Nuclear Power

An opinion piece for comment

Posted by Duncan Gibson August 2020

Following the August presentation to Probus on nuclear power generation I am left with the feeling that we have been conned once again by sanitised technological marvels rather than comprehensive facts. 

Nuclear power is undoubtedly a wonderful thing and significant advances have been made in the engineering of the ‘hardware’ associated with reactors. 

Nothing was revealed to us about the ‘software’ or in other words the human culture and talent required to manage nuclear installations safely in the long term. The human factor has commonly failed, whether in terms of the planning, siting, operation, maintenance, testing, or recycling of nuclear material, not to mention the cover-ups by politicians. 

No mention of the impacts of nuclear installations on the lives of ordinary people, both before and after an accident. The only time the dirty words Chernobyl or Fukushima were mentioned, was following my question near the end of the presentation. And the answer was not actually quite frank. Certainly, no nuclear fuel has exploded in any power plant accident so far as I know but nevertheless the roofs blew off the reactors, the bad stuff escaped, and the consequences were massive by any measure.

The Other Facts About Nuclear Power=

  • I am not opposed to nuclear power generation as such, in fact I believe we will end up with it one day. I only wish that the full story is told in any public discussion. The following is generally not contested.
  • In terms of individual energy-related accidents, Nuclear Power generation ranks first in aggregate cost, and accounts for about 40% of all recorded energy-related accidents including the most expensive to date – the reactor meltdown event at Three Mile Island, Pennsylvania, USA.
  • A MIT research team has estimated a serious nuclear accident can be expected to happen (worldwide) on average every eight years. They expect 4 more serious accidents to occur before 2055. While some future accidents may be of military origin the sheer number of civilian reactors suggests they will be heavily represented in future accident experience.
  • Chernobyl (1986) contaminated 125,000 square miles of country and fall-out was spread by the wind as far as Scandinavia. A fresh water lake 250 kms. from the incident was sampled – owing to natural water inflows the lake and its fish were reported to be 60 times more toxic than the EEU Standard allowed for human consumption. Maybe humans did not want to eat this fish anyway, but what about the rest of the ecosystem?
  • A Soviet bloc city (Pripyat, Ukraine) was abandoned (1986). Estimated 300,000 citizens were forcibly resettled and numerous small population sites were erased from official maps. Something similar at Fukushima, Japan. Human misery on an epic scale.
  • Nuclear power protagonists claim ‘only’ 31 fatalities arose directly from the Chernobyl disaster. WHO estimated potentially 1,000,000 excess deaths and morbidity over time from radiation-induced disease? Who to believe?
  • In accounting for the cost of nuclear power generation we are told a modern plant can repay the capital within a year. No mention of the investment in mining, refining and transportation of the fuel, spent fuel reprocessing, waste management and remediation of excavations and tailings dams etc.
  • Let us have some rigour in the debate before we vote!
What do other Members think? Your comments are appreciated.

4 Comments

  1. Duncan

    Peter,
    Thanks for your input.
    As you said the acceptance of nuclear power generation is accelerating with close to 1,000 stations now operating and/or planned. I wonder to what extent the public acceptance is informed or is it driven by glossy accounts of the technology un-tempered by some grim facts? The nuclear stations are built mostly near centres of population and industry where the customers are situated and unlike say, a gas powered generating plant where the consequences of a mishap are localised, a nuclear accident can send contamination for thousands of miles. Why do the boffins not respect the precautionary principle?

  2. Simnon Appel

    It “seems” that the world is powering ahead. So may experts can’t all be wrong – or could they be?
    In spite of the evidence of past accidents, it seems we are learning.
    It might be worth comparing the number of nuclear facilities with the number of accidents, over the years, and then to appreciate the measures adopted to reduce the accident risks.
    I am not familiar with these numbers, and am certainly not “nuclear wise”.

    • Duncan

      Simon,
      Thanks for your input.
      Like you I’m not ‘nuclear wise’ but it seems to me that many experts can indeed be wrong, as demonstrated by thalidomide for example. There are numerous other examples of expert failings! In the case of nuclear power it has always been the ‘human element’ that has failed, for example failure to do a conservative risk assessment on siting of the plant, failing to conduct testing procedure properly, failing to warn radiation-exposed citizens of danger etc. I am motivated by the observation that our Probus speaker did not address this aspect, and did not answer my question in a frank manner. Maybe he does not know the answer either?

  3. Peter McGregor

    “After the public acceptance setback of Fuku­shima, nuclear is powering ahead. It generates 11 per cent of the world’s energy from about 450 reactors in thirty countries. And thirteen other countries are building new capacity. Nuclear is growing remarkably fast in China, with generation increasing by 25 per cent in 2016 and 15 per cent in 2017. An additional forty-seven reactors are under construction or planned. Throughout the world more than 400 new nuclear power plants are in that category or proposed.”
    From a current article by Tony Grey on Growing Support for Nuclear Power.
    Seems as though we are being left behind.
    Peter McGregor

Leave a Reply to Simnon Appel Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *