Nuclear physics ‘compromised by lack of investment’

24 October 2012

Current funding of nuclear physics research is insufficient for the UK to take advantage of developing technologies needed in such areas as healthcare, the nuclear industry and defence, according to an international panel of nuclear physicists.

nuclear report cover

Nuclear physics research – research on the fundamental properties of atomic nuclei – addresses fundamental issues relating to how matter was created within the first few seconds of the Big Bang and how the elements continue to be synthesised in stellar and other astrophysical processes.

The new report commissioned by the Institute of Physics (IOP), A Review of UK Nuclear Physics Research, has been produced to help create a broad strategy to guide nuclear physics in the UK for the next decade.

One of its conclusions is that steps are taken to ensure that UK nuclear physics is funded sufficiently well to maintain scientific excellence, to diversify, to improve capability in terms of theory, to play a full role in applications and to train the people that the UK needs.

Professor Bill Gelletly, who chaired the review panel commented, “The UK needs more people trained in nuclear physics to make maximum use of knowledge in the discipline and this means better co-ordination of the UK's research groups in nuclear physics and increased investment.”

Reflecting on the importance of the review for the nuclear industry, Adrian Bull, Director of External Relations at the National Nuclear Laboratory, said, “There is a recognised challenge in the nuclear industry in terms of providing the right skills in the right numbers to allow the UK to take forward the anticipated new build programme in addition to the existing work on operating stations, clean-up, decommissioning and the rest of the nuclear fuel cycle.

“Nuclear physics represents a key element of that overall picture and I welcome the insights and recommendations which the report provides into the scope, profile, funding and skills-base associated with the UK’s nuclear physics research sector.”

On the implications for medical physics, Dr Stephen Keevil, Consultant Physicist and Head of Magnetic Resonance Physics at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, says, "Medical diagnosis and radiotherapy treatments are dependent both on developments in nuclear physics and on the supply of physicists with skills in that area.  Without investment, the UK’s world-leading position in areas of medical physics will be jeopardised.”  

There is an additional recommendation in the report to have formal association with leading international scientific facilities, such as GSI’s Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research in Germany.  Without formal association to world-leading international facilities, the UK is in a weak position to influence the future direction of research.

To read the full report – A Review of UK Nuclear Physics Research (PDF, 10 MB)