Hitachi- from the country that brought the world Fukushima

Hitachi- from the country that brought the world Fukushima
We feel very sad for the people of Japan who want to end nuclear energy whilst a potential new government and big business are desperate for it

No Fukushima at Oldbury

No to Fukushima at Shepperdine!

No to Fukushima at Shepperdine!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Would Severnside Horizon be another Deepwater Horizon?

BP spill an argument against nuclear power

Disasters like Deepwater Horizon highlight concerns over accidents

by Mark Gimein


Extracting fossil fuels from ever-more-difficult environments is a dangerous business, a truth underlined spectacularly by the explosion at the Massey mine in April that killed 29 miners or the Deepwater Horizon spill that has left the Louisiana coast a blackened brackish mess.

Not in decades has the nuclear option looked more attractive. Earlier this year, the government extended funding to build two new reactors at the Vogtle plant in Georgia, likely the first reactors to go online since 1996, and a lot more may be in the works. Oil and coal disasters like Massey and Deepwater Horizon may be some of the best arguments for nuclear power.

They may also be some of the best arguments against it.

Disasters like Deepwater Horizon highlight troubling truths about natural resources. But they also point to some equally troubling truths about accidents and worst-case scenarios.

If you think that the lesson of the Gulf disaster is that we have been racing too fast to drill for oil without adequate equipment or safety protocols, then you may conclude that we should slow down the search for fossil fuels — and perhaps turn toward nuclear. But if you think that the story of the spill is not mainly a story about fossil fuels but about how many levels of “failsafe” mechanisms fail, it is likely to make you more skeptical of the nuclear option.

With all this in the background, you would think that a giant oil-related accident would be another point against fossil fuels and for nuclear, and in some ways it is. In one very important way, however, it is not.

The most visceral concern about nuclear power comes down to, “What if something goes wrong?” Deepwater Horizon is a compelling reminder that things go wrong, in unexpected ways, at unexpected times, to catastrophic effect.

But when it comes to nuclear failure, though, the cost of failure really is incalculable. Bad as the Deepwater Horizon spill is, it is nothing next to the 1986 Chernobyl meltdown, which has left close to 1,100 square miles surrounding the Chernobyl reactor uninhabitable to this day.

On the Deepwater Horizon well, the safety systems didn’t work. The same high-pressure conditions that made the well fail made the blind shear ram that was supposed to cut the pipe fail as well. This is the problem of the last-resort failsafe plan: It has to work in the least likely and most overwhelming conditions. In other words, it has to anticipate the conditions most likely to lead to disaster.

One of the virtues of the powerful American tort system is that if nothing else, economic self-interest plays a strong role in encouraging companies to take the worst-case scenarios seriously. But the tendency to underestimate their cost tends to trump this as well. Accidents — as British Petroleum is finding out with great pain — turn out not only to be likelier than lay people think, but more expensive and serious than the accountants budget for.

Nuclear power suffers from what you can think of as a paradox of catastrophe: The worst-case scenario is so terrible that we are actually less able to quantify it and consider its ramifications than we are with other potential disasters. We implicitly recognize this in the laws governing the nuclear industry, which cap the industry’s liability for an accident at $10 billion.

Everybody understands that in the event of a real nuclear catastrophe, that would be a drop in the bucket.

The truth is that the costs of that would be so great that we simply put it in the category of those near-inconceivables we don’t want to consider. Which is all the more reason to consider it.

Read more:

1 comment:

  1. I'm doing my best to help stop any new nuclear installations. It's close to my heart and I have instinctively hated all of them from the word go. I have written 3 times to my M.P. since the disaster in Japan, but have had no reply as yet. As a Conservative I'm sure he is still hell-bent on building more of them. I live opposite Oldbury and watched it being built (and Berkeley)2 blots on an otherwise idyllic landscape. A friend discovered news of the 1604 Tsunami on the Web a few years ago. One wonders if people in government have any brains!


Site Meter