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CNN’s Earth’s Frontiers – The Nuclear Debate

By Carly Schnabl, on 18 April 2011

Mel Green, UCL alumna, reports on the event hosted by UCL in collaboration with CNN’s Earth’s Frontiers on 11 April to debate the motion: Nuclear energy remains the best option for powering our future.

Discussions about nuclear waste and its disposal are commonplace amongst policy makers, geologists and politicians. A conference recently took place at the Geological Society on this very subject:

But, the recent events at the Fukushima plant in Japan have inevitably re-opened the debate about the safety of the production of nuclear energy. Is it the cleanest and best alternative to fossil fuels – and just how safe is it?

I was part of the TV audience for this future Earth’s Frontiers broadcast and spent an entertaining morning watching CNN’s consummate anchor and chair for this debate, Becky Anderson, bring the audience and the feisty panel of guests swiftly to order.

The panel assembled at UCL for The Nuclear Debate included Paul Gilding, Dr Helen Caldicott, Nick Robins and Prof. Malcolm Grimston .

During the discussions I found myself vacillating: pro-nuclear to anti-nuclear and back again. Is that the sign of an effective assembly of panellists? Or am I just interminably indecisive? I wish I knew.

It’s a problematic topic though. Things became a little polarised at times (Helen and Malcolm were at loggerheads) but there was still a good deal of common ground.

There was agreement that the climate needed preserving and that we must reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and increase the use of solar, wind and wave energy (renewable). But what part should nuclear power play if at all? Currently providing 6% of global energy needs – when it works, it works well. When it goes wrong, it goes horribly wrong.

The panellists launched into discussions on all of the important issues:

  • Health concerns following nuclear disasters. 1,000 deaths after the Chernobyl accident of 1986 – said Helen Caldicott. Malcolm Grimston counter-argued that only 50–60 of the deaths were directly attributable to Chernobyl.
  • Halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 – as the world population hits nine billion. An insurmountable challenge? Nick Robins believes nuclear power has a role but the solution lies with energy efficiency – as well as renewable energy and carbon capture.
  • Wastage of electricity used. The USA wastes 28% of the electricity it currently uses (Americans leave their lights on all night!). Paul Gilding thinks that the reduction of the energy demanded is the only solution.
  • Increasing use of renewable. Australia (mainly desert) should be powering their nation with solar energy but they’re not. Can renewable energy provide for our growing demands? Malcolm thinks never – it is not reliable enough and cannot meet our ever increasing demands. But doesn’t Germany get 40% of its power from renewable energy?
  • Ever increasing energy demands as population increases and economic growth continues. Helen was against further growth – but is it fair to deny some poorer nations what we already possess?

And then there is nuclear proliferation…..and reactor safety….. and the potential use of nuclear fusion instead of fission.

You will have to watch the CNN broadcast though……

The debate will be shown online here on Wednesday 27th April.

Click here to read more on the pros and cons.

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