Climate One: What's the Future of Nuclear Power?

Apr 10, 2020

Credit Provided / Climate One Radio

Nuclear power - revive it or allow a slow death?

In middle of the last century, nuclear power promised an exciting new world of efficient and eternal energy. But after a series of major accidents – most notably those at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima -- public opposition grew into a vigorous “no nukes” movement.

Ken Farabaugh worked as a nuclear engineer at a number of plants. During the the eighties, he was working at the Shoreham plant in Long Island – the hotbed of the anti-nuclear movement.

“It just became so emotional that rational thought went out the door,” Farabaugh remembers. “There were protest picket lines and what have you. There were people that worked at the plant that had their houses set on fire.”

A handful of the plants that once dotted the landscape have been shuttered because they can’t compete with cheaper sources of power.  By the end of the century, the industry was languishing. But the urgency of climate change causes some to advocate giving nuclear a new lease on life. And a number of companies, such as Oklo and Nuscale power, are coming up with technical innovations, such as smaller, scalable designs and non-water-cooled reactors, that could offer nuclear a new path forward.

Per Petersen, professor of nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley, believes that the advantages of using nuclear power instead of burning fossil fuels outweigh the perceived dangers.

“Fixing the problem of nuclear waste is something that future generations can grapple with, and it's technically feasible for them,” Petersen asserts. “The billions and billions of tons of carbon that we’re releasing into the atmosphere now, there’s no practical way for future generations to ever rectify that problem.

And I think that shutting down nuclear plants instead of coal plants is just morally indefensible, when you look at what the consequences are and how hard it's going to be in the future to deal with what it is that we’re doing today.”

Host: Greg Dalton

Guests:
Per Peterson, Professor of Nuclear Engineering, UC Berkeley 
Edwin Lyman, Acting Director, Nuclear Safety Project, Union of Concerned Scientists
Ken Farabaugh, Former Employee, Vermont Yankee
Jose Reyes, Co-Founder & Chief Technology Officer, NuScale Power
Jacob Dewitte, CEO, Oklo
Christine Parthemore, Chief Executive Officer, The Council on Strategic Risks

Portions of this program were recorded at The Commonwealth Club in San Francisco.

Tune-in Monday, April 13th at 7:00 PM.