November 20, 2018
M. V. Ramana (Ph.D. Boston University; MSc Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur) is the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the Liu Institute for Global Issues, part of UBC’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs (SPPGA). His work focuses on the issues surrounding nuclear energy and the fissile materials used to make atomic weapons, but his research has informed the broader, fundamental problems facing us today: international security and energy supply. It’s why the world’s media, including the BBC and Russian press, have been beating a path to his door for his insightful commentary. His rising profile among major media outlets sees him sounding a warning bell: questioning President Trump’s proposed withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty, calling it “another dangerous step towards a new arms race”; and dismissing nuclear power as a savior from the dangers of climate change.
Dr. Ramana’s work is made possible by The Simons Foundation Canada, a charitable organization in Vancouver, Canada, with a focus on education on nuclear disarmament, international law and human security. The Simons Chair enables him to set his own research agenda and allows him to involve a large number of students across UBC’s campus in research and writing on issues related to nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, and disarmament.
“Once you learn how one single weapon can kill hundreds of thousands of people, it changes your perspective.”
As the Simons Chair, Dr. Ramana sees speaking out – and contributing to public discussions through the media – as one of his responsibilities. He understands that policy change is not as straightforward as talking to politicians: part of the answer to the nuclear problem is sensitizing people. He says, “Deep things like climate change or getting rid of nuclear bombs have a lot of political and economic significance to powerful institutions, and you can’t change things by making clever arguments. They have to be countered by popular social movements. That’s how I see – and hope to influence – policy change.”
In addition to his regular media contributions, he’s been instrumental in bringing together leaders for collaborative solutions. In May, he organized The Twenty Years’ Crisis of Nuclear South Asia: 1998-2018. Dr. Ramana brought together leading international scholars, journalists and policy leaders—getting the researchers, communicators, and ultimate decision makers in the same room. They discussed how the arms race crisis between Pakistan and India has unfolded and been addressed by global powers, activists, and the media, and what can be done to solve the crisis going forward.
His work simultaneously looks for current solutions while empowering SPPGA students—the next generation of global changemakers—to tackle these challenges in the future. Teaching students how to think through these problems in a structured fashion is typical of the SPPGA’s interdisciplinary approach that includes examining subjects from a variety of perspectives. By educating students on these issues now, Dr. Ramana’s aim is to create a lasting impact that will reshape our future.
Dr. Ramana’s other area of interest is nuclear energy and he has been making valuable contributions to the global debate on this controversial technology. He is part of the group that produces the data driven World Nuclear Industry States Report every year. Among the data that the group analyzes is the annual contribution that nuclear power makes to the world’s electricity grids; it turns out that this fraction has been decreasing continuously since 1996, when it was 17.5%. Dr. Ramana says, “Now, it’s a little over 10%, and in the most realistic circumstances, it will fall further.” It’s a statistic that points towards the world’s decreasing reliance on nuclear-generated power. There are some who advocate new reactor designs as the answer to this decline, and are calling to build such reactors in northern Canada to power off-the-grid communities and mining operations. Along with a faculty colleague in SPPGA and a Masters student, Dr. Ramana determined that there is no adequate market for these new reactors. Slowly, but surely, policy makers are understanding the importance of analyses by people like Dr. Ramana: renewables, not nuclear energy, is where the funding should be flowing.
As for the future, Dr. Ramana is incredibly grateful for the continued support from The Simons Foundation. He is hopeful that his work will play a pivotal role in inspiring scholarly interest in disarmament and security, attract students to the field, and ultimately inform policy makers to ensure a safer world for us all.