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  • UK science academy calls for world nuclear forum


[LONDON] A "nuclear Davos", convening the nations and industries that are involved in nuclear power, could be the way to deal with problems arising from the worldwide growth in nuclear-derived energy, according to the UK's science academy.

A world nuclear forum would enable industry, academia and policymakers to meet, and would reflect and exploit the growing internationalisation of the nuclear industry, said the Royal Society in a report published today (13 October).

Such a gathering could explore, for example, how to deal with the cradle-to-grave care of nuclear fuel in a more internationalised way, which could lead to more sensible disposal options, said the report, 'Fuel cycle stewardship in a nuclear renaissance'.

Multinational companies are more likely to be transparent than national governments, because they "are answerable to different sets of people", said Roger Cashmore, chair of the working group that produced the report and chairman of the Ministry of Defence's Nuclear Research Advisory Council.

Cashmore added: "A number of countries worldwide, particularly China, Russia and South Korea, have looked at nuclear, digested Fukushima … and will be carrying on with the[ir] nuclear power programmes.

"There's no doubt that on the international scene there will be a lot more nuclear reactors."

The report lists 43 countries at various stages of nuclear power reactor construction, among them many developing and emerging economies, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

Many of these countries are pursuing nuclear power for the first time, and the report urges them to formulate long-term research and development (R&D) programmes that could help safely manage the programme and the radioactive waste, as well as provide the technical capacity to respond to "unforeseen changes in policy".

A key recommendation is to not let waste management become an afterthought but include it in initial plans.

"We have to assume that there isn't going to be a technical solution [to waste disposal], apart from 'geological disposal facilities'," John Simpson, a member of the working group that produced the report and a former director of the Mountbatten Centre for International Studies at the UK's University of Southampton, told SciDev.Net.

But it may not be sensible for each country to handle waste on its own, he added.

For example, Jordan, which is planning only a single reactor, may wish to export its waste. Regional waste disposal — for example a single repository in the Gulf serving the whole of the Middle East — may be adequate, he said.

Meanwhile, a country such as Chad, which has a large uranium extraction industry, may take the view that "since we're pulling the stuff out of the ground, once we're finished … we could continue making money by putting it back into the ground", Simpson said.

The report also calls on governments to support collaborative R&D programmes on international cradle-to-grave fuel cycle services. Universities and industry organisations should develop education and awareness-raising courses on non-proliferation and nuclear security for the training of nuclear industry personnel, including scientists, engineers, technicians and managers.

Link to full report  [2.28MB]

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