Nuclear Power

The Cooch Memorial Lecture

Roy Budden – 13th December 2005

A good size audience of members and guests attended the lecture. In introducing the speaker, Richard Norton reminded us of the reason for this event, to commemorate one of our founding members, H. Cooch.

Following the introduction setting out the scope of the lecture, Roy Budden, who had long experience of the nuclear power industry, gave an historical survey of atomic discovery and development. This ranged from the ancient Greeks and their concept of basic matter, Dalton’s atomic theory, the 19th and 20th century discoveries of radium, thorium, uranium and their radio activity, the electron discovered by Rutherford, atomic configuration, Chadwick’s discovery of neutrons, the effect of using neutrons to bombard atomic isotopes and the emission of alpha, beta and gamma rays.

Shortly after World War II, attention was given to the peaceful uses of atomic energy. The UK shared the global interest in the use of atomic energy for nuclear power, using the energy created by the fission of uranium as the heat source to drive electricity generators. The first generation of nuclear power stations used water-cooled magnox reactors and 9 were built between 1957 and 1971. In these, the uranium fuel was clad in magnesium alloy tubes, set inside mild steel pressure vessels. Despite operating problems, the magnox reactors worked adequately.
The next nuclear power stations were based on AGR reactors (Advanced Gas Cooled). These were set in stainless steel pressure vessels to overcome the corrosion of the earlier mild steel vessels. 7 AGR power stations were built in the UK.
In 1978 the UK selected PWR, (Pressure Water Cooled) reactors for the next generation of nuclear power supply. These were used in the USA and Germany. One was built, Sizewell B, completed in 1994. The remaining 24 planned are not yet built.

A major UK concern associated with nuclear power generation is the disposal of waste, during both the lifetime and in the decommissioning of nuclear plant. This concern caused the suspension of the building of further plant in the late 20th century. Spent fuel rods are stored in water over a long term to allow radioactivity levels to fall. Re-processing can be performed to permit the re-cycling of uranium. High temperature vitrification or glassification is carried out, as is long-term dry storage underground.

A further major concern is global warming. In this regard, nuclear power does not cause significant carbon dioxide emission. Alternative, environmentally friendly sources of energy production are being studied and developed e.g. wind power, tidal and wave power, geothermal power, power stations using waste as fuel, and fuel cells as low power sources.

To address these issues, the UK Government has called for an Energy Review Report, which is expected in 2006. It is possible that this will result in UK energy being supplied from a mixture of sources.

The afternoon concluded with a lively question and answer session, following which our speaker was given a well deserved vote of thanks for his handling of a difficult subject.