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Safe nuclear power

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Nuclear energy is potentially low carbon energy, but many important questions need to be answered before claims of safe nuclear power can be made:

  • Is the plant on a tectonic fault line, at risk of damage from earthquakes?
  • Is the plant in a potential tsunami zone? (Add a large margin of error for the "unknown unknowns.")
  • How can we be confident in the competence of the operators, including those running the plant in decades time... who may not even be born during the planning stages.
  • Nuclear power plants are not able to be insured on the free market in any country without an artificial cap on their liability.Who is the insurer of last resort? This is always the government (tax payer) (additional info). The UK government's refusal to take this role effectively kills nuclear there.[verification needed] That makes sense - subsidized insurance for nuclear industry (corporate welfare) distorts the market. But of course, until there's a price on carbon, or until polluters are charged for the health and environmental damage- the market is already distorted.

Comparison with coal[edit]

‎The ash produced by a coal-burning power plant carries approximately 100 times more radiation into the surrounding environment than a nuclear power plant, for the same amount of energy, under normal operation. This assumes no nuclear meltdown or other disaster, and no theft or leakage of nuclear material at any stage of the life cycle, and these assumptions are not always true.

Thorium[edit]

Thorium reactorsW have been proposed as a safer alternative.

Government Decreed Artificial Liability Caps as Indirect Nuclear Insurance Subsidies[edit]

The potential liability from a nuclear accident/terrorist attack/natural disaster is so great that no nuclear power plant could be built if the owner had to pay for the full cost of liability insurance. Currently in the U.S. the liability is limited on liability for nuclear power plants under the Price Anderson Act (PAA). As former U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney made clear when he was asked in 2001 whether the PAA should be renewed; he was quick to respond that without the PAA “nobody's going to invest in nuclear power plants”. [1] The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) concluded the liability limits provided by nuclear insurance were significant as to constitute a subsidy, but a quantification of the amount was not attempted [2]. Shortly after this in 1990, Dubin and Rothwell were the first to estimate the value to the U.S. nuclear industry of the limitation on liability for nuclear power plants under the Price Anderson Act (PAA). Their underlying method was to extrapolate the premiums operators currently pay versus the full liability they would have to pay for full insurance in the absence of the PAA limits. The size of the estimated subsidy per reactor per year was $60 million prior to the 1982 amendments, and up to $22 million following the 1988 amendments [3]. In a separate article in 2003, Anthony Heyes updates the 1988 estimate of $22 million per year to $33 million (2001 dollars)[4], and also acknowledges that as he and Liston-Heyes simply corrected the methodology of Dubin and Rothwell's study and did not introduce new variables; the true subsidy estimates could actually be even higher. Heyes goes on to say: “Do Heyes and Liston-Heyes think that the true number might actually be 10 times bigger? Sure they do. Do they think that their number is closer to the truth than Dubin and Rothwell’s number? No, they do not” [5].

In case of an accident, should claims exceed this primary liability, the PAA requires all licensees to additionally provide a maximum of $95.8 million into the accident pool - totaling roughly $10 billion if all reactors were required to pay the maximum. This is still not sufficient in the case of a serious accident, as the cost of damages could very likely exceed the $10 billion [6][7][8]. According to the PAA, should the costs of accident damages exceed the $10 billion pool, the remainder of the costs would be fully covered by the U.S. Government. In 1982, a Sandia National Laboratories study concluded that depending on the reactor size and 'unfavorable conditions' a serious nuclear accident could lead to property damages as high as $314 billion while fatalities could reach 50,000.[9] A recent study found that if only this one relatively ignored indirect subsidy for nuclear power was diverted to photovoltaic manufacturing, it would result in more installed power and more energy produced by mid-century compared to the nuclear.[10] The results clearly show that not only does the indirect insurance liability subsidy play a significant factor for the viability nuclear industry, but also how the transfer of such an indirect subsidy from the nuclear to photovoltaic industry would result in more energy and more financial returns over the life cycle of the technologies. The energy results alone indicate renewable alternatives are a more viable option, let alone when other shortcomings and risks of nuclear power are added to the list: high construction costs, security and proliferation risks as well as the problems with the long term nuclear waste management. [11]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. Reuters, 2001. “Cheney says push needed to boost nuclear power”, Reuters News Service, May 15, 2001.[1]
  2. United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 1983. The Price-Anderson Act: the Third Decade, NUREG-0957
  3. Dubin, J. A. and Rothwell, G. S. 1990. Subsidy to Nuclear-Power through Price-Anderson Liability Limit, Contemporary Policy Issues, 8, 73-79.
  4. Heyes, A. 2003. Determining the Price of Price-Anderson, Regulation, 25(4), 105-110.
  5. Heyes, A. 2003. Determining the Price of Price-Anderson, Regulation, 25(4), 105-110.
  6. U.S. Department of Energy. 1999. Department of Energy Report to Congress on the Price-Anderson Act, Prepared by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of General Council. Accessed 20 August 2010. Available: http://www.gc.energy.gov/documents/paa-rep.pdf
  7. Reuters, 2001. “Cheney says push needed to boost nuclear power”, Reuters News Service, May 15, 2001.[2]
  8. Bradford, P. A. 2002. Renewal of the Price Anderson Act, Testimony before the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Transportation, Infrastructure and Nuclear Safety, January 23, 2002.
  9. Wood, W.C. 1983. Nuclear Safety; Risks and Regulation. American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, Washington, D.C. pp. 40-48.
  10. I. Zelenika-Zovko and J. M. Pearce, “Diverting Indirect Subsidies from the Nuclear Industry to the Photovoltaic Industry: Energy and Economic Returns”, Energy Policy (in press). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2011.02.031
  11. I. Zelenika-Zovko and J. M. Pearce, “Diverting Indirect Subsidies from the Nuclear Industry to the Photovoltaic Industry: Energy and Economic Returns”, Energy Policy (in press). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2011.02.031

See also[edit]

Interwiki links[edit]


External links[edit]

  • Atomised, post by George Monbiot, March 16, 2011, on the tradeoffs of nuclear safety, climate change and alternative energy sources.


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