Debate nuclear no the economist


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Veja alguns argumentos contra o uso da energia nuclear expostos no debate, a seguir, em inglês:

Ian Hore-Lacy argues that nuclear power is safe and cheap and that it is a pity the accident was caught on television. When we all settle down and look at the reviews now being conducted by governments we will discover, he believes, that there are not many lessons to be learnt. This comes dangerously close to demonstrating exactly the complacency that many people fear most about the nuclear industry.

He does assert that nuclear is "greatly needed" but provides no analysis to support this claim. This is a rather important omission as the question under debate is whether nuclear power is worth the effort and risk it entails.

Nuclear reactors are among the most complex and sophisticated examples of human ingenuity. They demonstrate an extraordinary level of engineering brilliance. Running them safely requires a level of management focus that other industries would do well to emulate. In routine operation, the nuclear industry has an excellent track record of meeting the required standard.

When running normally, nuclear reactors do little damage to public health. This contrasts vividly with the direct damage done to public health by burning coal. Furthermore, coal burning does considerable damage to the environment both directly and through its contribution to climate change.

I dealt in my previous contribution with the reasons why nuclear power can play, at best, only a minor role displacing coal use. As it happens, the technologies to make coal climate safe will also greatly reduce the health and other environmental impacts of its use.

But the issue raised by Fukushima is what happens when things go wrong. Here the contrasts are equally vivid. Most members of the public have intimate experience of Murphy’s law operating in their lives both at home and at work. They are, properly, more interested in the consequences of a catastrophe than its likelihood.

Debate is already raging over the effect of the catastrophic releases of radioactivity from Fukushima. Opinions range from the blandly reassuring—"trivial" as Mr Hore-Lacy assures us—to the seriously anxious—the American government warning its citizens not to travel within 80 kilometres of the plant.

We will learn more about the damage from radiation in the months and years ahead. But it is already clear that the impact of the accident on human well-being is very large. As many as 200,000 people face the prospect of never being able to return to their homes. TEPCO has lost 83% of its value, destroying the savings of a great many people. Millions more in Japan are understandably anxious about the potential impacts of radiation at any level on their children. Studies after Three Mile Island found that the mental health consequences were much more serious than the physical effects.

As Mr Hore-Lacy correctly points out, there have been few nuclear catastrophes, though quite why he thinks that the "safety of nuclear power … could hardly be better" is not immediately obvious.

What happened at Fukushima was a loss-of-coolant accident, caused, in this case, by the impact of the earthquake and tsunami, which between them destroyed power supplies to the reactor’s cooling system. This is among the worst things that could happen to a reactor and engineers have studied the likelihood of its happening extensively. These studies suggest such a catastrophic event might occur once in 100,000 years of reactor operations.

Actual experience has been rather different. There have been three catastrophic loss-of-coolant events in the 14,500 reactor years to which Mr Hore-Lacy refers. That is a frequency of once in every 5,000 years of reactor operation. Put another way, with just over 400 reactors operating around the world, that is about once a decade. Given the cost of such events to taxpayers, it may not be long before even the most nuclear-friendly governments begin to wonder if this is worth the risk.

Many governments have been seduced by the idea that, whatever the risk, nuclear power is a cheap way to produce electricity. They believe Mr Hore-Lacy’s unsupported assertion that "only coal and natural gas can compete on cost". In this they, like him, are mistaken.

No nuclear reactor anywhere has been built without government subsidy. The fact that private investors have never been willing to take the economic risk of nuclear power is a clear warning to treat all assertions about its costs with some suspicion.

The most extensive study yet done of nuclear subsidies concluded that "buying power on the open market and giving it away for free would have been less costly than subsidising the construction and operation of nuclear power plants". We have moved from the early claim of nuclear electricity being too cheap to meter to it now being too costly to afford.



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