In February 2003, the UK government published an Energy White Paper (Energy White Paper, 2003) to define an energy policy looking forward from today to 2020 and beyond as far as 2050. Many of the policies set out in the paper took as their starting point the Energy Review published by the Cabinet Office’s Performance and Innovation Unit (now the Strategy Unit) (The Energy Review, 2002) in February 2002 and the White Paper was produced after in-depth analysis of the various options. The review covered all forms of energy requirement, from heating and lighting to transport, industry and communications.

Regarding nuclear power for either electrical or non-electrical generation, a key safety issue concerns the management of nuclear waste. Supporters of nuclear energy argue that the technical problems associated with waste disposal are solved; opponents do not agree. There are other commercial and practical issues such as: capital cost, market price of nuclear electricity and energy, and the risks, including liabilities and availability of an adequate skill base. All these will impact any decision for new build.

By 2020, the existing fleets of UK nuclear power stations will all have almost reached the end of their working lives. The White Paper acknowledged that nuclear power was currently an important source of carbon-free electricity and remains an option for the future. However, it did not propose new build and stated that before any decision to proceed with the building of a new power station, there would need to be the fullest consultation and publication of a White Paper setting down Government’s proposals. The arguments for a delay were both on economic grounds and concerning the issue of waste disposal. These considerations are clearly relevant to all nuclear energy products (electrical and non-electrical) in general.

Nuclear power in the UK has in the past been used largely for electricity generation, but some reactor designs are suitable for either co-generation of heat or even dedicated nuclear heating applications. For example UK industry is showing a revived interest in high temperature reactors (HTRs). The UK is keeping abreast of a number of international initiatives, via participation in the Generation IV programme led by USDOE.

For many years, fast reactors have offered the attraction of a sustainable fuel supply based on a uranium-plutonium fuel cycle. There is now a current interest in exploring particular advantages of the fast reactor to consume plutonium, and reduce the stockpile of weapons fuel. Also the fast reactor can be used to irradiate minor actinides and fission products to reduce the toxicity of long-term wastes. Within this framework, the gas-cooled fast reactor (GCFR) has a number of potential advantages to offer. The UK is participating in EC initiatives in this area; e. g. an ongoing review of gas-cooled reactor concepts (Mitchell et al., 2001) within the 5th Framework programme.

The UK is also participating in the EC CAPRA (Consummation accrue de plutonium dans les reacteurs Rapides) project, which aims to utilise existing plutonium stocks arising from the operation of commercial thermal reactors (IAEA-TECDOC-1083, 1999).

Work is currently underway in the UK in the EC CAPRA/CADRA project to evaluate the potential for the transmutation of plutonium and minor actinides in a wide variety of reactor concepts including a GCFR or a HTR system (Smith et al., 2003). Participation in these various gas reactor programmes takes advantage of the UK long-standing experience of gas reactor technology.

The UK is also keeping abreast of other initiatives, including the application of proton particle accelerators in connection with sub-critical reactor systems.

The UK participates in fusion research and collaborative international programmes. During the 1990s, the Joint European Torus (JET) project has made progress in generating significant amounts of energy. For the next generation of Tokamaks, interested nations including the UK will participate in the International Tokamak experimental reactor (ITER) project. This technology is not likely to be available as a viable power generator until beyond 2030.

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