The safest form of power: Everything in moderation

By Morven McCulloch
April 5, 2011

By Morven McCulloch

The ongoing crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in north-eastern Japan, seriously damaged by a March 11 earthquake and tsunami, has led to anti-nuclear protests in several countries and forced governments to rethink their energy policies.

The UK currently has 10 nuclear power stations, representing 18 percent of the country’s energy supply according to Energy UK. Should British Prime Minister David Cameron, like German Chancellor Angela Merkel, reverse his position on the safety of nuclear power?

Environment and climate scientist Lord Julian Hunt told Reuters in a video interview that although the situation at the Fukushima plant is an “extremely serious event,” there are risks to consider with every type of power.

Hunt says: “I think the difficulty about a public debate is to weigh up very short-term risks with longer-term risks that happen all the time.

“Take for example coal, which is still used very widely in India, China and Denmark (80 percent of Danish power comes from coal). The coal is mined… which leads to massive air, water and ground pollution. A million people die a year from air pollution, according to the World Health Organisation figures, and that’s a global figure. So there are risks associated with fossil fuels, let alone the question of climate change.

“Part of the strategy has got to be to consider how climate change itself is affecting conditions for different sorts of energy supply. Because we really can’t predict everything, and all possible interactions, it seems to me to be a strong argument for continuing to have an energy mix and to invest in new kinds of technology.”

Hunt also explains the risks and advantages of both nuclear power and hybrid technologies (the combination of nuclear fusion and fission). He says as international engineers continue to research and experiment with this mixing of nuclear fusion and fission, hybrid could be our main source of energy over the next 20 years.

Renewable energies such as wind and solar power are not risk-free either, he says. A short supply of these energy sources can cause power failures over a wide area, creating further issues that can lead to injuries and casualties. This creates a demand for alternative and more reliable energy sources.

Lord Julian Hunt discusses alternative sources of power:

The risks of nuclear power and the advantages of hybrid technologies:

The benefits of nuclear power:

The power trends for the future:

Plans for new hybrid energy systems:

Lord Julian Hunt is visiting professor at Delft University and Emeritus Professor at University College London. The opinions expressed are his own.


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