NUCLEAR power is the only way to meet global demand for electricity, an academic claims.
Professor Robert Cywinski, Dean of Applied Sciences at Huddersfield University, said: “ Nuclear Power is the only source of baseload electricity which is capable of both meeting global energy demands and truly mitigating against the risks of climate change.”
But he warns that within 15 years, all but one of the reactors in the UK’s nuclear fleet will have reached the end of its operational life.
Prof Cywinski spoke out after the government’s announcement this week of 10 sites where new power stations could be built – with the first set to be operational by only 2018.
By 2025 nuclear electricity generation could amount to around 40% of new energy provision.
Professor Cywinski says nuclear energy has a low carbon footprint, so does not contribute heavily to climate change.
Nuclear currently produces 30% of electricity in Germany and 20% in the UK, compared with 78% in France.
“But the UK’s 2008 Energy White Paper recognised that more should be done to promote and deliver nuclear power, nationally and globally,” said Prof Cywinski
“If more is not done this crucial technology will fail to realise its potential as a practical and timely option for deployment on any scale that will contribute to our efforts to meet carbon reduction targets.
“The problem is that, whether rationally or irrationally, public perception of nuclear power is strongly coloured by issues of safety, the radiotoxicity of its waste, its links to nuclear weapon proliferation and concerns about its vulnerability to terrorism.”
Professor Cywinski is a leading proponent of the development of a new, safer form of nuclear power using thorium instead of uranium. He is vice chairman of the Thorium Energy Amplifier Association.
He added: “Recent developments in advanced accelerator technology have provided a unique opportunity to create, build and sustain an entirely new multi-billion pound nuclear industry.”
The 10 sites earmarked for the new power stations are at Braystones, Sellafield and Kirksanton, all in Cumbria, Heysham in Lancashire, Hartlepool in Co Durham, Sizewell in Suffolk, Bradwell in Essex, Hinkley Point in Somerset, Oldbury in Gloucestershire and Wylfa in Anglesey.
Thorium has been a byproduct of refining monazite for its rare-earth content in the United States.
Monazite itself is recovered as a byproduct of processing heavy-mineral sands for titanium and zirconium minerals.
There is three times as much thorium as uranium (used in conventional nuclear power stations) in the earth's crust.
Thorium produces 250 times more energy than uranium.
It is not possible to make weapons-grade materials from thorium – unlike uranium.
Thorium waste loses its radioactivity in hundreds of years rather than tens of thousands.
Mining and refining thorium ore is simpler and cleaner than mining and refining uranium ore.
Add uranium, plutonium (used in atomic bombs) or any other radioactive 'actinide' metal into the mix and the thorium fuel process incinerates these elements.
Thorium-fuelled nuclear power stations could not only generate power but also solve the problem of disposing of existing nuclear waste.
The thorium fuel process could also be used to manufacture fuel for conventional uranium-fuelled power stations, reducing the need for further uranium mining or plutonium manufacture (other than the plutonium the politicians believe they need for weapons).
Australia has the world's largest reserves of thorium, but India, which is sitting on about a quarter, has already planned its transition to thorium reactors.