Forum tackles nuclear safety and climate change

Richard Stewart, University Professor and John Edward Sexton Professor of Law, moderated the November 30 Milbank Tweed Forum. Titled “Global Warming or Nuclear Meltdown? The Future of Nuclear Power After Fukushima,” the discussion took on issues ranging from fears of nuclear proliferation to the recent crisis at the Fukushima plant in Japan, and, on the plus side, whether nuclear power can provide stable, secure, low-carbon electricity and curb climate change. Panelists included Michael Levi, a senior fellow and director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council of Foreign Relations; William McCollum, chief operating officer of the Tennessee Valley Authority, which operates three nuclear and 11 coal-fired plants; and Christopher Paine, nuclear program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In his introduction to the discussion, Stewart, who is also the director of the Frank J. Guarini Center on Environmental and Land Use Law, noted that nearly all of the nuclear plants in the U.S. started construction before 1975 and that “ten years ago one would have said that the nuclear industry is moribund, there are not going to be any more new plants in the United States.” Then, he noted, “there was a change in direction and attitude” due to growth in energy demand, rising energy prices, concerns about energy security, and global warming. “There was talk in the 2005 era of a U.S. nuclear renaissance,” Stewart said. But, he added, “at this point the bloom is somewhat off the renaissance,” because of a drop in electric demand caused by the recession and safety concerns raised by the Fukushima incident. Additionally, Stewart noted, the U.S. has not figured out how it will dispose of its nuclear waste — the subject of his most recent book. “There’s a complex web of economic and environmental and security, as well as political and legal issues here,” he said.

Watch the full video of the event (1 h 13 min):