£60m 'not enough' for energy research

February 28, 2003

This week's energy white paper has failed to promise enough money to redress years of underfunding and widespread skills shortages in the energy research sector, research leaders have warned.

The Department of Trade and Industry has pledged a further £60 million over three years to its renewables support programme, some of which will be used to finance research and development. But many academics feel this is simply not enough.

David Elliott, director of the energy and environment research unit at the Open University, said: "The rhetoric is wonderful, but where is the follow-through? Sixty million pounds is just conscience money. None of the government's goals will be met unless there's a really substantial sea change in research funding levels."

Last year, an energy research review group headed by the government's chief scientific adviser, David King, concluded that UK spending was lagging behind European competitors. The white paper acknowledges that funding needs to increase.

Mr Elliott argues that ongoing funding problems have made it very difficult to attract new graduates into energy research. He said: "Until the last year there has been precious little point for experienced graduates in this area to stay in this country."

Some fear that the skills crisis within nuclear energy research will have been worsened by the white paper, which does not recommend any new nuclear build. Chief executive of the Institute of Physics, Julia King, said that if the government decided to revert to the nuclear option in five or ten years, the academic base might not be there to support it.

The research councils were awarded £28 million for a joint sustainable energy research programme in December's spending review allocations. A large proportion of this - probably about £10 million - will be spent on a new energy research centre.

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