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theWatt Podcast 69

Conversation about nuclear power with from the Dalton Nuclear Institute at the University of Manchester.

Hosts: Ben and Stephen

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Here are some interesting tidbits about nuclear power from one of Paul's presentations:

Source: P. Howarth presentation from May 2006

Ben Kenney: On the line with us is Paul Howarth who is the Director of Research at the Dalton Nuclear Institute, which is part of the University of Manchester and for all of our listeners in North America, that's in the UK by the way. Thanks a lot for coming on the show, Paul. It's great to have you.

Paul Howarth: You're welcome. Thank you.

Ben Kenney: Just for all of the listeners out there, Paul is one of those people that you see a lot quoted in news articles about nuclear power and renewable energy. You see his name on the BBC website a lot. I think just in the past week you've been mentioned in the Guardian and also the Independent. I don't know if you've ever googled yourself Paul, but if you google Paul Howarth + nuclear, then you will get about 95,000 results. So, I consider that to be a pretty good measure of your expertise.

Paul Howarth: Right, right, unless there's a lot of Paul Howarths out there.

Ben Kenney: I was thinking about that too and so I searched the 50th page but I still see your name show up and I know it's you because it's about how you were going to be giving presentations at some other university or something about nuclear powers.

Paul Howarth: Oh right.

Ben Kenney: I think most of those 95,000 results are actually legitimate, so it's pretty impressive I think. So, of course, we're going to be talking about nuclear power today. I guess you cannot have a conversation about nuclear power without bringing up the economics and the safety aspects. I guess it sounds a lot like a standard answer to an essay question on an exam, the social and economic aspects but I was actually at a presentation a few weeks ago given by somebody at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which is basically the nuclear people in Canada and one of the take home messages was that if coal power plants in Canada at least were subjected to the same regulations that nuclear power plants have to meet in terms of radiation and emissions, that every single coal power plants in Canada would have to be shut down.

Paul Howarth: Sure, that's right. You're right. As far as a discussion on nuclear is concerned, there are a couple of points that often emerged repeatedly, things associated with economics, safety, waste management, and then of course also recently, perhaps most relative at the moment is that of the CO2 emissions. On sort of like the economics, things have changed over the past few years. Certainly, in the United States in the 1980s with new nuclear plants being constructed, the plants started to get extremely costly. Nuclear is an energy source which is what's called in the industry as very capitally intense. That means you need a lot of money upfront to build the plants. The operating costs and the cost of the fuel were all relatively low. So, if you say that, let's say, for argument's sake, gas and nuclear generated about the same costs. Let's say that's about between £2 and £3 in the UK per kilowatt hour generated. Then for nuclear, most of that is associated with the capital cost of building the plant. The operating cost and the fuel cost are relatively low. The fuel cost may be sort of around [unintelligible]. Now, if you take the other case, the gas, almost 70% of the cost of gas is associated with the fuel with buying the gas and only a small amount of the cost is associated with the capital construction cost of building the plant. So, the economics between different energy sources are quite different when you look at them. It's quite difficult to compare one energy source to another and, again, it changes for things like wind as well. Obviously, there are no fuel costs for wind; that's free, but there's a capital cost of building the plants and also of servicing them and the operating cost as well.

Ben Kenney: So, if a nuclear power plants had a really long lifetime, then that would of course reduce the cost per kilowatt hour of the energy that are produced.

Paul Howarth: Well, yeah, it does. That's a way of looking at it. The capital cost for the nuclear upfront because the plants are very large, the plants generate gigawatt so a 1000 megawatt electric plants. That's a very large amount of electricity. The capital costs for those plants could be of the order of $2 billion, so it's a lot of upfront money that you have to commit to build that plant. For gas plants, for example, wind or others, you could of course build much smaller plants and get those plants working quicker and the quicker you got the plant working, the quicker you can pay back the money that you have borrowed to build your plant. Now, for nuclear, the lifetime of new plants are of the order of 60 years lifespan and we know that plants can reach that far because some of the existing light water reactors, they are normally licensed for around about 40 years, but they are going for lifetime extensions so we know that we can get to around about 60 years of lifetime. The economics in terms of paying back the capitals though effectively like the amortization period may be of the order of, say, 30 years. So, you pay your capital of over the first 30 years and then after that you pay into your operating and your production costs. Many of the plants in the United States, most of the capital is now paid off so nuclear in the US is extremely cheap because it's only down to the operation fuel cost and generating just over 1 US cents per kilowatt hour which is very cheap.

Stephen Pilditch: So, you can absorb without the fuel cost if there is a big spike in uranium price. You could probably absorb all of that because most of the costs are associated with the fuel.

Paul Howarth: Exactly, yeah. If you take over, say, 50 year lifetime, you could say, well, if I know that my nuclear power plant is going to generate somewhere between 2 and 3 cents per kilowatt hour or for argument's sake, say, around about 3 US cents per kilowatt hour or something, then if I know it's going to generate that today, I know that within 60 years' time the cost is roughly going to be the same. There is going to be very little variation. Even if uranium price does go up or down, it has very little effect because the whole thing is dominated by your capital cost of your plant.

Stephen Pilditch: Now, that's interesting.

Paul Howarth: Now, take gas, for example, given that 70% of the cost of generating electricity is fuel cost and we have all seen how volatile gas prices have been, it's very difficult to predict in 60 years' time what the cost of the gas plant is going to be.

Ben Kenney: I mean just as an example, uranium prices have spiked recently. I think they are in $60 per pound. I can't remember exactly how much they cost right now, but they are quite high compared to a couple of years ago.

Paul Howarth: They are. As far as uranium goes and the question does often crop up over how long would uranium reserves last and, really, I think if we took the scenario, at the moment around the world, we have about 400 reactors operational. They are generating around about 400 gigawatts of electricity. If you travel that figure today, so you have around about 1200 of gigawatts of capacity and you are fuelling it off uranium, you could run those reactors easily past 2050.

Ben Kenney: Okay.

Paul Howarth: So, there is plenty of uranium around. Even if beyond 2050, you are looking at how to fuel them, there's a lot of what we call secondary sources of uranium. It is possible to go back to the tales from the enrichment process to use that uranium. It is possible to use the uranium that has come out of reprocessing. It's possible also to downgrade some of the highly enriched uranium that was used in the past in weapons programs or then alternatively look at fuel that's called MOX fuel which is uranium plus plutonium fuel. So, there are a lot of options that you could use to get supplies available. It is also possible to look at using other sources such as thorium. Thorium is extremely abundant. This question is often raised as well in the context of sustainability. Is nuclear truly sustainable? The answer is as far as current reactor technology is concerned, the answer is no because you are burning the uranium and at some point you are not going to be able to carry on adding [unintelligible] on that type of technology, but it is possible through advance reactor systems called fast reactors where you can effectively breed fuel, that you can make fuel out of stocks that you have at the moment of uranium and another sources like plutonium. These fast reactors are able to run for many, many hundreds to thousands of years.

Ben Kenney: These are the fast breeder reactors, right?

Paul Howarth: That's right, yeah.

Ben Kenney: Are there any working fast breeder reactors right now?

Paul Howarth: There are a few, yes. A number of countries have explored the technology. The UK explored fast reactor technologies in the form of sodium coal reactors. Up in Scotland, there were two demonstration plants. Japan also has some demonstration of fast reactors and they are just re-commissioning one of their fast reactors called Monju to make it operational again. The French also have fast reactors, Phoenix and Superphoenix. Also, in Russia, there is a lot of experience of fast reactors and there is an operational fast reactor, which actually is associated with water desalination found in quite a remote location and the fast reactor is used to purify water for drinking. So, there are a few examples worldwide, but there's a lot of interest as well in a number of countries about reestablishing the technology. Those countries have all got together under a program called Generation IV Initiative, which involves countries such as UK, France, Japan, US, Canada, and various others all looking at what is called fourth generation reactor technology, so the shortest distance that you would build around 2030, what would they look like and a number of those systems are fast reactor systems to meet the sustainable development criteria that would be needed.

Ben Kenney: Why have some of these fast breeder reactors been decommissioned?

Paul Howarth: Some are being decommissioned. The ones in the UK are decommissioned because of, expectedly, a change of energy policy. In the 1970s and the 1980s, the UK was very active in what's called closing the nuclear fuel cycle and that is to have reactors that use enriched uranium take the fuel out of the reactors, reprocess the fuel, so you recover a lot of the fuel products to which you can then use again in reactors in the future and also to then supply and breed uranium to fast reactors. So, it is a means then of effectively breeding your own fuel and providing energy security. Now, this was before the UK discovered North Sea Gas, which was a large gas reserves discovered in the 1980s and then the UK went through to a period of what was called the "dash for gas" where we built a lot of the combined cycle gas turbine plants. Interestingly now, we got to the point 20 to 30 years later where we actually are seeing the finite end of those gas reserves in the UK and for the first time for a number of years, the UK has now become a net importer of gas as supposed to a net exporter. So, a number of these countries are now reestablishing their interest in this technology because the UK when it got gas took the view of, "Well, look. You know, we don’t need to progress this nuclear technology. We don't need fast reactors. We can come back to it when the time is right." So, the technology was effectively shelved and interestingly, a number of countries including the US and Canada and others are quite interested in reestablishing this technology.

Ben Kenney: Actually, I kind of wanted to get back to the uranium fuel cycle a bit. I mean in Canada, we know a lot about scraping the bottom of the oil barrel. I mean, first, the world started with light sweet crude oil and then we had to go through some heavy sulfurous oil and now, especially in Canada, we're using basically tar and we're making oil out of tar. Do you think the same is likely to happen with uranium? I mean I know there are technologies like fast breeder reactors that -- I mean does nuclear technology like fast breeder reactors mean that this same thing won't happen to the uranium fuel supply?

Paul Howarth: That's a good question. Recently, there was a conference organized by the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which looked at uranium resources. The view has been over the past few years that the uranium price has been very low and as you said earlier, you said rightly that the uranium price has increased significantly. The uranium price in the past has been low and what this has meant and concluded at this workshop when talking with those involved in mining uranium is that there really was no incentive to go out to find new reserves of uranium simply because the price was so low there was no incentive to do so. Now, there were some statistics that came out of that workshop that's basically concluding that there are still significant reserves expected to be uncovered of uranium. Once the price starts to climb, then there is more interest in then exploring for new reserves.

Ben Kenney: I see.

Paul Howarth: You are right in there are reserves which are as we say more difficult to extract. There are some actually where the oil is in quite, say, high concentration within the rock. This actually makes the mining operation difficult. You could be exposing miners to quite a large dose of radiation as fuel is extracted from the rock. So, such reserves are being left but now there is interest I'm seeing about mining those and I think there is one somewhere in Canada where the oil concentration is actually quite high and is meaning that some novel techniques having to be developed for extracting the uranium.

Stephen Pilditch: Would we have enough technical miners to do the work as in train people that know how to handle uranium mining because I heard in the US, there's a bit of a shortage of this type of people.

Paul Howarth: I think from where uranium comes from, as part of the extraction process, it is not really too dissimilar to extracting any other oil. There is no sort of like special processes required except for this case where there's a high concentration and so remote operation is used. I must admit I don’t know the skills profile as far as mining is concerned. It's not something that I've come across as an issue that will affect the industry.

Ben Kenney: Actually, I was reading the Economist magazine and one of the recent editions of the Economist, they are talking about how in the US they have started to open up these uranium mines that haven't been active in maybe a decade or two decades and they are having to pull people out from retirements. They gave this one example of this one person who is around 70 years old and they had to pull him out of retirement to train new miners how to mine the uranium. I guess in any type of boom situation I mean, it looks like we are heading for in the nuclear industry, there is always going to be a shortage of people. We see it all the time and the Canadian Oil Sands, there is just not enough people or skilled people who can work in the Canadian Oil Sands.

Stephen Pilditch: Yeah, I saw your name mentioned in the Guardian where they said there might be a shortage of nuclear qualified, nuclear people in the UK and I'm quite often asked along that. We need to start training people in the nuclear industry at universities and also technicians.

Paul Howarth: We do, yeah. The situation that we've been in the UK is in fact it's similar to a number of developed countries that have gotten nuclear. I was earlier this year in Canada at a meeting, a workshop that was organized by the British High Commission with our Canadian counterparts and we were looking at the skills requirements across the nuclear industry, the analogs between the two countries are very close in a very similar position. It's something from a number of difficulties. One is in the past, there have been large public investments in nuclear technology, to get the technology established and that has since declined. For example, in the UK back in the 1970s, we were spending of the order of £500 million per year on nuclear technology and that was coming from the public sector. Since then, that has declined to almost but not far off a couple of years ago down to zero. Of course, what that meant was that was funding that was going into like research, into academia and places like that. It meant that people weren't coming out trained in nuclear skills. The situation across many countries went through the same sorts of situation. Also, the problem is being compounded because there have been less young people interested in taking science and engineering qualifications at university.

Stephen Pilditch: In general, yeah.

Paul Howarth: Yeah, and growth instead of like other subjects and also then if folks are graduating, there are new industries out there sort of in terms of media consulting and finance. So, the career options to someone coming out from an engineering or science degree is now much more varied. So, trying to attract these people into the nuclear industry which also has a bit of an image reputation and had an uncertain future plus the other attractive industries being out there has meant that it really hasn't been a popular area to go into. So, what we have ended up with and it is interesting what you were saying earlier as well about having to track people out of retirement, if you think back to the 1970s, what I was saying, there was such investments in nuclear, those people in 1970s fast forward 30 years now are close to, if not, retiring. So, we are at the point of where it's difficult to get young people into the area but the staying point is where there's an awful lots of people with a great deal of experience retiring from the industry. We're at sort of a bit of a crossroads really as far as skills and keeping people knowledgeable about nuclear is concerned.

Stephen Pilditch: Yeah, we need to get those retired people at universities I suppose to give a few lectures and seminars, get them out of retirement.

Paul Howarth: Absolutely yeah, you're right. There are a number of things that we do. For example, in the UK, there has been a lot of worldwide interest in a new reactor type called the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor.

Stephen Pilditch: Is it the pebble bed reactor?

Paul Howarth: That is right, yeah, pebble bed reactor, which is a graphite-moderated reactor. It's cooled by Helium and operates its high temperature around about 900 ºC. It's quite an attractive reactor for a number of safety reasons. Certainly, the UK and other countries developed that technology back in the 1960s and 1970s and we are having to find people that retired a number of years ago to bring them out of retirement to actually find out what they did, what they worked on and then also look to see, as you're saying, if they are available to help train young people coming into the industry.

Stephen Pilditch: That's interesting. Regarding the pebble bed reactors, I heard they produce more waste. Is that correct?

Paul Howarth: The pebble bed reactors, the waste produced, that is an issue which does need to be addressed. It swings and around about. It does produce more waste and it produces more waste because of the design of the fuel. The fuel that you are getting from a light water reactor is effectively small ceramic fuel pellets that are loaded into a long thin stainless steel metal tube that then forms an assembly which could be about four meters in length, about 20 cm2 so it's like a long thin fuel assembly. The new high temperature gas cooled reactors, the fuel is completely different. The fuel is in the form of very, very small uranium spheres which are encapsulated in a triple-coated particle which includes some quite novel materials such as silicon carbide to encapsulate the uranium and those are then within a much larger graphite sphere and that sphere is of the order of about the size of a cricket ball. All these balls are then loaded into a reactor. Now, you can get very good burn up of the fuel going through the reactors, so actually you can get a lot of energy out.

Stephen Pilditch: Yeah, and they operate on a higher temperature, don't they?

Paul Howarth: They do. They operate on a higher temperature and you get higher amounts of burn up.

Stephen Pilditch: So, it could fit in well in the hydrogen economy.

Paul Howarth: Well, it does. That's right.

Stephen Pilditch: Basically, in hydrogen, yeah.

Paul Howarth: Yeah, it does.

Stephen Pilditch: How much hydrogen can you get? Is there any figures? Do you know?

Paul Howarth: It is possible to work that out. At the moment, it's probably determined as far as the efficiency of hydrogen production and that is sort of like how much energy do you get in terms of creating the hydrogen versus what you get for burning that hydrogen. These reactors can prove quite efficient around about like 50% mark which is pretty good going for production of hydrogen. These reactors do have some novel safety features as well.

Stephen Pilditch: Okay, and also the high temperatures, say, the Canadian Oil Sands, you could build a reactor there to release the oil from the sand. Ben, you knew a little bit about that.

Ben Kenney: It's not something that is really spoken about a lot, but when I'm talking to my friends, the idea always comes up of -- I mean right now what's happening in the Canadian Oil Sands is we have to burn a lot of natural gas to make steam, so you can melt the tar. The idea has come up sometimes why don't you just build a nuclear reactor to produce the steam instead of burning the natural gas, that might be a lot more efficient. I think some of the figures are pretty crazy. Something like for every one barrel of oil produced from the oil sands, they use enough natural gas that could power a Canadian household for four days, so for every one barrel. The idea would be to make a nuclear reactor that produces steam but there are some problems that of course I mean then you would have to -- it depends on the location of where the nuclear reactor is because steam can only travel a certain distance. Then you start getting into things like, "Oh, what about if you make a portable nuclear reactor or really small portable nuclear reactor?" I don't know. Are those things…?

Stephen Pilditch: A pebble bed could be a small reactor, isn’t it, Paul? Is that right?

Paul Howarth: Yeah.

Stephen Pilditch: It could be a modular pebble bed, yeah.

Paul Howarth: Yeah, there are options. I've heard about the proposal for the Alberta tar sands. At the moment, it does require lots of inputs of energy I think. I heard it is because of something on the lines of you have to burn one barrel of oil to get sort of like 10 barrels out. So, you are burning quite a bit, obviously a net gain, but you're having to consume quite a lot to get the oil out. It would be potentially possible to use reactors such as the small high items, the gas cooled reactors. These are the same size as the reactor I was talking about earlier, light water reactors, the ones that we looked to build in the next couple of years. They are sort of as I was saying like a thousand megawatt, 1 gigawatt size of plant, which are pretty big and you've got to have an electricity grid or energy requirement to take, you know, that large output is pretty big. The high temperature gas cooled reactors are of the order of an electrical output of 100 megawatts, so 10th of the size, so more suited to industrial applications. When you look at the size of the energy requirements on an oil refinery or a chemical plant, they tend to fall in about the same sorts of requirements and this technology may well be quite appropriate because as I was saying earlier, there are some quite novel safety features with these reactors, which mean that you don't need to have the same sort of infrastructure as to support sort of like a large light water reactor plant. So, some of the so small of the smaller reactors are attractive for countries or areas where you haven't gotten same amounts of infrastructure. Some of the interest in terms in the safety issues, I was describing how the fuel is in this small, sort of spherical form, these particles, and what happens is that the thing that you have to always protect a reactor against is the situation of where you get fuel melt and that is where the temperature inside the reactor gets so hot that it melts the fuel. That is a problem because that is when you could breach the containment of the fuel and if you breach the containment, then the radioactive fishing products, then that can escape and that would be a problem. Light water reactors have built-in safety in the form of active safety and some of the new plants have what's called passive safety features, but there's something else called inherent safety and that is where the plants in its own right is safe by design. What happens in these temperature reactors is that if you have a situation where at full power, you switched off your coolants, a lot of coolant accidents, you switched off all your coolants and the reactors going full tilt, then the maximum temperature that you would reach within the sensor of the core noting that the outlet temperature is around about 900 ºC for the coolant, then the maximum temperature you reach in a sense would be around about 1500 to 1600 degrees. So, you got to avoid fuel melt. This is sort of like fuel particle that I was talking encapsulated in this novel material, the silicon carbide. That doesn’t show any direct radiation or melt properties, melting beyond 2000 to 2500 degrees. So, effectively, what this means is the reactor could go up to its maximum temperature and you would not get a fuel melt situation.

Stephen Pilditch: Oh, so they're quite safe.

Paul Howarth: They are. That's regarded in the inherent state.

Stephen Pilditch: We did have some safety issue come up in the news in Sweden in August when two of the backup core reactors didn't work and they were on their third backup and that worked. It was in the news where they had to shut down quite a lot of nuclear power plants in Sweden. Now, we consider Sweden a quite vast nation. If somewhere like Iran start building nuclear reactors, would they have enough in-built coolers and this is a risk?

Paul Howarth: It is a good question and what happens with reactors and reactor operation is in-built redundancy, so safety systems are failsafe but have redundancy. So, if one safety system fails, then another one would kick in and if that fails, another kicks in. For example, on a car, you have two different braking systems. You have your foot break system and your handbrake system. That's effectively redundancy system. If one fails, you can use the other. That's how reactors have been developed. Now, back at the start of the conversation when we're talking about the cost of nuclear back in the 1980s, nuclear plant was getting extremely expensive because what was happening was the designers were saying, "Okay. We've got redundancy. We've got a four-train redundancy on our nuclear plants, so if parts would fail, then the rest of this plant can come up. We've got backup diesel generators in. If those fail, we've got backup diesel generators." The capital cost of the plant was just getting ridiculously large with all this backup plan and the backup plan has to be nuclear grade components. So, it all has to be very specialized, very well engineered equipment. The designers in the 1980s, this isn’t just working out. It's getting too costly for a nuclear plant. So, many of the designers went back to the drawing board and looked at actually "how could we make these plants what's called passively safe?" So, to do away with a number of these active safe systems and rely on more natural processes, processes like convection, natural circulation, heat radiation, gravity, to use some of those processes and reactors that are being designed and ready to go now actually have a number of these features incorporated. What that means is it does away with all the backup, well, not all of it, but a large proportion of the backup systems that are required. Also, in doing so, that actually makes the reactor safer in its own right. So, you ask the question of "what if Iran started to build new nuclear power plants?" Well, a number of things would happen there. If they did, then it's likely that they would be buying reactors that would be designed elsewhere in the world. At the moment, there are a number of global vendors that exist in China, in Japan, in Russia, America, Canada and in France as well. So, there are lots of international experiences in building reactors and it's likely that systems built in it, you know, in whatever country it would be, would be that technology is all based on that technology. Also, there are associations which look at how reactors are operated to learn from best practice, something called WANO, which is World Association of Nuclear Operators which effectively is a club of countries that come together to understand how best to operate new nuclear plants and to do so in a safe manner.

Stephen Pilditch: I heard in the UK -- oh, sorry. Sorry, you continue.

Paul Howarth: Well, I was just going to say and then finally, we have the International Atomic Energy Agency, which sets the standards for how plants should be operated.

Stephen Pilditch: Yeah. I think the standards now of new builds are very high, but I think some of the problems in the UK were the legacy systems, aren't they? Because they didn't really plan for dismantling the sites. Are there still any problems of legacy systems in the UK?

Paul Howarth: Well, yeah. This is where things do get a bit confusing certainly as far as the UK is concerned because it did have a very large program in pioneering nuclear technology and likewise in Canada as well and US and other countries. You are right in that at the time, many of the systems designed, the force of decommissioning them just haven’t occurred. The cost now as far as the UK is concerned of cleaning up and decommissioning some of these old plants is getting on for the cost of around about $100 billion over the next hundred years. This is because of the way the plant was designed. It was built to standards which are different today and also, the plants are very old and there are structural integrity issues associated with them. If you were taking a clean sheet of paper and said, "Well, what if we build a new nuclear plant today? How are we going to end up in so many years of time with £100 billion cost for the decommissioning and cleanup?" Well, the answer to that is, no, that wouldn’t be the case because a lot of what the UK has to clean up is not reactor plants and a reactor plant, to be the honest, is fairly straight forward in terms of how it can be dealt with. Certainly, in today's design, it's fairly straightforward and the costs are included in £2 to £3 per kilowatt hour figure as I mentioned. Around about, I think it's about 5% is the cost of decommissioning and handling the spent fuel. It's built up over a period of time to away of 30 years. You build up just a fraction of the £2 to £3 per kilowatt hour and that would grow and would give you sufficient funding to then deal with the waste management and decommissioning. If you look at replacing the reactor systems that you have today in the UK, with the reactor systems that you could build in the future, the decommissioning cost would be a 10th of what we've got at the moment.

Ben Kenney: We're quickly running out of time. I guess time flies when we have fun.

Stephen Pilditch: But more topics to cover. We'll leave it another talk.

Paul Howarth: Yeah, we have to do a lot.

Ben Kenney: I just wanted to quickly bring up one of the graphs in the presentations of Paul's that you can find on the web. It's this graph of deaths per terawatt. I mean it might sound a little morbid, but basically…

Paul Howarth: Yeah, it is a little morbid.

Ben Kenney: It's a graph that shows how many deaths are caused for every terawatt of coal power produced and hydroelectricity and nuclear and for coal power it's around 600 I believe, for hydroelectricity it's around 900, for nuclear it's 1. So, I guess that's just an estimate to how safe nuclear power really is.

Paul Howarth: Well, I think as far as those figures go, coal mining is obviously very dangerous. I think there's a statistic in China that 55 coal miners die a week in Chinese coal mines. Hydro is very dangerous and that's due to a couple of things. One, because it's a heavy construction industry and any heavy construction industry is a dangerous industry to be in, but also I think there have been a couple of dam breaks. I think there is a dam break in Italy in the 1970s that killed a few tens of thousands and I think there was one China as well which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Ben Kenney: Yeah. When I saw this graph, I just did a quick search for any dam breaks and there are a lot of smaller ones it seems.

Paul Howarth: Yeah. The statistic for nuclear, that's one death terawatt per kilowatt hour. That is including Chernobyl and that's where that figure comes from. It uses upper estimates as well for the number of deaths caused by Chernobyl. I think that recently, a World Health Organization report put the deaths of the order of at the moment it says on site people actually died sort of on site is around about I think the 50-mark, but it recognizes that that would increase to about 2000 over a period of time depending on what happens as far as radiation goes received by individuals. Plus, it then says that as far as additional deaths associated with it, the figure could be potentially around about 4000. It is actually a really, really difficult thing to determine because you are looking at how people potentially contract cancer and when you think, a morbid subject it is, but if you think one in three people get cancer from different sources, nothing to do with radiation, out of all that statistical number, you have to determine and pinpoint which ones are those were actually due to receiving radiation dose and it is very, very difficult to work out that figure. In terms of those figures, I think that that data actually includes an upper estimate done by I think it was the [unintelligible] Institute in Germany that set around about 12,000 upper estimates of the number of deaths divided by the electricity produced gives you a figure of one death per terawatt.

Ben Kenney: Okay. We can't have a conversation about nuclear without quickly, quickly covering fusion. Are you optimistic about fusion, Paul?

Paul Howarth: Yeah, I am actually. I think it's a good thing to go for. I worked on the fusion program a number of years ago. Fusion is often quoted as fusion is the fuel of the future, it always will be because people just haven't seen fusion come forward. Fusion developments have been going on since the 1950s and it's always regarded as it's going to be here and I think in the 1950s they said it would be here by 1980 or it would be here by 2000. Now, we’re saying it is out by 2050. I think looking at the progress that is actually being made on fusion, it's quite interesting. Someone from the fusion community showed me an equivalent plot of how fusion technology has developed and measuring some cheaper amateurs as fusion moving towards its goal of becoming a power source versus the development in computer technology and I'm sure you've heard of Moore's Law as far as the rates of increase in processing power over a period of time. The graph actually shows that the rate of developments of nuclear fusion is actually outstripping Moore's Law for computer technology. Now, you can't see it because obviously you can't compare what one fusion reactor looks like to another, whereas, you can see the rate of developments of computational technology just sitting on your desktop over the past 10 years but all of these developments is happening sort of behind the scene. It's not from-the-news stuff but a lot of developments are happening in the form of materials. You've got to find the right sorts of materials that can take a first world loading from the plasma of the order of 10 megawatts per square meter. So, you need a material that can withstand 10 megawatts per square meter going through it. It must be non-magnetic. It must be made of a material that has got a low atomic number and various other criteria as well. So, when you add all those criteria, we start getting into some very well novel materials, but even in the past 10 years when I was last associated with the fusion program, great progress has been made in materials science and understanding material properties. As far as I'm concerned, I think the right way forward for fusion will be found if we are, say, a commercial facility around the 2050 sort of time frame. I think that we will find the right development. It's a bit like a lottery ticket. It's worth going for because if it pays off, then it pays off massively. So, as parts of the portfolio for any country looking at energy technology for the future, it is right to put a small finite amount into developing fusion technology.

Ben Kenney: Okay. Well, thank you so much, Paul, for coming on the show. It's great to talk to you.

Paul Howarth: That was great. Yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's very interesting.

Stephen Pilditch: Thanks very much, Paul.

Paul Howarth: Okay, thanks very much.