February 2, 2007

Panel discusses utility of nuclear energy in global warming fight

Over 50 students, teachers, and community members gathered in Stuart 104 on Tuesday for a panel discussion on “The Future of Nuclear Energy.” Moderated by chemistry Professor Stephen Berry, the discussion featured three participants in the nuclear-energy debate, all from different backgrounds and of different opinions.

Kennette Benedict, the executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, began the talk by calling the climate change projected over the next 30 years “catastrophic.” Citing a report that projects a four-fold increase in world energy needs by 2030, Benedict said that a corresponding increasing in carbon-dioxide emissions would lead to “the end of civilization.”

Stephan Goldberg, a nuclear engineer who works at Argonne National Laboratories, called nuclear power an essential component to solving global warming. Goldberg said new plants are economically feasible and would help reduce carbon-dioxide emissions.

Dave Kraft, who runs the Nuclear Energy Information Service, an organization committed to stopping the use of all nuclear energy, spoke out strongly against the energy source. A supporter of energy conservation, Kraft pointed to time, cost, and scale as major problems with nuclear energy. “We can’t techno-fix our way out of the crisis,” he said.

Goldberg and Benedict, however, named scientific education and research as key elements of stopping global climate change. “This is an intellectual puzzle with incredibly high stakes, and we need our best and brightest working on it,” Benedict said.

Goldberg stressed the need to keep every option open, including nuclear energy. “There are no easy fixes, and no free lunches,” he said, adding that conservation is an essential part of the solution but that nuclear energy is just as important.