IBM Hopes To Trigger UK Nuclear Renaissance

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IBM says smart information systems could help improve the image of nuclear energy, but green groups claim such efforts are a dangerous distraction from renewables

Smarter information management systems will be a crucial part of efforts to push the development of cheaper and safer nuclear power in the UK, according to IBM.

The tech company released details of a survey this week which it claims reveals a more positive attitude to nuclear power in the UK, with consumers more amenable to the technology as a low-carbon alternative to existing fossil-fuel energy sources.

However, the survey of 2000 consumers carried out late last year also revealed that consumers are still unsure about the issues around building more nuclear capacity – despite government attempts to highlight the issue via the publication of reports such as the National Policy Statement for Energy, which outlined plans to build new nuclear plants in the UK.

“The IBM survey demonstrates that the UK public is open to the idea of nuclear power as an alternative power source. However, there is still a lack of communication as to the needs for and the implications of a new-build programme,” said Steve Hornsby, Nuclear Power Lead, IBM Global Business Services UK & Ireland. “Consumer perceptions are not yet aligned with the industry’s plans.”

IBM’s role in the nuclear industry appears to be akin to its stake in fossil-fuel intensive markets such as oil and gas where it is pushing its information management tools as a way to improve the efficiency of those industries. “At IBM, we see nuclear as an important part of a diverse energy portfolio. In the 20 years since the last significant new nuclear build, the world has become much more instrumented, interconnected and intelligent,” said Hornsby. “The application of advanced technology and business processes can enable the industry to become smarter. In an era where the UK industry will be fighting for resources, this capability is key if the UK is to be at the centre of a global smarter energy revolution.”

IBM claims that its “Smarter Nuclear” strategy could help the UK reach its climate change targets without incurring unnecessary costs in the process. “Ultimately, application of Smarter Solutions could give operators the ability to develop and grow a skilled and motivated workforce, manage the construction programme on time, operate plants efficiently and safely while exploiting technology to build and operate the digital nuclear plant,” the company states. “This may potentially reduce any cost impact on the UK consumer of achieving both security of supply and reduction in carbon emissions.”

Environmental campaigners such as Greenpeace, however, believe that investment in developing nuclear technology is a distraction from innovation in clean and renewable energy such as solar and wind projects. “The most imminent threat that a new nuclear age poses is to the real energy solutions to climate change,” the groups states. “Investment in nuclear energy and its infrastructure is a dangerous and expensive distraction from the real solutions – energy efficiency, renewable technology and decentralised energy. By decentralising our energy system and producing energy locally, the UK can meet its energy needs in a much cheaper, cleaner and safer way, slashing our climate change contributions.”

While IBM is keen to push the carbon-reduction aspects of nuclear technology, it is also giving similar help to revitalise fossil fuel intensive industries. In a report released last November, “Global Oil & Gas – The Adaptation Challenge“, IBM discussed how oil and gas companies can use IT systems (presumably from IBM) to off-set some of the impact of climate change on their operations and future profitability. “Given the track-record of the oil and gas industry and its ability to innovate, we see no reason why it will not continue to be a major contributor to society and the economy in the future,” the report states.

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Other tech companies are also pushing to increase their share of the lucrative market for IT systems in fossil-fuel industries – while at the same time extolling their commitment to climate change and cutting carbon emissions. Hewlett-Packard is committed to cutting its own carbon emissions, but is also happy to profit directly from the tools and services it sells to utility companies for fossil fuel production and exploration, said the European chairman of HP’s environmental board Klaus Hieronymi at HP’s 9th Executive Energy Conference 2009 event in Budapest last year.”I think the oil and gas industries have the same challenges as everyone,” he told eWEEK Europe at the event. “I think its an illusion to say that we will reduce our dependency on oil and gas in the next five years.


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