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Experts mull future of nuclear energy

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Posted on January 21, 2016 |
By JULIA JOHN



MIDDLEBURY — The nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima still linger in our memories. Thirty years after the first nuclear power plant meltdown and five years after the most recent, Middlebury College students and scholars from across the nation will gather late this week to explore nuclear power development at the Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs’ Third Annual Student Conference.

“This conference is situated in science, technology and society studies, as well as energy justice questions,” said Timothy Fraser, a senior East Asian studies major and organizer of the “Power and Protest: Global Responses to Atomic Energy” conference. “It’s not anti-nuclear. It’s not pro-nuclear. It’s an inclusion of a number of different voices.”

The conference opens on Thursday, Jan. 21, at 2 p.m. with the keynote “The Carrot or the Stick? How Do Governments Push Nuclear Power?” by Dan Aldrich, a professor of Political Science, Public Policy and Urban Affairs and co-director of the Masters Program in Security and Resilience at Northeastern University in Boston. His talk is McCardell Bicentennial Hall 216.

The first session — at the Robert A. Jones House Conference Room from 4:30-7 p.m. — includes three talks about exporting nuclear power to the Middle East, the future of nuclear power, and nonproliferation and terrorism studies opportunities at Monterey Institute of International Studies. A screening of the film “Nuclear Nation” will follow at 8:30 p.m.

The second day of the conference, Friday, Jan. 22, starts at 10:30 a.m. with Jessica Varnum’s talk “Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies Opportunities at Monterey. Varnum is a senior research associate and project manager at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, and an adjunct professor at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. After lunch, at 12:15 p.m., Noriko Manabe will discussion of how Japanese protesters harness music to overcome the lack of publicity the media, financially backed by the electric power industry, gives the anti-nuclear movement.

Next, at 2 p.m., comes “Vermont Yankee and an Insider’s View of the Nuclear Industry,” a presentation by Arnie Gundersen from Burlington NGO Fairwinds Energy Education. He is a renowned anti-nuclear speaker with decades of experience as a nuclear industry executive and engineer, whom the state of Vermont asked to determine whether the controversial plant should be decommissioned after its lifespan.

A protest music workshop organized by Manabe and Director of Choral Activities Jeff Buettner will conclude the conference. It will be held at Mead Chapel, 4-5 p.m.

The conference is open to the public, and Fraser would like attendees to have multiple takeaways. These include the absence of democratic voice for people in rural communities with and around nuclear power plants, and the export of nuclear power to the Global South from countries that developed nuclear weapons but are now relinquishing nuclear power.

“Pro-nuclear policymakers are using nationalism and sustainable economics to justify nuclear power development while protesters are using innovative means to protest it, such as music or dedication to a different sustainable economics,” Fraser said.

Middlebury physics Professor Richard Wolfson decided to speak at the conference after an invitation from his student last fall. His talk, on Thursday at 6 p.m., will deal with last fall’s UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP21.

“I chose my topic, ‘Nuclear Power: A Future After COP 21?’ because I believe questions about nuclear energy — and all energy sources — don’t lend themselves to simple answers,” he said. “I’m looking forward to the talk by Arnie Gundersen because I’ve followed his interest in Vermont Yankee over the years. Even though we don’t see eye-to-eye on issues that surrounded Vermont Yankee, I have great respect for his experience with and perspective on nuclear energy.”

Senior East Asian studies major Daniel Bateyko, junior neuroscience major Eunice Kim and junior economics major Mohamed Hussein were the other student conveners. The conference topic originates in Fraser and Bateyko’s study abroad in Japan, where they met a community group concerned about nuclear power at a Tokyo public forum. This prompted Fraser, who is also pursuing a thesis on Japanese civic response to nuclear power, to contemplate the significant dialog pertaining to nuclear power happening around the world. His research in Japan’s Kagoshima prefecture last August, in the communities hosting and surrounding the first reactor restarted after the Fukushima incident, inspired him to pitch the idea to the other conveners.

The Rohatyn Student Advisory Board sponsors annual student conferences with funding of up to $5,000 after a group of students proposes a theme and speakers. The Environmental Studies Program, Japanese Studies, One Middlebury Fund, Wonnacott Commons, and Center for Careers and Internships also supported this event.

Fraser hopes the conference will attract many students interested in environmental justice, social science, literature and languages, and help them examine different countries through a combination of disciplinary perspectives. He also hopes Vermonters attend Wolfson’s and Gunderson’s presentations because the Paris climate talks and Vermont Yankee are pertinent to local concerns.

“We’re hoping to get people to think more about nuclear power, but also to use this to think about other issues,” he said, citing energy independence, alternative energy, governmental influence and political protest.

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