I have been invited to give a presentation at the Basel Sustainabilty Forum at the Basel University. The first idea sketch for the presentation under the title “Fukushima and the climate emergency” looks like this:
“The climate problem is a “game-changer”, but not in the sense the Western climate movement understands it. We are on the way to an unideological pragmatism that is completely oriented towards the needs of the non-Western world.
The hyperconservative understanding of the precautionary principle (shaped by Western ideologies), which forms the basis of practically all international (and national) regulations of environmental and health policies, has become obsolete: the opportunities not the risks come to the fore again when assessing the use of technologies and politics.
And this pragmatic weighing up of opportunities and risks has resurrected the old favourite enemies of the Western left-green movement, which has shaped international environmental policy in recent decades: genetic and nuclear technology. These technologies are needed and are therefore an important part of the solution to the needs of the global world in times of climate change.
Nuclear technology, for example, plays an important role in all the scenarios of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for minimising the effects of climate change, even if it is not readily discussed in public (Greta’s faux pas). In the 1.5 degree scenario, the IPCC assumes up to a fivefold increase in the amount of electricity required from nuclear energy.
To achieve this, however, thousands of new nuclear power plants will have to be built. Worldwide, however, only 52 plants of the “old” generation are currently under construction. Many more will follow and research is being conducted worldwide to develop new, even safer types of power plant. (The fact that, for example, in Germany, but also in Switzerland, France or the USA, fully functional power plants are still being shut down is an anachronism due to local politics).
Personally, I consider this “bright future” of nuclear energy as inevitable as it is right, but I believe it is only justifiable if not only the safety of nuclear plants is continuously improved, but also much more is done to mitigate the damages of coming accidents. After all, however unlikely such an accident may be in the opinion of the experts, it is certain to happen. And even if Fukushima (and Chernobyl) went relatively smoothly (0 radiation deaths in Fukushima), both were terrible disasters for the people and regions affected. I will report more about it in the presentation (among other things so far 2000 dead due to “collateral” damage in Fukushima; many more in Belarus).
But most of all: these accidents would have been much less bad if the population (and the decision makers) would have been better prepared for these disasters. Fear of radiation has turned out to be the biggest risk factor in a nuclear accident.
And this brings us back to the problem of the misunderstood precautionary principle, which always assumes worst-case scenarios when using new technologies, however improbable they may be.
I am thinking about making a short digression on genetic engineering and its significance for climate protection. The analogy to nuclear technology is given and I think that this topic should be closer to the young people (especially students) in Basel than the dusty nuclear topic.
Roche is building a research centre for 1800 top scientists. Basel is already a centre for the future technology of genetic engineering (or more precisely genome editing).