Attitudes to Nuclear Power

After the meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan following the earthquake last year, it wouldn’t have been all that surprising to see governments across the world scaling back their nuclear power.

The Japanese government reacted quickly, closing plants almost immediately and placing a life of 40 years on their existing power plants, which could cause power shortages as discussed on the Earth and Industry website.

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Developing Engineers 2011–our first full year in blogging!

This year has been the first full year for us here at, and what a year it’s been!  We’ve been posting on a whole range of issues, engineering in the news, exciting new and incredible historic innovations, we’ve reported on science and engineering events, as well as sharing some of our own experiences.  So let me take you through our year in blogs…

In January we started off discussing specialisms in engineering, first asking how you discover or decide your own area of expertise, before discussing the value of doing a PhD.  Hardly surprising looking back, when higher education was big in the news, still reeling from the decision to triple tuition fees for undergraduate students (which to date has resulted in a 15% drop in UCAS applications, although ‘thankfully’ only around 8% for engineering subjects).  We also posted on the upcoming Formula 1 season, which while slightly one-sided has still been one of the most technologically remarkable to date.

Early in the year we also shared a number of our experiences and advice on job interviews, and in particular answering those tricky STAR questions that employers love to fill their application forms with!  March saw us highlighting some of the exceptional work done to inspire young people into engineering, in which we commented on International Women’s Day as well as The Big Bang Fair.

Inevitably, we waded in to the debate around nuclear power that started after the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, and the resulting meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear plant.  Along with the rest of the engineering profession, our writers tried to rationalise the debate by highlighting the inherent safety of modern nuclear plant designs and the exceptional circumstances experienced at Fukushima.  Even so, in the aftermath of the disaster a number of prominent countries have decided to abandon nuclear power altogether, which presents yet another challenge in trying to combat global emissions, and led us to try and assess the impact of the Japanese earthquake on the energy industry.

Rounding off the first quarter, we even got an early sighting of the Airbus A400M!

In April we looked at how both historical and state-of-the-art engineering can inspire us, with a look at the SS Great Britain and the Bloodhound Super Sonic Car.  Both got follow ups, with a two-part tour of the SS Great Britain and a piece on the phenomenal Bloodhound SSC project – I think it goes without saying that we can’t wait to see the car come together during 2012 ready for it’s 1000mph world land speed record attempt in 2013!

Another issue never far from the fore is that of sustainability, and before Easter we discussed not simply the technological, but the ethical and philosophical aspects of sustainable development.  Whilst innovation will allow us to reduce our energy and material requirements, perhaps more important is a cultural shift towards re-using and recycling the resources we have.

Over the summer I’m sure many people enjoyed watching the latest BBC series of The Apprentice, however many engineers took exception to comments a certain Lord Sugar made when ‘firing’ a contestant.  Interestingly however, Lord Sugar redeemed himself by hiring an engineer at the end of the competition!

A big event this summer (which we surprisingly covered!) was the quadrennial World Scout Jamboree, which attracted almost 40,000 Scouts from over 140 countries to a site near Kristianstad in Sweden.  Having been lucky enough to be asked to act as an ‘external expert’ to design and build a range of bicycle powered activities, I thought I’d share my experiences through a trio of posts covering the design, prototyping and final manufacture of the bike rigs for the Jamboree!

Getting ‘back on track’, we were also lucky enough to experience the IMechE’s annual Formula Student competition held at Silverstone.  Attracting over 130 teams from around the world, this year was particularly special as it featured, for the first time, a team from Gaza University who spoke of the added challenges of designing, manufacturing and transporting a working race car, when subjected to such severe restrictions.

During the autumn we covered a number of issues facing engineers, both current and future, as we commented on the case against 6 Italian seismologists for failing to predict the L’Aquila earthquake, as well as discussing how we can communicate our passion for engineering to inspire the next generation.

As a suitable finale to the year was our coverage of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, which is hoped to become established alongside the Nobel Prizes with its £1,000,000 prize for engineering innovation.  In an unprecedented show of support, the leaders from all three of the UK’s biggest political parties appeared together to announce the new prize, which will be administered by the Royal Academy for Engineering and supported by a number of prominent engineering companies.

It’s been a busy year for us here at Developing Engineers, but we’re thrilled with the sheer number of visitors we’ve had from across the world.  In 2012 you can look forward to more articles covering the vast spectrum of engineering, a revamp of the site making it more accessible, and perhaps even a non-English blog post or two!

Thanks for reading this year, we look forward to seeing you back here in 2012!

Ideas ditched in the Valley of Death

I’d like to make an early statement of intent on the purpose of this post, the title of which was initially something like:

Brunel, atmospheric caper, Composites, Valley of death ,Tallow, Tribology, Nuclear crisis and in the end convention wins the day !

… but I decided not to.

The underlying issue I do aim to deal with is that of Energy sources, since the Japanese disaster has now caused us all to again rethink, what type do we, or can we rely on to deliver efficiency and that can also leave a lower carbon footprint without having us all screaming Armageddon everytime something goes wrong with it.

Brunel’s atmospheric caper

Those that sit around me Monday – Friday, 9 a.m – 5 p.m who still own a Texas Instrument T1-53 calculator, know of Brunel’s failure at re-inventing the Railway with his Atmospheric version which eventually failed because rats like animal fat or Tallow as it is called, which was required to keep the leather (Yes, leather was used) on the pipes (train tracks) supple. It lasted about a year because the vermin responsible for the black plague chewed through it.

I first heard of this from the man in the picture to your right, who spoke at a relaunch event for sogeclair aerospace (Formerly Clairis Technologies) whom I work for.

He is from the National Composite Center (NCC) here in bristol though unfortunately I do not remember his name or position (Please comment If you do)


He commented that if Brunel had designed his atmospheric railway around now, when the National Composite Center is just opening, his rat problem would have been solved, not by pesticides or a really good pest control company but by the wide array of composite materials now available or which are in development. Composites are now of such importance to engineers, not only in the Aerospace Industry where they are increasingly looked to, to solve several design dilemmas (Airbus A350 XWB is made of 53% composite materials).

Our Guy also used the phrase ‘Valley of death’ to describe the eventually forgotten position most ideas end up being in, whilst attempting to make the leap from concept to actual working product, from blue sky research to money making realities.


Valley of Death

Many end up here simply because, the application for their ideas, however brilliant, cannot be found. In the case of Brunel, it had to compete with convention, which it failed at in terms of cost. People were delighted to, for the first time, go on a train journey without being covered in soot from the traditional locomotive train engine. Cost wise, the atmospheric train simply did not match up, atmospheric traction cost 3s (shillings) 1d (pence – Latin, denarius) per mile, compared to 1s 4d for conventional steam Engines.


This is our final stop on the joyride through terms and names that seem unrelated to the aim I stated in the first sentence. Brunel failed because he couldn’t compete with his rival, convention. Also, his timing was off, he was about a century too early ! though this should not encourage anyone to now pick up the idea as we now have Magnetically Levitated Trains (MagLev).

Many Alternatives are aiming to topple fossil fuels, the convention, they have to match the cost and fast, which so far they haven’t done.


I will not say that there is still a big question mark on global warming in a bid to be at my most controversial, many have done this and I do not wish to surpass them or reiterate their opinions or facts depending on whether you’re a member of Greenpeace or Jeremy clarkson’s fan club, but it is too soon and I am yet to see concrete evidence presented for the case for global warming. However big you consider the question mark to be, there is one.

Who knows, this Japanese Nuclear disaster, putting a a BIG QUESTION MARK ON NUCLEAR ENERGY as a viable rival to convention might just be the right timing for other sources to step up or follow suit.

The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor riches to the intelligent, nor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all.

All I can do is sit back and watch intently how this tussle for dominance plays out, maybe in the end, convention will again win.