I would love to think that, in writing about the foolishness of nuclear power, I am preaching to the crowd.
It’s not like that, though.
When one reads about all the civilian nuclear accidents since 1950, it is sobering indeed. How eerie, too, to read all the nuclear apologists claiming that nuclear power’s safety is unassailable and that environmentalists have exaggerated the risks. “We can build the plants to be so safe that — ” well, there really is no way to end that sentence truthfully. Certainly, we can build nuclear reactors that are encased in thirty feet of stainless steel. We can place them in places where there has never been an earthquake, a volcano, a flood. Problem is, history shows that every defense is eventually challenged by a superior offense. Hence, oops! on the thirty feet of stainless steel. Oops! on the totally unexpected earthquake. Oops! on the totally unexpected and criminal ‘human error’.
What the proponents of nuclear power don’t seem to get is the simple truth that if something can go wrong, it will. In this way, nuclear power is a threat unlike anything else on Earth. A coal mine explosion will not contaminate 1,000 square miles as happened in Chernobyl. Nor will an oil spill, as disastrous as that is — and I’m thinking about the BP disaster in the Gulf. It’s all small potatoes compared to the potential irradiation of a huge area, making it uninhabitable for tens of thousands of years. Imagine that: tens of thousands of years. There is nowhere on this planet that Nature has made off-limits for that long. You might not want to be in the pyroclastic flow from a volcano, but just wait a year or so and it’s fine. Not so Chernobyl.
If anything good will come out of the mind-boggling disaster in Japan, it would be finally putting to rest any notion of the safety of nuclear energy. It simply cannot be made safe, when the stakes are tens of thousands of years.
The most compelling argument against any further operation of a nuclear power facility is this: we have no place to put the waste. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commision, currently nuclear waste is stored “temporarily” at the places it is produced: the power plants. What a nice target for a terrorist. And forget about “permanent” storage, because it is not our right to define the environmental limitations of future generations.
I’m not talking about any alternatives here, either. It is entirely possible, even likely, that energy costs will skyrocket as we abandon nuclear power. Decommissioning is expensive in itself. But how much would the residents of Pripyat and Chernobyl be willing to pay to have their hometowns back?