If you were to imagine a worst case scenario you might say a nuclear power station would be hit by an earthquake, followed quickly by a tsunami. People would say don’t be ridiculous how is that going to happen. But actually it has in Japan this month. So does that make you more wary of nuclear power or more confident?
The Japanese stations are quite old and Japan is on the edge of a Tectonic Plate, so there were 2 major factors of risk. With the natural one perhaps being of such significance that the building of the stations in that location would be questioned.
On the other side it can be said that the tsunami killed over ten thousand people and the nuclear station hasn’t killed anyone, as yet. While the reactors aren’t likely to give off significant radiation even in a worse case.
Yet there is a lot of ignorance about nuclear power, most people have no idea what it is but it sounds worrying when headlines talk of meltdown, radiation and health risks. So I’ll add that I know little about it either.
In the UK we are in a stable region of the earth and the physical risks to power stations primarily come from: gross human error, terrorists, meteorites, perceived possibility of a tidal wave from the Canary Islands or other random volcanic event. None of these risks have as high a probability or impact as in Japan. The technology will use ‘passive’ safety and not the old water cooling used in Japan.
Some politicians are now stating their concerns about nuclear power in the UK and in Germany older reactors have been closed. The question then becomes; if no nuclear how do we supply enough clean power? It is said that one nuclear power station provides the same power as 1500 windmills, yet the wind often doesn’t blow on the coldest days. Others say we should use the energy in the tides and estuaries and insulate our houses more, drive smaller cars and use public transport. There is also the carbon capture and storage for coal powered stations.
Green energy is expensive. Some say building and de-commissioning nuclear power stations and storing the radio-active material is very expensive as well. Yet figures quoted in reports by the US government show that taking all that into account nuclear is significantly cheaper than coal with CCS, offshore windmills and solar. With on-shore windmills and hydro being less per kilo-watt hour.
Overall most of the green options are expensive, unreliable and require our green and pleasant land to be converted into a windmill farm with estuaries dammed. Can’t say it appeals much and for that reason a proportion of nuclear gets my vote.