"Why <insert power generation> Will Never Be Inherently Safe"
All power generating has some risk. The idea is to create a differential and capture the differential. Inherently, generating power means capturing energy differentials and typically the higher the TWh the more damage when a failure to contain said energy creation occurs (think a nuclear plant, dam, wind turbine, etc.)
Safety in nuclear power, as with other forms of energy generation, have more to do with politics. Politics will lead to cutting or increasing costs and safety guards being put (or not put) in place. Arguably, pollution due to coal and natural gas is going to cause global warming and in turn many billions will possibly die from starvation.
Is that "inherently safe?"
I don't think anyone disagrees that it will never be "inherently" safe, but it may be "safer" or "cause less damage" long term to the general populous than alternatives today.
Solar: Bird Deaths, toxic to make PV panels
Wind: Potential Bird Deaths, fails violently when it does
Hydro: Dam Failure, incompatible with a healthy fishery
Fossil: Pollution of various forms, finite amount of fuel
I'd still prefer nuclear power, given the options.
I think nuclear is our only real option moving forward (due to wildly increasing energy consumption) but we need to look at these things honestly. Any damage caused by solar or hydro is wildly incomparable to more nuclear meltdowns or current fossil fuel emissions.
I'd also consider hat with generation II reactors most of the failures were systems failures, not failures of the reactor itself - we know how to engineer around systems failures.
This is completely untenable. Perhaps you're okay with it if it occurs far from where you live, thus not affecting you, but it sure does affect other people. And the surrounding areas. It's not comparable at all with the other forms of energy production in that list aside from fossil fuels which are an even worse danger.
> we know how to engineer around systems failures.
We don't really know how to fix human-related errors, such as hubris, pride, laziness, shame, and so on. So many things are completely obvious in hindsight, but we continue to make similar mistakes now.
As you said, safety is politics, and politics are people. People will be greedy, they will cut corners, and without a rigid command structure and severe penalties for safety violations (ie the US Navy and their nuclear fleet), accidents will eventually occur. Solar is cheap to manufacture, easy to ship, and does not require skilled labor to rack and install (besides trained electricians for the interconnections).
As of a few minutes ago, California is generating 10GW of solar energy, 1.8GW of wind, and only 2.1GW of nuclear  .
Also, places such as Illinois have used primarily nuclear for power for decades without any incidents:
The issues with Lithium batteries is, a finite lifetime, a shortage of the materials needed to make them, toxic byproducts of manufacture and recycling or disposing of the the batteries when their finite life is used up.
If they're a bridge, they're still a better bridge than nuclear. Tesla had the Hornsdale Power Reserve installed (in Australia, from Nevada) in 90 days (100MW/129MWh installation). It takes 10 years to build nuclear generators. Maybe you reduce that time with streamlined reactor designs and regulatory processes, but you're never going to approach the speed of renewables and battery installs.
Any solution works if you have unlimited amounts of other people's money to throw at the problem
> A record amount of new solar capacity has been fitted to Australia’s households and businesses in the first three months of this year, an increase of 46% on the same period last year, according to the consultancy Green Energy Markets. And installations in Victoria have surged 90% after the state introduced an incentive scheme.
> It’s calculated that customers will save $600 million on their power bills over the next decade, thanks to the installations. And the scheme is bringing benefits in other areas, generating new jobs in the renewable energy sector.
Your link is paywalled, so I can't read the details, but rooftop solar is an incredibly good financial proposition in the Australian energy markets due to market dysfunctions. It seems like a useful scenario in which to subsidize clean energy instead of very dirty coal generation currently in service throughout most of Australia.
Incentive schemes are literally other people's money. The savings are reminiscent of a store putting the price up 50% prior to a 33% off super sale. Everything looks like a good deal when compared to inflated prices caused by market dysfunction.
If you're going to claim that the entire nuclear industry is evil, and that it's technology is fundamentally dangerous, maybe it would be good to compare it to a competitor like fossil fuels. Their pollution can cause over a million deaths per year.
Comparing the two by casualties per unit of power generated, this makes nuclear power appear something like 100 times safer. It's a simple calculation and if anyone's interested I could add the numbers here.
> Before we delve into the article itself, note that the author of the [pro-nuclear] article, Michael Shellenberger, has a degree in cultural anthropology, not nuclear science or nuclear engineering, environmental science, or any other educational background related to the energy production methods and their impact on the environment, human lives, or the global economy.
> First, this puff piece for Forbes Magazine tries to discredit the assessment of noted pediatrician and children’s advocate Dr. Helen Caldicott, who projected close to 1 million people died due to the Chernobyl meltdown.
So who is this Dr. Helen Caldicott? From Wikipedia:
> Helen Mary Caldicott (born 7 August 1938) is an Australian physician, author, and anti-nuclear advocate who has founded several associations dedicated to opposing the use of nuclear power, depleted uranium munitions, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, and military action in general.
So they decry an anthropologist writing a pro-nuclear column (fair enough) ... by quoting a physician (umm really?).
By the way, even if we accept their "one million deaths from Chernobyl" at face value, let's put that in some context:
> A 2013 study by MIT indicates that 53,000 early deaths occur per year in the United States alone because of vehicle emissions. 
So, during the 33 years since Chernobyl, vehicular emissions caused somewhere around 53k * 33 = 1.7 million deaths in the US only. Nuclear killed, let's be generous, up to a million. Coal kills that much every year.
Well, maybe nuclear is too expensive. I'm OK with that argument. But I don't buy that nuclear is too dangerous, when its worst disasters kill less than regular, non-accidental use of fossil fuels on the same year.
> ... deaths per TWh ...
We don't know what the actual death/TWh is for nuclear is yet because there hasn't been "enough" TWh's.
It boggles my mind that we are still burning oil while opposing nuclear because "it's too dangerous."
I am saying that deaths/TWh is NOT a useful metric. It is a ridiculous reductive way of looking at this that assumes a continuous random failure rate.
The same applies for fossil fuels although, as you state, it isn't punctuated with the possibility of an immediate catastrophe like a meltdown but something else entirely-- irreversible climate damage.
Luckily, we can use the data we have and come up with some intermediate conclusions while more data is collected - rather than sweep it under the rug.
Chernobyl would have been illegal to build anywhere else in the world since it was such an inherently dangerous design. It isn't really fair to compare it against reactors built anywhere else. At any rate, when you say "As bad as Chernobyl and Fukushima were, MUCH worse accidents are possible." - you need to back that up with something. We've had hundreds of reactors producing hundreds of TWh of electricity per year for decades with less loss of life than any other power source.
It is fair when you're talking about human hubris and what it can lead to. Chernobyl (and other reactors like it) should've, could've, would've done x,y,z, but that disaster did occur, that area is totally uninhabitable, and the people living near there still are affected.
Just because it's better than other solutions doesn't mean it's -inherently safe-. "net less of life" isn't really a good statistic because living things are also affected.
A totalitarian regime built an unsafe reactor that would have been illegal to build anywhere else because it was a very dangerous design - yes I agree they were arrogant idiots. It's certainly not the only example of the Soviet Union not caring the environmental consequences of its actions. It doesn't say much about reactors in other countries.
>...that area is totally uninhabitable, and the people living near there still are affected.
There are areas with very high radioactive background levels, but a couple hundred people live there full time and thousands of people work in the area.
>...Just because it's better than other solutions doesn't mean it's -inherently safe-.
Who said generating gigawatts of electricity is or will ever be "inherently safe"? Nothing is inherently safe - there are risks when doing anything. All you can do is compare the risks/rewards and try to choose the best alternative. Any other approach is not rational.
When politicians pander to anti-science fears, it can have real consequences. For example, Germany abandoned nuclear power while keeping coal plants running even though the death tolls from burning coal are astronomical compared to nuclear. Coal plants will kill more people this year than nuclear has done over the last 100 years - and that includes the Chernobyl accident and the atomic bombs dropped on Japan!
I re-read the parent to your comment looking for the words "inherently safe" in vain. I don't think they are claiming it is inherently safe.
My 2c on it is that yes, it is important to recognize the failures and lessons learned when moving forward. However, we don't bring up the Model T when discussing road safety today. This is similar in the sense that design, oversight, and general knowledge of nuclear is much more advanced today than when Chernobyl was built. So, yes we need to think about Chernobyl. No, it isn't fair to directly compare Chernobyl to Gen IV plants.
That is true, but even when Chernobyl was built, no western country would have licensed a commercial reactor without a containment dome. That combined with the RBMK reactor positive void coefficient meant Chernobyl was basically a disaster waiting to happen.
But, just earlier today was a fancy chart comparing deaths/TWh of each energy source, which I believe used the numbers this particular article is refuting. I was wondering if anyone had a similar chart/data, except using the numbers presented in this particular article.
Opinions are great and all, but there's actual numbers to use which is what I am more interested in.
Arguably that was the worst accident in history, hundreds of square miles are still contaminated and off-limits. It was so bad the CIA helped keep it secret from the Americans so as not to discourage their nuclear industry.
I've known about chernobyl, tmi, fukushima, etc, but I was totally surprised to read about this one.
I'm not sure it has much to add on modern reactor design. However the human drive create disasters and hide mistakes is alive and well.
That's how an analogy works. You're comparing the difference between two pairs of things that are not comparable.
> measured right behind fukushima and chernobyl, as the third most serious recorded event.
Trying to use a failure at a 1950s Russian nuclear facility as indicative of nuclear safety today is like considering a medieval scaffolding failure as indicative of modern construction safety.
Talking about it is still important, especially because like most things, human bureaucracy and politics played into it. Having more intelligent designs does not solve human stupidity, laziness, pride, etc.
And even if nuclear safety is much better today, the consequences of failing are still grotesque. In the case of other meltdowns, the surrounding areas are still affected, even today. Doesn't matter whether it melted down today or 100 years ago, those areas are still toxic.
I think nuclear is our only real solution moving forward, but we need to honestly talk about the incidents that occurred, and fix the issues that went wrong with it. You don't get that by covering things up.
If a kid in your neighborhood died from playing with a gun, you'd definitely tell your child about it and teach them about handling firearms.
(Assuming they are mature enough to process that information.)
You're right though that using old models of reactors doesn't contribute much signal to the discussion of safe, modern reactors, but it does provide a sense of scale to what happens when humans cut corners to save costs.