A commenter here on Atomic Insights pointed to a couple of interesting articles published by The Economist, a well respected publication that has never been much of a fission fanzine. One of the articles, published on March 19, 2009, was titled The critical issue of safety. Here is a quote from that article that demonstrates the questioning attitude often found in Economist stories about nuclear power:
Yet public fears about the safety of nuclear power could still derail its revival, at least in richer, democratic nations. In many countries, majorities oppose building new reactors. People fear nuclear accidents, terrorist attacks, the long-term risks of storing radioactive waste and of nuclear fuel being diverted to build weapons (see article). So far, no country has succeeded in building a permanent geological repository for high-level nuclear waste, and only Finland has secured public acceptance for a site.
I acknowledge the fear, uncertainty and doubt that people have about nuclear power and agree that it can derail a revival if the people that understand the technology do not take action to alleviate the current situation. It is encouraging to see all of the efforts that people like Atomic Insights readers are making to share their knowledge and their optimism for a fission based future. At least in the on-line world, where thoughtful conversation has a chance of success, there are some great strides being made.
I decided to add my thoughts to the mix of comments on The Economist article. (Are you surprised?) It is a pretty good place for conversation – the comment limit is a generous 5,000 characters and there is a capability for users to Recommend other comments. I made the following contribution several days ago and was happy to notice today that it showed up at the top of the list when I clicked on the link for “Reader’s Most Recommended Comments”. If you helped make that true, thank you.
Unlike all other alternative energy sources, nuclear fission has successfully captured a substantial market share in the energy market at the expense of the established fossil fuel systems. Every year, the world’s reactors provide the energy equivalent of about 30% more energy than all of the oil from Saudi Arabia. That is pretty darned impressive for a technology whose basic physical process – self sustained fission chain reaction – was only proven on December 2, 1942. There are still people alive today who were adults when that event happened and some who have been involved in nuclear technology development since that time.
It is like being able to talk to the people who not only recognized that fire was hot, but who figured out how to bring it indoors, how to use it to turn on the lights, and how to use it to propel large ships and power entire countries. (Obviously, that development process for fire took a bit longer than it did for fission.)
One reason that we have heard so much negative information designed to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) about atomic fission is that its existence threatens the wealth and power of some very well established interests who seek, find, extract, transport, refine, market, and process oil, coal and gas. Without the FUD, nuclear fission’s market share could be two to four times higher today if we had simply maintained the momentum achieved during the period between 1965-1973. Instead, the energy establishment and its government supporters recognized a threat to its interests and mobilized deception operations and frontal attacks. The “nuclear industry” did not mount an effective response, partly because it was thoroughly infiltrated by representatives of the fossil fuel competition.
I will grant that there were some technical challenges, but it is still a very new technology and there has been a LOT of learning achieved over the years. We are now at a point where the computer industry was in about 1965; we have had the big central machines around for a generation and we now have a large installed base of knowledgeable operators and designers ready to implement a heady period of innovation.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show Podcast