Chernobyl and Three Mile Island bring visions of mushroom clouds,
destruction, death. What do they have in common? They were both nuclear
accidents. They bring up a serious question:
Just how safe is nuclear energy?
There are many viewpoints on the topic, but most are polluted with
myths and ignorance. With the popularity of the prime-time cartoon “The
Simpsons”, many people’s view on the topic have been distorted. The
father (Homer) is an undertrained, high-school failure, self-admitted
“bone-head” who works in a nuclear power plant for a money-hoarding old
man. Many opinions on nuclear energy have actually been distorted by this
TV show. They are untrusting, disbelieving and skeptical of nuclear
energy. Their views are unrealistically morbid, however there IS a grain
of justification behind their worry. Considering the risks involved with
nuclear energy, the possibility for catastrophe is far greater than their
potential. In fact, a review board for the Atomic Energy Control Board
wrote to the Canadian Treasury Board in regards to the CANDU nuclear
reactors (one of the most popular and widely-used design in the world):
“When modern nuclear power plants were being designed in Canada two
decades ago, their complexity and potential for catastrophic consequences
were recognized. The plants were designed to high standards, and special
safety systems were incorporated.... Reactor designers and owners adopted
a relatively simple process for evaluating plant safety.
Since that time, experience in Canada and the rest of the world has
demonstrated that this approach to safety is too simplistic. It is
recognized now that, through the combination of a series of comparatively
common failures which, on their own, are of little consequence, accidents
can develop in a myriad of ways (as demonstrated most vividly at Three
Mile Island and Chernobyl)....
The consequences of a severe accident can be very high. The accident at
Chernobyl has cost the Soviet economy about $ 16 billion including
replacement power costs. Three Mile Island has cost the USA $ 4.8
billion....
CANDU plants cannot be said to be either more or less safe than other
types.” 1
This having been said, just how safe is nuclear energy? The
Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility believes that there are
business advantages to dismantling unnecessary nuclear power plants:
“The International Atomic Energy Agency -- IAEA -- estimates that there
will be about 100 nuclear power reactors, world-wide, needing
decommissioning (a euphemism for dismantlement) by the first decade of the
next century. Each decommissioning job will cost at least $100 million, so
we are talking about ten billion dollars in business opportunities!” 2
Not only that, there is a serious safety issue concerning these
plants. First of all, the system used for cooling the nuclear core of a
plant relies on a pipe system called feeder pipes. These pipes transport
the cooling material to the nuclear core, preventing it from going into
meltdown (a term coined because the containment walls of the core actually
melt due to the extreme heat). Now, as a plant ages, the feeder pipes
corrode. As this happens, some of the efficiency of the cooling system is
lost. This process continues until the pipes have broken down completely,
thereby eradicating the cooling system totally. This usually occurs so
close to the core where it is unsafe to repair the pipes on a regular
basis, and is a very costly proposition. With this in mind, plants don’t
replace the pipes at all, and are moving ever closer to the brink of
disaster.
The time has come to decide:
Is nuclear power worth the cost needed to be used safely and
effectively? In light of the evidence presented, the answer would have to
be no. The high safety and monetary cost, the past disasters, the income
lost to the plants, any reasonable person would have to say that nuclear
power is not worth the cost. Anyone who disagrees with this statement
must ask themselves this: Is abundant energy worth ultimate disaster?
Sources:
1: AECB (Atomic Energy Control Board) 1989 Report to the Canadian Treasury
Board.
Ontario, Canada: Atomic Energy Control Board 1989
2. Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Dec 14, 1996, Canadian
Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility Home Page, available at:
http://www.ccnr.org, accessed Sunday, February 9th, 1996
3. Nuke Quebec?, Dec 18 1996, ACEB report of Gentilly-2 CANDU reactor,
http://www.ccnr.org/nuke_quebec.html, accessed Saturday, Febuary 8th, 1996