The fight to rethink (and reinvent) nuclear power

In Energy, Renewable by

Nuclear energy gets a bad rap, because when it goes bad, it goes really bad. But if nuclear energy production could be made safe, shouldn’t it be considered a key plank in the fight against climate change? Vox looks at technology improvements that might make all the difference.

New nuclear energy technology has come a long way — but can we get over our fears?

In 2011, following the Fukushima Disaster in Japan, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country would completely phase out its use of nuclear power by 2022. This move was hailed by anti-nuclear activists, but criticized by some environmentalists: At a critical moment in the fight against climate change, it took away a working clean power source.

“When you look at the technology, and you ask yourself, how are we going to solve this problem of climate change, and how are we going to decarbonize? To not have nuclear energy on the table makes the job much harder,” said Per Peterson, a professor in UC Berkeley’s department of nuclear engineering.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant came online in the early ‘70s. Much has changed in the world of nuclear power plant design since then. Peterson is one of the researchers working on next-generation reactors, designed to be so safe that even Homer Simpson couldn’t cause a meltdown.