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“If it isn’t going to be nuclear power, then it’s going to be geoengineering”: Tom Wigley

Hats off to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists for a timely myth-busting interview with one of the world’s top climate scientists, Tom Wigley.

In this interview, Wigley argues that the climate problem cannot be solved with renewable energy alone, and that, without turning to geoengineering, consideration of the nuclear energy pathway—in particular, resuming the development of fast reactors—should be an essential component of attempts to address the climate crisis.

Here is a summary of Wigley’s response to some key challenges that are identified in the latest IPCC report.

1. Timescales. Regulatory process can slow things down, especially in the US. However, Wigley points to China, where 29 reactors are under construction, and France, which built out an entire fleet within a decade. [France and Ontario are the only major economies to have brought their carbon intensity to a safe level, below 100gCo2/kwh.] Wigley says: “I don’t think the time factor is a serious issue.”

2. Proliferation & Waste. Wigley describes himself as “saddened” that environmentalists remain so vehemently opposed to nuclear power. He argues the it is not well-understood that the potential for Integral Fast Reactors is to eliminate the perceived problems of waste and proliferation. Nuclear is therefore currently severely misrepresented by mainstream environmentalists. He goes so far as to say that members of the IPCC Working Group III do not fully appreciate these issues.

3. Safety. Wigley says: “We don’t yet have fast reactor technology at scale, but we do have passively safe third-generation reactors that are being built right now. They have none of the safety problems associated with second-generation reactors.”

Wigley recently made headlines as the co-author—with three other prominent climate scientists—of an open letter addressed to “those influencing environmental policy but opposed to nuclear power,” urging them “to advocate the development and deployment of safer nuclear energy systems.”

Wigley and his three colleagues argued that renewable energy alone will not be sufficient to address the climate challenge, because it cannot be scaled up quickly and cheaply enough, and that opposition to nuclear power “threatens humanity’s ability to avoid dangerous climate change.”

You can read the whole interview here.

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