Can We Solve the Energy Problem Without Nuclear Power? Richard Lester

Professor Richard Lester, Head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes we are on the cusp of a new age of innovation in nuclear technology.  Innovations in nuclear governance are also needed, he suggests, along with innovations in education and training.  More generally, creativity is needed in how we design the institutions for innovation – the innovation systems needed to commercialize reliable, affordable low-carbon energy sources of all kinds, none of which represents a silver bullet.  Take one of those options off the table – as many people, including many environmentalists, have long argued we should do with nuclear power – and the chances of meeting global emission reduction targets lessens.  Even to prevent the global average surface temperature from rising by more than three degrees celsius – let alone the two degrees often called for – will almost certainly require considerably more nuclear power than today.   

Design innovations such as small modular reactors, passively safe designs, innovations in technologies for nuclear waste disposal ranging from storage in deep boreholes to future breakthroughs in material science that may allow for the development of ultra-stable  radiation-resistant waste storage materials,  cumulatively lead Professor Lester to the view that the nuclear power systems of the year 2100 will bear as little resemblance to the light water reactor systems of today as his car does to a Model-T.

July 6, 2014