Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nuclear energy: fear, realism and panic

One of the last "The Saturday Essay" in WSJ was titled "The Panic Over Fukushima", by Richard Muller, professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley. He discusses the potencial impact of the nuclear problems in Japan after the tsunami disaster. Its potencial mortality (two to fifteen hundred additional deaths in the next decades) is indeed a much smaller scale that the consequences (deaths) from earthquakes and tsunamis themselves, both frequent natural accidents in Japan:
  • it is remarkable how small the nuclear damage is compared with that of the earthquake and tsunami
  • But the radiation deaths will likely be a number so small, compared with the tsunami deaths, that they should not be a central consideration in policy decisions
  • It is remarkable that so much attention has been given to the radioactive release from Fukushima, considering that the direct death and destruction from the tsunami was enormously greater. Perhaps the reason for the focus on the reactor meltdown is that it is a solvable problem; in contrast, there is no plausible way to protect Japan from 50-foot tsunamis.
  • Looking back more than a year after the event, it is clear that the Fukushima reactor complex, though nowhere close to state-of-the-art, was adequately designed to contain radiation. New reactors can be made even safer, of course, but the bottom line is that Fukushima passed the test.
  • The great tragedy of the Fukushima accident is that Japan shut down all its politicals nuclear reactors. Even though officials have now turned two back on, the hardships and economic disruptions induced by this policy will be enormous and will dwarf any danger from the reactors themselves.
Fukushima reactors were old generation ones, and it seems they were not so well managed. But even under extreme conditions they have resisted well. I agree that the conclusion from Fukushima is that nuclear energy may indeed be safe.
No technology is free from risks. But the risk of nuclear power seems to be smaller than the risk you accept when you board a plane, or you drive your car. 
France resilience on nuclear energy looks the right option. Last decisions from Germany are purelly opportunistic about - expect them to be reversed in short to medium time.

(Italics our responsibility)

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