March 22, 2013

Is nuclear power safe?

Anti-nuclear activists such as Greenpeace and pro-nuclear advocates have been on different sides of this issue long before Three Mile Island in 1979, Chernobyl in 1986, and Fukushima in Japan in 2011. The debate about the safety of nuclear power has been going on since 1954 when the world's first nuclear power plant became operational in Obninsk, outside of Moscow.

The nuclear energy industry never solved the issue of nuclear waste disposal (its Achilles heel) and the risk of radiation exposure when something like Fukushima occurs. As of 2007, the United States had accumulated more than 50,000 metric tons of spent nuclear fuel from nuclear reactors. Underground permanent storage in the U.S. had been proposed at the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, but that project has now been effectively cancelled

Many of us remember the "quick, hide under your desk" drills in school in the 1950s.  This fear continued through the environmental times of the 1970s. Later, cheap coal (if you don't consider $4 billion in annual taxpayer subsidies to oil and gas companies) made nuclear power plants then under construction less attractive.

I still sit on the fence about the role of nuclear power. Since about 2001 the term "nuclear renaissance" had been used to refer to a possible nuclear power industry revival, but then came Fukushima. Even Japan now plans to stop producing electricity with nuclear power.Dilution is not the solution to pollution--especially radioactive pollutants.

China has 20 new reactors under construction, and new reactors are being built in South Korea, India, and Russia. At least 100 older and smaller reactors will most probably be closed over the next 10-15 years. No major accidents or problems have occurred at the nearby Surrey nuclear power plant, although Virginia's last earthquake made a lot of us hold our breaths.

The threat of cyberattacks is real too. I pray that I never need to post to this blog on that topic.