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Thank you, Golob. It's high time that liberals reevaluate nuclear power in light of new technology and new knowledge of the costs of other fuel sources, and you've laid out the case for it well here.

Posted by tsm | June 7, 2008 2:27 PM


Posted by non-starter | June 7, 2008 2:46 PM


Posted by mmhmm | June 7, 2008 2:48 PM

Quit rocking the boat. no progressive, productive thinking. We need to make sure the rich keep getting richer, don't f*ck with the status quo.

Posted by random poster | June 7, 2008 2:53 PM


Posted by Montgomery Burns | June 7, 2008 2:54 PM


Posted by AJ | June 7, 2008 3:04 PM

What about Hanford? The damn thing was built during WWII and expanded during the cold war, exactly when we really didn't care about anything but nuking the enemy. Do you really think we haven't learned anything since then?

Posted by spudbeach | June 7, 2008 3:21 PM

well spudbeach it remains to be seen whether or not we've learned anything since the cold war. but while the prospect of creating waste-free nuclear power is exciting i still don't see why we should invest in this energy soure as opposed to solar and wind, which we know to be safe already.

Posted by douglas | June 7, 2008 3:27 PM

Comeback? Nuclear power produces 75 percent of France's electricity today.

Posted by Eric F | June 7, 2008 3:28 PM

9 beat me to it. in france and other places in Europe is a non debate. they been down with nukes for a long time.

the three nile island disaster spooked folks -not to mention films like silkwood- to the benefits of nukes.

Posted by SeMe | June 7, 2008 3:45 PM

I'll be pro nuclear energy whenever someone can give me their complete and utter assurance that a Chernobyl won't ever happen again. The problem with that is this: No one can.

Kerr-McGee showed us what can happen when nuclear power plants are in the hands of private industry. Corporations are always looking for ways to cut corners and save money. Their interests are not necessarily the public's interest. When it comes to nuclear power, a rational person would conclude that the two must not be mutually exclusive. Corporations, sometimes managed by rational people and sometimes not, historically haven't shown the same allegiance to humanity.

Posted by Bauhaus | June 7, 2008 3:55 PM

Bauhaus: Chernobyl showed what can happen when nuclear power plants are publically owned and run by governments. Three Mile Island (where no one was injured) showed what can happen when nuclear plants are owned by private companies, but publically regulated. I don't know about you but I know which one I prefer!

Can anyone promise you that a nuclear power plant absolutely, positively won't go wrong? No, the best we can offer you is a 0.001% chance of that. But, I can give you a 100% chance that all the coal fired plants around our country will poison your children's lungs and hand them an Earth on the brink of warming meltdown. I can also give you a 100% promise that there isn't enough hydro and wind power to replace them.

Posted by Stinky | June 7, 2008 4:07 PM

Don't forget Thorium-powered "energy amplifier" designs. They run on an element that is more abundant than Uranium, are "fool-proof" (you turn off the particle accelerator that transmutes Thorium into fissionable Uranium and the reaction stops) and produce waste that is only dangerous for several hundred years, as opposed to many thousands.

I also believe that the program should be government-run with citizen and scientist oversight. Private business should not be involved at all.

We should follow France's model and standardize reactor design as much as possible to eliminate problems that arise from custom designs - custom parts, custom employee training and high cost to operate.

Posted by LukeB | June 7, 2008 4:08 PM

I've always heard that nuclear power consumes a lot of power as well, making it less attractive on balance than it looks at first glance (in other words it is high-yield but proportionately high cost.) Similar to many of the critiques of ethanol. Do you know anything more about this?

Chernobyl is scary as hell. It will be thousands of years before some of that land is safely habitable again. So I think skepticism of this power source on the safety front is somewhat justified. Even if the odds of disaster go down to, say, 10% of their current levels with newer designs, if ten times as many plants come online to meet rising demand then we're back where we started. And of course more plants mean more highly radioactive waste being transported to disposal sites by train or trucks, which itself is a huge risk. Once in the disposal sites it must remain intact for millenia, meaning building the sites anywhere near faultlines is out of the question.

I'm somewhat open to the idea of nuclear power but have so little faith in the institutions trying to make this case to tell the truth about the risks that it gives me pause. As somebody above noted, add in the profit motive and it becomes as unlikely that the public will get an honest assessment as it does that we'll ever here Exxon tell us up front that a certain amount of oil spills are an inevitable cost of doing business. There's a big problem here that the science behind this is well beyond most people's (including mine) ability to fully grasp and so it becomes a matter of deciding who to believe.

Still waiting for fusion power. If only Snake Plissken hadn't ripped up that cassette, we'd all be sitting pretty...

Posted by flamingbanjo | June 7, 2008 4:19 PM

Let's start with taking on the wisdom of replacing one non-renewable resource energy generation with another.

The worldwide production of uranium in 2003 amounted to 41,429 tonnes, of which 25% was mined in Canada. Other important uranium mining countries are Australia, Russia, Niger, Namibia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, South Africa, and the USA.

So once the Middle East is reverted to irrelevancy as the world ditches oil-based energy, these countries will become significant as the world turns towards uranium-based energy. They will begin to realize the world depends on their resource, and band together to raise prices to maximize profit from the demand and their dominion over supply:

It is also undertaken in only a small number of countries of the world, as the resource is relatively rarely found.

So we will move from "peak oil" fears and oil speculation to "peak uranium" fears and uranium speculation.

Nuclear power is not an improvement. It simply postpones the criticality of one non-renewable energy source with another non-renewable energy source. Economically, we might as well start generating electricity from burning forests.

Renewable power sources are the next logical progression of energy development.

Posted by K | June 7, 2008 4:31 PM

You really should read my post on the disasters. The ultra short summary: Chernobyl was such a disaster precisely because the reactor was designed with no concern for safety, was run by a bunch of minimally-trained conscripts who decided to run a poorly thought out experiment on the poorly designed reactor.

I cannot promise you another Chernobyl won't happen. In fact, until the last remaining plants of this design are shut down, I'd say it's far too likely. I can definitively claim that an accident on the magnitude of Chernobyl from even the older-design pressurized water reactors, let alone the much safer proposed Gen IV designs, is virtually minimal. You'd be better off fretting about a meteor hitting Earth.

What *is* reasonable to consider is an accident on the magnitude of TMI happening again. It will. Who cares? More radiation is released by a normally operating coal-fired power plant, in a year, than was released by the TMI accident. We need to be rational when weighing risks. Radiation is scary. The acidification of the ocean dissolving all the plankton is vastly scarier to me.

All the waste, sitting in poorly guarded and minimally shielded casks *outside* of the containment building of most plants around the world remains my far bigger proximate concern around nuclear power.

I don't think of investing in nuclear power plant technology as an either-or thing. As I've written before, and will write again, we should invest massively in wind, solar and geothermal power technology. If we spent what we spend on oil in a week each year on research, we'd be vastly better off than we are now.

Nor am I advocating we build more plants of these newer designs until we've completely explored the quirks of the pilot plants. I just think we should devote serious resources to speed up the research, so we can get the data and decide the best course. In the least, a pilot sodium-cooled Gen-IV fast reactor could start eating up the hundreds of thousand tons of waste we have no plan for right now.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | June 7, 2008 4:35 PM

What about the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. If nuclear is safe why won't insurance write policies for it? Why is it the law that in the event of a nuclear disaster it is tax-payers, not the energy companies that runs the plant, foot most of the bill?

Also, while France gets most of its energy from nuclear, I have never heard an good answer to what to do with nuclear waste. My understanding is that France uses glassification where the waste is encased in glass. The problem is that this only lasts 800 or so years while the half life for radioactive material is thousands of years.

Other forms of renewable energy are safer and don't have long term health implications, turning to nuclear is not the answer.

Posted by justin | June 7, 2008 4:42 PM


I've always heard that nuclear power consumes a lot of power as well, making it less attractive on balance than it looks at first glance (in other words it is high-yield but proportionately high cost.)

Great question. With the current plants, this is true. Read my nuclear waste post. Current plants only can use up about 3-5% of the fissionable atoms in their fuel before the fuel has to be pulled and reprocessed. These reprocessing sites are often far away from the plants. So, this is absolutely correct. Nuclear power, as done now, is quite inefficient via cycle analysis.

This is why I'm so impressed by the Gen IV designs. All try to both use far more of the fuel before having to reprocess. The sodium-cooled variant even does almost all of the fuel cycling on site.

While global amounts of Uranium are finite, one nifty thing of these newer reactors is that they convert non-fuel atoms into atoms that can be used to power the plant. They produce more fuel than they consume. You'll have to read the last post in the series to get how and why.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | June 7, 2008 4:44 PM

I'd still go with solar, wind, or geo-thermal before nuke power. Even hydro-electric is better than nuclear. Because, seriously, if any of those fail nobody winds up glow-in-the-dark.

And as Bauhaus @ #11 pointed out, who the hell would you trust to run the nuclear power plants and dispose of the waste? The government or private energy corporations? Because I wouldn't trust either one. Both of those has had George Dubbya as their leader.

Posted by yucca flower | June 7, 2008 4:45 PM

@11 Chernobyl won't happen again because we won't allow reactors to be designed in such a terrible way. Russian reactor design at the time of Chernobyl had one major flaw: you could not shut down the reaction without the facility having power. The reactors in the US and western Europe did not have such a flaw and will automatically shut themselves down during power loss thanks to the wonders of gravity.

Posted by Jesse | June 7, 2008 5:34 PM

"... really unhappy large nucleus..."


Posted by umvue | June 7, 2008 6:39 PM

In the interest of full disclosure, I work for City Light. But I know nothing about generation or transmission, and just a little bit about distribution (I can probably tell you what the stuff on the pole is, and I can design a simple residential service entrance, but that is about it)

However, it would seem to me that there has to be some sort of happy medium here between renewables and the traditional centrally located generation sites.

If there was a public utility (I say public because they are free of investor concerns) that aggressively promoted solar, etc (and by "aggressively", I mean every building with panels) it would take a lot of the burden of the basic commercial and residential load off the large plants, and seemingly require less utility owned generation of whatever source.

The thing that concerns me about nuclear is that even "several hundred" years worth of toxic waste product is an awful lot of time.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay | June 7, 2008 7:49 PM

@19 - while I'm pretty much in favor of wind and geo-thermal they're not quite without drawbacks. Both of them destroy wildlife habitats and may not be effective long term. Take a look at the huge windfarms near San Francisco.

On the other hand, converting a very small percentage of land (I can't remember the figures, but way less than 5%) to wind turbines (which does not prevent the land from being used as farm land/for cattle..etc.) would provide sufficient electricity for most of the country.

Of course, you'd kill a lot of birds and bats along the way. But then, long term effect of pretty much every fuel source we have now is doing that anyway.

I'm not real keen on photovoltaic solar panels, but there are some other very interesting forms of solar energy conversion but I don't think they're ready now. Wind turbines are.

Posted by Anonymous | June 7, 2008 8:25 PM

Jonathan - interesting & well-written series. I'm still stuck on the problems of nuclear waste storage, and would rather look at other renewable energy sources along with massive reduction in energy consumption. Admittedly I am not doing as much as I could to reduce my personal consumption.

Another question that needs to be addressed are the problems with uranium mining - my understanding is that in the US a lot of uranium mining has happened on Indian reservations, and that there is still contamination around a lot of the former mine sites. I'm sure it's not as bad as it was in the 50s, but I don't trust either the government or private companies to protect the environment or people's health to the extent they should.

Posted by asteria | June 7, 2008 9:35 PM

Jonathon... nice post.

I haven't checked your links yet (tomorrow, day off, slow Slog day) but the physics in your blurbs seem sound so far. I'll have to check the one that produces more fuel than it uses. Is it just a breeder reactor, or just fucking with Thermogoddammics Law #1?

I'm excited about the waste eating reactor. That's something I knew was inevitable, but didn't think we were that close to getting there.

This is the next step towards controlled fusion, which besides powering a city the size of L.A. on a few gallons of seawater a day, can also disintegrate radioactive/toxic substances into inert matter, thereby destroying the 'waste' that got us to fusion in the first place.

This is probably the only long term hope for our species and modern civilization.

We've come a long way since the days when the black, gooey shit bubbling up from the desert was used as a topical salve, and now wholesales at $138+ a barrel. We haven't finished learning how to extract energy from shit (literally!) and today's nuc-u-lar 'waste' is future fuel, which will eventually be a trivial disposal chore. The physics is there, we don't have the engineering yet.

Really, we only have to worry about the toxic shit for a couple hundred years. By then, either our exploding population will have exhausted our conventional resources and modern civilization will collapse, or we will develop controlled fusion. Except for the possibility of orbiting solar panels somehow beaming collected energy to Earth, there is no other way to completely replace fossil fuels when they are gone.

A few tons of toxic sludge buried in a mountain in bum-fuck Nevada (yes, I've been there several times long ago, it's bum-fuck Nevada) won't be a problem for us one way or the other. We'll either take care of it because we can, it's easy, it's our obligation, or we'll be so fucked that it won't matter, (except that it was probably a good idea to bury it in a mountain).

For other species? Dinosaur Killer Asteroid (among others) did amazing things to evolution.

Posted by drewl | June 7, 2008 11:03 PM

There are far more efficient solar technologies than photovoltaic systems. Check out Infinia in Kennewick. Very cool, and they're creating a huge installation in Spain.

Posted by Mike | June 7, 2008 11:27 PM

I have a request. Can we please ban the use of "France/Netherlands/Someone is Europe does it!" as a subsitute for real logical arguments for doing something?

Thank you.

Posted by mintygreen | June 8, 2008 6:06 AM

Too much toxicity in nuclear waste has absolutely not been dealt with. How much more do we want to poison ourselves?

The sun hits us with 800 terrawatts of energy every day. By contrast, the entire United States only generates 950,000 megawatts yearly! We need to harness that. The vast majority of research money should be spent making the most of this gift. We need a space race for solar energy.

It should be said however, that solar energy is highly susceptible to nuclear attack. We should also invest in geothermal, wind and hydroelectric.

Posted by CP | June 8, 2008 9:39 AM


France's system of waste containment may last "only" 800 years but I would like to imagine that in 800 years we might have either figured out a way to deal with nuclear waste or we'll all be dead.

Think about technology even 100 years ago compared to now. I'm not too worried about putting off the problem for 800 years. It's better than having our current carbon crisis kill us off in 100 or 200 years.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | June 8, 2008 12:49 PM

Where to start...

Tell me Mr. Golob, why don't insurance companies insure nuclear power plants? I would imagine because they, as you, predict that another TMI will happen, and it simply isn't worth the risk.

Tell me, why invest large amounts of money in a dirty resource, which generates toxic waste that is volatile indefinitely and needs to be guarded against use by terrorists or neglect by governing agencies? Perhaps because it is a clear path that generates profit, rather than decentralizing power production.

Tell me, what is it about the non-perfectibility of technology and people that you don't understand? As others have said solar or other sources may not be perfect or even perfectible but a solar power mistake doesn't result in a catastrophe requiring volunteers to shovel out radioactive material until they die.
I am not a luddite but the worshipping of a dangerous technology in the hope of sustaining a permanent economic growth spiral seems like a religion to me.

This reminds me of Freeman Dysons prognostications that genetically modified carbon eating trees will be engineered sometime in the next 20 to 50 years, whereupon all we will have to do is replace 1/4 of the worlds forests and our global warming problem will go away. never mind the possible unintended consequences of messing with genomes on such a scale, such reforestation just doesn't seem politically or logistically possible.

Similarly with nuclear power, the idea of very safe, fourth or fifth generation nuclear power plants spreading safely throughout the world, somehow generating waste that will safely be disposed of does not seem politically or logistically possible. As you yourself point out, the existing waste, being stored externally is already a problem.

I would rather put some serious resources into other technologies, ala nanosolar's recent efforts.

Posted by LMSW | June 8, 2008 6:02 PM

lmsw, you have a fundamental lack of knowledge on how insurance and reinsurance works. it isn't just the probability of an accident, it's the incalculable liability and distribution of such liability that prevents the issuance of it.

a hurricane has known limits on liability, as does an earth quake. nuclear accidents? not so much.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 8, 2008 6:51 PM

why thank you bellevue for clarifying my apparently insufficiently articulate point . The above stated risk is of course the risk of liability from a potential accident. If such an accident were as unlikely as, say, the sun suddenly ceasing to be, I am sure insurance and reinsurance companies would take the policy.

Posted by LMSW | June 8, 2008 9:56 PM

did anybody actually read the whole thing? All these commentators talking about how nuke waste lasts 100'2 of years missed the part about the gen 5 reactor that could possibly use that fuel and make it inert.

it's not all roses and wine, but nuke is part of the energy answer. Solar and wind both have their problems as well. We cannot do more hydro unless we discover some new river that doesn't have fish or... umm farmers.... or anything else, plus damn fail too.

I've always had a place in my heart for nuke power. I mean... it's powered the sun for how many trillions of years?

Posted by nos | June 8, 2008 10:21 PM

Having worked in insurance, I can very safely say that what a policy does or does not cover has absolutely nothing to do with science

It's offensive that you seem to think that's a real argument against anything.

Posted by Me | June 8, 2008 10:25 PM


I understand your concerns regarding the generation of toxic waste, but I for one would prefer my toxic waste to be contained in a localized area and effectively sealed off for hundreds of years instead of floating around in the atmosphere in the form of carbon emissions.

Posted by Sir Learnsalot | June 8, 2008 10:25 PM

As a gay-guy who grew up in Richland right next to Hanford with a father who was a nuclear chemist, I've always been bemused by the absolutely staggering amount of willful ignorance and blind superstition surrounding the topic of nuclear power. To me, its the ultimate 3rd-rail bugaboo of the "religious left", just like homosexuality is for the religious right - Don't question us, we're agin it, and if you're fur it you're either a duped fool or our evil enemy! Sure leaves lots of room for intelligent discussion...

The sad reality it that its the only really viable alternative for our energy future, especially if we want to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. While we currently live in our local fairy-land of hydro-power, much of the rest of the country is furiously burning coal to generate electricity, which spews out its own slightly radioactive ash. China has turned from a coal exporter to a coal importer to power its insatiable growth. Wind and solar can only make up a fraction of today's demand for power, especially as we transition - hopefully - to electric cars.

JG, wish that you had included a discussion of the pebble-bed reactor technology that is currently under development; I love the concept.

Posted by MarkyMark | June 8, 2008 11:54 PM

What a bunch of crap.

We no more need nuclear power - especially the severely flawed US designs that are used to breed weapons-grade byproducts - than we need to carve even bigger holes in our head in our greed to get 0-120 mph in 0.4 seconds instead of doubling the mpg of vehicles instead.

Let's home when GWB is out of office this insane idea dies where it should have died a decade ago.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 9, 2008 12:36 AM

@34 I am sorry that you are offended. However we are not discussing the way that insurance tries to avoid paying for anything. However I was under the impression that actuarial science was involved with determining the relative amounts of risk that the insurance companies were willing to expose themselves to. Since you know insurance companies so well, perhaps you can elucidate for me how they do determine risk. Do they pull their business models out of their asses?

Personally, it has crossed my mind at times that insurance companies were the bureaucratic second cousins to mafia protection rackets, basing their coverage on how much money they could extract based on fear of consequences, except that the mafia actually does offer protection. However, even thugs are sometimes capable of knowing a bad bet when they see one.

In this case, my point was that insurance companies are known for trying to make money on the basis of extracting more money in premiums than they will have to payout. The fact that they will not expose themselves to such liability, indicates that such liability is too risky to take on because an accident is too likely. Perhaps in my ignorance I assumed that insurance that actually covered such liability would be so expensive that it would drive the delivered cost of nuclear power through the roof. Thus the government (that is we the people) takes on the risk for both the consequences (read deaths) of a truly serious accident, and the cost of clean-up. Would you be so kind as show me the error of my reasoning?

Posted by LMSW | June 9, 2008 8:30 AM


The question is one of the perfectibility of technology, humans and human institutions. If you believe that someday, there will be a perfect technology that that will eat up its own waste, that's nice. However, I equate that with the belief that someday the messiah will come. Likewise if you believe that someday humans won't make mistakes in mining uranium, running power plants, and handling the waste, I'm sure that helps you sleep at night. Call me a pessimist but when I look around the world, I see that people and even more so, the institutions that people create are fallible.

Lets take for example how the world handles nuclear technology. Our own government, with its' double plus good military security, can't keep track of its live warheads such that it accidently flies them around the country. You may say, but nothing bad happened, they just accidently put it on the wrong plane. I respond "this time". Now contemplate the track record in other countries in regard to bombs and knowhow. It's not a pretty picture. Do people really think there won't be mistakes and corruption in other countries?

Now lets consider the idea of moving large amounts of radioactive material to a dump site. (assuming that the waste eating power plant still generates some nasty materials, for instance, when it is decommissioned. This material will be loaded on such infallible modes of transportation as A) trucks, B) trains, C) boats D) planes E) rockets to the moon? Then these materials will be safely escorted through population centers to their respective destinations all over the world without incident or accident? Then these destinations (chosen because nobody important lives near there and we are sure the geology is sound) will be zealously guarded by all the worlds responsible governments (because governments are always responsible when the chips are down), through good times and bad, no matter how the individual governments politics may change, for the next thousand years?

This does not seem likely to me but perhaps you wizened believers in nuclear power, know something I don't or have more faith than I.

Or maybe you and the rest of the world prefer to live in a fantasy rather then consider harder choices, such as giving up your U.S. consumer standard of living. Maybe you and the rest of the world don't really care how you get your power for supporting ever growing economies, because your children and grandchildren need shoes more than they need to worry about the consequences of the occasional accident. Maybe you think this is all that's possible, and its better than too much carbon. Hmmm. Radiation sickness or plummeting standard of living. Stock up on Iodine and lead lined underwear.
"After me, the deluge."

Posted by LMSW | June 9, 2008 9:23 AM

Helium Three from the moon. The Russians and Chinese are already preparing to mine the moon for it and it makes fission clean and longer lasting. Helium Three folks. It's a revolution.

Posted by Vince | June 9, 2008 9:32 AM

and you're wrong in how you perceive the problem. It isn't that the accident risk is too likely, it's that the liability for an accident would exceed the entire capital of the entire insurance market.

When I stated you didn't understand the problem I was right. The likilood his a part of the issue, but the cost of the accident is way more important in this case, especially when you don't have much cost modeling in nuclear accidents.

imagine it this way;
hurricanes and earthquakes happen with enough frequency that the companies can build models that can accurately assess the likelihood of the event and the costs of the event. In the case of nuclear accidents, there is not a lot of experience with them happening and in the worst case scenario the costs could exceed the entire capital of insurance markets, but we don't know because they havent happened.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 9, 2008 9:35 AM

and why sink money into a great unknown with a lot of potential downside?

you're trying to interlink the likelihood of an accident with the cost of an accident and they arent the same thing.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 9, 2008 9:38 AM


Did you RTFA? I basically make your best point: We should be far more concerned about the transport and storage of waste and fuel than a plant blowing up. Remember, more radiation is released to the environment by a normally operating coal, oil or natural gas fueled plant than during the entire TMI accident.

My interest in nuclear power research isn't primarily about maintaining the US suburban lifestyle. I'm far more concerned about the billions of people worldwide starting to demand a Western lifestyle for the first time ever. Even if not a single new nuclear plant is built in the US, new nuclear plants will be build worldwide. We can either develop better technologies now, and thus ensure better and more responsible plants are built. Or we can stick with the 1950's era technology.

The Gen IV designs have the potential to reduce the waste-per-plant by 30-50 fold. It seems like a worthy investment, in addition to developing solar, wind and geothermal tech.

Posted by Jonathan Golob | June 9, 2008 10:39 AM

So bellevue, you are saying there is no relationship between the likelihood of an accident, the premiums that are charged and the amount the insurance companies or reinsurers are willing to pay, because the liability is higher than the worth of the companies and actually the liability cannot be calculated because they can't do computer models without examples of accidents?

First of all, I think there are models out there.

Second, Is there some law that states that insurance companies have to keep a certain ratio of capital to liability exposure on hand in the event of disasters? I looked but couldn't find it.

Third it seems that the Price Anderson act (again please correct me if I am wrong) seems limit liability to 10 Billion. Berkshire hathaway has a market capitalization of 208 billion, AIG - 178 billion. It seems like they have the capital.

So, to recap, if there was zero chance of an accident then there would be no liability issue. Therefore the likelihood of an accident must be greater than zero. furthermore, with high enough rates to cover the actual estimates of liability, or the much lower cap of liability imposed by price anderson, they would be able to take on the risk. But they are not. Thus if they have the money, rather than an unknown amount of risk I am positing that they have calculated the risk to profit ratio and have invested elsewhere.

I could be wrong though. Maybe Price Anderson, doesn't cap liability to 10 billion, and maybe even that, is too much liability for the insurance industry. maybe there is some law that says you must have x amount of capital in relation to y amount of liability.The point I am making is that the truly catastrophic levels of liability are based on a real risk of an accident and that the insurance industry's reluctance to insure nuclear power plants, is a marker of that potential consequences and risk. (That and the somewhat humorous observation that even bloodthirsty insurance companies have their limits. apparently this was deemed too easy a target to resist).
One has to ask though if the liability is so high, with even the small risk, why are we investing in nuclear power?

I notice you and others didn't reply to the larger issues of the logistical and political problems of spreading power plants around, human fallibility and institutional fallibility that I noted. Why is that? What about you Mr. Golob? For all your technological strutting ("Win arguments"? Grow up), where do you stand on the issue of fallibility? .

Posted by LMSW | June 9, 2008 12:02 PM

JG @ 43 the issue I have with the article is:

"Nuclear power, particularly responsibly applied with standardized plant designs and a real plan for dealing with the waste, remains our best hope. The physics and technology is available. We just need to do it. Now."

I don't think the world ( the US included) has shown itself to be responsible or capable of using off the shelf, plug and play technology, or of developing and implementing a enforceable waste disposal plan.

The choice you present of developing better nuclear technology or sticking to 1950's technology is a false choice. there are other options. I think it is better to investigate other less dangerous technologies and limit the access to the nuclear materials.

Similarly, your concern about the billions of people in the world starting to demand a western lifestyle, is premised on the sustainability of our current western lifestyle. I am doubtful of the ability of the planet to sustain such consumption of resources. I think it would be better to attempt to change the goals of the western lifestyle we hold dear as a way of changing the goals of the developing world. If we can be prosperous without nuclear power, rampant consumerism, worsening divisions between classes etc., then so can they.

Food, shelter, Medical care, education, political and human rights, with sustainable cleaner energy, are the core goals we should be focussing on rather than rescuing the world from 50's tech nuclear power by supplying new improved nuclear power that will be subject to misuse and abuse. Its a matter of what do we focus on and where do we put resources not just "we need to do it. Now."

Posted by LMSW | June 9, 2008 12:31 PM

lmsw, there are models but how accurate are they? how much are they developed given the price anderson act? no one wants to stick their dick in a hole for 10 dollars when they have no idea what is on the other side.

imagine premiums charged as a product of probability of event by the cost of the event. when that the cost is a vertical asymptote how do you charge a premium for that?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 9, 2008 2:38 PM

and think about it another way.

a 1 in a billion chance that costs you 1 trillion what?

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 9, 2008 2:41 PM

Excellent post. More people should know these things. I'm all for using as much wind and solar power as possible but we will always need other sources for when the sun isn't shining and the wind isn't blowing.

It's very important as we move forward with Nuclear that we come up with a much better method of disposing of the fuel. Right now we've got basically no long term plan for that and it's an extremely long term problem.

We should also be involved in the Fusion reactor they built on the border of France & Switzerland. They've figured out how to successfully make and sustain the reaction and get power from it. They just can't figure out what to make the reactor out of to keep it from melting in the heat. We should be involved in that process.

Posted by Colin | June 9, 2008 3:42 PM

bellevue--- and the answer is "a bad idea". No really, there have been two major accidents already, blamed on incompetent people. Incompetence is not a one in a billion chance. Incompetence is the status quo folks. what countries are we talking about being sophisticated and responsible enough to handle the mining, operation to extract energy and disposal of nuclear materials? Russia (a crime cartel with a poor track record), China (not known for its environmental protection or quality control), India (maybe but there is always that disputed territory next door)? Does any country in Africa or South America seem stable enough to handle nuclear technology? There are already too many countries with the technology. what kind of new world order, rule of law, fantasy is needed to fulfill the stringent and unforgiving requirements needed for safety?

Humans can't even handle Penicillin responsibly (super germs), and you science-fantasy folks want to give, excuse me, sell the people of the world more nuclear technology?

With this kind of ballyhoo soon we can all say,
"For now I am become Shiva, destroyer of worlds."

Posted by LMSW | June 9, 2008 5:38 PM

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