Constraints on growth of nuclear power

The World

MB says it makes some sense for Gulf countries to develop nuclear energy but the prospect worries the West, �When you build up a civilian nuclear infrastructure that provides people with training and depending on what kind of infrastructure it can also provide the kind of technologies that might be useful in a nuclear weapons program. If you just start out with nuclear reactors, it’s not that big a deal. It’s when you move into a fuel cycle, enriching uranium, as Iran wants to do, separating plutonium from the nuclear fuel, as some other countries like Japan, who’s a non-nuclear weapon state, do, that you then have the capability to make the material for nuclear weapons if you choose to do so.� LM �so do you think this is happening in the Middle East in particular for political reasons, because Iran is such an unknown and considered such a threat right now? is it environmental reasons? Or something else?� MB �I think in most countries decisions of this kind are made as the least common denominator, between debates among different factions that may have different interests. I think there is a strong feeling in many of the countries with large oil reserves in the Middle East that those reserves won’t last forever and they need to start investing in other kinds of technologies, and much of the Gulf countries are also investing heavily in solar energy as well, for example. Right now, with $100 dollar a barrel, nuclear is looking more attractive and a number of countries around the world�in the United States, there are a number of utilities now who have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for these combined construction and operating licenses. So I think we will see some new construction in nuclear. I think it’s not going to go as fast as the industry is saying, in part because having not built reactors for so long in most countries, the industry is actually quite limited right now in how many reactors it can build and the people that can help.� LM �limited by what? It takes how much in the way of resources?� MB �Well just as an example, in the sort of developed countries, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, there’s basically one company right now that can make the big steel forgings for containment vessels of nuclear fuel, it’s Japan Steel Works and in Japan they have a three year backlog. In Russia they used to have a huge plant that made that, and that plant is now completely fallen apart, they now have one dinky little plant which can make two reactors’ worth a year and they’re planning much more than that.� LM �I just want to run something else by you and this has to do with the environmental factor of using nuclear energy: Ukraine’s President spoke at the 20 year anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown and he said, it may seem paradoxical, but nuclear energy is the most ecologically friendly and safest system of energy generation in the world. Since it’s now getting a second chance in countries around the globe, what do you say to that?� MB �well it’s certainly true that a coal plant, for example, a traditional, pulverized coal plant, just the emissions it puts into the atmosphere, you’ve got the carbon which contributes to global warming but you’ve also got the particulates and there are typically many hundreds if not thousands of people who die a year because of the emissions of your typical coal plant, and that’s just not true for nuclear energy. There is the nuclear waste from nuclear power, I believe it can be safely disposed of deep under ground, but certainly we have not been managing that program very well in the United States. I’m hopeful that both Sweden and Finland look to be ahead of us in getting it right, and I’m hopeful that someone will see that it can be done sometime soon.�

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