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ENERGY/ Blix (former IAEA director): fission plus fusion to stop global warming

After Fukushima, nuclear energy has been put into question once again. Hans Blix talks about the advantages to nuclear power and new research that could make it more reliable.

Hans Blix Hans Blix

Those who are dubious about the safety of nuclear fission reactors and are disappointed by the not yet fulfilled promises of thermonuclear fusion, should be interested in a new development that calls for the combination of the two technologies, which, up until now, were developed on parallel paths, in hybrid fusion-fission systems.

These systems will be discussed in the next few days at an international conference in Varenna, at the Piero Caldirola Center. The conference is being organized by the University of Milan Bicocca and the CNR of Milan in collaboration with the Swedish University of Uppsala and the International Atomic Energy Agency. About sixty researchers from the European Union, the USA, Russia, Ukraine, India and China will be attending.

In the concluding session, Hans Blix, the former Swedish Foreign Minister and Director of the IAEA, known to the public because of his role as the responsible of the UN inspectors sent to Iraq before the war in 2003, will be speaking, and on the 15th, he will be a guest at the meeting entitled “Nuclear energy: new prospects and new responsibilities” at the Cultural Center of Milan, sponsored by Euresis and the EnergyLab Foundation. Ilsussidiario.net interviewed Blix on this occasion.

What we can say today, after Fukushima, about the risks of nuclear power compared with other sources?
No energy generating system is free from risk. However, 50 years of nuclear power production have shown that one can mitigate risk and minimize negative consequences. In recent decades, there have also been many technological improvements that have made it possible to gradually reduce the danger. It happened similarly with the other energy sources: in the nineteenth century there were frequent explosions of boilers before technological and operational advances limited the risk. We can now say that the production of nuclear energy has become more reliable: the ability to operate without problems increased from 70% in the seventies to about 90% today.

However, nuclear power has led to grave accidents…
There have been three major accidents [the accident in France yesterday was not a "nuclear accident", ed.], two with radioactive emissions into the atmosphere (Chernobyl and Fukushima) and we need to seriously take them into consideration and reflect on them. But we must also realize that there have not been very many accidents at nuclear power plants compared to the number with other sources, and the most catastrophic accidents have occurred in other types of power plants. In Italy you will remember the terrible Vajont accident, with a high number of casualties from the avalanche of water that swept through the valley. So, in comparison with other sources, nuclear power seems to me to still be favorable from this point of view. We should not consider it more dangerous because radiation can occur. Explosions in coal mines with the emission of particles can happen, as can gas pipeline explosions and problems with oil extraction as happened in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska. I therefore repeat that no source is free from risk and our job is to do everything we can to reduce the risk as much as possible.

The topic of global warming often comes up. Which energy sources are best able to limit it?