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Nuclear Technology in a Changing World: Have We Reached a Turning Point?

Nuclear Technology in a Changing World: Have We Reached a Turning Point?

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Nobel Laureate Speakers. We stand at a crossroads, states Mohamed ElBaradei: We can either employ nuclear energy to achieve global security, or watch nuclear technology lead to a global cataclysm. This stark analysis emerges from ElBaradei's broad vision of a world of haves and have-nots: 1.6 billion people lack access to modern energy services, and the "disparity in energy supply and corresponding standard of living creates a disparity of opportunity, and of hope." Not surprisingly, some members of the developing world are enraged by this state of affairs. "When we want to understand the rise of terrorism and extremism, we need to go back to the root causes," says ElBaradei. And while global tensions rise, the demand for energy in Western nations and in emerging Asian economic giants is escalating so fast that it's unclear if fossil fuel supplies, subject to market turbulence, will suffice in the coming decades. Given this grim scenario, the case for constructing new nuclear energy plants is gaining ground, says ElBaradei. They emit little greenhouse gas and offer a relatively inexpensive route to energy independence. But "nuclear energy alone is not the panacea," cautions ElBaradei. Innovation must tackle outstanding problems, such as waste generation, construction costs and safety. The larger issues involve political leadership, though. The technological obstacles to converting nuclear fuel to weapons have largely disappeared, so when a non-nuclear nation proposes building a new nuclear enrichment or reprocessing facility, it poses a regional or worldwide threat. This is "not the kind of security model we'd like to live under," says ElBaradei. The original members of the nuclear club must get serious about disarmament, and subscribe to new, regional solutions that give all countries equitable and safe access to nuclear fuels.

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