Has Nuclear’s Atom Finally Been Split? A Brief Look at Nuclear Energy’s Drawbacks


    After the nuclear-reactor incidents in Japan, there were individuals in the U.S. audacious enough to scoff at warnings from anti-nuclear advocates that nuclear energy poses risks that have not been properly controlled and that probably cannot be properly controlled with current technology. Some advocates of nuclear energy attempt to point out that newer technologies in nuclear energy will solve many of the problems that anti-nuclear advocates deride. But new nuclear technologies still do not address the problems posed by older nuclear power plants and their reactors. These same reactors have seen an increase in radioactive leaks over the past few years.

    The last fact is an important one because it underscores the stratified nature of information that has usually entered the debate around nuclear energy. That is, many of the most horrific facts about nuclear energy don’t usually get entered into the public debate surrounding nuclear energy because doing so would probably scare a lot of Americans or induce them to change their minds about the perceived advantages and disadvantages of nuclear energy. For instance, if I told you that every nuclear reactor in the U.S. has had a radioactive leak at some point in its history, would you still favor nuclear energy? Or how about the fact that in 1985, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission testified before Congress that there was a 45% chance that a “severe nuclear accident” would occur in the next 20 years. The fact that it hasn’t, then, is something close to a miracle.  

    This shouldn’t be a partisan issue, although it’s looking more and more like it has become one. The Republican Party, for the most part, seems willing to brush the risk aside to embrace a nuclear future for the U.S. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, has largely stuck to a more precautionary position, not necessarily deriding nuclear power but also not advocating it without relatively strict limitations. Of course, these strict limitations look good on paper but are apparently rarely ever enforced with such stringency. So here’s another reason to finally kick nuclear energy to the curb: the supposedly rigid regime of regulation ensured by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has come under fire for not ensuring that its own regulations are being carried out. There is absolutely no reason to conclude that this will change substantially anytime in the near future.  

    • sspiker

      I’m particularly interested in the 1985 testimony; if there was a 45% chance of a “severe” accident between 1985 and 2005, and one didn’t occur (though the chance of that, if accurate, is greater than a coin flip and not “a miracle”), does that mean whatever threat he was concerned about has expired? I’m weary in general about using testimony from one person in 1985, given the technological advances in safety and disposal since then.

      I’m also interested in the impact and the health effects of the leaks. The article you link to cites leaks at 48 out of 65 sites—an alarming number if taken at face value. But the article concedes that none of the leaks have ever come close to public drinking water supplies, and that even the three instances that did impact private drinking supplies, the amount that entered was so minute that it didn’t exceed the EPA’s strict drinking water standard.

      Finally, the article concedes that if any of those leaks did enter a water supply, and did exceed those standards, it would take drinking it for “decades”, and that “7 out of 200,000”, or 0.0035%, would develop cancer.

      I’m inclined to believe with the NEI that the health and public safety risk is next to zero, and the fact that, in all of our nuclear history, not a single person has been seriously injured or killed in a nuclear accident is a pretty strong safety record.