City University London academic to lead consortium on nuclear accidents

Philip Thomas, Professor of Engineering Development at City University London, will be leading a £615,000 research project to examine measures put in place to protect nuclear power plant workers and the public after accidents at Chernobyl (Ukraine, 1986) and Fukushima (Japan, 2011) in order to assess the best set of countermeasures to apply after a big nuclear accident.

The NREFS project (Management of Nuclear Risk Issues: Environmental, Financial and Safety) is sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), as part of the UK-India Civil Nuclear Power Collaboration.

The UK consortium will consist of four academic partners: City, Open, Manchester and Warwick Universities, and it will have a direct, collaborative link to research and development partner, the Atomic Energy Commission of India. The study will make recommendations to both governments in Autumn 2014.

The new techniques will include the Judgement or J-value framework, a set of objective techniques developed at City to establish the maximum rational expenditure to protect human life and the environment. New financial techniques such as Real Options and Portfolio Theory will also be used in assessing the desirable radius for an exclusion zone.

According to Professor Thomas:

“We have seen an enormous growth in objective decision-making tools since Chernobyl. Financial mathematics provides one rich seam while another is the Life Quality Index we use in the J-value. With the J-value, we can state objectively, for the first time, how much ought to be spent to protect people from harm, using actuarial and economic data gathered from the whole population.”

Commenting on the retention of a nuclear source for carbon-free energy in the context of diminishing global energy supplies and global climate change and stressing India’s vital input into the research project, Professor Thomas says:

“All countries with nuclear generation put their nuclear plants and policies under scrutiny in the wake of Fukushima. Few followed Germany in its decision to phase out nuclear power, but all increased the priority they gave to managing nuclear risk. This is obviously very important for retaining nuclear as a carbon-free energy option in the face of dwindling world energy supplies and global climate change. We are very pleased that Dr Shrikumar Banerjee, Secretary of India’s Department of Atomic Energy and Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, has agreed to be a member of the UK-India project team for NREFS. Dr Banerjee will be providing high-level feedback on the research results as they arise. His presence on the team should also ensure rapid implementation in the Indian nuclear industry of the useful new research ideas we hope to generate.”

Currently, UK nuclear power stations generate 10,000 MW of electric power – about 20 percent of electricity demand. All but one of these power stations are set to be retired by 2023, and the UK plans to replace its ageing fleet of nuclear power stations with 13 stations of modern design, generating about 19,000 MW of electric power.

Meanwhile, India’s rapidly developing industrial and social base requires its power generation to expand in step. India envisages quadrupling its nuclear power generation capacity to 20 GW by 2020, with a target of 9 percent of Indian electricity from nuclear by 2035.

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