Although nuclear energy has had some bad publicity throughout its life, it is currently the cheapest form of low carbon energy technologies. Britain has a long history of nuclear energy, being the first country in the world to use the technology for civil energy production at Calder Hall. However, the expertise has withered away over the past couple of decades. A true success story of nuclear power can be observed over the channel. France currently have 59 nuclear power plants that produce a whopping 80% of the total energy.
Throughout Britain, and even the world, nuclear power plants have been decommissioned at a higher rate than they are being built. One of the main reason for this is due to the politics of weapons generation – reprocessing the spent fuel allows one to recover weapons grade material. In fact, this was the reason nuclear power stations were commissioned in the first place. It is therefore much easier to prove to the international community that you are not producing nuclear warheads if you don’t have any nuclear power stations.
An area of research in the EIL is focused on recycling nuclear materials in such a way that it is not possible to produce weapons grade material. The process is based on electrochemistry using molten salts (a molten salt is a metal salt such as sodium chloride, table salt, which is taken above its melting point and becomes liquid). These salts, when molten, display fantastic properties such as high thermal inertia, high diffusivity and high ionic transport. This coupled with electrochemistry allows for separation of nuclear fuel and dramatically reduces the amount of high level waste. The radioactivity of the waste would reduce over a period of 300 years rather than 30000 years.