In the aftermath of Chernobyl, 1986

My first contact with IEWSS was in Salzburg, Austria, in 1986. That January, together with 38 fellows from 24 countries, I attended the Salzburg Seminar, Session 247, on “Changing Patterns on US – European Relations.”

At Salzburg Schloss Leopoldskrom, where the Seminar was held, I met, among the 10 lecturers, F. Stephen Larrabee, Vice President and Director of Studies at IEWSS. The picture below shows the group in front of the Schloss.


Larrabee suggested that I apply for a Resident Fellowship. In September 1986, on leave from the Italian Commission on Nuclear and Alternative Energy Sources (ENEA), I was welcomed at IEWSS in New York, 360 Lexington Avenue, to study what I had proposed: “Constraints and new prospects for technological cooperation between East and West European Countries.”

The experience for me was new, given the many international political topics dealt with at IEWSS. It was also something new for the Institute. I discovered that in its five year history, I was the first physical scientist working among political scientists. The Institute’s 1986 program had started to give importance, in addition to the military dimension of security, also to the impact of technical and economic aspects on security, such as those associated with civilian high technology.

My technical expertise on nuclear reactors as a nuclear engineer was soon noticed. My Fellow colleagues were interested in understanding the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the former USSR.

In one of the first working meetings I tried to explain the basic differences between the USSR nuclear reactors, such as the one in Chernobyl, and those in use in the West.

With a sheet of paper and a pencil, I illustrated the difference. Cupping the curved sheet in my hand, I placed the pencil at the bottom of the curve to simulate the behavior of a western nuclear reactor. If its equilibrium changes, it rolls back and forth until it finds the stable position again. To simulate nuclear reactor such as the one in Chernobyl, I flipped the curved sheet over and placed the pencil on the top of the curve, illustrating that once equilibrium is lost, it is impossible to control.


This oversimplified explanation opened the door for me to make easier exchanges on various topics with fellows and staff. My commitment to write a “Think piece” of 50 pages, as requested by Larrabee, was reinforced.

On the occasion of the presentation of my second draft “Prospects for cooperation in the development of safe nuclear energy and in space exploration between Eastern and Western Europe” I remember Prof. Vaclav Regner, Resident Fellow from Czechoslovakia, judging my paper as “anti-Soviet.” Dr. Silviu Brucan, a visiting fellow from Romania, busy in writing the book “World Socialism at the Crossroads – An Insider’s View” and my neighbor at the Institute, reassured me: If they say that you are wrong, you must insist!

And that is what I did. At the end of August 1987, before leaving the Institute to return to Rome, I circulated my final draft “Advanced Technologies and East-West European Cooperation” for comments.

Twenty-four years later I would like to recall what Hiroaki Wakabayashi, Associate Professor at the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Engineering, Nuclear Engineering Laboratory, wrote me on Sept. 21, 1987: “Your draft paper on Advanced Technologies and East-West European Cooperation conveyed much information and ideas to me in terms of the international technological cooperation for the world security and peace. The proposal of developing inherently safe reactors seems pertinent and meaningful for international economic development.”

Prof. Wakabayashi visited Rome in March 1988. He was interested in exploring the possibility of joining forces in order to develop a pan-European and Asia Pacific cooperation on inherently safe reactors. Wakabayashi’s expectations were not fulfilled.

My final 50-page paper, “Nuclear Power and East-West Cooperation,” was published by IEWSS as part of the Occasional Paper Series in 1989, a year marking the Fall of Communism and the beginning of USSR disintegration.

Upon arriving at the Institute in New York, Allen Lynch, Vice Director of Studies, told me it would be an extraordinary year that would change my life. And, in fact, it did.

As a result of my studies at the Institute, I soon came to the conclusion that neither international cooperation nor technological advancements would guarantee human societies to build and safely run nuclear reactors in all possible conditions on Earth (earthquakes, floods, droughts, tornados, wars, terrorism, climate change, tsunamis, pandemics, etc.). I am sadly reminded of this turning point in my life as I listen to the news about the earthquake, tsunami and extremely worrying nuclear crisis in Japan.

After leaving the Institute, I moved away from nuclear energy and began to focus on solar energy.

For more than 20 years I have been committed to promoting knowledge about the possibilities of solar energy (its direct and indirect forms, wind, falling water, forest and other biomass), a topic, I think, that should be the subject of extensive studies carried out with innovative approaches and with the support of international structures capable of promoting cooperation at levels beyond those agreed in other science and high technology fields, an area where the Institute could contribute.


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Idea No. 32