Reframing the Race Against Climate Change

In response to Robert H. Socolow and Alexander Glaser’s article Balancing risks: Nuclear energy & Climate Change, I found the prospect of multinational ownership of nuclear power plants to be the most intriguing, and in particular its relationship to the disarmament of nations possessing nuclear weapons. In the article’s discussion of the disarmament process, Socolow and Glaser suggested a new way to frame the nuclear debate with relation to climate change. When thinking of nuclear power purely in terms of mitigating climate change, numerous problems arise which are stated in the article: the potential for nuclear weapon proliferation, the fact that rapid nuclear expansion would lead to a crisis for storage of spent fuels, the debate over reprocessing, etc. For nuclear energy to have a significant impact on climate change the expansion must be global.

Therefore, I would like to put forth specific point made in Socolow and Glaser’s article as a critical to the argument for nuclear expansion at the same time as nuclear disarmament. They propose, “a world considerably safer for nuclear power could emerge as a co-benefit of the nuclear disarmament process” (Socolow, Glaser, 31). This description of nuclear expansion posits it as a “by-product” of the disarmament process. From this perspective, nuclear power’s ability to slow climate change would also be a “by-product.” When thinking of the desire to mitigate climate change it seems that this reframing of the debate could be extremely powerful. While it is important to set goals for climate change mitigation and prioritize it, if the debate is focused more significantly on nuclear disarmament and relating solutions such as multinational power plants, safety can remain the first and foremost priority of the nuclear power debate. This would have other benefits, for example Glaser and Socolow mentioned that another reason why countries other than current nuclear weapon holders don’t build nuclear power plants is a lack of engineers and scientists with the experience to create and run a plant. Making power plants multinational would therefore be able to help such problems and ease tensions with less developed countries.

Ultimately, nuclear power is but one “wedge” out of the many required for a real different to be made to the looming climate change. Therefore, safety should be the most important factor. Re-defining the debate as one of nuclear disarmament is one way to not overlook the most significant threats to the safety of nuclear expansion. — Mikaela