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The Necessity of Nuclear Power: A Global and Environmental Imperative


John Ritch, Former Director General, World Nuclear Association 

2008

 

Today, one by one and in ever increasing numbers, governments around the world are embracing nuclear power as fundamental to their strategies of national energy security and global environmental responsibility. In so doing, they are responding to an imperative that is gaining ever greater cogency on every continent.

After assessing the human and environmental realities around them, national leaders are recognizing that nuclear energy today represents nothing less than an indispensable asset if our world is to meet what must be
recognized as the greatest challenge in human history. 

History's Greatest Challenge

The human saga is replete with conflicts between people of different nationalities, ideologies, and religious beliefs; the consequences of such conflict are known to us all.  But today we face a conflict even more daunting in
its dangers and scale, a challenge unlike any previously faced by humanity in any age.  It is, in the truest sense of the phrase, an existential conflict - between humankind's current pattern of behaviour and the very planetary environment that enabled civilization to evolve.

All public policy must now be shaped by the need to reconcile this conflict.  As matters stand, we have hardly begun. 

Between now and 2050, as world population swells from 6.6 billion toward 9 billion, humankind will consume more energy than the combined total used in all previous history.  Under prevailing patterns of energy use, the results
will prove calamitous.  The resulting pollution will damage or ruin the health of tens and likely hundreds of millions of citizens, mainly in the developing world.  Far worse, the intensifying concentration of greenhouse gases will take past a point of no return as we hurdle toward climate catastrophe. 

 

The Atmosphere

 

Today the world economy is producing greenhouse emissions at the rate of 29 billion tonnes per year - some 900 tonnes per second - a rate still rising despite rhetoric and negotiation.  The meagre yet much maligned Kyoto Protocol, even if implemented, would make barely a dent in the task we face.  An overwhelming majority of climate scientists, and an increasing cohort of world political leaders, agree that we must, by mid-century, cut global greenhouse emissions by a full 60% - even as world energy consumption triples.  In the sheer scope and urgency of this challenge, we face nothing less than a global emergency.

For all of us, even those most determined to face reality, this crisis is counter-intuitive for simple reasons of human instinct.   When we look upward, either in the daylight or under the stars, it is natural to think of the sky as an unlimited expanse.  In fact, our atmosphere represents little more than a thin coating on the Earth's surface.  In full, the atmosphere reaches 350 miles high.  But most of the atmosphere - more than 99% of its molecules - is concentrated far lower, in the troposphere and stratosphere, no more than 30 miles high.  The biosphere is even narrower, just 12 miles in bandwidth.

Take an ordinary soccer ball and coat it with just a few layers of varnish, and the thickness of that coating can represent the biosphere.  Apply a few more coats, and the thickness will represent most of the atmosphere above us, including the canopy of greenhouse gases.  This thin shell of atmosphere is a very small trash container indeed for the massive volumes of fossil waste we continue to spew into it. The fact of this planetary crisis can no longer be a matter of psychological or political denial.  For our best Earth-system scientists now warn, with ever increasing certainty, that greenhouse gas emissions, if continued at the present massive scale, will yield consequences that are - quite literally - apocalyptic:  increasingly radical temperature changes, a worldwide upsurge in violent weather events, widespread drought, flooding, wildfires, famine, species extinction, rising sea levels, mass migration and epidemic disease that will leave no country untouched. 

Catastrophic Climate Change  

• Radical temperature changes and violent weather events

• Widespread drought, flooding, wildfires

• Famine

• Accelerating loss of biodiversity

• Rising sea levels and sudden changes in ocean currents

• Mass migration and epidemics of pestilence and disease

• In consequence, a fundamental disruption of human civilisation

 

The science of weather prediction is still far from exact.  But the science of Earth systems - which enables us to understand the drivers of climate change - is well advanced indeed.  If the predictions from this science hold true, the combined effect - of greenhouse gas emissions and the compounding reverberations from positive feedback in our world's oceans, land and air - will be the deaths of not just millions but of billions of people, and the destruction of much of civilization on all continents. 

Anyone who still doubts the science should read a small book called "The Revenge of Gaia" by James Lovelock, father of the now widely-respected Gaia Theory and one of the world's most revered Earth-scientists.  James Lovelock is lucid in explaining the feedback mechanisms that usually tend to maintain stability in the biosphere but which, once certain limits are exceeded, can drive our Earthly conditions into extreme and catastrophic imbalance.

Precisely because we face dangers that go far beyond what we can readily imagine, the spectre of global warming still remains, for many people, too nebulous to contemplate.  But what is not nebulous is the human condition that lies behind global warming.  Allow me to present some well-known facts, basic truths that are not in dispute. 
However familiar they may be, these realities are no less shocking in their significance.  They underscore the compelling human dimensions of the global crisis we face.

The Human Dimensions of the Environmental Crisis

This crisis, it bears emphasis, originates not in human evil, but in human success: humanity's accumulating, accelerating success in acquiring, disseminating, and applying science-based knowledge. It is this success - taking form in agriculture, industry, commerce, and medicine - that has spawned the growth in human population and the gathering threat to our environment. 

Viewed through history's eye, this success has come in a sudden burst. 

Global Population

 

Through virtually all of the 50,000 years since humans first appeared, world population never exceeded 10 million.  Then, at some point only in the last 2,000 years, something happened.  To take a phase from nuclear science,
human inventiveness reached critical mass, and advance led to advance with increasing speed.  Within the last 2,000 years these gains in knowledge brought enlightenment and prosperity to hundreds of millions of people.  But the surge of world population also carried a consequence. Before, humanity's effect on Earth's ecosystems was like a flea on a camel - wholly inconsequential. 

But in just the 200 years we call the Industrial Age - the time frame pictured here - humanity became an influence on Earth's fundamental mechanisms.  Now this impact - this anthropogenic impact - threatens to destroy the very
environmental conditions that enabled human success.  

Population Humanity's growth over the past two millennia has in fact been a spectacular surge.  It took 50,000 years for population to reach one billion, a little more than a century to reach two billion, 33 years to reach three billion, 14 years to reach four billion, 13 years to reach five billion, 12 years to reach six billion.  Today we are at 6.6 billion people, with 9 billion projected by the year 2050.

Viewing this population through an economic lens serves to describe the human condition.  What we find is a world of extremes. 

At one end of the scale are the OECD countries, where global prosperity is centred.  These wealthy nations represent a mere one-sixth of humanity.  At the other end are the world's poorest.  Here an equal number of people - 1.1 billion - live in destitution with constant hunger, no clean water, the death of a child every 3 seconds, and virtually no income or prospect of improvement.

Back at the wealthier end of the spectrum, if we add the 300 million semi-prosperous population of the former Soviet bloc, we find that 1.4 billion of the world's people - just 20% - account for 80% of global economic consumption.  This means that 80% of the world's people subsist on just 20% of world production of goods and services. 

Earth and
Humanity
  

• The Universe was created 12-15 billion years ago. 

• Life on Earth began nearly 4 billion years ago. 

• Hominids appeared 7 million years ago. 

• Homo erectus mastered fire 400,000 years ago. 

• Homo sapiens developed 50,000-100,000 years ago. 

• All told, some 60-100 billion people have lived on
Earth. 

• For most of human history, global population did not exceed 10
million. 



The 80% of humanity in the poor and developing world continues to increase.  The rate is 20,000 per day.  Think of it as the birth of a new city of 6 million people once each month.  Our problem is not shrinking; it is worsening by the day. 

The poorest 1.1 billion people are categorized as being in "extreme" poverty.  Another 1.6 billion are classified as being in "moderate" poverty - just a small step above abject misery.  They have little sanitation and virtually no money.  They survive amidst pollution and disease. 

The energy dimension of poverty is fundamental.  Poverty correlates so closely to the absence of electricity that access to electricity is the best single gauge of a person's standard of living.  In today's world of 6.6 billion, a full 2 billion people have no electricity, and 2 billion more have only limited access.  In other words, fewer than 40% of the world's people can easily switch on the lights.

Numbers on the same scale apply to clean water.  Today, world water tables are falling under the demands of expanding human consumption.  As this crisis emerges, we can expect the growing shortage of potable water supplies to produce thirst, disease, and water wars - in other words, a deadly combination of human suffering and human strife.  As a remedy, we have one available tool:  large-scale desalination of seawater, an energy-intensive process that will compound global energy demand.

Finally, we have the great mass of humanity positioned between poverty and prosperity.  This population, poised for advance, will be the engine of our world's future economic development. 

 

World of Extremes

In terms of future energy use, the human condition divides us into three categories:  those with energy access who will continue to use it, those with none who desperately need it, and those poised in between, whose drive for
economic advance is producing an expanded use of energy and, with it, an intensified outpouring of greenhouse emissions. 

The environmental impact of this central group cannot be overstated.  Less than ten years from now, greenhouse emissions from developing nations will equal emissions from the countries we now call developed.  After that, emissions from the developing world will be the major driver of global climate change.

This single fact underscores the magnitude, the urgency, and the nature of the challenge we face.  It should make clear to all but the most committed ideologue that, while energy conservation, windmills, and solar panels may help, we cannot hope to rely on such measures alone to meet our world's expanding appetite for more energy.

The Crucial Premise for Action

Our starting point for action must be agreement on a basic premise that emerges from every authoritative analysis:

Humankind cannot conceivably achieve a global clean-energy revolution without a huge expansion of nuclear power - to generate electricity, to produce battery power and perhaps hydrogen for tomorrow's vehicles, and to
desalinate seawater in response to the world's rapidly emerging fresh-water crisis.

What we should deem "authoritative analysis" includes the work done by the International Energy Agency in the inter-governmental sector and the World Energy Council in the private sector.  Both organizations judge that nuclear power must play a central role in any clean-energy revolution. 

Earth segmentMost recently, this same view has been articulated by Yvo de Boer, the executive director of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the basic UN treaty on this topic, and by Dr Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, the UN's multinational scientific body, which just received the Nobel Prize for its work in analyzing our environmental crisis and educating the public about it.  We can be gratified that the IPCC's leadership, having demonstrated conclusively the scope and urgency of the crisis, are now venturing to point to nuclear power as an essential element of the solution.

In so doing, they stand on sound ground.  For under fair and dispassionate examination, nuclear power is indeed no less than the quintessential energy resource for sustainable development:

  • Its fuel will be readily available for multiple centuries
  • Its presence confers energy autonomy
  • Its safety record is superior among major energy sources
  • Its consumption causes virtually no pollution or greenhouse
    gases
  • Its use preserves fossil resources for future generations
  • Its capacities are scalable, from smaller reactors to
    large
  • Its costs are competitive and declining
  • Its waste can be secured over the long-term
  • Its operations are manageable in developed & developing
    nations.

Note that these characteristics also help to meet the challenge of energy security in developed and developing countries alike.

Certainly, renewables such as solar and wind and tidal and geothermal must have a role.  So too must energy conservation and higher energy efficiency.  But none of these tools can alter the central fact that nuclear power offers the one available technological workhorse to energize a thriving economy without destructive environmental impact.  Recognition of this truth, and action based upon it, is now reflected in a worldwide nuclear renaissance that is gathering speed and momentum.  

Earth globeThis renaissance has not begun from a standing start.  Fifty years ago, nuclear power was in its infancy.  Today nuclear power delivers as much electricity as the entire global electricity output from all sources in 1960.  And this rise has been inexorable.  In every decade since 1960, nuclear power has been the world's fast-growing major source of energy.  Today,  30 nations representing two-thirds of humanity use nuclear power to produce one-sixth of global electricity. 

The nuclear revitalization represents a confluence of developments:

  • Continuing evolutionary advance in reactor technology
  • Multinational research efforts to produce quantum leaps in technology
  • Unprecedented levels of efficiency and capacity utilization in key countries
  • A robust and growing record of operational safety, backed by a now-pervasive global nuclear safety culture
  • Political progress in implementing the scientifically sound concept of waste disposal using deep geological repositories
  • And the truest barometer - expansive growth planning for nuclear power in major nations in both the developed and developing
    worlds.

In some two dozen countries representing the preponderance of world economic activity and world population - from North America across much of Europe to Russia and on to the major countries of South and East Asia, led by  China and  India - the value of nuclear power has been reviewed and reaffirmed. 

Major countries without nuclear power - such as  Vietnam, Turkey, Indonesia, Egypt, Kazakhstan, and the Gulf emirates - stand on the threshold of introducing nuclear energy for the first time.  Italy, the only country ever to shut down a small nuclear fleet and a country that it is now the world's largest importer of electricity, will surely reverse course over the coming decade. Even on continents with little or no nuclear power, the political context for nuclear energy has changed. The  South African government has not only embraced nuclear power but now seeks a role of international leadership in reactor technology innovation.  And in  Australia, with its world-leading reserves of uranium but a long-standing policy of shunning nuclear power, politicians have begun a serious national debate that may eventually culminate in that nation becoming not only a user of nuclear power but also a major player in the international nuclear fuel cycle.

To be sure, anti-nuclear convictions can still be found:

  • In the mythologies that motivate many environmental groups
  • In the assumptions of journalists, bureaucrats, and think-tanks with environmental portfolios
  • In the rhetoric emanating from small countries like  Denmark and Austria, whose credibility must be weighed against their reliance on the importation of nuclear electricity,
    and
  • In the strange case of  Germany, in the declaratory policy of a major country which remains bizarrely captive to an outdated anti-nuclear ideology even
    after the election victory of a pro-nuclear party.

WNEI



But all of these reactionary forces, taken together, are receding under the onslaught of facts that are too strong to be forever distorted or denied.  All around the world, old-school anti-nuclear environmentalism is being eclipsed by a new realism that recognizes nuclear energy's essential virtue: its capacity to deliver cleanly generated power safely, reliably, and on a massive scale.  For the nuclear industry - from uranium miners to technology vendors to plant constructors - this expansive outlook offers a promising future. 

One measure of this upsurge can be found in a new financial barometer, launched in January 2008, that we named the WNA World Nuclear Index.  A composite of 64 publicly-trade stocks from around the world, the WNA Index offers a sophisticated, rule-driven means of tracking the fortunes of the global nuclear industry - and of investing in the industry through Exchange-Traded-Funds (ETF's) based upon the index and offered by leading financial institutions. Remarkably, had such an ETF existed over the past five years, it would have yielded a four-fold increase in investment, and we expect the industry to continue a robust growth.

The nuclear industry is clearly on the rise.  But for serious environmentalists, such projections can provide little comfort - not because nuclear energy is growing but because it is not yet growing fast enough to play its needed role in the clean-energy revolution our world so desperately needs.

We must ask two crucial questions:

  • First, where do industry and government stand in meeting legitimate public concerns about nuclear energy?
  • Second, what must now be done to accelerate the nuclear renaissance?

Meeting Legitimate Public Concerns

As to the "public concerns" so often cited in daily journalism, a fair assessment shows that not one poses a reasonable obstacle to a global expansion of nuclear power.

1) Proliferation. Nuclear proliferation, of course, remains a global concern, and much can be said about how best to deal with the few rogue nations that may seek atomic weapons by constructing facilities that can produce weapons-usable material.  The industry stands ready to work with the IAEA and national governments in exploring ways to curtail this risk. 

But the essential truths are these

  • The proliferation danger inheres in nuclear knowledge and the intent of governments
  • The global non-proliferation and safeguards system effectively curtails any link between civil and military programmes, and actually helps to detect and deter illicit nuclear activity,
    and 
  • Most fundamentally, whatever proliferation risk we face would be unaffected even by a 20-fold increase in the global use of safeguarded nuclear reactors to produce clean energy.  

Cumulative



2) Operational Safety. Second, the industry has met the challenge of  operational safety through technological advance and a global nuclear safety culture that draws on some 13,000 reactor-years of practical experience.   Just as the NPT is a great feat in traditional diplomacy, the creation of WANO - with its network of safety cooperation encompassing every power reactor worldwide - represents an historic attainment inprivate-sector diplomacy. 

The nuclear industry's greatest responsibility is to maintain and build on its already impressive record of nuclear safety.

3) Cost Reduction. On the cost front, the industry's steady reductions in both operational and capital costs are fast carrying us into a future in which nuclear power will emerge as a clear winner on the field of  affordability. 

These gains have occurred even without any consideration of environmental effects.  Once governments begin to introduce serious emissions penalties - through emissions trading or carbon taxes - the balance will tilt even faster.  Today nuclear power can easily dominate any market that imposes a real price for environmental damage. 

4) Waste Management. As to  waste, industry and government have the joint task of building public recognition that, contrary to common perception, waste is nuclear power's greatest comparative asset - precisely because the volume is minimal and can be safely managed without harm to people or the environment. 

For its part, the industry has amassed an impressive record that includes:

  • Safe disposal of all low-level waste
  • Safe interim storage of all other end products from nearly a half century of nuclear power plant operations
  • Safe transport of radioactive waste, with more than 20,000 containers of high-level waste and used fuel having travelled safely over a total distance of 20 million miles without a single instance of a serious radioactive release 

Humankind cannot conceivably
achieve a global clean-energy revolution without a huge expansion
of nuclear power

• to generate electricity, 

• to produce battery power and perhaps hydrogen for tomorrow's
vehicles, and 

• to desalinate seawater in response to the world's rapidly
emerging fresh-water crisis.  



Where major responsibility lies now is with governments.  A strong scientific consensus favours deep geological repositories as a safe and affordable means of achieving long-term storage of nuclear waste and used nuclear fuel.  It is the duty of governments - following the lead of Finland, Sweden, Russia, and the USA - to summon the political will to implement this crucial component of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Meanwhile, when you hear the term "nuclear waste" used disparagingly, consider this comparison: If tomorrow we could suddenly generate all the world's electricity by nuclear power, we would - in a full year - create and safely dispose of a quantity of high-level nuclear waste that is less than the amount of carbon waste that today's power plants spew into Earth's atmosphere every five minutes, around the clock.   

5) A New Concern: Terrorism. A new public concern, of course, is terrorism, and here we must rely on facts, common sense and public education to overcome exaggerated concern. The use of a radiological device in a modern city - often called a weapon of mass disruption - is clearly a security concern in many countries, and one not to be discounted.  What can be said with some confidence is that, if such a device is ever used, the radiological material will almost surely - for simple reasons of availability - come from a source such as a hospital and not from the nuclear power industry. As for the vulnerability of nuclear power plants, they are, by their very nature, among the most robust structures ever built.  Even a direct hit by a major airplane, which itself would require superlative piloting, would be unlikely to result in a seriously harmful radioactive release.  Indeed, with a 21st century nuclear reactor, the same can be said even if the reactor fell for some time into the hands of a team of people with malevolent intent.   A modern nuclear power plant is simply not an effective instrument for raining destruction on a nearby populace. Unfortunately, for a terrorist seeking to achieve either slaughter or mayhem, a modern industrial metropolis presents a target-rich environment.  Fortunately, those of nefarious purpose will find nuclear power plants very low on the list of inviting targets.

Accelerating the Nuclear Renaissance 

In sum, not one of the commonly voiced public concerns about nuclear energy poses a legitimate obstacle to the case for, or the unfolding of, a worldwide nuclear renaissance.  To say this is not to express complacency.  For allaying public concerns, while necessary, is not nearly sufficient to drive a nuclear renaissance that must attain global dynamism if we are to achieve a clean-energy revolution in the time required. 

In three distinct areas, governments must take decisive action to grow an industry that now stands - in terms of operational and technological maturity - fully primed for the major growth our environmental challenge so clearly demands.

1) Construct a Comprehensive Global Regime. The first necessity is to move beyond Kyoto to construct a truly comprehensive, long-term climate regime that yields strong political signals - and economic incentives - for a worldwide transformation to clean-energy technology. To be both effective and politically feasible, any such treaty must include all major nations, developed and developing, and must embody some variation on the principle of "contraction and convergence".

"Contraction" means that the agreement must produce, over a span of decades, a global reduction in greenhouse emissions on the order of 60%.  "Convergence" means that the agreement must adopt - at least implicitly - the principle of equal per-capita emission rights.

The principle of equal emission rights is far from utopian:

  • First, as a matter of political reality, it is the only feasible principle for a global agreement, and actually involves a concession from South to North by taking as "water under the bridge" the considerable environmental damage already done by the developed countries.
  • Second, the gap between actual emissions and emissions rights provides the potential for a dynamic international trading mechanism that will promote universal efficiency in clean-energy investment while producing a large net flow of such investment from North to South.

From a Northern perspective, this economic assistance will be the most cost-effective in history if it helps to prevent the globally destructive growth in greenhouse emissions that might otherwise occur in the developing world.  Even President Bush, who ran well in the competition to be the last person on Earth to recognize the reality of climate change, took a considerable step in the right direction by officially embracing two principles of enormous consequence:

  • First, the importance of collective agreement on deep, long-term emissions reductions; and 
  • Second, the need for major aid to developing nations for clean energy investment.

Although President Obama has shown a far great propensity to pursue a comprehensive regime, the task of reconciling national interests within a major multinational treaty remains daunting. But the very act of seeking such a regime - or even of seeking widespread agreement that major greenhouse emitters will take parallel unilateral steps to achieve deep reductions - can send powerful policy signals to national parliaments and powerful investment signals to the energy marketplace. Both nationally legislated policies and widespread investment decisions will in themselves constitute considerable progress, and can pave the way politically for a multinational clean-energy accord that would build on that progress.

2) Elevate Nuclear Investment to a National and International Policy Priority.This points us toward the second necessity, which is to shape national policies and international institutions to directly support nuclear investment. 

Accelerating the Nuclear
Renaissance

• Construct a global climate change regime, 

• Elevate nuclear investment to a national and international
policy 

• Globalize the nuclear professions 



Over the long-term, nuclear power is competitive - indeed, in most countries, a low-cost option even without emissions trading or a tax on carbon.  But two factors now weigh against nuclear investment: the short-term decision-making bias of deregulated energy markets and the fact that 21st century nuclear reactors have not been built in sufficient numbers to achieve economies of scale.

National governments must therefore act to incentivize immediate nuclear investments.  The goal, it bears emphasis, is not to subsidize long-term nuclear operations but simply to pump-prime these early phases of the nuclear renaissance, for reasons of environmental urgency as well as energy security.

A similar rationale applies, at the international level, among the global institutions we established a half-century ago to meet urgent developmental needs.  Today it is a fundamental failing of the UN system that all of its major development institutions continue to embrace, or to be intimidated by, old-school anti-nuclear environmentalism.

Governments must now direct the World Bank and the UN Development and Environment Programmes to act in pursuit of a clean-energy vision in which nuclear power holds a central role. 

When I met with Ban Ki-moon, my former Korean counterpart in Vienna and now UN Secretary-General, about ways he could use his new leadership powers to achieve this urgently needed rationalization among UN agencies.  I hope to pursue that idea in cooperation with him and others in the UN system.

3) Preparing the Nuclear Profession for a Nuclear Century.  A third imperative is to apply the concept of nuclear investment to the human level - by stimulating and supporting enrolments in the study of nuclear science and technology.  The nuclear profession must be readied for a nuclear century.

WNU logoTo help point the way toward a globalizing nuclear profession, the World Nuclear Association has worked with the IAEA, WANO, and the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency to create the new World Nuclear University. The WNU is a partnership in which these four global organizations cooperate together, and with leading institutions of nuclear learning, in activities to enhance nuclear education and leadership for the 21st century.  The WNU partnership is supported by a small multinational secretariat in London composed of nuclear professionals seconded by key governments and nuclear enterprises.

 WNU III

WNU Activities underway or in
preparation

• Summer Institute for future industry leaders 

• Orientation course on the global nuclear industry 

• Seminars for (non-nuclear) business and opinion
leaders. 

• Executive-level nuclear leadership roundtables 

• Policy forums for government planners 

• Training in key professional skills 

• Scientific seminars on policy-relevant topics 

• Projects to improve secondary school education on
nuclear 



The flagship of the partnership is the WNU Summer Institute, an annual 6-week event designed to educate and inspire an international group of  young nuclear professionals who show promise as future leaders in the world of nuclear science and technology.  By the end of this coming summer, we will have spawned a network of some 380 former WNU Fellows in 40 countries, and that number will grow each year. Meanwhile, the WNU project has begun to branch out, as the multinational team at the WNU Coordinating Centre works to develop other educational and leader-building programmes.  In the process, the WNU will seek to build an international endowment for scholarships in nuclear technology.  If you are interested in supporting this endeavour, please talk to Hans and me about it.  Establishing such scholarships should also be a national priority for governments around the world.

At a Perilous Point in History, a Technology and a Profession of Indispensable Value 

My summary is this:  If history is a river, we have reached the white water.  We face a challenge unprecedented in human experience.  This challenge has arisen from the untrammelled consequences of technological progress, and humanity must meet it with an adroit technological response.  Doing so will require every ounce of political will and human ingenuity we can muster through the combined forces of industry and government. 

Let us attach numbers to the challenge we face.  Today nuclear energy is using 440 reactors to produce one-sixth of the world's electricity.  From an environmental perspective, it will not be adequate if the nuclear industry simply doubles, or triples, or quadruples its capacity in this century.  Indeed, it will not be adequate to meet the
needs of a global clean-energy revolution even if we multiple nuclear generation by a factor of ten in this century.

We must place ourselves on a trajectory for a 21st century nuclear industry that achieves the deployment of nothing less than 8,000-10,000 Gigawatts of nuclear power - a twenty-fold increase.  To plan for anything less would be to invite environmental disaster.

Before labelling this a fantasy, recall this history:  In the 1980's, France alone started-up 42 major nuclear power reactors.  From a standing start in the 1970's, France brought on-line, in a single decade, 1,000 Megawatts of nuclear power for every one-million of its citizens - enough to meet virtually all of the electricity needs of a modern industrial society for decades to come. 

 

21st Century

The projection before you simply spreads the same achievement - over the course of a full century - to a wider world that will not be starting from a standstill and that will need nuclear for transport and desalination as well as traditional electricity.  If we can achieve clarity about the dangers that beset us and galvanize leadership - national and international - to employ the tools at hand, success in this task lies within the wit and capacity of humankind. 

"Life is a race between education and
catastrophe."

 

- H.G. Wells

EarthriseWhat is a dangerous delusion is any belief that humanity can avoid environmental calamity without clean-energy achievement on this scale.  

In the early 1930's, recognizing an impending world threat of an entirely different kind, Winston Churchill called for British military rearmament as the only hope of forestalling it.  "Never," he said, "has an insurance so blessed and so fertile been procurable so cheaply."  Today the same could be said of nuclear power. 

Another great Englishman, H.G. Wells, saw life as "a race between education and catastrophe".  Today this adage applies to all humankind.  Our world is in dire peril, the race between
education and catastrophe is underway, and we have no time to lose.

Spanning many nations but united by a common dedication to the highest professional standards, the global nuclear industry today holds a monumental responsibility - to make a vital contribution to victory in a fateful race that will determine the sustainability of humanity's future.  For those in the nuclear profession, history has bestowed both a solemn obligation and, on the other side of that coin, an inspiring opportunity.