Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nuclear future and past

This week's Crain's Manchester Business includes a technology focus section mostly written by myself. The lead story explores how the University of Manchester is positioning itself as a centre of nuclear R&D to serve the planned new generaton of nuclear power stations.

It's a fairly controversal move, as the Manchester Evening News picked up a few weeks ago. Personally, I've come to conclude that nuclear power has to be a key part of the UK's energy market for the near-future - but, at best, it's a medium-term solution with very long-term costs and consequences.

Local worries are likely to be fuelled by a report in the Guardian today on some of the long-term consequences of the university's previous nuclear work -
Radiation left over from 100-year-old experiments by Ernest Rutherford, the father of modern nuclear physics, may be responsible for the recent deaths of two Manchester University lecturers. Hundreds more former lecturers and students at Manchester University could be at risk from nuclear materials they were exposed to. At least as late as 2006, there was still contamination in the building in which Rutherford worked, known as the Rutherford Building[...] A confidential report given to the university in June, written by three academics who worked in the building, claims that the university suspected that there was a potential radiation hazard, but allowed staff to continue working in the building.

It's extremely unlikely that any of the uni's current or proposed research facilities will feature yer actual messing-about with radioactive materials in the centre of the city, but the university management's apparent response to the pollution problem will hardly inspire public confidence.

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