The Climate-Nuclear Nexus. World Future Council. - Photo: 2023

Nuclear Energy: Problem and Solution

By Leonam dos Santos Guimarães Capt. (ret.) Brazilian Navy*

Climate change and a third world war are the two main threats looming over humanity today. Nuclear energy is closely linked to these two threats in a paradoxical way: in the first as a solution and in the second as a problem, says the writer.

RIO DE JANEIRO, 13 May 2023 (IDN) — Climate change endangers eco and social systems around the world.

The degradation of natural resources, the reduction in the supply of water and food, forced migrations, rising sea levels, melting ice at the poles and more frequent and intense natural catastrophes could significantly affect all human communities, large and small.

These climate-related effects will amplify tensions in the world’s existing conflicts and create new ones, acting as a “threat multiplier” in regions whose equilibrium is already fragile. This will increase international instability, provoking and exacerbating hostilities between peoples and nations.

Meanwhile, the approximately 16,000 nuclear weapons that remain in the arsenals of just a few states have the destructive force to wipe out life on Earth as we know it. With nuclear deterrence strategies still in place and hundreds of weapons in ready-to-use condition, the risks of a nuclear war caused by accident, miscalculation or bad decision remain high and imminent in such an unstable environment. Ukraine’s current war reminds us of this painfully.

Despite growing recognition that climate change and nuclear weapons pose critical security risks, the synergies between the two threats are largely ignored. However, the risks of nuclear weapons and climate interfere with each other, amplifying each other.

Conflicts induced by climate change could contribute to global insecurity which, in turn, will increase the possibility of a nuclear weapon being effectively used, as well as propitiate a resurgence of terrorism, including nuclear terrorism, in addition to generating motivations in different states to develop or acquire their own nuclear weapons.

As an important part of the solution to climate change, nuclear power is necessary to effectively mitigate in time the effects of greenhouse gas generation from burning fossil fuels. In combination with renewable energies and increased energy efficiency, nuclear energy has the potential to significantly replace the enormous amounts of fossil energy currently produced in the world, being economically viable and flexible to meet the demands for generation based on the load of the electrical systems, expanded by the decarbonization of the economy.

It should be noted that a significant expansion of nuclear generation will imply a corresponding growth in the global nuclear fuel industry, which makes it necessary to reinforce the international safeguards regime implemented as a result of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Conflicts of interest between long-term goals and the resulting short-term concrete measures make effective international cooperation on climate change and nuclear disarmament extremely difficult. Despite the growing awareness of the urgency of addressing the problems of climate and the nuclear threat among policy makers, academics and civil society, there is a great lack of concrete, viable and effective actions.

Scientists and engineers invented the technologies to exploit fossil and nuclear energy (both for civil and military purposes) and so they have a special responsibility in today’s context. Due to their experience, they can make major contributions to abolishing nuclear arsenals and enabling a sustainable energy transition. Preventing the dangers of climate change and nuclear war requires an integrated set of strategies that address the causes as well as the impacts on the natural and social environment.

Institutions are needed to enhance common, ecological and human security, build and strengthen conflict resolution mechanisms and low-carbon energy solutions and sustainable life cycles that respect the resources of the living world.

Only the effective engagement of technicians and institutions, abolishing nuclear weapons and valuing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, will create conditions for lasting peace and prosperity.

*Leonam dos Santos Guimarães is a nuclear and naval engineer (PhD) and a member of the Brazilian National Academy of Engineering. He was CEO of Electronuclear SA and Coordinator of the Nuclear Propulsion Program at the Naval Technology Center in São Paulo. He is currently Coordinator of the Statutory Committee for Angra 3 Nuclear Power Plant construction and commissioning. [IDN-InDepthNews]

Image: The Climate-Nuclear Nexus. World Future Council.

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