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The Japanese are scrupulous managers and very risk averse in the area of nuclear power. Yet they were unable to contain 3 explosions and partial meltdowns in an important plant due to the recent and tragic earthquake and tsunami. Nuclear power is not a truly viable alternative to coming solar, wind, thermal, and tidal options because of a number of factors.
First, this is a heavily subsidized industry highly dishonest in its dealings with government and the public. They consistently downplay the threat or overtly lie. They cannot be trusted to be transparent as required by the high technological risk.
Second, nuclear power is subsidized in construction, with high cost overruns, in decommisioning radioactive sites, waste cleanup, uranium mining, and in future siting of hazardous materials, a problem that has yet to be solved. What do we do with a 1960s plant that is radioactive, and must be contained and guarded for at least 500 years. Only Rome has lasted that long!
Third, these subsidies could rapidly create a decentralized and low risk solar economy.
Fourth, most plants are sited on the coast, and threatened by global warming, sea level rise, more frequent and violent oceanic storms, not to mention quakes and tsunamies. Most are near large megalopoli, making evacuation, economic dislocation, environmental damage major problems even for Japan the world’s 3rd richest country.
Fifth, technological advances in design wont cancel the sheer complexity in engineering and building involved, nor will they solve the problem of waste disposal, decommisioning of old plants, and the massive environmental costs of uranium mining and processing (see the Hanford plant), and disposal.
Nuclear power is a stale WWII technology that has to be replaced. It is not an alternative to coal or oil. In fact, it is blocking the needed government subsidies and research needed to institute the inevitable and more productive green economy.
Its time to apply the precautionary principle to nuclear power; it is not worth the risk, cost, or environmental hazard. If all the costs of nuclear power were internalized by the corporations that run them, it would not be worth building or running a single plant. Rectors currently operate because we the taxpayers have to pick up the long term bill, while the corporations walk away with the short run profits.