could something similar happen in Britain? And would the result be the same?
James, Crowborough

Paul: Chernobyl could not happen in the UK. Chernobyl's reactor design was flawed and regulatory authorities would never allow it to be built. When Chernobyl blew up the operators were testing the reactor in a somewhat dangerous manner with safety systems switched off - again such a test would never be allowed in the UK. There are now 12,000 reactor years of experience of operating nuclear reactors - so there is now a great deal of know-how and confidence in how to operate such systems. The nuclear industry is one of the most regulated and safe industries in the world. We should recognise radiation is all around us all the time from natural sources (natural food, the ground, from space, ourselves!). The most radioactive thing most people in the nuclear industry do is taking a 2-hour plane flight with their family to the Costa del Sol!

RADIOACTIVE WASTE

I'm against nuclear power because of the radioactive waste it produces which must be stored for hundreds of thousands of years. Nobody knows whether this can be done safely or not.
Martin, London

Carl: "Using nuclear power inevitably results in waste which is costly to clean up and manage, some of which will represent a hazard for many of thousands of years into the future. While new generation nuclear power stations have been designed to minimize such risks, the problem remains as to how such waste can be safely and securely stored for very long periods. The UK is looking at deep-underground storage in the long term, but this has yet to be formally approved. Clearly concerns around the impact on the environment and the risk of terrorism are central to this debate."

MEET THE PANEL

Carl Hughes
Carl D Hughes
Nuclear energy expert

Carl Hughes is the UK Head of Energy, Infrastructure and Facilities at Deloitte in London, which covers the oil & gas, mining, water, nuclear and infrastructure sectors. He has advised the British Government on energy policy and on the restructuring of British Energy.

Paul Howarth
Dr Paul Howarth

Paul has recently been appointed as Director of Research at the Dalton Nuclear Institute. Prior to this he worked for BNFL in a number of senior management positions associated with technology strategy, capability management and research. He has worked in the industry for 15 years covering a number of aspects of nuclear technology from fusion to fuel cycle technology to advanced reactors.

Catherine Mitchell
Catherine Mitchell
Renewable Energy expert

Catherine Mitchell is the Principal Research Fellow in the Centre for Management Under Regulation, Warwick Business School, University and a Guest Lecturer, Energy and resources group, Univerisity of California, Berkeley. In 2001 she was a member of the Cabinet Office's Performance and Innovation (now Strategy) Unit Energy Review Team and was on the Government's Energy Advisory Panel from 1998-2003.






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