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!

47 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

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

  2. avatar

    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

    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.

    And here we get part of the truth.

    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?;_ylt=AwrP4o2L3kxgxQwAcQpLBQx.;_ylu=Y29sbwNpcjIEcG9zAzIEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3Nj?p=leukemia+in+children+after+fukushima+accidents&fr=crmas#id=24&vid=9a7d51f105d680c791cb954f6e6d4a99&action=view

  5. avatar

    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.

  6. avatar

    For the time being, nuclear power is a must to prevent further pollute the earth. The only way to reduce the risk is to join hand on the development of nuclear or other clear power for the sustainable development of mankind. This require EU citizens to develop an anti-virus against old power politics and populism virus spreading from the US. In this global era, politicians should focuse on what people want rather then their own narrow personal or party interests, or even worse, what American interests. America interests can never be equal to European interests. When China is heading towards a renaissance, how about Europe? It is already 78 years from the last world war, why China can recover from a very poor, backward and even ignorant ancient dynasty and developed into the most prosperous economy with aggregate national power just second to the US? But Europe is still struggling between US great again and your own socioeconomic prosperity, and security?

  7. avatar

    Just look at this risk in front of mankind:
    and the US response to Japan dumping of radioactive waste water to the sea:
    Secretary Antony Blinken @SecBlinken (13 April 2021) US government official
    “We thank Japan for its transparent efforts in its decision to dispose of the treated water from the Fukushima Daiichi site. We look forward to the Government of Japan’s continued coordination with the
    The US Secretary of States thanks Japan for dumping of “treated” radioactive water into the Pacific Ocean.Nuclear is NOT a risk?


  8. avatar

    I’m not a fan of nuclear power..we live in ireland and are using wind and wave power and solar hopefully that works ok sustainably :D

  9. avatar

    A thing about nuclear power that’s often forgotten is that it gives big energy companies a lot of power over the energy market.

  10. avatar

    Nuclear power definitely has its future but not with the technoligy commonly used today. The current reactors are too big, too complicated to maintain and have their risks (even if they are quite low).EU should massivelly invest in small modular reactors. Which are safer, cheaper to build and operate, and could definitely be the key to sustainable energy.

  11. avatar

    According to basic sustainability theory, which says that we should not introduce foreign compounds in the biosphere, then nuclear is a dangerous gamble. Particularly so because the compounds produced are highly dangerous to life and highly persistent. But that’s just what science says. There are many other wild opinions out there.

  12. avatar

    The cleanest and the safest by far, nuclear is the way to go: low-cost energy, reliable power source, zero-carbon emissions, high energy density (the amount of energy released in a nuclear fission reaction is ten million times greater than the amount released when burning fossil fuels). And add to that the potential to control atomic fusion, and we could practically have unlimited energy.

  13. avatar

    Depends which country is running it, safety and controls vary massively I would guess. Some knackered soviet era reactor no thanks, modern safe and well run better than useless green generation at the moment which is about as, much use as a fart in an astronauts suit and expensive with a the taxes on top

  14. avatar

    Yes. Nuclear power is the only reason why there is no WW3 and most likely it will never happen.

  15. avatar

    European politicians are law makers are always behind the curve chasing and lack the conviction to what right .they always follow the trendy narrative… and get used like door mat

  16. avatar

    The problem is that nuclear is so unsustainable that it should simply not be an option, but we waited so long to do anything with climate change that we might need to revert to it in some cases.

  17. avatar

    You know, there’s been a lot of talk about “energy dependence on Russia” and therefore the potential for blackmail by Russia. If that is real, then Europeans should keep nuclear power around so as not to put themselves at a geopolitical disadvantage. Then there’s also the issue of alternative energy reliability and cost-efficiency.

  18. avatar

    I WOULD HAVE TO LEAVE MY REGION. Not my town, but my region, if a disaster will happen (natural or terrorism for instance).

    Isn’t that scary enough?

    Are we using tides renewable energy? Geothermal? Can’t we increase the other renewable before putting in danger million of people?

  19. avatar
    JT HK

    By waiting for new types of safe and clean energy, there is no choice.

  20. avatar

    Yes of course.
    Who wants to come back to middle age under greenhouse effect ?
    Not me.

  21. avatar

    Nuclear energy is a must.. But the green lobby is so strong that we shall face energy shortage

  22. avatar

    We have had multiple disasters ,leaks and near misses , Chernobyl ,three mile island ,fukishima but the biggest issue to me is what happens with the waste . Fukishima is now ready to dump the waste directly into the ocean . Helen caldicott has writen much on this subject ,as are many others . The history of the nuclear industry TEPCO,Con-ED ,NRC has an appalling record . Gordon Gecko mentality of Koch brothers and others . These radioactive materials last for thousands of years some hundreds of thousands . I feel those who advocate for these might have some underlying psychological issues ,necrophylia orientation or death instinct going on .

  23. avatar

    I WOULD HAVE TO LEAVE MY REGION. Not my town, but my region, if a disaster will happen (natural or terrorism for instance).
    Isn’t that scary enough?
    Are we using tides renewable energy? Geothermal? Can’t we increase the other renewable before putting in danger million of people?

    • avatar

      Hackers attacks (?)

  24. avatar

    Yes. Only an idiot deny it.
    Of course one could count the damage done by every other energy source, from collection of raw materials to building and servicing and comparing it to nuclear..
    But that would be looking at facts and facts are racist.. right?
    Guess you don’t know how many people die in the wind, solar, carbon, oil industry eh?
    The environmental damage?
    The energy return?
    Nuclear fission is the best until we achieve reliable fusion.
    Of course..
    maybe don’t build your nuclear plant out of communist blueprint or put it on top of a volcano..
    Just saying

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