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The Future of Nuclear Energy

Q&A with Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee

Club of Amsterdam: Nathalie - you teach at the Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy at the University of Dundee and you follow the policies of nuclear energy at national and international level. There seems to be on one side a growing pro nuclear energy mood in Europe and on the other side a country like Germany follows a clear exit strategy. How is Europe going to deal with this situation?

Europe leaves its member-states the option to choose which course they prefer to follow. However, it now explicitly recognizes the "necessity" of including nuclear energy in the energy mix, for reasons of security of supply and diversification of energy sources, and emission constraints. Due to liberalisation, increased competition and European integration of national energy markets, it seems that such an accommodating approach is both justified and effective. It leaves those member-states, such as France or Finland, with a vested interest and political support to ensure the necessary nuclear share within Europe, while others, such as Germany, may pursue other options in respect of renewables (wind) thereby adequately responding to public pressure. In this way, joint investments in and further development of nuclear energy will be channeled to dynamic and secure markets, which allow also for channeling of safeguards, security and safety activities in order to further improve and ensure safe, reliable and sensible use of nuclear energy in the future. However, due to potential risks involved in nuclear activities, it is important to improve transparency and fair competition (especially in safety and technology) worldwide instead of merely regional, while preventing protectionist approaches.

Club of Amsterdam: Can you explain how nuclear energy relates to environmental issues? What role is it going to play in context of sustainable energy sources like wind energy etc.?

Nuclear energy provides for a credible alternative source of electricity. It does not emit CO2 although, similar to renewable energy sources, emissions are not entirely zero. Due to the need to mitigate recognized risks, nuclear energy has the most secured and innovative energy fuel cycle, in respect of both strict international and national safety and liability regulation (polluter-pays), including internalization of such costs in the electricity price.

It is for that reason that it can be considered to be increasingly 'sustainable'. However, there remains the issue of waste, which includes also an intergenerational aspect, that could be both negative (imposing a potential 'radioactive' inheritance) and positive (potentiality of an essential future energy source in view of new technological reprocessing developments), even though not imposing society with unconfined and uncontrollable emissions. In addition, proliferation and terrorism risks continues to be a source of concern, resulting in political reservations with respect to nuclear energy. Nonetheless, nuclear energy seems in the mid- to long term to be a 'sensible choice' in view of all available options. It is a credible and necessary alternative, especially in combination with renewable sources of energy, to reduce carbon fuel dependency both to respond to climate change and environmental concerns as well as insecurities inherent (and recently increasing) in the global energy supply market.

As such, the policy to no longer exclude nuclear energy as an option and even to increase reliance on nuclear power, could play an important mid-term role. On the one hand, it attracts further investment into developing safer and environmental neutral forms of generating nuclear electricity. Such is currently the focus of joint efforts in respect of nuclear fusion and 'new generation' nuclear facilities, which are constructed to be inherently safe, highly economical, proliferation resistant and produce minimal waste. On the other hand, it ensures an adequate electricity supply in the middle long-term, while reducing usage of carbon fuel as part of a global policy, and thus allows in the meantime increasing efforts and investments in further maturing other energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) in order to shift to a potential better sustainable option in the long-term.

Club of Amsterdam: What do you expect from a dialogue between "old and new energy"?

It is important to accumulate all fresh, innovative and diverging views, ideas and experience into a solid and new energy dialogue in order to extract important elements for a comprehensive and reality driven energy policy for the future. Often discussions in this field are constructed around narrow and obsolete premises, leaving aside a great potential that might result from a wider and more comprehensive approach based on an innovative method of guiding and channeling thoughts within a more 'philosophical' environment. This dialogue could encourage such a focus in search of consensus on new parameters, essential requirements and contemporary guiding principles appropriate to be incorporated in the preparation of future (European and other international) energy policies or strategies.

Thank you Nathalie!

Club of Amsterdam LAB:

LAB on Old and New ENERGY
An immersed experience of a Do-Tank
April 17 & 18, 2007

Location: Girona near Barcelona, Spain

Moderated by
Humberto Schwab, Director, Club of Amsterdam, Innovation Philosopher and the Thought Leaders Nathalie Horbach, Centre for Energy, Petroleum and Mineral Law and Policy, University of Dundee, Simon Taylor, Director and Co-Founder, Global Witness, Christof van Agt, International Energy Agency,
Paul Holister, Nanotechnology & Energy

- end -

The Club of Amsterdam is an independent, international, future-oriented think tank involved in channelling preferred futures. It involves those who dare to think out of the box and those who don't just talk about the future but actively participate in shaping outcomes.

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