Talking Nuclear: Listening lessons for all net-zero technologies — Adrian Bull (Ep 50)

This week we speak with Adrian Bull, who holds the Chair of Nuclear Energy and Society at the University of Manchester, and has been at the British Nuclear Laboratory for more than 20 years.

I wanted to have Adrian on to discuss the potential upswing in support for nuclear power. This is seen in the EU Commission proposing that nuclear is considered green power. Also, the rapid price increase in gas may be leading governments to look for long-term power solutions. However, Adrian’s response is telling. He reflects back on a ten-year social media post, where he was projecting the last decade would be a new nuclear era. Well, as we all know that didn’t happen.

I always consider nuclear a special case. First, it is extremely divisive. It provides essentially carbon-free electricity, but this benefit is countered by the long-term radioactivity of nuclear waste – and the challenges of storage. Second, new nuclear power plants are extremely expensive upfront, and as we discuss, it requires government financial support. And finally, the projected lifetime from building to decommissioning is decades and decades. Nuclear requires serious social and political support. The shutting down of viable nuclear power plants in Germany demonstrates what happens when there is a loss of political and social support.

The focus of the interview, and the key take-aways are not the technical issues around nuclear. Rather, it is about understanding the social aspect of nuclear power. We explore how the nuclear industry is interacting with society. And if you think the nuclear sector is unique, you’ll be surprised how our discussion develops. The lessons learned from nuclear power and public engagement can easily be applied to other energy generation projects, like wind and solar farms.

Regardless of your opinion ON nuclear power, our discussion around: 1) public engagement; 2) risk management; 3) Scientific knowledge engagement in the media. As Adrian describes, the history of nuclear power is not about the failure of the technology, but rather about finance and communication. The perception of the public and policymakers shapes the energy system.

This observation is highly relevant when we speak of the energy transition and how to make it happen. In some countries, nuclear power will have a role, for others, absolutely not. But regardless of the technology the issues of financing, risk perception each shape the energy system in a country.

Adrian Bull

My final suggestion is when you listen to this episode, to keep a broader frame of the whole energy system in mind. We delve into consideration of the generation technology in an energy mix, because if it’s not nuclear what is it?

And just a note for frequent listeners. I updated the website over the holiday period. We are growing our episode list, so now we have a better search function and more categories to organize the episodes. You can also now subscribe to the podcast on more podcast apps as well.

And finally, on the website you can sign up for episode updates, and the forthcoming newsletter. The podcast listener community continues to grow and I’m amazed by this. Feel free to share the episodes and think about using them as a resource for teaching and research. I post the transcripts and each episode contains historical accounts of a sector and the most recent policy discussions.

Published: January 6, 2022

Links:

Transcript: Talking Nuclear – Adrian Bull

Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2018: New Year’s Honour for leading Nuclear Communicator | National Nuclear Laboratory (nnl.co.uk)

The EU Commission is suggesting nuclear power be listed in a sustainable taxonomy as green energy

Podcast interview: Experts | Adrian Bull (titansofnuclear.com)

The communication article discussed in the episode is at Nuclear Future Archive (nuclearinst.com) issue 17, #5

About – The Beam nuclear and social research network (manchester.ac.uk)

LaBelle, Michael, and Andreas Goldthau. “Escaping the Valley of Death? Comparing Shale Gas Technology Policy Prospects to Nuclear and Solar in Europe.” The Journal of World Energy Law & Business 7, no. 2 (December 18, 2013): jwt020. https://doi.org/10.1093/jwelb/jwt020.

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