By Joern Fischer
Some conservationists argue that nuclear energy will be part of the solution to solve our climate problem. Who can say whether they’re right? I suspect that in many cases it’s a question of where exactly nuclear energy should be used, and to what extent. But two things are clear to me: doing without nuclear energy altogether, and going fully renewable, is preferable; and the fact that accidents do happen must not be ignored when discussing the “clean” solution of nuclear energy. There’s no such thing as entirely safe nuclear energy.
On this note, I’d like to highlight a new paper to you, which I had the pleasure to co-author. It’s a review of the long-term consequences of the Chernobyl accident — in scale somewhat similar to what we can expect from the recent Fukushima disaster. The paper is available for download here.
In the paper, we show that the consequences of nuclear disasters are highly uncertain and highly variable, both in space and time. Decades after the Chernobyl accident, some aspects of biodiversity and some ecosystem services remain seriously affected, even hundreds of kilometers from the accident site. Radiation levels are far higher than considered ‘safe’ in many species, and near the disaster site, there have been morphological changes in some species — which will have unknown consequences for evolutionary trajectories.
So, yes, nuclear energy has a better carbon footprint than fossil-fuel based options. But let’s not forget that accidents do happen: in fact, by definition, accident aren’t supposed to happen (but do) … that’s what makes them accidents! Those accidents can seriously damage ecosystems, and ecosystem services that we benefit from, for many decades.
So what? — To my simple mind, renewable energy seems worth trying for, whenever possible.