Thursday, April 14, 2011

Positive Views on Nuclear Power:

A Small Bright Light in a Difficult Time

If I can find anything positive coming out of the events in Japan in the last few weeks, it is the number of articles I have seen in a variety of media that continue to speak of nuclear power in a balanced way. Surely, we all believe there are lessons to be learned and we can't be complacent, but increasing numbers of journalists and others appear to recognize that:
  1. The options for a reliable energy supply to meet current and future needs are limited,
  2. All forms of energy supply carry certain risks, and
  3. Nuclear power is better than a lot of other options.
While I have not tried to track down every viewpoint on nuclear energy, here is a sampling that has crossed my computer screen in recent days:

Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power, by George Monbiot, appearing in The Guardian. Most tellingly, Mr. Monbiot claims to have previously been against nuclear power, but the fact that such a large natural disaster visited upon old plants has still resulted in no public fatalities has persuaded him to support the technology. He goes on to recount some of the shortcomings of other technologies, including the inability of renewables to meet the demands of the United Kingdom. Although one can object to his characterization of nuclear industry leaders as "liars," my point is that he is able to sort the wheat from the chaff and recognize that every technology comes at a cost, and the cost of nuclear power is less than that of the alternatives. (This article is part of a pro-con, with a link to another article claiming that "Fukushima shows us the real cost of nuclear power" and that the economics doesn't add up.)

Nuclear power is safest way to make electricity, according to study, by David Brown, appearing in the Washington Post. The title is pretty self-explanatory, but in brief, the article covers nuclear vs. other risks (mainly fossil), and even including Chernobyl in its calculus, shows that nuclear power is significantly safer.

• Another article in the Guardian, by Melanie Windridge, also concludes that Fear of nuclear power is out of all proportion to the actual risks. Like the other authors, Melanie Windridge does not dismiss or trivialize the Fukushima incident, but she puts it in the context of other risks to UK residents.

• Similarly, a Financial Post opinion piece by Lawrence Solomon concludes that Dams are Worse. The focus here, as the title suggests, is on dams, which the other articles do not cover. Since dams are also susceptible to earthquakes, this article helps complete the picture painted by the other authors.

• Likewise, another article by George Monbiot, also in the Guardian, points out The double standards of green anti-nuclear opponents. Here, he takes some of the same points, but weaves them in a different way to point out a number of double standards in the arguments of nuclear opponents who cloak themselves in a green mantle. (One small quibble: I think he means nuclear opponents, not anti-nuclear opponents.)

In addition to these, which all come from mainstream media, are some pieces I've seen on websites and blogs. Most surprising, perhaps, a piece on the Treehugger website is titled Nuclear Power's Bad Rap: Coal Is Far More Deadly. As the title suggests, it compares coal and nuclear and concludes nuclear power is the better alternative. Yet another article is a blog post co-authored by Mark Lynas and Chris Goodall entitled The dangers of nuclear power in light of Fukushima. While the title may seem ambiguous, the article goes on to conclude the dangers are not as great as the hype might suggest.

These are by no means all the articles and blogs that have come across my desk--or computer screen--in recent days. It is a representative sampling. Admittedly, I've seen articles from the opposite camp as well--extrapolating from this accident to conclude there are likely to be more accidents at every plant that is older, a BWR, in an area with any probability of earthquakes, or anywhere near a coast--or for that matter, near any body of water. Still, considering that the Fukushima accident was such a significant event and considering that it is still very much in the news, the fact that so many people from outside the discipline can step back and put things in perspective is one bit of positive news in an otherwise difficult time.



  1. Gail - I agree with your analysis. I think there are a number of rational people who have never paid too much attention to nuclear other than to accept the common reaction that it is kind of scary. After hearing all of the early predictions about the widespread damage that was sure to happen if a "meltdown" occurred, they are now realizing that a lot of melting can happen and still be contained in the resilient systems we have built.

    The reaction seems to be a recognition that it was not nearly as bad as the fear, uncertainty and doubt pushers have made it out to be.

    On a separate topic - Atomic Insights has move to a new URL at I would be honored if you would update your blogroll.

  2. Rod, Thanks for your comment.

    I enjoy your blog and am happy to update my blogroll for my readers. Keep up the good work.