Francis Simon, a German physicist and chemist who moved from Germany to England before World War II, became famous for co-inventing the gaseous diffusion method of uranium enrichment, vital for atomic bombs but also later for nuclear power reactors. After the war, he became an Oxford professor, received a knighthood in 1954, and died at age 63 in 1956. He had little direct atomic involvement at Oxford but his reputation meant that when he questioned the future of nuclear energy, as he did a number of times in the early 1950s, his opinions had to be addressed.
Let me quote at length from one riposte from nuclear kingpin Christopher Hinton. We can see here the early exploration of how to compare the economics of nuclear and coal (say). Note that Hinton gives few details – how nuclear power’s economics fares over three quarters of a century is a key topic for me, and I can tell you the early pioneers were suffused with over-optimism.
Dear Lord Simon, I have now had an opportunity of going through Schumacher’s paper which you sent me on November 1st.
I will not attempt to say anything on his genera theme; he is obviously a greater expert on world fuel resources than I am. I think, however, that his dismissal of atomic energy on grounds of capital cost is quite unsound.
He assumes that the capital cost of nuclear power stations will be 400 dollars per kilowatt and for the sake of argument we will assume that this figure is correct. However, if he does not provide nuclear power stations at this price, he will have to provide conventional power stations at a cost of about 240 dollars per kilowatt and beside this, will have to provide the capital for the construction of coal mines, transport systems, etc., as well as the cost of operating these mines.
I suggest that for a long term comparison it is not reasonable to make this on the basis of capital costs. It can only be done by making a comparison of the cost per kilowatt including capital and working charges for generation from conventional fuels and for generation from nuclear fuels. We will be quite certain that on this basis nuclear power will compete with power generated conventionally within the next ten years and thereafter will become progressively cheaper. If this is right, Schumacher is wrong in dismissing nuclear power on the grounds of cost.
. . . if you would like to come over to Risley and have lunch with us before or after the discussion, we should be delighted to see you here.
Hinton, Christopher. 1954. Hinton to Simon, Nov. 5, 1954. AB 19/13, National Archives, Kew, United Kingdom.