The Chernobyl disaster 30 years ago was a "huge setback" to the development of nuclear power, whose use will be necessary to eliminate dependence on fossil fuels and stop climate change, said US climate scientist James Hansen on Tuesday.
Hansen, who served as head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies from 1981 to 2013, told dpa in an interview that disasters such as Chernobyl or the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan have created an inordinate fear of nuclear technology.
"[Chernobyl] was a huge setback for nuclear power," Hansen said.
"It should never have happened, they should never have built such a poorly designed thing without a containment dome."
He said, however, that there was "some irrationality" in the public's fear of nuclear energy when compared to the adverse health effects caused by the use of fossil fuels.
The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die annually from air pollution that is tied to the use of such energy sources.
"How can people accept the health effects of fossil fuels and not be worried about that?" he said. "But nuclear radiation seems to be something that the public is very sensitive to."
Hansen warned against abandoning nuclear energy without first securing green energy alternatives because it can prolong countries' use of fossil fuels.
Hansen specifically criticised Germany's plans to end its dependence on nuclear power by 2022 saying that the share of renewable energy sources will not make up for nuclear energy and the country will have to continue to use coal to meet its energy needs.
"I think given Germany's technological prowess that it could have been a leader in advanced, safer nuclear power - I think, frankly, that was a mistake," he said.
"Renewable energies are going to be a big part of the future - but I think nuclear technology will be also."
He also noted that despite the "huge negative impact" of the Chernobyl catastrophe, the accident has spurred innovation to create safer and more advanced nuclear reactors.
"An advanced generation of nuclear power should be able to avoid to Chernobyl or the Fukushima-type problems," he said.
"There's no guarantee, though, that anything is 100-per-cent safe."