By the 1950s, a series of breakthroughs in nuclear research had led many to herald nuclear power as the ultimate energy source. It was expected to free mankind from the harsh labour of coal mining and the pollution produced by burning coal, and to provide electricity ‘too cheap to meter’. It was estimated that one tonne of nuclear fuel would produce the energy equivalent of 2–3 million tonnes of coal, and ‘breeder’ reactors were expected to produce more fuel than they consumed.
Yet, despite these ambitious plans, nuclear power seems to have lost its way. Here we will consider why this has happened, and whether nuclear power still has a role to play in a sustainable economy.