In Nuclear Is Not the Solution (Verso, July), global affairs scholar M.V. Ramana explains the dangers of atomic energy and why it won’t save the planet.

Why move away from atomic power?

Advocates for nuclear power claim that we should expand it to solve
climate change, but it’s not possible
to do fast enough to keep global temperatures under 1.5 °C because nuclear reactors take a long time to build. Nuclear is also far more expensive than modern renewables like solar and wind energy, the infrastructure for which is also easier to make than nuclear plants. Expanding nuclear energy will result in money and time being diverted from more effective ways to lower emissions. At the same time, expanding nuclear energy will create greater potential for the continued maintenance of nuclear weapons arsenals while enabling new countries to acquire them.

Why do you think nuclear power gained such traction in the environmental movement?

Over the last couple of decades, powerful groups benefiting from the current inequitable distribution of resources and power have promoted nuclear energy to deal with environmental problems because they want people to believe that it is possible to avoid the dire consequences of large-scale climate change while preserving the current economic system. In parallel, the news on the climate front has become increasingly dire, and people are prone to wishful thinking and susceptible to propaganda about nuclear technology preventing the situation from escalating further.

You argue that corporate interests downplay legitimate safety concerns surrounding nuclear energy. Can you elaborate on that?

Many nuclear energy advocates deny that accidents are possible, and then deny that accidents are harmful by rejecting the well-documented health impacts associated with radiation exposure. This is effective because accidents are rare and the symptoms of radiation exposure can resemble other ailments, making their cause difficult to prove. It’s easy to introduce an element of doubt. The primary strategy that could help counteract such propaganda is to clearly and repeatedly explain why radiation is bad for health and that there is no escaping that reality.

How has the conversation around nuclear power evolved over the past several decades?

In comparison to earlier debates, the current set of arguments tends to focus more on climate change. Advocates are quick to assert that nuclear reactors are the solution to any and every problem. They’re like the proverbial person with a hammer who perceives everything as a nail. The latest such argument for nuclear plants is the need for energy to power computers used for artificial intelligence or producing cryptocurrencies.