Before Cherynobl, we could sort of dismiss nuclear power’s danger. Afterwards, we could still say “Well, that’s the Soviets, for you.”
Now, with the ongoing Fukushima Dai-ichi disaster, the extent of what can go wrong is becoming horrifically clear, especially now that it looks like merely gaining control of the worst-off reactor could take months, not days.
It rightly makes us worry about the whole industry.
It’s a pity, too, because nuclear power concentrates its costs (spent fuel in containers) while providing enormous marketable benefits. Burning coal, on the other hand, disperses its “costs” in the form of pollution. Nuclear power would seem to be a perfect market solution.
But a “meltdown” — or just losing control of a fission process — concentrates harms in a manner hard to ignore or justify.
We hear that new nuclear tech is in development, and might become quite safe. But the promised extra-safe variety is not yet online anywhere, yet.
Could it be because government protects the currently unsafe technology? America’s nuclear power is protected from the rigors of risk as assessed by the cold, calculating insurance industry under 1957’s Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act, which shifts risk from investors to taxpayers in case of catastrophe.
Perhaps if that were repealed, better nuclear tech would emerge faster.
As it is, our old nuclear tech awaits a rare convergence of disastrous factors, like a major earthquake plus human error, or terrorism plus x.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.