Online Debate: Nuclear Energy—Is the Price Too High? April 27

by Amy Marcott on April 25, 2011 · 9 comments

in Energy, Engineering, Learning, Research

MIT Faculty Forum Online logo

This Faculty Forum Online event took place April 27, 2011. Debate the topic in the comments. Also view the first webcast, about collective bargaining.

Update (4/27/2011): MIT releases “The Future of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle” report, which indicates that storage for spent nuclear fuel is more crucial than ever.

Recent events in Japan have shaken public confidence in the safety of nuclear power plants. Although the health consequences have so far been small, the Fukushima accident has rekindled fears of radiation around the globe and has renewed the discussion on the risks and costs of nuclear power. This puts into question the future of an industry that had been seen as one of the keys to avoiding the long-term threat of global climate change as well as nearer-term conflicts over scarce fossil-fuel resources.

Richard Lester

Richard Lester PhD ’80, head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering

The new Faculty Forum Online series continues. On Wednesday, April 27, from 12:00 to 12:30 p.m. EDT Richard Lester PhD ’80, head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, will offer his thoughts on nuclear energy and take questions from the worldwide MIT alumni community via video chat.

Register for this free event to receive the link for live viewing. After the event, come back here and continue the conversation about nuclear energy in the comments.

About Richard Lester

Lester, who earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Imperial College (London) and a doctorate in nuclear engineering from MIT, has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1979. In addition to leading the nuclear science and engineering department, he is Japan Steel Industry Professor and the faculty cochair and founding director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center (IPC). At the IPC, interdisciplinary teams analyze and report on the technological transformation of industry and the consequences for society and the global economy.

According to the MIT News Office, “Lester’s early studies of the nuclear fuel cycle laid the foundation for nearly three decades of interdisciplinary teaching and research on energy and environmental technology applications and the management and control of nuclear technology.”

He has led several major studies of national and regional productivity, competitiveness, and innovation performance in a range of industries commissioned by governments and industrial groups around the world.


Lester has authored or coauthored seven books on the nuclear fuel cycle, energy technology applications, and innovation management and policy. Made in America (MIT Press, 1989) with Michael Dertouzos and Robert Solow, which identifies five national priorities for America regaining the productive edge, is one of MIT Press’s all-time bestsellers. Lester also coauthored the MIT reports on The Future of Nuclear Power (2003) and The Future of Coal (2007), and has published many articles on the management and control of nuclear technology.

Recent books, authored or coauthored:

  • Innovation—The Missing Dimension (Harvard University Press, 2005)
  • Making Technology Work: Applications in Energy and the Environment (Cambridge University Press, 2004)
  • Global Taiwan (M.E. Sharpe, 2005)
  • The Productive Edge: A New Strategy for Economic Growth (W.W. Norton, 2000)


Lester on the Culture of Innovation

Lester’s MIT150 Infinite History interview about productivity, innovation, nuclear power in the U.S., and more.

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Miguel - Anuncios de TV April 25, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I’m proud of United States defending nuclear energy. In Europe many governments are against it since the Fukushima incident. Energy Engineers, Chemical Engineeers… all over the world have to raise their voices.



Mel Blitz April 27, 2011 at 11:39 am

I registered but never received a response permitting me to view the online presentation.


Steve Leighton April 27, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Thank you for working to maximize rationality in the public debate over relative safety of competing energy sources. However, can you reconcile the safety claims of the nuclear industry with its demands for government subsidy of its insurance? If your answer is that other energy industries are also subsidized, then how large (be quantitative) are the subsidies for oil and for nuclear and why concentrate the nuclear subsidy on the insurance premium?


Barrett Diff April 29, 2011 at 5:48 pm

It seems that we should be doing more to promote thorium reactors that are cheaper to build and operate, much safer, can burn up present spent uranium fuel, produce less toxic waste and can be build in prefabricated modules if desired.


Barrett Duff April 29, 2011 at 5:51 pm

My name was mispelled in the previous comment; it is Barrett Duff, not Diff.


Herschel Specter April 30, 2011 at 10:18 am

The advertised subject was about the cost of nuclear power, but almost all of the questions related to Fukushima. What are the Chinese and South Koreans doing that we need to learn from? According to the OECD their levelized costs are in 30-33 dollars/MWhr @ a 5% discout rate. Ours is about 49@ a 5% discount and 77@ a 10% discount rate. The difference in costs between a 5% and 10% discount rate here is about the cost of their whole plant. See ISBN978-92-64-08430-8


Barrett Duff April 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm

It seems that we should be doing more to promote thorium reactors that are cheaper to build and operate, much safer, can burn up present spent uranium fuel, produce less toxic waste and can be build in prefabricated modules if desired.

Would anyone care to comment on this?


Suzanne Sayer May 4, 2011 at 7:19 am

I wanted to ask a question about the viability of a thorium reactor. One operated in St.Vrain CO in the 1950s for a few months. I was told that you could use the same Nuc RX core to take thorium fuel. What is the research in Moscow or at ORNL showing?
Of course I could not see the talk live, The feed was not up. I would be just as happy to see the archived video if I could have asked a question AHEAD OF THE BROADCAST.


Dr. Scott Hannahs May 12, 2011 at 1:02 pm

I was disappointed that the talk did not really discuss true “costs”. When discussing the current changes in the safety system assessments, there was just a vague response about “of course we need to go back and change things”. This isn’t really any different than the past 30 years where safety, reactor decommissioning and fuel disposal have all been relegated to something that someone will pay for in the indefinite future.

I would have liked to see some discussions about the actual price and if it is too high.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: