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Web life: Nuclear Hitchhiker

25 Feb 2016
Taken from the February 2016 issue of Physics World
Nuclear Hitchhiker

So what is this site about?

Nuclear Hitchhiker is a blog and podcast with an ambitious goal: to “educate and inform the public as to how nuclear energy, as well as radiation and other related issues, affect all of us”. It’s run by members of the Centre for Doctoral Training in Nuclear Fission/Next Generation Nuclear, a partnership between the universities of Manchester, Lancaster, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield, and its organizer, Mark Williams, says he aims to make the blog “an honest resource for people to learn about nuclear”. Williams is a PhD student – his research is on using uranium’s luminescence properties to characterize how it interacts with geological samples – and since he took over from the site’s founder (Matt Gunther, now a science correspondent for Chemistry World) in 2014, he has been building a list of contributors with expertise in various issues related to nuclear science, engineering and policy.

What are some sample topics?

The blog focuses on a different area each month. So, for example, November 2015 was mostly about renewable energy; posts in December concentrated on nuclear waste disposal; and the first posts of 2016 have zeroed in on the controversial (and highly topical) question of the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent. Now and then, there are some special “guest posts” – most recently from photographer Ceri Provis-Evans, who contributed a poignant and informative photo essay on his recent trip to Chernobyl, in Ukraine.

Why should I visit?

The nuclear blogosphere is a crowded place, and for certain topics within it, better and more detailed sites do exist. Among the websites profiled in past editions of this column, Alex Wellerstein’s Restricted Data (April 2015 “Web life”, Reviews) should be everyone’s go-to blog for historical info about nuclear weapons programmes, while Gail Marcus continues to write authoritatively on recent (particularly US) industry developments in Nuke Power Talk (October 2010 “Web life”, Reviews). That said, the multi-authored, student-run nature of Nuclear Hitchhiker makes it an interesting new voice in this community, giving it the freedom – and the ability – to explore a wide range of issues from a variety of perspectives. Its strong focus on UK nuclear issues will also appeal to many readers in Physics World’s home country, thanks to short, snappy posts about, for example, Britain’s nuclear deterrent (which different contributors argue the case for and against) and its lack of a geological depository for nuclear waste (which another contributor, David Mills, believes “could be considered reckless”).

Can you give me a sample quote?

From a December 2015 post by Osman Aden: “Public perception of nuclear waste is hindering its safe storage. In 2013 Cumbria’s council vetoed [UK] government plans to locate a suitable waste storage site in the area and recently, the government-owned Radioactive Waste Management agency admitted that there was a ‘nuclear dread’ for people unfamiliar with nuclear waste. Greater consultation with local communities is required to change this. However, the recent vote to allow the government to force local communities to accept waste dumps undermines any collaboration; the secretary of state for energy can now choose suitable locations for waste storage and have the final say on their use. Instead of strong-arming local communities to store our waste against their wishes, surely a greater share of knowledge is needed and a better partnership should be formed with the public to allow communities to be more familiar with the risks and necessities surrounding nuclear waste storage?”

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