Jonas Siegel is editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a media organization that focuses on the intersection of science and security, and has covered nuclear weapons and energy issues for the past five years.
Although Siegel is in awe of nuclear’s amazing energy-generating power—”a pound of uranium 235 has more than 2 million times the energy content of a pound of coal,” he says—he acknowledges that so far the industry has been hindered by safety issues. The industry must address the risk of nuclear proliferation and waste storage if it’s to become a part of our future mix of energy-providers, Siegel says.
Check out some of Siegel’s other views, below, as expressed in last week’s Blue Marble expert-reader conversation:
“One of the most vexing aspects of the current system is that it allows … the same uranium enrichment facilities that enrich fuel for power production can also enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The plants that reprocess spent fuel after it is taken out of a reactor can be used to make additional fuel—or plutonium for nuclear weapons.”
“Just because there are attendant proliferation risks with developing nuclear energy in some countries doesn’t mean that the same risks exist everywhere. Each type of reactor has its own waste, proliferation, and safety challenges—and its own advantages.”
“Why should the United States be allowed to enrich uranium and reprocess spent fuel, while it is asking other countries, for example Iran, to suspend its uranium enrichment activities?”
“I don’t think that thieves will try to steal spent fuel from U.S. reactors, for the many reasons outlined above. The security record of existing plants, however, is not stellar.”
Our readers had plenty of questions, and comments, for Siegel. Their highlights are below:
“If the usual civilian-style reactor is unsafe, why can’t we use reactors similar to the ones being built for the U.S. Navy? The Navy has operated nuclear-powered vessels for over 50 years without a single reactor accident. Why can’t we build similar land-based reactors?”—Bleeding-Heart Liberal
“Do you see any chance of an internationally administered nuclear fuel bank coming into existence? Such an organization would be the owner and responsible party for nuclear fuels and would lend them to consumer countries for energy production only.” —Douglas Price
“Certain rogue countries, including Iran and North Korea, have and are pursuing nuclear weaponry. Bad guys will be bad guys regardless of international pressure. Their political decisions should not be the basis for others pursuing a rational energy policy.”—Barry Wallace
Read the full conversation here.