Meeting notes that while nuclear energy holds great economic and environmental promise, the role of public opinion cannot be ignored if nuclear energy's future is to be secured.
William Cavanaugh III, WANO chairman, yesterday told an audience of about 400 international nuclear executives gathered in Budapest for the eighth WANO Biennial General Meeting, 'A nuclear renaissance is under way, but without safety there is no future.' He continued, 'However, I am convinced that with the wisdom, energy and dedication of the nuclear industry, we can and will turn nuclear energy's promise into reality.'
The attendees earlier heard from Mohammed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize winner, about the strong economic argument in favour of nuclear energy's increased role in the 21st century.
'In just the past few years, we have witnessed a significant change in attitudes towards nuclear power. Fast growing global energy demands, an increased emphasis on the security of energy supply and the risk of climate change are driving a renewed consideration, in many quarters, towards investment in nuclear power. But, he added, 'we should not underestimate the importance of another factor: namely, the improvements in global safety performance.'
This was followed by a speech from James Lovelock, an independent scientist and creator of the Gaia Theory. He powerfully underlined the environmental imperative behind nuclear energy in the face of global warming. 'Now that we've made the earth sick, I recommend the appropriate medicine of nuclear energy as part of a sensible portfolio of energy sources.'
A cautionary note was struck by Michael Prescott, a communications specialist and former journalist. He told the audience that, for nuclear energy to fulfil its 21st century promise, it is vital to have the trust of two key audiences: the general public and the political decision makers. 'No matter how strong the science, or the worries about global warming, we cannot make any easy assumption about our nuclear future. Do not underestimate the challenges faced by this industry. Do not take support for granted. Be mindful that where you find support today, it can have melted away tomorrow.'
This brought the discussion back round to the central issue of safety, for at the root of public opposition to nuclear power are fears about its safety. Mr Cavanaugh finished with a clear message to the assembled leaders of the worldwide nuclear industry: 'We create the climate of openness and transparency which is required for safety. Safety also relies on relationships and we must do more to create effective dialogue across disciplines.' He concluded: 'A CEO who is visibly committed and active in WANO sends a clear, unambiguous message about the importance that he and his company attach to nuclear safety.'