How Safe Are Nuclear Power Plants

ref: newyorker

In principle, as mitigating climate change has become a high priority, nuclear energy remains an appealing technology, assuming that the problem of long-term radioactive-waste disposal can be solved.

nuclear power’s potential contribution to clean energy has been compromised by safety shortcuts taken by the industry, and by lax government regulation of day-to-day safety practices at the plants.

Meltdowns—accidents in which the uncontrolled overheating of a reactor’s nuclear fuel creates the potential for the dispersal of radioactive fallout over a large area—were characterized as “incredible events” that, for all policymaking purposes, could be treated as impossible.

A meltdown was supposed to be so unlikely that plant designers were allowed to focus exclusively on preventing lesser mishaps, such as temporary cooling-system malfunctions, and relieved of the responsibility for building safety systems to try to mitigate accidents in which cooling was lost and could not be restored quickly enough.

Another study, published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 2016, reached the similar conclusion that the “overall probability” of a meltdown in the next decade was almost seventy per cent.