“Are next-generation nuclear power plants a morally acceptable way to address climate change?” That’s the question that will be addressed in a panel discussion presented by the Science & Theology Joint Lecture Series of First Presbyterian Church and First United Methodist Church (FUMC).

This presentation for Earth Day month will take place on Sunday, April 30, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. in the fellowship hall of FUMC. The panelists will be two University of Tennessee professors emeritus, Lee Riedinger, a physicist, and John Nolt, a philosopher, as well as Syd Ball, a nuclear engineer retired from Oak Ridge National Laboratory.   

There are plans to build in Oak Ridge in the next 10 years a power-producing small modular reactor and a low-power demonstration reactor that will use a coolant and fuel based on ORNL research.

Lee Riedinger

Riedinger, an emeritus professor of physics and founding director of the Bredesen Center for Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education at UT, retired in 2019 and is working on a book about the history of the UT-ORNL partnership. 

He will speak about the urgency to move away from fossil fuels for generating electricity because their combustion has led to climate change that will worsen in the coming decades. “Nations need to greatly increase renewable forms of energy supply, such as wind and solar,” he said. 

“But, a steady baseline of electricity generation is needed for a stable national power grid. Nuclear fission reactors are the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels for this purpose, at least until mid-century when nuclear fusion reactors might be ready.”  

John Nolt

John Nolt is professor emeritus in UT’s Department of Philosophy, a UT Research Fellow in the Energy and Environment Program of the Howard Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and a member of the executive committee of the Harvey Broome Group of the Sierra Club.

Nolt has written about the ethics of nuclear power production for several academic publications. Although he has opposed some nuclear projects because of safety and environmental concerns, his views continue to evolve in response to the growing climate crisis.

Syd Ball

Ball has been involved in the recent molten salt reactor revival as one of the relatively few remaining veterans of the design, operation and analysis of ORNL’s Molten Salt Reactor Experiment some 60 years ago. 

In 2022 he was invited to Vienna by the International Atomic Energy Agency to open an international safety meeting last May on molten salt reactors. “It was an opportunity for good discussions about ongoing efforts to identify and fix our energy and climate problems using molten salt reactors,” he said. 

Refreshments will be available at the event.