Ashok Gadgil, a professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, made the remarks at a press conference held by the Tang Prize Foundation in Taipei, when asked about his take on nuclear power and about the plan by Taiwan's government to phase out nuclear power by 2025.
From the perspective of climate change alone, some scientists consider it to be "the most serious single risk faced by modern civilization" and believe that fossil-fuel power plants should be replaced by renewable or nuclear power plants, said Gadgil, who is visiting Taiwan to receive the Tang Prize in sustainable development on behalf of American energy expert Arthur H. Rosenfeld.
"The other side of the coin, which is also valid, is that nuclear power requires inevitably taking care of high-level waste," Gadgil said. "And we have no experience as a civilization in maintaining something so dangerous for so long in isolation."
In particular, Gadgil said, he worries about the low quality of management and supervision in developing countries when dealing with extremely risky substances like high-level nuclear waste.
Even a mature, advanced, industrial country today could be in a difficult time 5,000 years later, according to Gadgil.
"Nuclear waste does not care if society is in a good place or a bad place. It remains intensively radioactive for tens of thousands of years," he said.
"So to say that we will take care of it later implies a confidence about governments, about social stability and about maintaining the safety of waste disposal that has not been tested yet."
Also at the press conference Saturday, Taiwanese-born Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲) urged Taiwan to scrap its nuclear power plants as soon as possible, saying nuclear power poses high risks for Taiwan, which is one of the most earthquake-prone countries.
"If, 50 years later, new nuclear power technology no longer produces nuclear waste, we can accept nuclear energy then," Lee said.
In his speech earlier that day, Gadgil highlighted the achievements of Tang Prize laureate Arthur H. Rosenfeld, a physicist, energy expert and former commissioner of the California Energy Commission whose promotion of energy efficiency technologies, standards and initiatives since the 1970s has made California a leader in energy conservation.
(By Christie Chen)