Sue Ion

From Powerbase
Jump to: navigation, search
Nuclear spin.png This article is part of the Nuclear Spin project of Spinwatch.
Sue Ion

Dame Sue Ion is considered one of the UK's leading nuclear fuel experts. She is a visiting professor at Imperial College, London and a non-executive director on the board of the UK Health and Safety Laboratory. She also chaired the UK Fusion Advisory Board for the Research Council. [1]

In 2010 Ion was awarded the title of Dame in the New Year’s Honours List for her services to science and engineering. [1]


Sue Ion began working at British Nuclear Fuels Limited in 1979 and was BNFL's Executive Director of Technology from 1992 until 2006. She was BNFL's most senior female employee, controlling an annual research and development (R&D) budget of about £80 million and some 1000 employees.

She is a long-term advocate of nuclear power. "I got a prize at O-level and chose a book on nuclear power. I've always seen it as a high-tech, forward-looking industry that benefits mankind", she says. [2]

An influential voice

In 2004, Ion was invited to become a member of the UK Government's Council for Science and Technology, which advised the the Prime Minister and First Ministers of Scotland and Wales on long-term strategic policies. She remained a member until December 2010.[3]

She is a past president of the British Nuclear Energy Society and represents the UK on a number of international review and oversight committees including the International Atomic Energy Agency, Standing Advisory Group on Nuclear Energy and the Euratom Science and Technology Committee.

Ion has argued that an "engineering reality check" is needed by those who oppose new nuclear build.

If you want large quantities of electricity, we are still going to have a very significant number of nuclear power stations on the grid...To believe that wind power can displace nuclear generation as a means to deliver large quantities of safe baseload electricity is living in cloud cuckoo land. We need both.[1]

We can't keep the lights on without nuclear

In October 2011 Ion was a guest speaker at an Institute of Ideas’ Battle of Ideas festival organised in association with the Manchester Salon, Manchester Science Festival and The John Rylands University Library, University of Manchester. At an event entitled, 'Fukushima Fallout Battle Satellite' Ion argued stridently that despite "the media intent to report a nuclear catastrophe" in reality, the catastrophe in Japan was one caused by a tsunami and earthquake, "and NOT anything to do with the nuclear reactors and radiation at Fukushima".

Fukushima gave no cause for new nuclear build plans to be abandoned in the UK, she said. Particularly, given that "renewable energy sources are not sufficient to meet our needs. In terms of engineering reality they cannot be delivered on the scale required and the sooner we examine the practicalities of what can be achieved, and what we must therefore also plan to do, the better. When you do the sums it becomes obvious that nuclear power is essential for the foreseeable future in significant quantities in the UK energy mix to guarantee security and affordability of supply.

In the post Fukushima era we should still have confidence that nuclear energy can be a safe secure affordable form of energy for the 21st century and that the new modern plants available today should be a significant component of the UK’s energy mix for the foreseeable future. In the very cold days of last winter, nuclear energy was our main source of low carbon electricity. It provided ~18% of the UK’s requirements; 16% from our own stations and a further 2% imported from France. Almost all the rest was provided from power stations burning fossil fuel. We cannot keep the lights on without nuclear energy. Since most of our existing reactors retire over the next decade and a half, it is vital we get on with building new ones to replace them. [4]

Letter to UK Government over slow negotiations with EDF Energy

In April 2013 Ion was one of 18 influential signatories to open letter to the editor of the Sunday Telegraph arguing that 'Nuclear energy brings significant public health and environmental benefits'. It pushed the case that 'building a fleet of new nuclear power stations rather than one reactor at a time will lead to considerable economies of scale and lower costs for consumers. It will also provide the reliable, secure, low-carbon energy urgently needed in this country. However, we are becoming increasingly concerned at the apparent slow progress of negotiations between the Government and EDF Energy for Hinkley Point C, and we fear this aspiration could be undermined if a deal on the pioneer project is not resolved satisfactorily'.[5] Ion was listed as an 'independent consultant', her name appearing alongside prominent scientific advocates of nuclear power including David King the former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government, Dr Malcolm Grimston, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, ICEPT Imperial College, Professor Simon Biggs FREng Professor of Particle Science & Engineering University of Leeds, Professor Jon Billowes, Professor of Nuclear Physics The University of Manchester, Professor Colin Boxall The Lloyd's Register Foundation Chair in Nuclear Engineering and Decommissioning Lancaster University and David Cope of Cambridge University.


External resources

  • BBC Radio, Sue Ion: The Life Scientific, 26 Feb 13 Duration: 28 mins. Jim Al-Khalili interviews Sue Ion about working in the nuclear industry in the dark decades post Chernobyl and about why nuclear power has to part of our energy mix for the future.
  • Sue Ion, Why we cannot keep the lights on without nuclear energy, Independent Blogs, Battle of Ideas, 24 October 2011 at 6:00 am, accessed 2 September 2011


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ellie Zolfagharifard, Dame Sue Ion, veteran nuclear fuels expert, The Engineer, 4 May 2010, accessed 2 September 2012
  2. British Council, Profile of Ion in its Website
  3. Council for Science and Technology, Biography of Ion on its Website - now removed and Past members, acc 2 Sept 2012
  4. Dame Sue Ion, Why we cannot keep the lights on without nuclear energy, Independent Blogs, Battle of Ideas, 24 October 2011 at 6:00 am, accessed 2 September 2011
  5. Sir David King et al The Government should not delay on its nuclear power plans; Negotiations over Hinkley Point C are going too slowly April 21, 2013 Sunday 6:59 AM GMT