Prof. Daniel Kammen ’84, energy resources group, University of California, Berkeley and Lauri Muranen, Executive Director of World Energy Council Finland, discussed the potential of nuclear power to address global climate change in a discussion Tuesday.
While both panelists agreed that nuclear power could be an important energy source in reducing carbon emissions, their views differed in the magnitude of its risks and how different countries could accommodate each energy source.
Heike Michelson, Director of Programming for the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, said that nuclear power is a complex concept and relevant to current events.
“A debate on whether or not nuclear power is an answer to climate change is particularly timely if you think of the recent climate change conference in Paris and the resulting agreement signed by 175 countries, the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in Ukraine and the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima disaster, nuclear proliferation and terrorism,” she said.
Kammen stressed the urgency of climate change and the challenges it has created.
“I think if you look at the biggest challenges we face today, climate change absolutely has to be the top,” he said. “Even if we turned off all fossil fuels today, we are already committed to a certain amount of climate change to a significant degree.”
Muranen said that the integration of nuclear power as one of the world’s primary energy sources could significantly reduce carbon emissions globally, particularly considering its utilization in European countries.
“After looking at the evidence, it has convinced me that nuclear power is indeed essential if we want to address climate change seriously,” he said.
Considering the relatively small window of time left to address climate change, Kammen agreed that nuclear power could dramatically assist in solving this global issue.
“If nuclear could deliver everything that its strongest proponents believe that it can, technically, economically and risk-wise, there is no question that it should be part of that conversation,” he said.
Unlike Muranen, due to the risks involved in integrating nuclear power, Kammen said he is hesitant to argue that nuclear energy is the solution above other energy sources, such as geothermal and ocean energy.
“Focusing primarily on nuclear [energy], the risk of the technology, the cost of the technology, and the degree to which it can be integrated into a system that gives us a livable planet — not just one that has enough energy sources in theory — is what we need to get to,” he said. “When you look at those items together, it becomes a much harder story to be as optimistic as I would like to be.”
Kammen emphasized the need to be proactive in managing the power source.
“So far we have only been good at managing risks retroactively,” he said. “Nuclear is very unforgiving if you don’t get it right ahead of time. We could get it right but we have seen how large the risks are.”