The Nuclear Free Ride

Nuclear power externalizes costs in a number of ways.  One of these is that in the event of a nuclear accident, industry liability is limited by statute to $12.6 billion (Price-Anderson Act).  The federal government (read: taxpayer) ultimately foots the bill for the majority of the costs in the event of a catastrophic accident such as recently occurred at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant.  A study by Sandia National Laboratories indicates that in 2011 dollars a core meltdown could cost $720 Billion with 50,000 people killed (Roughly $2,000 for every man woman and child in the country.)

Nuclear advocates have long insisted that nuclear accidents are nearly impossible.  When confronted with Chernoble they point out that the reactor design was bad and the regulatory environment was such that the reactor wasn’t run safely.  The experts confidently assured us that an accident of that magnitude could not happen in the western world as they utilized better reactor designs and much better institutional protections.  Then came Fukushima.

In Japan, where the word ‘Tsunami’ was created, a huge nuclear power station had multiple partial meltdown.  This in a country that is widely respected for its meticulous attention to detail and to honorable institutional dedication.  The reactor was crippled both by unconscionable design flaws and regulatory and institutional failures.  Couldn’t happen here?  It is interesting to note that the two nuclear plants most at-risk are not in remote rural areas but rather in suburban areas near major cities – Pilgrim 1 (downwind from Boston) and Indian Point (1 in 10,000 chance of core damage each year) 24 miles from NYC. (Note: numerous sources can be found for this, type ‘at risk nuclear plants’ into a search engine.

Copyright Clayton Handleman All rights reserved 2011

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