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Dame Sue Ion

Honorary Doctorate of Engineering


Dame Sue Ion is one of the UK's most prominent nuclear scientists. As an internationally recognised expert on fuel recycling, she represents this country on the world stage, as well as helping to shape long-term energy strategy at home. At times a forthright critic of government policy, she is convinced that nuclear power has a vital role to play in achieving an environmentally-friendly solution to the energy challenges we face.

Sue Ion gained a degree and doctorate in Materials Science at Imperial College, and started her career as a metallurgist. In 1979, she joined British Nuclear Fuels Limited, where she spent the next 27 years in various roles, including 14 years directing the technology and research divisions. Between 1994 and 2001, she was also a member of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council and chaired its audit committee.

Since leaving BNFL, she has gone on to play a leading role in matters of science, engineering and technology at both national and international levels. Her eminence in the field is reflected in an impressively lengthy roll-call of senior positions, many of which she still holds. She has been president of the Nuclear Energy Society and Vice President of the Royal Academy of Engineering. She is currently a member of the UK Council for Science and Technology, a non-Executive Director on the Board of the Laboratory of the UK Health and Safety Executive and chair of the Fusion Advisory Board.

An expert on fuel recycling and on so-called 'fourth generation reactors', which promise to be both safer and more efficient, Sue also represents UK nuclear science on the international stage, as a member of a number of review and oversight committees including the United States Department of Energy Nuclear Energy's Advisory Committee. Earlier this year she became chair of the EU's Euratom Science and Technology Committee.

Sue believes that nuclear energy has a key role to play in meeting the UK's future energy needs, in tandem with renewables. In her capacity as government adviser, she has urged the country's leaders to take a realistic approach. "In a 21st century industrialised urban society, we will always need a significant amount of centralised generation while renewables are being built," she says. "That's where nuclear energy comes in."

She is also on record as stating that energy policies are too often based on aspirational thinking rather than scientific fact. "Setting out to cut carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 is all very well, but in practice it's almost impossible. The UK needs to carry out a proper engineering assessment to work out what we need and how we're going to deliver it."

If the UK is to meet the energy challenge, it must first ensure that it has the right people with the right skills in place. For Sue, education and skills development are paramount and she welcomes the advent of new nuclear-focused masters courses for engineers who may not have worked in the area before. "These courses are crucial," she says. "We need to retrain our workforce for the new challenges ahead, regardless of what energy strategy we undertake."

In 2003, Sue was awarded an OBE for services to the nuclear industry. In 2010, she was made a Dame in recognition of her tremendous contribution to science and engineering. Now, Pro Chancellor, for her commitment to finding a solution to the energy challenge and her role in shaping the UK's future energy policy, I present to you Dame Sue Ion for the degree of Honorary Doctorate of Engineering.

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