Secretary Moniz Interview Regarding Ukraine and Energy Issues

Secretary Moniz Interview Regarding Ukraine and Energy Issues

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This interview aired on CNN on Febuary 13, 2022.

Fredricka Whitfield: Let’s bring in former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. He’s the co-chair and CEO of the Nuclear Threat Initiative, and the CEO and founder of the Energy Futures Initiative. Mr. Secretary, so good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Thank you. So you coauthored an op-ed that says leaders must untie the knot of war in Europe. And in it, you argue that if Russia invades Ukraine, it will also be a loser in any conflict. But wouldn’t Putin see himself as a winner? Why do you dispute what he sees would be a winning strategy?

MONIZ: Well, what we said is that there will be losers all around. Ukraine, primarily, of course, bearing the brunt of a Russian military action, but Russia would suffer both in the near and the far term.

In the near term, it is very clear that sanctions that bite a lot more than those in 2014 with the Crimea incursion would come into play, but also, Putin would earn — he would be essentially a geostrategic pariah in the West, with very, very long term consequences. So our argument is that —

WHITFIELD: But doesn’t he know that? Doesn’t he know that and he seems to be willing to take a risk, if you want to call it that?

MONIZ: Well, we don’t know yet. We will see, although it is clearly very menacing, the assembly of that impressive military force. I think the issues are, if his objectives really are to keep NATO military equipment away from Russia and to have NATO — to have Ukraine not in NATO, that’s going to be a reality for a long time. There is plenty of time and space to negotiate.

On the other hand, if his objective is an insistence that somehow Ukraine is quasi-back in the Soviet Union days in terms of being almost an extension of Russia, well, that’s a political impossibility. The West will never agree to that. NATO will never agree to close the door to potential membership in the long term.

And if it comes down to these political disagreements, well, we just don’t know. It’s extremely, extremely dangerous. And again, there will be losers all around, to which I would add the West, because the Russian economy is integrated in the global economy in ways that, for example, those of Iran or North Korea or not, so lots of risk all around and as I say, I believe losers all around.

WHITFIELD: Well, help elaborate on what the consequence would be in terms of world energy if indeed this invasion were to happen, conflict were to happen?

MONIZ: Well, clearly the most obvious situation is the Russian supply of natural gas to Europe. They supply today about 40 percent of natural gas to Europe. And if this new pipeline, Nord Stream 2 opens that would even go up further.

Russia, of course, gets most of its energy revenue actually from oil, and the oil market is very global; supplies are very, very fungible. So if Russia has a lot of cooperation from China and other countries, it would probably be difficult to stem the export of oil. But natural gas would be a huge hit on Europe.

United States, the administration is doing all that it can to up LNG exports from the United States and elsewhere to Europe, and that is certainly closing the gap on the risk to Europe. But if it’s a cold winter, and this happens in the next few months, it will be difficult.

WHITFIELD: So President Biden has warned Russia that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will not go ahead if he invades Ukraine. How significant is that? I mean, this is the pipeline that brings natural gas to Europe.

MONIZ: Yes, well, clearly, the issue of the great supply that is being projected would not be there. But in addition, there is a lot of sunk costs, the pipeline is built, basically. And also, Russia clearly saw Nord Stream 2 as a way also to avoid a lot of gas, transiting Ukraine and providing substantial fees to the Ukrainian government.

So there’s a lot of a lot of geopolitics at play here. But I think one important thing is, even since 2014, Europe has greatly increased its market flexibility — its internal market, being able to move, for example, gas supplies, around between countries, internally, and there has been construction of LNG import terminals.

So they are somewhat ahead of where they were in 2014. But still, it’s a lot of gas, 40 percent of their gas from Russia, and if Russia chooses to use it as a weapon, it will certainly have a deleterious impact.

WHITFIELD: And then how about this? I mean, with this announcement last week from scientists in the U.K. that they have more than doubled, you know generating and sustaining nuclear fusion. I mean, do you see that — this is a crucial announcement, this further complicates matters.

MONIZ: Well, it is very important. I mean, it doubles the previous record that the same machine called JET and accomplished in 1997. On the other hand, it’s not close to producing more energy than is used.

The significance is that, it met its milestones, which suggests that the very major machine being built in France will meet its milestones. However, that’s only part of the story. Frankly, I think a more exciting part of the story is what is happening, for example, in the United States, with privately financed companies in fusion.

One is an M.I.T. spinout using a very similar technology to that in the U.K. They had a big demonstration of technology recently. I’m on the Board of another company, I’ll declare that called TAE, using a very different technology. We will soon be in our sixth generation machine, and we should be displaying all of the requirements for generating a fusion machine within a few years.

This means going to temperatures, seven times that you see in the center of the sun, because fusion is the driving force for the sun and stars producing energy. So we want to have a star on Earth, and we’ve already gotten up to about 70 million degrees. Our next machine, as I say our next generation should pass that threshold. So there’s a lot going on.

WHITFIELD: Yes, there is. I mean, this is pretty significant breakthrough, especially as it pertains to clean energy. So what does that mean for the ordinary citizen, average person, in their home, how they operate on a day-to-day basis?

MONIZ: It’s a game changer. But let me make one more point on these privately funded companies because it’s very important. The private sector has put more than $4 billion into these fusion companies. When the private sector does that, it tells you something is happening, and that people can see — have line of sight to success.

With success, fusion is a game changer. Carbon free energy, high energy density, it is like nuclear fission reactors today except without the problems because a fusion machine would neither pose any risk at all to the public, nor would it have the very, very difficult long term, radioactive waste to manage.

So this would be a complete game changer in reaching the goals that so many countries, including ours has put forward of being carbon free in electricity by 2035, and in energy by 2050.

WHITFIELD: Well, Secretary Moniz, we’ve covered the gamut of this. It is extraordinary from these newest discoveries to the potential for any kind of conflict between Ukraine and Russia. Thank you so much.

MONIZ: Thank you, Fredricka.

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