Nuclear power is safe*

*except for certain black-out dates

Yesterday, once more nuclear power has been proven to be to dangerous to be handled by humans. At the site of nuclear plant of Tricastrine, about 360kg Uranium leaked into the local water system.

So far, that’s nothing big, such things happen from time to time. Eventually, we get used to it. But it shows, that not only the plants itself are a can of worms, but all activities around the nuclear power production chain can have devastating long term effects.

The radioactive half-life time of Uranium-235 is 704 million years. So in only 352 million years, the radioactive pollution in that area will be down to half of the level it is today. Great, so your grand-grand-grand-(repeat 10 million times)-grand-kids will be lucky enough to live in a somewhat healthy area again.

But this incident must not be seen as a singular incident. Nuclear waste is generally disposed in rock salt and old salt mines. The salt is supposed to keep the waste dry and to prevent any contamination of the ground water. So far the theory. Newer research showed, that this disposal schema is not safe at all. Nuclear waste still generates heat as the nuclear processes never stop. Research now has shown that salt rock deforms when being exposed to constant temperatures of 100 degree celsius and more. Although the experiments were conducted in a laboratory only, the result indicates a great risk of storing large amounts of nuclear waste in such salt mines for  a couple of thousand years. As a result, the only safe way to store nuclear waste is to monitor it actively for the next … 350 million years.

(Home work exercise:  Calculate the full costs of 1.70 MWh nuclear power under the unrealistic assumption that energy companies are paying for *all* clean-up costs for as long as the nuclear waste is dangerous to humans. 1.70 MWh equals one barrel oil.)

During the last years, nuclear power plants have been proven less safe than advertised. In 2006 at  Ringhals nuclear power plant in Sweden, a fire shut down the plant and a faulty emergency power aggregate almost lead to a melt-down. The emergency power is required to safely shut down the plant in case of black-outs. Without a safe shutdown, a melt-down is the guaranteed result.

The very same security architecture was installed in the German nuclear plants in Brunsbüttel and Krummel (link in German), which also had to be shut down after a fire and short-circuits in the emergency power system.

And just in June this year, a Europe wide nuclear alert was issued after a accident in a Slowenian nuclear plant.

Despite the fact that Germany has a rather strict monitoring of the security of nuclear power plants, the list of incidents and accidents in German nuclear power plants is still impressive.

How many Chernobyl-style disasters have to happen, before we realize that the risk and long term costs  do not justify the short-term profit of nuclear power.

Germany, Sweden and Spain agreed to stop using nuclear power within the next years.

Italy had been a nuclear free zone for the last 20-years, but due to the current power-holder Silvio Berlusconi Italy will most likely return to use nuclear power in 2013.

So the question is: What do you value higher: Short-term solutions to well-known energy problems which everyone chose to ignore for the last decades or long-term safety and a healthy environment.

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About Thomas

After working as all-hands guy and lead developer on Pentaho Reporting for over an decade, I have learned a thing or two about report generation, layouting and general BI practices. I have witnessed the remarkable growth of Pentaho Reporting from a small niche product to a enterprise class Business Intelligence product. This blog documents my own perspective on Pentaho Reporting's development process and our our steps towards upcoming releases.