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Europe Needs a Serious Nuclear-Energy Debate

Summary:
Sadly, the primacy of anti-nuclear sentiment over empirical fact has been a consistent feature of Europe’s nuclear-power debate since the 1980s. And the alarmist rhetoric surrounding today’s emerging nuclear technology is yet another example of this contradictory and self-defeating approach. BRUSSELS – Last month, the Akademik Lomonosov, Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, arrived in the remote town of Pevek in the country’s Siberian Arctic region. Russian state-run nuclear energy company Rosatom sees this as a pilot project, and hopes eventually to deploy a fleet of such units in Russia and elsewhere – including in developing countries in Asia and Africa that urgently need affordable electricity.

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Sadly, the primacy of anti-nuclear sentiment over empirical fact has been a consistent feature of Europe’s nuclear-power debate since the 1980s. And the alarmist rhetoric surrounding today’s emerging nuclear technology is yet another example of this contradictory and self-defeating approach.

BRUSSELS – Last month, the Akademik Lomonosov, Russia’s first floating nuclear power plant, arrived in the remote town of Pevek in the country’s Siberian Arctic region. Russian state-run nuclear energy company Rosatom sees this as a pilot project, and hopes eventually to deploy a fleet of such units in Russia and elsewhere – including in developing countries in Asia and Africa that urgently need affordable electricity.

The Lomonosov builds on a long tradition of nuclear-powered icebreakers in the Arctic Ocean. But, as I explain in my book on energy geopolitics, it also is a cutting-edge example of how small modular reactors (SMRs) can be deployed more easily, flexibly, and cost-effectively than traditional nuclear facilities.

SMRs hold out the promise of clean energy production not only in remote areas, but also in developing countries that are not equipped to build bespoke nuclear power plants on land. Floating SMR technologies also could potentially be used in commercial shipping in the thawing Arctic: nuclear-powered container ships would be far cleaner than those powered by heavy fuel oil, which produces emissions of sulfur and heavy metals. Furthermore, growing economic activity throughout the Arctic makes it increasingly important for remote areas like Pevek to have low-carbon energy sources.

Although the Lomonosov will be the world’s smallest and most northerly nuclear plant when it comes online, it may soon have competition. Researchers in the United States, South Korea, Russia, France, China, Argentina, Japan, and India are currently working on about 50 different SMR designs. Furthermore, the rapid changes in the Arctic, and the global push to...

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