We produce about 20 percent of our electricity from 104 nuclear reactors. This constitutes about 30 percent of all nuclear generated electricity in the world. There are some 30 different power companies operating several different reactor designs. There have been essentially no new reactors since the core meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979.
With increasing concern over global warming, even some in the environmental community have been rethinking nuclear power as a source of “green” energy. There are several impediments to increased reliance on nuclear power. The inherent risks associated with possible catastrophic failure, safe waste disposal and diversion of nuclear material to terrorists are just three. This demands a very high level of governmental control and backing of the industry.
Even if the risk of catastrophic failure is slight, the cost if it occurs is far beyond the capacity of an individual power company to handle. Even the cost of insurance to insure against such risk prices nuclear power off the market. The reason nuclear power came to be in the United States is due to socialism. Taxpayers funded the research that developed the industry and taxpayers insure the industry to the tune of billions of dollars a year, through the Price Anderson Act and subsequent amendments .
The cost and risk of nuclear power could be reduced through even more heavy-handed regulation by the government. Many other countries have standardized reactor design. Not so here. Arkansas Nuclear One Russellville Arkansas operated by Entergy , for example, has two reactors designed by different companies, requiring two different control rooms, operational staffs, procedures, cooling methods, etc.
Even with better standardized reactor design and tighter federal control, risks still exist. A couple of examples are instructive. Most are aware of the Three Mile Island and Fukishima disasters, but near disasters are less well known.
A near failure occurred at a Brown’s Ferry reactor near Athens, Ala., due to the use of a candle to detect an air leak. Electricians were attempting to find air leaks in an area adjacent to the control room. This was a room where all the wiring from the control room was routed out to the reactor elements. Although there are safer methods to detect air leaks, they chose to use a candle, which set insulation on fire, causing a short in the control room wiring between the control room and the reactors. For several hours, the reactors ran at full power, completely out of control of the operators.
Another accident occurred at a Salem reactor in New Jersey. A major circuit in the control room failed, cutting off power to a reactor coolant feed pump and the control room. The lights in the control room went out briefly until emergency power kicked in. An operator realized that the reactor should be turned off — and here is where it gets bizarre: He reached for the main reactor trip switch, but the handle came off in his hand. In his defense, he was new on the job and unfamiliar with the control board. Feel safer now?
Regardless of how well-designed the safety systems are, human error can contravene the best plans. Use of a candle and a broken handle could have cost taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars.
Nuclear power may have a future, but only with a massive federal bureaucracy to control it and massive taxpayer subsidization to sustain it.This is definitely not a prescription for limited government and low taxes: this is European Style Socialism.