Sunday, 29 July 2018

Small reactors; big problems

Letter to Financial Times:
Your energy correspondent makes a number of errors of omission and commission in her article on the prospects for small modular nuclear reactors (SMRs) (“Nuclear power looks to shrink its way to success,” Financial Times, July 25;
She states that “the UK, opened the world’s first commercial nuclear reactor in 1956”

The plant that was opened that year by a young Queen Elizabeth was Calder Hall, at the Sellafield site, was not a ‘commercial’ plant, but a plutonium production facility run by the UK Atomic Energy Authority for the Ministry of Defence (Supply) to provide nuclear explosive materials for nuclear warheads.

In fact it was clearly stated at the time of the plant’s opening, in a book entitled Calder Hall: The Story of Britain’s First Atomic Power Station, written by Kenneth Jay, and published by the Government’s Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell to mark Calder’s commissioning in October 1956.  Mr Jay wrote:

“Major plants built for military purposes such as Calder Hall are being used as prototypes for civil plants . . . the plant has been designed as a dual-purpose plant to produce plutonium for military purposes as well as electric power . . . it would be wrong to pretend that the civil programme has not benefitted from, and is not to some extent dependent upon, the military programme."

She also makes no mention that  SMRs-  like their gigawatt  competitors reactors, such as Hinkley C-  also create radioactive wastes, for which there is currently no demonstrated solution for final disposal.

Finally, and most importantly, she makes no mention of the problem of multiple deployment of SMRs around the country, many at  new greenfield sites, will add many hundreds of  new transports of  nuclear materials to and from these sites, which proliferates insecurity and would create a huge new capacity burden on the UK nuclear regulator, the Office for Nuclear Regulation , at a time when it  is already financially stretched in recruiting  new specialists to cope with  complex regulation in a post-Brexit UK.

I explained this significant unresolved problem in a presentation I made at the European Nuclear Energy Forum (ENEF), organized by the European Commission, in Bratislava, in early June (

The Commission, a supporter of SMRs, has declined to publish my full 70-page presentation on their own web site, but it may be accessed via the Brussels-based Nuclear Transparency Watch group web site (

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