Is Nuclear Energy the Future?

By Amber Roos

– In March, Sannah van Balen, a green energy consultant, gave a TEDx talk at the annual TEDxAUCollege event. After getting her Masters in Nuclear Energy at the University of Cambridge, van Balen became passionate about changing the Netherlands’ dependence on fossil fuels. Her focus now is on opening up the conversation on nuclear energy, which is one of the reasons she gave her TEDx talk.

To make nuclear energy more approachable, she believes talking about the issue is most effective. She got the opportunity to give her TEDx talk after winning the Amsterdam University College (AUC) Pitch Night a couple of months prior to the event. Her niece, an AUC alumnus, was involved in organising a TEDx event a few years ago. “She suggested I think about participating and voila! Best idea ever!” says van Balen.

Van Balen hopes that her talk will make people rethink their conceptions of nuclear energy. “We cannot afford to ignore a potential energy source without proper evaluation,” she says. In an effort to debunk myths related to the danger of nuclear energy, Van Balen urged her audience at the TEDx event to investigate what their perception of nuclear energy is based on. This is especially important considering 35 percent of the Dutch population is still opposed to nuclear energy. “By talking to each other it will become easier to figure out which parts of your perception are based on facts and which ones on fantasy,” van Balen says.

Furthermore, she believes the responsibility lies largely with the nuclear industry itself. “They are the ones that have the expertise and know what is correct versus that which is sensationalised by the media and the entertainment industry,” she says. “Without the people from within reaching out, the nuclear industry will remain something distant, mysterious and inhuman. Whereas in reality we all shop at the same Albert Heijn and binge-watch Game of Thrones when it comes out.” Unsurprisingly, Van Balen’s future plans include speaking within the nuclear industry to address the gap that exists between the industry and the public.

Besides addressing problems within the industry, van Balen is working on a think-tank event for young visionaries from across all disciplines to discuss energy in light of climate change. “The organisation is called ITEM- independent thinkers on energy matters, and topics can range from green credits to veganism to health,” she says. “The first event will just be a pilot run but I’m so excited to see what insights come out of it!”

Van Balen also mentions the role of the younger generation, like AUC students, in changing the conversation. “When it comes to climate change and the energy transition it is the younger generation that is most concerned,” she says. “Knowing that the older generation in charge does not care as much, means that you will have to put your foot down and demand changes,” says van Balen.  

The Netherlands is falling behind when it comes to nuclear energy production – its single nuclear reactor will only remain operational until 2033, and the country largely relies on export from neighbouring countries and other energy sources. This despite the fact that nuclear energy could help the Dutch live up to the Paris Agreement. France, by contrast, has been able to progress from fossil fuels to more nuclear energy use, with 75 percent of its electricity currently sourced from nuclear energy.

In the future, the common conception on nuclear energy might transform completely, according to van Balen.“This means the word ‘nuclear’ will start to mean something else: it will go from something mysterious and potentially dangerous to just another energy source, vital and boring really.”



Photography by Muzi Ndiweni

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