Thursday, 2 October 2014

A Comment on Nuclear Ethics

By Mark Williams

After a long absence due to us all writing up our dreaded theses, we're back! This week, Mark Williams discusses the nature of ethics within nuclear and questions whether we are doing enough within the community to educate and inform the wider public.

After a day of discussion around the ethics of nuclear, one thing seems to be clear: People want to know more about the risks, and they want dialogue with experts in the form of an open forum.Earlier this month in Manchester University’s School of Chemistry, 3 invited speakers, who have a range of expertise in energy mix economics, nuclear legislation and ethical studies, discussed their findings to a group of nuclear researchers. Rather than preaching to the choir about the benefits of nuclear, this was more of a critical assessment of how industrial and political actions can affect public perception. Dialogue ranged from the cyclical privatisation/nationalisation of energy markets to the building of another fence around Sellafield. Analysis ranged from the extensive engineered barriers to minimise radiation exposure to workers, to the perceived tarnishing impact of being born in a prefecture with a nuclear contaminant history.

Are Sellafield's security measures
symbolic of a loss of public transparency?
Take tightening security at Sellafield, for example; “anywhere with an electrified fence sandwiched between two razor sharp fences is going to make passers-by believe there is something very dodgy going on inside,” said one speaker. Interestingly, 25 years ago people were being shown around the site by tour guides; all visitor facilities have now been closed off, however. Is this a required security precaution in the light of increased terror alerts post-9/11, or is it a considerable loss of public transparency?

What of the people of the Fukishima prefecture? Parents in the region worry for their children’s future marital eligibility, but are these anxieties a result of their misunderstanding of the radiation risks? More likely it is the societal objectivity of a ‘contaminated’ community based upon a fairly global misunderstanding of radiation risks.

I’m concerned for a nuclear-curious public who have very limited public access to the nuclear industry. Politicians have been strongly in favour of nuclear since January 2008, with Gordon Brown stating “more than ever before, nuclear power has a key role to play as part of the UK’s energy mix” in the government white paper of that year. Then, just months after Fukishima, the current government said “we need […] a new generation of nuclear stations.” But with lacklustre incentives to entice private sector investment and the retraction of proposed carbon cost hikes to curb gas and coal [2011 white paper], nothing has been built and projections predict new build to be connected to the grid no earlier than 2025.

The talk subsequently focused on what can be done about public engagement. Other countries successfully engage with the public via open forums to discuss nuclear plans with respect to waste disposal (France) but little action takes place in the U.K. Perhaps some responsibility lies with nuclear specialists and researchers to try to engage the public in an unassuming, honest way, as opposed to allegedly acting like a fenced-off community, which people should be wary of. 

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Podcast Twelve - Godzilla, the EU Earthquake and ITER

Hi guys!

Once again, we've been away for a while but we're back, stomping onto the scene with a Gojira-size of a show!!

This month we discuss recent developments in Russo-Iranian relations, nuclear fusion at ITER, the ramifications for nuclear after the recent European elections and the new Godzilla movie (SPOILERS!!).

We've got two new speakers on the show, Mark Williams and Liz Hope-Parker. Along the way we discover rollercoasters like breaking down, Godzilla may be a radioactive diabetic and Kate is campaigning for Downing Street.

(Apologies, I've noticed, only after uploading, that our theme tune has played over the music in one section)


The song played on this months show is 'Charming' by Derek Clegg.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

A Nuclear Timeline - Another NIA infographic

It seems those chaps over at the Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) have been at it again with their infographic wizardry, producing this colourful timeline of nuclear power. From Rontgen's accidental discovery of X-rays to the formation of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), it's all here for your viewing pleasure.

I must admit this timeline offers a striking reminder of how fast public stances have changed on nuclear, as well as the technology itself.

You can get more information on the NIA's activities, in addition to all their handy infographics, at .

Monday, 10 February 2014

UK Public Opinion on Nuclear - NIA Infogrpahic

 We tend to like our infographics here at Nuclear Hitchhiker and it appears another one has recently cropped up on the intersphere. The Nuclear Industry Association (NIA) has published a piece which canvasses UK public opinion on nuclear energy, highlighting some of the concerns and conceptions around the energy source. A trade organisation for the civil nuclear industry, the NIA has conducted this poll via YouGov in November 2013.

I'll leave the infographic below (as well as a link if it isn't clear) for you all to peruse over but what do you think? Do you agree with the statistics? Are there other positives/negatives regarding nuclear not indicated on the chart? Let us know what you think!

 Here's a link also to the NIA website where you can find a wealth of information on a number of nuclear issues.



Thursday, 30 January 2014

Podcast Eleven - Top Five Nuclear Stories of 2013

Hi guys,

It seems like a lifetime ago since we've posted a new episode on the site and, finally, a new show is here! This month we discuss what we believe to be the top five news stories from 2013; including Iran, hijinks at Hinkley Point, repository retractions, nuclear waste resigned to Davy Jones' locker and a review of the film "Pandora's Promise".

Enjoy the show guys!!


The song played on the show is called 'Beautiful Surprise' by The Twin Atlas.
(Beautiful Surpise (The Twin Atlas) / CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

"Pandora's Promise" Review

By Lizzie Murray

Well there we were crowded into the theatre, 150 nuclear energy specialists. The phrase ‘preaching to the converted’ couldn’t be more apt as - despite its suggestive title - 'Pandora’s Promise' is actually a film about nuclear power.

The film recounts the history of atomic energy, from the production of the atom bomb through to its present role as a vital contender for meeting the world’s escalating energy demands. Along the way it connects all of the major milestones, from decommissioning to the new design Gen-IV reactors via all the major nuclear accidents.

The story is told through interviews with men and women who have had incredibly varied experiences of nuclear energy. Two that stand out are Mark Lynas and Gwyneth Cravens; two ex-anti-nuclear activists who have done a complete U-turn from picketing nuclear power plants dressed as the grim reaper to singing the praises of nuclear energy.

The director, Robert Stone, explained afterwards that their stories reflected his own change of opinion; in his early career he produced an Oscar-nominated anti-nuclear documentary which is surprising considering how overtly pro-nuclear this film is.

At first I had my doubts; there were far too many jaunty-angle camera zooms and edgy artsy blurs for my liking. Also, there were an awful lot of shots of the interviewee staring meaningfully out to sea, as though they were waiting for a huge pro-nuclear sea monster to pop up. However, the interviews are broken up by interesting historical footage of various nuclear protests and post-accident analysis; even Margaret Thatcher popped up for good measure. However, all of this set to haunting music did sometimes make me feel I was watching an episode of Panorama.

Despite being aware of most of the long-standing misapprehensions around nuclear power that the film explores, I found the film contained plenty of interesting and emotive material. For example, it explains the decision to select PWR reactors for commercial production rather than the much more efficient and environmentally friendly breeder reactors. It is also touching to see how the residents of Chernobyl, with true Baltic spirit, refused to obey the evacuation procedure and lived on in their much-loved town. A bit of radiation? Pah!

Dosimeter on tour.... I'd be more concerned about how
foggy LA looks.
One of the highlights for me was the world tour of the radiation dosimeter. The reading on a dosimeter is shown on screen in various locations around the world, from 0.13 µSv/hour in Oxford to 15 µSv/hour on a Brazilian beach. You’ll just have to watch the film to find out the results for Chernobyl and Fukushima…you may be surprised! It must be said the director did receive criticism for this section afterwards, however, due to the excessive and unwarranted use of air travel.

To sum up, some aspects of the film were extremely enlightening and, at times, very emotive. I would vaguely recommend this if you’re an advocate of nuclear power and strongly if you’re not.

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Nuclear Institute Congress (21-22 October 2013)

By Matt Gunther

They say "timing is everything" and the Nuclear Institute's inaugural national Congress event could not have come at a more opportune moment. Taking place within Manchester Central, delegates - fueled by excess coffee and danish pastries - appeared buoyant after the weekend announcement that Chinese investment would aid construction at Hinkley Point. 

With in excess of 200 in attendance, Congress 2013 boasted presentations on all aspects of the fuel cycle. The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) and European Nuclear Society (ENS) were among those promoting a vision of an industry escaping from its tangled past and driving forward with clarity.

Alongside the main speakers, a labyrinth of exhibits were situated in the Central's main hall. AMEC, Rolls-Royce, GE Hitachi and the University of Manchester's Dalton Nuclear Institute all vied for the attention of delegates.

On the University's Dalton Nuclear Institute stand, we promoted the core values of the Institute and some of the activities we have been engaged in over the past twelve months. With two eye-opening demonstrations, we seemed to attract a broad range of people over the course of the two day conference.
Me attempting to point at a television monitor,
while a delegate is feeling the pressure (no pun intended)
during the reactor simulation.

The electrical engineering & robotics team brought along their underwater characterisation robot, which is guided along a trajectory by detecting colour contrast (in this case a red ball against a dark coloured flooring). Aimed to be used in radioactive hotspots which cannot be navigated by conventional cameras, the robot reiterates the need for advanced detection technology in decommissioning applications.

Developed by the Dalton Nuclear Institute, our second exhibit was the "nuclear reactor simulator game". Targeted primarily at children in secondary education the game enables pupils to  operate a simulated nuclear reactor. In order to obtain the maximum number of points, the participant has to match the reactor's power output to national demand. Enhanced with online leaderboards and further information on reactor technology, the simulation went down a storm. The Institute brought the reactor simulation to the Congress in order to generate feedback from industry and their insight has been invaluable to aid with further game development. The stand also featured a plasma screen displaying a 360 degree virtual fly-through of the University’s Dalton Cumbrian Facility.

Once the exhibits were packed away and all of the danish pastries had been consumed, we reflected back on the impact of the event. Conferences such as these, in my opinion, simply reinforce the notion that more investment is required in nuclear power going forward; especially in the wake of recent developments. With The University of Manchester positioning itself as a global leader in nuclear research, however, nuclear energy will remain at the heart of this city and John Dalton can rest assured his legacy remains central to the University's ethos going forward.