The Inside Word

Nuclear Natives take on 21st Century Energy Policy 

We live in a world where global warming is increasing the severity of environmental catastrophes at an alarming rate. In order to avoid surpassing the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold set by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we will require a large-scale mobilisation of industrial might and technological innovation. 

At the core of this challenge lies the need to transition away from fossil fuel energy towards renewable energy sources. Indeed, with Australia, and many other countries around the world, pledging to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, politicians are scrambling to ensure they can meet these targets while providing a stable and cost-effective energy supply. 

Against this backdrop, the nuclear power industry has been quick to reinvent itself in a forum where it has traditionally been scorned. This is, in-part, due to new technologies and global collaboration making the prospect of commercial nuclear fusion – a clean and wasteless energy source – all the more likely. Similarly, as humanity’s relationship with nuclear power matures, citizens opinions regarding the technology are softening. Last year, a report found 57 percent of Americans were in favour of building new nuclear power plants, up from 43 percent just three years prior. Even in Japan, the site of a major nuclear disaster, an annual poll showed support for restarting nuclear power plants at 51 percent – up from 38 percent in 2022 and the first majority in favour since before 2011.

These results point towards the younger generation of decision makers or – ‘nuclear natives’ – lived experiences growing up in the post-cold war era where the threat of nuclear weapons was normalised. In contrast to their parents and grandparents’ imagination of an apocalypse as a nuclear holocaust, Gen Y and Z – fear extinction through natural disasters and a climate that is unliveable. 

Additionally, a breakdown in the romantic conceptions surrounding climate action may have also played a part in the growing openness toward nuclear energy. The inability of carbon taxes and other bureaucratic systems of governance to reduce overall waste and use, have thus far not managed to forestall climate change. And when some of the largest emitting countries remain unwilling to compromise on national security or economic prioritise to meet emission targets, pragmatic climate change advocates cannot be blamed for looking elsewhere.  

Therefore, as mainstream refrain for politicians includes more jobs, more supply and more innovation, advancing nuclear power with its superior energy density, lack of emissions, and potential for expansion is seen as the right path forward for many in countries around the world. 

But this is not without its criticism. Indeed, nuclear power opens up proliferation concerns and the possibility of disastrous meltdowns as seen in Chernobyl and Fukushima Daiichi. It is also expensive and will demand long-term government support for it to cement its place as a key solution for clean energy. In an age of decreasing global stability, it is difficult to predict whether the gamble of nuclear is worth it. 

While I am no means an expert on nuclear technology this blog was ultimately an attempt – albeit small – to provoke some ambitious and productive conversations about our energy policy. 

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