Is Worldwide Nuclear Power Safe?

The “global nuclear renaissance” may finally be at hand. But can the technology be kept in the right hands?
  • Transcript


Question: How viable is nuclear power as a solution to the energy crisis?

Charles Ebinger: Well nuclear power has had a difficult history.  Of course, in the '60s and '70s we had a boom in nuclear power around the world.  Everybody hoped, the famous phrase was it was going to be "too cheap to meter."  But then of course we had the accidents at Three-Mile Island in the United States and the very serious accident in Chernobyl in the Ukraine and that really set the industry back dramatically.  We had reached the point until very recently where we had not actually done a new grassroots nuclear reactor for 30 years. 

But now there is talk of a global nuclear renaissance and whether it's as grandiose in the United States as some people would believe, it certainly is going to be worldwide.  The Chinese have 24 reactors under construction and another 100 planned.  The Indians have very vigorous programs for the future; the Russians, there's growing interest in the Middle East in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt.

So we're going to see this.  The big question in my mind is, as we expand nuclear power, we need to make sure we do it in a way that we not only do it safely, obviously, but we also need to be, I think a growing concern of enhanced risks of nuclear weapons proliferation; that the civilian nuclear technology not be misused in any way.  And as we have more of these sensitive facilities potentially for what we call uranium enrichment and reprocessing, which are part of the fuel cycle, what you need for atomic civilian power, but once you have one or both of those technologies, you de facto have the capability of making a weapon.  And I don't think most of us are going to worry if developed countries that are considered highly stable, expand nuclear power, but as we start moving nuclear reactors in to the Middle East and other politically volatile regions of the world, we certainly want to make sure that all the vendors that sell this equipment are as vigilant as possible to make sure that somehow under a dual use item, that's said to be used for one thing, that it can't be used for another.   And it's a very, very serious problem.

Recorded on April 28th, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen