Nuclear Power: Is the Cure Worse Than the Disease?

The world's largest mobile metal building re-entombing Charnobyl Reactor #4

The world’s largest mobile metal building re-entombing Charnobyl Reactor #4

Last month the new enclosure structure for the damaged Chernobyl reactor started to slide in to place. It’s the largest mobile metal building in the world, designed to slide on rails over the hotly radioactive remains of Chernobyl Reactor #4. It cost $1.6 billion to build and the engineers hope it will last 100 years.

The radioactivity at Chernobyl will be lethal for tens of thousands of years.

In the United States, the nuclear power industry supplies about 60% of no-fossil fuel electricity. According to Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear power ins try support alliance, nuclear electric generation saved 564 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2015, which it said is roughly equivalent to taking all the automobiles in the U.S. off the road. That’s impressive, but so is Chernobyl.

WC has five reasons why, at least under present technology, nuclear power is not a feasible energy solution.

  1. Mistakes are hideously expensive and deadly. Three Mile Island cost an estimated $2.4 billion. Chernobyl cost $18 billion and counting. Fukushima is estimated at $100 billion and counting. When you take into account additional deaths from cancer, tens of thousands have been kidded.
  2. Complex nuclear reactors can’t be made foolproof because fools are just too ingenious. The Three Mile Island partial meltdown was to a large extent the result of human error. Chernobyl was the result of human error. Fukushima was a consequence of design error. Accidents happen. For results, see Par. 1 above.
  3. There is no solution for nuclear waste. While there may be a lot less nuclear waste than CO2, the stuff is incredibly dangerous for an even more incredibly long time. The United States’ nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain is too politically hot to be resolved any time soon.
  4. There is a real risk of terrorists getting the stuff. As a consequence of Par. 3, large volumes of hazardous nuclear waste in dry cask storage across the U.S., an  invitation to terrorists. Not for nuclear weapons; the stuff isn’t suitable. But for “dirty bombs,” explosions that would scatter the very dangerous stuff in, say, a city.
  5. It’s too easy to convert some kinds of nuclear reactors to bomb making. Some kinds of reactors convert relatively “safe” uranium to enriched uranium or plutonium, in isotopic form that cane be used in fission bombs.

Until good, complete solutions to these five problem are in hand, WC is a skeptic on nuclear power.

It’s unclear what president-elect Trumpster thinks bout nuclear power, assuming he has even a tyro’s grasp of the issues. He has said, usually in West Virginia or Ohio, he strongly supports more coal mining. Some commentators see that as bad news for nuclear energy. WC isn’t sure the president-elect understands the difference between nuclear power and powerful nuclear weapons.

In the best case, nuclear power will simply fade away and plant licenses expire, a dangerously failed experiment. The worst case doesn’t bear thinking about.