It’s been 10 years since the Fukushima disaster. On 11 March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami struck eastern Japan, triggering an emergency at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. Core meltdowns occurred in several reactor blocks and a large amount of radiation was released, contaminating the air, water, soil and food in the area.

For many Europeans, the Fukushima nuclear disaster once again raised the question of whether the risks associated with nuclear power were justified. Hundreds of thousands of people across the continent protested on the streets against the use of nuclear power. As a result, several countries, including Germany and Italy, decided to phase out nuclear energy.

Ten years on, however, the nuclear phase-out is being reassessed. Energy that was previously generated by nuclear power must now be produced in different ways and, compared to burning coal, nuclear power produces much lower greenhouse gas emissions. Despite the risks, is nuclear energy justified because it’s more climate-friendly?

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from Wasim, who argues it’s clear that the risks of nuclear energy will always be too great to justify any benefits. Is he right?

We put Wasim’s comment to MEP Thomas Waitz, an Austrian organic farmer and forester who sits with the European Green Group in the European Parliament. How would he respond?

I would agree, yes. We are dealing with a technology that, when it has an accident – and I know that rarely happens – but always when it does, wreaks huge havoc. It has a huge impact on human life, it costs human life, but it also has a huge impact on nature. And, as an example, we have just seen the situation in Croatia: you have a nuclear power plant together with Slovenia and only recently we had a massive earthquake there with a strength of more than 6.3 on the Richter scale. And we had another earthquake two years ago, in which you can still see the damage in Zagreb. So, it’s basically a game of human life and the massive negative impact on the environment. Especially when operating nuclear power plants on seismic fault lines, as in this case.

For another perspective, we also put Wasim’s comment to Michael Shellenberger, founder and president of the pro-nuclear campaign organisation Environmental Progress and author of Apocalypse Never: Why Environmental Alarmism Hurts Us All. What would he say?

When I was a kid, I was very scared of nuclear energy. I associated them with nuclear weapons; I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s and was very scared of them. And it wasn’t until I started looking into climate change and tried to expand solar and wind power that I realised we need nuclear energy to tackle problems like climate change. So, I changed my mind about nuclear power and had to overcome a lot of myths and superstitions that people have. The largest of these concerns the accidents.

Looking at the accidents, the main damage they caused is the fear and the panic. Shockingly few people died. I wrote about that in my new book “Apocalypse Never” – a total of around 200 people died from Chernobyl, and no one died from Three Mile Island or Fukushima. Nuclear waste is the best kind of garbage because it doesn’t hurt anyone. The fears about it are really fears about nuclear weapons and we are not getting rid of them, we have known that for 75 years. So, we have this really powerful technology, and I think a growing number of us climate scientists and environmentalists agree that we should use it for its highest purpose, which is to generate clean electricity. So, I think that when people look at the facts about nuclear power, they will overcome their fears, just as I and so many other people have done.

Next up, Maria sent us a comment saying she sees clear advantages in nuclear energy. She argues that nuclear energy is just as clean as renewable energy, but it is much more reliable. How would Green MEP Thomas Waitz respond?

Well, I don’t know if it’s more reliable. There are all sorts of problems with uranium; where it is produced and the amount of uranium available. I don’t know if a technology can be called ‘reliable’ that uses uranium directly and is also linked to producing material for atomic bombs. Well, you can count on the havoc atomic bombs cause wherever they are dropped . Anyway, the construction of nuclear power plants also causes quite a bit of CO2 emissions.

If you only looked at the issue from the perspective of CO2 emissions, nuclear might appear to be a kind of ‘clean energy’. However, given the bigger picture and the dangers we were talking about – but also the absolutely unsolved question of long-term nuclear waste storage – I wouldn’t say that this is a reliable technology until these issues are resolved. And, yes, the actual energy that comes from a nuclear power plant may paint a slightly better picture than fossil fuels, but when you factor in the huge amounts of steam that nuclear power plants produce, it also has a negative impact on the climate. So, it may look greener than fossil fuels, but it doesn’t compare to renewable energy at all. When a wind turbine is at the end of its life, you can simply reuse the steel, copper and other materials. But you know what happens to a nuclear power plant at the end of its life? It’s just 10,000 tons of nuclear waste that nobody knows what to do with.

Finally, what does Michael Shellenberger think? Is nuclear power cleaner and more reliable than renewable energy?

All over the world, including California, Germany, the UK, Australia, and Texas, people are struggling with a lot of unreliable solar and wind power. They only generate electricity, as everyone knows, when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, which most of the time doesn’t happen. The times we need these technologies are often when it’s really hot or really cold. When it’s very hot it means there’s no wind, and when it’s very cold, which is what we saw in Texas, the wind turbines are frozen.

When we first used nuclear technology 50 years ago, plants ran only about 55% of the time. Today, nuclear power plants in the United States run 92% of the time. They are the most reliable source of power and that is really important. Because the truth is, all of this wealth that we enjoy: our hospitals, our schools, our clinics, our streets, our houses, are powered by electricity, which must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Only nuclear energy can do this, and do it in a way that solar, wind and other renewable energies cannot.

Do the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks? Is nuclear energy more reliable than renewable energies? Can we win the fight against climate change without nuclear? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!



7 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Yvonne

    no…sorry but we do not have nuclear power here in Ireland..please just do wind and solar and wave power..it can be done…please,please,please. greetings from Ireland ☘

  2. avatar
    Yvonne

    TBH debateing europe..this lockdown feels like someone nuked the planet and we all now have tostay indoors!! thats a very sad thing to say..but its just what im feeling….shocking this pandemic

  3. avatar
    Michael

    We should expand nuclear capacity and upgrade existing nuclear plants. We need both more and cleaner energy. We need enough to switch motor vehicles over to the grid, whether by electric batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. We also need enough to spur economic growth and opportunity. We can’t afford to be bottlenecked by energy scarcity and we can’t afford to continue emitting greenhouse gases.

  4. avatar
    catherine benning

    Do the benefits of nuclear power outweigh the risks?

    Forget the idiot claiming it’s clean. The fallout and waste is so filthy to the function of our planet the only place to send the leavings to keep us safe is via rockets to the moon.

    https://www.foxnews.com/story/nuclear-waste-should-be-stored-on-the-moon

    And here we get part of the truth.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8JKeBtLpls&ab_channel=TheBigPictureRT

    A member of my family is married to a Japanese girl. At the time her family lived about six miles from where this nuclear accident occurred. The daughter of her sister, later that year, came down with Leukemia, she died the following year. It is known this Tsunami, with the blow up of that reactor, and the nuclear radiation from it killed her.

    Of course, I could fill this page with horrific stories of the intellectual murderers denials or there is no other way shit. But I don’t have to, do I?

    https://uk.video.search.yahoo.com/search/video;_ylt=AwrP4o2L3kxgxQwAcQpLBQx.;_ylu=Y29sbwNpcjIEcG9zAzIEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3Nj?p=leukemia+in+children+after+fukushima+accidents&fr=crmas#id=24&vid=9a7d51f105d680c791cb954f6e6d4a99&action=view

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31375997/

  5. avatar
    Jarmo

    I think it is striking that there is no common sense within the scientific world because the debate hangs on two mediocre solutions. Nuclear energy science (In its broader field: economic, political and ecological etc.) tend to show a polarised discussion, wherein in my eyes, the cost and benefits on both sides tend to work harder on its solution to become solid and stable.

    Furthermore, eliminating nuclear energy means we can´t meet the global energy demands for a growing world economy in the upcoming twenty years. It is seen as a necessity for the short term future of generations. However, on the other side nuclear energy, with its third generation of reactors (greenest), still have disposable waste and radioactive material that even with a lowered risk of accidents, can still cause significant costs for society. It is a confrontation between arguments with different political views on the world. Unfortunately, we don´t have a green sustainable alternative that can shut up both economical and sustainable and human arguments on the debates on nuclear energy of today. As long as there is no better solution, a middle ground is the best way forward.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Jarmo

      What middle ground is that then? Please do tell.

      One quick observation in your post, ‘can meet the ‘global’ energy ‘demands’ for a growing world economy in the upcoming twenty years.’ Who is ‘demanding’ this ‘growth’ in the worlds ‘economy’ during this coming twenty years? As far as I can make out the ‘growth’ in the over populated planet we see presently has been a disaster for the natural world over the last fifty years. To add to that ‘growth’ strikes me as a huge step backward. Except, that is, if you are of the minority billionaire brigade who simply want more billions at the expense of the ordinary man and woman who have less and less to pass around as a result of their asinine deduction for more of the same.

      I am assuming you are in the billionaire class or paid by them.

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