Nuclear Power Industry: Opportunities Midst Fear
Although nuclear energy provides tremendous opportunities, it represents many
challenges as well. The leak in Chernobyl in Ukraine and Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania
blemished the image of nuclear industry world-wide, and has certainly created major
barriers to its growth. One must however ask a reasonable basic question as to why the oil
spills by Exxon Valdez in Alaska and BP in the Gulf haven’t stopped the global oil
consumption, whereas a few nuclear leaks have made the world paranoid about nuclear
What Where did the oil leaks What tanker How much oil did it spill (in
Year? occur? was it? tons)?
1983 The Persian Gulf Nowruz Oil Field 600,000
1983 South Africa Castillo De Belluer 250,000
1988 The Monongahela River Storage Tank 3,800,000
1993 Off The Shetland Islands Braer 26,000,000
1996 Off SW Wales Sea Empress 18,000,000
2001 Galapagos Islands, Equador Jessica 240,000
Fears of nuclear devastation and radioactive effects have their origin in the bombings
of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in WWII, and the 1986 nuclear leak disaster at Chernobyl
in Soviet Ukraine that both created widespread protests and fears about nuclear power.
However the first instance was deliberate use of these weapons of mass destruction on a
scale that made the whole world take notice of the harm caused, and made many countries
signatories of the NPT and CTBT years later (although those treaties have major flaws and
limitations of their own). The Chernobyl reactor had an acutely flawed design, one which
possibly would never have been allowed to be built outside the Soviet Union, and it also had
weak safety features that failed to guard against human error. The U.S. Three Mile Island
accident in PA harmed no one and the radioactive leak was confined by the extensive
protective systems that apparently are now the worldwide industry standards. Reactors with
Chernobyl's severe shortcomings have been eliminated or improved, and probably will never
be built again due to the advance in technology and worldwide cooperation and involvement
of International agencies such as IAEA.
Estimates of the eventual death toll from Chernobyl vary widely. A 2005 report by
the Chernobyl Forum (eight U.N. organizations) estimated the accident eventually would
cause about 4,000 deaths. Greenpeace places the figure at 93,000 deaths, based on
information from the Belarus National Academy of Sciences. Another report by the Center
for Independent Environmental Assessment of the Russian Academy of Sciences found a
dramatic increase in mortality since 1990 (60,000 deaths in Russia and an estimated
140,000 deaths in Ukraine and Belarus) probably due to Chernobyl radiation.
The UN's and Greenpeace’s findings don’t
trivialize what happened at Chernobyl, but
they do put this event in a broader
perspective. Coal-mining accidents and gas
explosions account for thousands of fatalities
each year as we saw last week in Virginia.
Some of these deaths are so common that
they even go unreported. For example, a
single mining accident killing tens or even
hundreds of people may occur with little note,
while any nuclear radiation leak similar to last
week’s leak in New Delhi, India causes major
Also one other major impact that most people tend to forget is the health impact
from daily use of fossil fuels that cause air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO)
estimates that such pollution causes nearly three million deaths each year. Many medical
scientists predict that the fossil fuel mortality rate will triple by the year 2025 with the
automobiles, broad manufacturing and construction revolution in BRIC countries and other
emerging markets. We as consumers and business people need to balance them against the
fear of nuclear power.
Key Issues: Fears: Steps Taken To Allay Those Fears:
Ongoing The nuclear industry does The nuclear industry accounts for all of its
Nuclear Waste not know how to treat nuclear waste, and solutions for safely
Treatment: nuclear waste. managing waste are comprehensively
practiced and continually improved.
Longevity of Nuclear waste lasts forever Nuclear waste naturally becomes less
Radioactive and cannot be managed radioactive over time, ultimately becoming
Material: safely. essentially non-radioactive. Most of the
radioactivity in nuclear waste disappears
within a few decades of its creation.
Long-Term Nuclear waste will end up in Well-engineered and highly safe nuclear
Nuclear a nuclear waste dump. waste facilities do exist, and others are being
Disposal: developed or planned for long-term disposal
of materials that pose the greatest
radioactive hazard (i.e., UNF-HLW and ILW).
High Economic The huge cost of waste The full cost of safely managing nuclear
Cost: management makes waste represents a small % of the total cost
nuclear energy uneconomic. of nuclear power generation and is generally
included in the cost of electricity.
Public The nuclear industry is In 1989, the nuclear industry established the
Knowledge of secretive about nuclear World Association of Nuclear Operators
the Industry waste. (WANO) to foster a global nuclear safety
culture. Today every nuclear power reactor
in the world is part of the WANO system of
operational peer review. The aim of WANO's
peer-review system standards are set by the
UN's International Atomic Energy Agency
Source: World Nuclear Association (http://www.world-nuclear.org)
Some Essential Facts About Radiation and Nuclear Energy:
• Radiation is released naturally from the ground and atmosphere in all places on Earth.
This 'natural background' radiation, which varies considerably from region to region, is part
of the environment to which all human beings are conditioned. Radiation produced within
nuclear reactors is similar to natural radiation but more intense and deliberate. At nuclear
power plants, protective shielding isolates this radiation, allowing millions of people to live in
safety nearby. Typically, the radiation people receive comes 90% from nature and 10%
from medical exposures. Radiation exposure from nuclear power is a bit negligible.
• The great advantage of nuclear power lies in the vast amount of energy that can be
extracted from a handful of the element uranium, which is found in great concentrations
underground. The waste from nuclear power retains the same tiny volume and can be safely
returned to the Earth for underground storage.
• Under present policies, fossil fuels and nuclear energy operate under different rules. Most
governments have allowed the environment to be used as a free dumpsite for fossil fuels.
While the price charged for nuclear power includes an allocation set aside for the cost of
storing and disposing of its waste permanently and safely.
• Radiation scientists, geologists and engineers have produced detailed plans for safe
underground storage of nuclear waste. Geological repositories are now designed to ensure
that harmful radiation would not reach the surface even with severe earthquakes or the
passage of time.
• A nuclear reactor is not a potential bomb. The raw material in nuclear weapons can only
be made by a substantial military project. Nine nations have developed nuclear weapons,
and more that 190 governments have committed not to develop such weapons and have
accepted IAEA inspections designed to detect a nuclear weapons project (With a caveat that
countries like Iran, North Korea, Syria, and other middle eastern countries keep denying
their nuclear ambitions).
• Nuclear power plants are extremely robust in design and have a decent safety record. For
external protection, these natural defenses are fortified with security controls and guard
forces. Although not immune to attacks, most reactor designs would prevent a release of
radioactivity even in an improbably worst-case scenario. Transportation of nuclear material
is relatively safe too, with highly engineered containers capable of withstanding enormous
impact. More than 20,000 containers of spent fuel and high-level waste have been shipped
safely over a total distance exceeding 20 million miles, and there has never been a harmful
Source: World Nuclear Association (http://www.world-nuclear.org)
• According to Greenpeace, the first 75 reactors in the United States resulted in $100 billion
in cost overruns in the 1970’s, and Wall Street and Main Street America abandoned nuclear
power, especially after Three Mile Island incident. President Obama’s 2011 budget proposal
includes $55 billion in new federal loan guarantees for the construction and operation of a
couple of reactors in Burke Country, GA. To make nuclear and other alternative energy
sources viable, governments have to keep providing loan guarantees and subsidies for
many years to come. The U.S. CBO has estimated that there’s a 50% chance that these
loans and guarantees may default.
• Nuclear power generates electricity and electricity does not power our automobiles yet.
Many automobile makers are trying to make more efficient hybrid or electric cars, but until
the entire global auto fleet can do without fossil fuels, nuclear energy and alternatives have
• It takes a very long time to find out negative side-effects of nuclear leaks similar to those
of asbestos. For years now, nuclear plants have been leaking radioactive materials from
underground pipes and waste pools into the ground water at various sites. Recently,
radioactive contamination was found in drinking wells at Exelon’s Braidwood, IL nuclear
plant, and Vermont Yankee power plant in VT.
• Government officials are still very concerned about long-term radioactive storage. The
Department of Energy earlier this year filed a petition with the Nuclear Regulatory
Commission to withdraw its application to allow disposal of nuclear waste at the Yucca
Mountain, NV site.
Source: Greenpeace, The Associated Press, and Global Finance Magazine.
CONCLUSION: There have been e-coli outbreaks, lead poising through toys, mad-cow
disease, financial meltdown, and many other accidents & disasters over the years. Solution
isn’t completely stopping consumption, but strengthening the regulatory, inspection, audit
and punitive functions that provide a well-balanced and regulated framework for various
stakeholders in any particular industry. The nuclear accident at Chernobyl was horrible for
its inhabitants, but the positive legacy would be an even stronger system of nuclear disposal
and storage safety worldwide to prevent a repeat of that incident. If global warming and
climate change is real as many scientists predict, we need as many alternative energy
sources as possible, and a reliable, productive and safe nuclear energy is then in our best