Game Changers for Nuclear Energy


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Kate Marvel and Michael M. May
Global Nuclear Future

The devastating earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan in March 2011 will have a significant impact on the future of nuclear energy. The ultimate outcome of the Fukushima Daiichi accident will influence public opinion and government decisions about the future development of nuclear power worldwide. And the lessons we learn from the crisis will inform future decisions about nuclear fuel storage, appropriate safety standards and accountability measures, and emergency preparedness. However, our ability to respond effectively to the challenges presented by the Fukushima Daiichi accident has been, in large part, predicated on research, practices, and policies developed over the last three decades. What additional events or developments might surprise us in the future that could affect the spread of nuclear energy? How can we better anticipate such surprises so that we can more effectively mitigate the impacts of negative developments and maximize the impact of positive developments?

Toward this end, in August 2010 the American Academy, as part of its Global Nuclear Future Initiative, cosponsored a meeting with the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University on Game Changers for Nuclear Energy. The conference brought together a small group of representatives from diverse energy backgrounds—including government, industry, NGOs, national laboratories, and academia—for an in-depth discussion of variables that could affect the future of nuclear power. These include reactor and fuel cycle technology and regulation, accidents and security incidents, climate change, and relevant politics. The purpose of the workshop was to explore what events, foreseen or not, could change the presently foreseen nuclear power “game.” What follows is the resulting paper from this meeting.

This Occasional Paper is part of the American Academy’s Global Nuclear Future Initiative, which examines the safety, security, and nonproliferation implications of the global spread of nuclear energy and is developing pragmatic recommendations for managing the emerging nuclear order. The Global Nuclear Future Initiative is supported by generous grants from Carnegie Corporation of New York; the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation; the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation; the Flora Family Foundation; and Fred Kavli and the Kavli Foundation. The American Academy is grateful to the principal investigators of the Global Nuclear Future Initiative—Steven Miller, Scott Sagan, Robert Rosner, and Stephen Goldberg—for contributing their time, experience, and expertise to the work of the Initiative.

CISAC would like to thank the Flora Family Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for supporting the scholars’ work on this project.

We would like to thank Thomas Isaacs, Michael May, and Kate Marvel for organizing a substantive meeting and the participants for their thoughtful contributions at the meeting and to this paper. We are grateful to Michael and Kate for bringing their knowledge and insight to bear on this important issue.

Leslie Berlowitz
President and William T. Golden Chair
American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Scott D. Sagan
Caroline S.G. Munro Professor of Political Science
Codirector, Center for International Security and Cooperation,
Stanford University