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Worst Case Scenario

While I’ve gone through phases, for most of my life if been conditionally pro-nuclear. That is “pro” if:

  • They can make general operation safe.
  • They find a solution to the waste.

In all honesty they’ve never been able to execute the later, so it has sort of been moot to me.

On the other hand, I always assumed the former was probably essentially solved, though with some lack of comfort.

The woes in Japan have made me rethink and perhaps more importantly consider the metric by which to judge if a solution is viable.

Here’s the thing – I know they have a gazillion safe-guards, but even forgetting negligence or fraud, in life the worst case scenario always finds a way of happening. I know this from my own work – no matter how well you’ve thought out something, you always forget some detail (like that earthquakes come with tsunamis). In short, if there’s a way for all your safeguards to fail, given all the probabilities you can pretty much guarantee that some day it will happen.

With other fossil fuel supplies, solar, hydro, and wind those worst case scenarios may yield pretty ugly situations (particularly hydro), but their outcomes are tenable at some human level. Certainly no amount of death is acceptable, but being honest, the failure of those forms of power generation yield less than ideal, but tolerable outcomes.

Not so for nuclear. The “worst case scenario” of a nuclear power plant failure is simply untenable. There is no risk matrix that can end with spreading radioactive/fissionable materials over wide areas of inhabited or previously habitable area as being “acceptable”. No amount of prior benefit can survive the cost/benefit analysis of a failure here – a single nuclear disaster simply outweighs the benefit of all nuclear positives combined.

In short, a nuclear power plant cannot fail to its worst case scenario. It has to be “fail safe”.

But again, nothing, nothing at all, is fail safe. And while a coal plan blowing up is a pretty ugly and nasty scenario, it is a drop in the bucket compared to a nuclear meltdown. Thus I’m inclined to think nuclear fails an important test:

Can you live with the worst case consequences?

The answer seems a pretty clear “no”, and you don’t have to be Japanese to see it.

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