Elon Musk has called for Europe to up its nuclear energy production as a way to kick Russian fossil fuels.
In recent weeks, the Ukraine conflict and the subsequent sanctions issued against Russia have highlighted how Europe is heavily reliant on Russian energy exports, namely oil and natural gas. In Musk’s view, nuclear energy is a clear way for Europe to avoid Russian fossil fuels and become more self-sufficient in their energy production.
"Hopefully, it is now extremely obvious that Europe should restart dormant nuclear power stations and increase power output of existing ones. This is *critical* to national and international security," the Tesla and SpaceX CEO tweeted on Monday.
Preparing for people to cite concerns about radiation, Musk even offered to put his money where his mouth is: “For those who (mistakenly) think this is a radiation risk, pick what you think is the worst location. I will travel there & eat locally grown food on TV. I did this in Japan many years ago, shortly after Fukushima. Radiation risk is much, much lower than most people believe.”
Some parts of Europe, including Germany, Italy, Switzerland, and Spain, have been attempting to phase out their nuclear energy infrastructure in recent years. Simultaneously, many of these countries are having to currently reconsider how much natural gas and oil they import from Russia due to the political fallout and sanctions from the invasion of Ukraine. There are no easy answers, but with the US potentially set to ban Russian oil imports and their European allies considering the same, it looks like solutions are needed ASAP.
“Also nuclear is vastly better for global warming than burning hydrocarbons for energy,” Musk added.
This last point about climate change is correct. Nuclear energy has a bad reputation for its impacts on the environment, perhaps for obvious reasons, but nuclear power plants produce no greenhouse gas emissions during their operation and are capable of pumping out huge amounts of energy. Over their whole lifetime, nuclear power does produce some carbon, but still less than many renewables. Due to its low-carbon credentials, some cite nuclear energy as a possible avenue to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
However, the Russia-Ukraine conflict has also emphasized some of the wider perils of nuclear energy. Last week, a fire broke out at Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant, thought to be the result of shelling by Russian forces. Likewise, the Russian military damaged two nuclear waste sites in the opening days of the invasion. Biologists have also raised concerns that fighting in the exclusion zone around the abandoned Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in northern Ukraine could also spell real trouble for both humans and wildlife in the nearby area.