[FoRK] Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power

John Parsons bullwinklemouth at yahoo.ca
Sun Mar 27 15:14:38 PDT 2011

Was there an assertion that nuclear is more front-loaded than competitive methods of power generation?
While I can agree that all other forms of energy production have significant backend loads, I submit that the backend for nuclear is substantial as well. Consider just the waste problem. Even if solved at a discounted rate, the resultant solution(s) must be secure and functional for quite a few tens of thousands of years. Not only does the time span greatly increase whatever ongoing costs there are (and there always are), we currently have no evidence that humans can devise anything that functions even for five thousand years.

Regarding engineering against risk:
The progression to an acceptable "failsafe" level, is of course, an incremental asymptotic pursuit. Due to cost considerations, you don't get to design beyond a given expectation until it happens. At which point it is essentially too late. There is zero possibility (here's the human factor) of *actually building* anything that is inherently dangerous that covers all the possible failure modes. By the time we get nuclear technology to the point where we have, say, a one in 1000 year/1000 units failure rate, we may well have long lost public interest in continuing.

Lastly, safe nuclear (oxymoron alert) is only possible in a peaceful society or environment. Fukushima was quite violent, and that directly overwhelmed the existing defences. Consider war and the likelihood, even the necessity, of taking out the opponent's reactors, never mind the mischief factor of going after their waste facilities.

However, I acknowledge that nuclear will be with us for some time yet, and we should get much better at it. But therein also lies the crux; namely the insatiable appetite we have for energy. Even though the developed world has become more efficient in the use of energy, per capita demand still rises, and developing nations want to be like us. I expect nuclear must be part of the mix in the near term. However, the heretofore historically cheap price of oil has heavily subsidized other forms of energy production, another factor for rising costs. This is good, if possibly a little late. There is no such thing as cheap energy, nor should there be.

Continuing to feed this outsize appetite isn't rational, in any sense. If the methods of production don't kill everything, the consumption of the energy and the backend costs surely will.


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