With official approval for renewal of the Trident nuclear weapons system and the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station coming within weeks of each other, the links between the military and civilian nuclear industries in the UK are again in the spotlight. Dr Stuart Parkinson, SGR, investigates. The nuclear interests not only convinced senior figures across the UK political spectrum of the need for new nuclear power using the current generation of large reactors, they also convinced them of the need to rapidly increase R&D funding for ‘small modular reactors’ (SMRs) intended for electricity generation. The Sussex study discovered that over 40 UK corporations are now active in both civilian and military nuclear work. Although the UK only has limited R&D experience on civilian SMRs, it does have 50 years of experience developing and operating military reactors in submarines – but whether this experience is sufficiently useful remains to be seen. There are numerous technical hurdles to overcome in bringing SMRs to commercialisation. It is notable especially that other major nuclear nations with much more experience of both civilian and military nuclear reactors – such as the USA – are still at an early stage. The industry, however, appears bullish. But the commercial and technical case is far from convincing. Gordon MacKerron, a professor of science and technology policy, has described it as “thin”.
Scientists for Global responsibility 10th March 2017 read more »