Friday, July 28, 2006

Nuclear Power is Safe, Reliable and Environment Friendly

I hope you now agree that nuclear power is cheap: this means that the total of all three components of generating cost is less than generating costs from other sources of energy. The average of total operating costs of all U.S. nuclar power plants is now less than 2 cents/kWh; the reason being that almost all of them have no more capital cost component, i.e. they have been all paid out.

Now I hope you will also agree that nuclear power is safe, reliable and environment friendly.

Safe, because there are 442 plants all over the world in no less than 30 countries, all operating safely and reliably. Take for example the 100 or so plants in the U.S. alone. Their availability factors and their load factors during the last 15 years have been continually increasing, from around 65 percent to around 90 percent. This means that the amount of nuclear electricity generated in the U.S. has been increasing year by year, even though there has not been one single new plant built and brought into commission. The increase was huge ! Nearly equivalent to an increase of 25,000 MW of new capacity !
The only nuclear incident that has caused concern in the U.S. was the Three Mile Island-2 incident of 1979. And the only casualty at the time was the owner of the plant, because the plant could not be operated again. There were no lives lost, nor were there any injuries. Only a small amount of radioactivity was released into the atmosphere.
The only nuclear accident at an operating power plant occurred in 1986 in the then Soviet Union. This was the Chernobyl-4 accident; and large amounts of radioactive particles were released into the atmosphere. A total of upto 60 people died, mostly those who had been assigned to fight the highly radioactive fire at the plant. More than 100,000 people were evacuated and experienced traumatic lives.
However, it must be said that (1) a similar accident cannot occur with the types of plant built and operated in the West (in the Americas and Europe) and in the Far East (Japan, South Korea, China, and also in India), because these types: PWR, BWR, and HWR are all water reactors and all have negative reactivity cofficients; (2) the Chernobyl-type of reactor has a positive reactivity coefficient (if for some reason its power increases, then the reactor has the tendency to itself further increase its power), and furthermore in the Soviet Union the nuclear plants are not housed in concrete containment buildings to prevent the release of radioactivity; and (3) there were grave operating errors committed by the crew and management of the Chernobyl-4 plant.
Thus, all 442 nuclear plants are operating safely (including 12 Chernobyl-type plants still in operation, but with modified safety culture). There should be little concern for an accident such as Chernobyl to occur, or even a Three Mile Island type of incident.

Environment friendly ? Why, of course. Nuclear plants do not emit any harmful gases, no oxides of any kind nor any greenhouse gases. Environmental impact studies have been carried out in Europe in a project called ExternE studies. These are comprehensive studies and they have concluded that nuclear energy is as clean as wind energy and as benign as gas.


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