I’ve been fascinated with Chernobyl and TMI ever since I was a kid.
I remember when I was 7 or 8 or so, I was playing SimCity 2000, and I told my dad, “I put my nuclear power plant on an island, so if it blows up, it won’t hurt anything.” “That’s what they said about Three Mile Island,” dad said. He then began to tell me all about the TMI meltdown accident, and I started learning more about nuclear testing and accidents.
The debate about the use of nuclear power with regard to climate change is more interesting than ever. Modern reactor designs (pebble bed reactors seem particularly promising) are much safer than the generation II reactors that are so prolific and at the center of all the major disasters. The energy component of the climate change problem is a tough nut to crack. It doesn’t seem like civilization is going to be using any less energy any time soon, and we need base-load power.
I’m quite wary of people like Michael Shellenberger (linked in OP). The so called “environmental pragmatism” seems just as short sighted now as the assumption of absolute safety of gen II was in the 60s. The number Shellenberger cites (200 total deaths) does not include those who contract cancer or other side effects, and it completely disregards those who don’t die, but still suffer incredible pain and sickness. It doesn’t include those born with birth defects or other maladies from contaminated air, soil, water, and ground water.
I think the question becomes not, “is nuclear power relatively safe compared to other options?” but “is it worth the inevitable accident?”. If we do decide to rely on nuclear power as a carbon-neutral base-load power source, are we willing to accept that there will be another massive accident. There will. No system is perfect, and as the Chernobyl miniseries demonstrates in dramatic fashion (not to mention the TMI accident) that the biggest imperfections in systems are the humans in them. No matter how safe the reactor design, or how rigorous the safety protocols, there will be another mistake. That mistake, or natural disaster, aside from direct and indirect deaths it will cause, will also most likely render entire swaths of land uninhabitable for generations, at least. Also, there’s the whole thing where we have no safe way to store an ever increasing stockpile of nuclear waste from enrichment and spent fuel that won’t be safe for 50,000 years?
Kinda got off track there. The miniseries is fantastic, when it was announced I was annoyed it was on HBO and not Netflix because I wanted to just mainline the whole thing.
(Edited because I forgot to finish an entire sentence)