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INTERVIEW: Nuclear energy can help fight climate change

Society 12.06.2019 | 13:20

Belarus is working hard to develop its nuclear energy industry. The first unit of the Belarusian nuclear power plant will be plugged into the national power grid as early as this year. In addition to ensuring energy security nuclear energy can help fight climate change. It is the opinion of Leon Fuks, a senior research fellow of the Warsaw-based Nuclear Chemistry and Technology Institute. Prospects of the nuclear energy industry in the world and possible applications of nuclear technologies in healthcare and art are covered by the Polish expert's interview with BelTA.

Mr Fuks, what do you think about the role of nuclear energy in resolving global environmental problems?

Nuclear energy is one of the most effective methods for preventing climate changes. It consumes less fuel and energy resources, but most importantly it produces less waste. Heat power plants are being replaced with nuclear power plants, which allow greatly reducing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and respectively improving the quality of air. Nuclear energy can be a considerable boon to the fight against climate change.

Poland is getting ready to build a nuclear power plant of its own. What do Poles think about the development of nuclear energy?

Statistics says that about 60% of the Poles are in favor of having nuclear energy installations in the country. But if we look into the matter in detail, region after region, we will find out that in some areas the number of people opposing nuclear energy is higher than the number of those in favor of nuclear energy. And vice versa.

Can Belarus' experience of building a nuclear power plant benefit Poland and other countries?

Certainly, we carefully study the international experience in matters of nuclear energy. It is necessary to take into account the fact that the Belarusian nuclear power plant is being built using a Russian design while the nuclear power plant in Poland will be built using a Western design. Nevertheless, there are also common matters.

I should note that we've established vigorous cooperation with Belarus. I have several research projects with Belarusian colleagues. I had a chance to make a report on recycling radioactive waste during the 19th international scientific conference Sakharov Readings 2019: Environmental Problems of the 21st century in the International Sakharov Environmental Institute of the Belarusian State University. I was able to share my progress and research results. We don't intend to stop at that. We have plans for exchange programs for university students and scientists as part of the European program Erasmus+.

How did the nuclear energy industry change in the wake of major accidents at the Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear power plants?

Any industry changes with time. People analyze previous accidents, make conclusions, and try to change something in order to avoid an unfavorable impact on the environment. Technologies have improved considerably and have become safer. It is true not only in nuclear energy industry but all spheres of people's life.

Nuclear energy is an economically effective avenue. This is why it is being vigorously developed. But certainly people are concerned about safety, this is why we draw conclusions from our experience and find solutions, which allow preventing such negative consequences in the future.

What can you tell us about prospects of development of nuclear energy?

I think nuclear energy and the relevant technologies are going to intensively develop in the future. I don't think nuclear energy will be able to replace other sources of energy. Nuclear energy should work in tandem with renewable energy, including wind and hydropower.

Where else can peaceful nuclear technologies benefit the mankind these days?

Non-weaponized nuclear technologies are used in many areas. Nuclear medicine is very effective. There are a number of illnesses, which cannot be cured by other means. Radioisotopes are used to diagnose and treat tumors and detect other diseases.

Peaceful nuclear technologies are also widely used in the production sector. Some devices use radiation sources, for instance, tools to measure the density of materials or concentration of some liquids. Even in the room we are talking now there are two sources of radiation – autonomous fire alarms. These smoke detectors contain small amounts of americium and plutonium. Generally speaking, these heavy metals are radioactive, but they are completely safe considering how little of these metals these devices contain.

It may surprise you but atom for peace also has other unexpected applications in history and culture. By exposing paper or glass to radiation we can determine the authenticity of works of art, the time the work of art was created, and so on. We've performed this kind of research in our institute as well. We've studied icons and glass. The radioisotope method has its uses in archeology and geology, too.

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