Indian Point nuclear power plant, near New York City. Photo: Tony/Creative Commons.
While safety concerns about nuclear power are peaking as the situation at the Fukushima power plant continues to deteriorate, I'd like to point out two really important and thoughtful responses to why building new nuclear power plants is a bad idea, not because of safety concerns alone but first and foremost because of cost:With Effects of Accident So Damaging, Costs Soar
Climate Progress points out that while continued burning of fossil fuels is a direct threat to personal health and planetary health, "we need to focus on the energy technologies and strategies and strategies that meet the combination of low cost (including all environmental and health costs), practicality, and scalability." On which grounds, nuclear fails:
Nuclear fails the test because it is wildly expensive, and Japan makes clear there is a good reason for that. As Richard Caperton and I wrote in our CNN piece: CNN piece:
"New reactors are intrinsically expensive because they must be able to withstand virtually any risk that we can imagine, including human error and major disasters. Why? Because when the potential result of a disaster is the poisoning -- and ultimately, death -- of thousands of people, even the most remote threats must be eliminated."
Running quickly through the rest of the Climate Progress argument (entire original at above link): Energy efficiency and demand response are much cheaper than new nuclear power; solar power can meet "many critical aspects of utility needs than new nukes" and both photovoltaics and solar thermal are coming down in price whereas nuclear is just increasing; the nuclear industry in the US needs to "get its act together" on power plant design, figure out where and how to make a central waste repository.
From Energy Security, to Health, to Environmental Impact, to Reducing Emissions, Nuclear Fails
Over at Transition Culture there's a good list of ten reasons why new nuclear was a mistake before this disaster and obviously still is. The quick rundown:
Cost tops the list, the speed with which new nuclear can be deployed to cut emissions in the short term deeply enough is second. Nuclear power doesn't make the cut when it comes to energy security either. When the whole production cycle of nuclear power is taken into account (not just emissions from generating electricity), it's hardly carbon-neutral and far from green.
Then there are the personal health effects, even in normal operation: "Miscarriage rates by women living near the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing facility are higher than would be expected. Billions of fish are killed every year when they get trapped in the cooling water intake pipes of nuclear reactors."
Nuclear Not Needed For Baseload Power
Responding to the oft-repeated objection to all-renewables that they can't provide baseload electricity:
There has never been a day on record when the wind has not blown somewhere in the UK. The point about baseload is that what you need is enough people in enough places producing electricity. The more you decentralize electricity generation the more secure the baseload becomes. The same principle holds for investing in shares - it's much more risky to invest everything in a couple of big companies than it is to invest in a basket of shares that reflect all aspects of the market. The real reason why proponents of nuclear are obliged to talk about baseload is that it's uneconomic to do much with atomic reactors other than run them continuously, whether or not the energy is needed. And in the UK that has usually meant prioritizing nuclear over available wind energy.
More on the Japanese Earthquake:
Millions Saved in Japan By Good Engineering and Government Building Codes
Update on Japan's Nuclear Crisis at Fukushima