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Nuclear power part of the fight against climate change - expert

Nuclear power part of the fight against climate change - expert
Nuclear power uses sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity

Despite environmental and social concerns over nuclear power, it remains one of the best ways at the moment to cope with climate change, according to Ujjayant Chakravorty, an economics professor at Tufts University.

As nuclear power is becoming cheaper over time, it has the potential to provide a reliable alternative energy resource for a world that is seeking for a cleaner yet inexpensive means of securing energy supply.

In an interview with Tufts Now, the university’s official publication, Prof. Chakravorty stressed that nuclear delivers non-stop electricity generation. “It’s not like depending on sun or wind. Nuclear plants are available day in and day out, and they don’t emit greenhouse gases,” he said.

However, looking at history, incidents such as the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and Fukushima Daiichi disaster in 2011 have caused many people to think twice on whether to continue with nuclear power or not.

According to Prof. Chakravorty said these plants did not have engineering failures and it is not the technology that is at fault.

“What happened at Chernobyl was a case of mismanagement. People get complacent, the work gets routine, and they take shortcuts. In Japan, the nuclear plant was old and was supposed to be decommissioned. It was a perfect storm, in a sense. It was not that the plant collapsed—it shouldn’t have been operating under those circumstances in the first place. So it was not a technological problem, but lack of proper care,” he pointed out.

He said human failure remains a relevant issue. Meanwhile, recent developments in the technology make it possible to build safer facilities, including new reactors designs that can prevent the inner core from probable meltdown and massive damage.

Currently, the take up of nuclear power remains under debate. Supporting Prof. Chakravorty’s statement, proponents like the World Nuclear Association, International Atomic Energy Agency and Environmentalists for Nuclear Energy, believe that nuclear power is a sustainable source of energy that could help meet energy demand of the future.

Opponents, such as Greenpeace and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, argue that nuclear power poses threats to people and the environment, particularly the issue on the disposal of nuclear waste from power plants.

“This problem has not yet been solved, and yes, it’s an issue, involving not only technology but also politics. But if you put the waste down deep enough, technically it can stay there safely. But there are other ideas, too,” said Prof. Chakravorty.

Citing a report he previously worked on, he said that his team investigated plants where they were able to remove plutonium waste and re-use it. There are about 20 pilot plants of this kind worldwide that can recycle the waste and there are several measures that are being developed to address the nuclear waste issues.

Nuclear power, which uses sustained nuclear fission to generate heat and electricity, provided around 5.7 percent of the world’s energy and 13 percent of the world’s electricity last year, according to a report from International Energy Agency.

The United States is dubbed as the global leader in nuclear power, accounting for over 30 percent of worldwide generation of electricity. It now has 104 nuclear reactors – 103 of which are operational –which produced 821 kilowatt hours in 2011 or roughly more than 19 percent of the country’s total electrical output. - C. Dominguez

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