Robert Alvarez, senior scholar for the Institute for Policy Studies, a multi issue think tank, talks about nuclear power safety concerns and lessons learned from Japan's experience.
Thanks for devoting some time to the topic of nuclear power safety. The key issue is passive measures for shutdown & cooling of live and spent fuel that do not rely on electricity from the grid or from backup electrical devices like generators. Fukushima Daiichi reactor #1 had an old passive isolation condenser that quit working soon after the electricity went off line. Wall St Journal reported (23 March) that experts believe that heat concentrated in the small reactor chamber may have overwhelmed the condenser. The article says, "Design changes to new reactors with condensers >>may<< address this. (emphasis added). So, for nuclear power to have a future, it >>must<< be really safe from natural and human threats, including a long-term failure to maintain plants properly (this apparently happened in some of the successor states of the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s). The technology and political willpower necessary to insure safety at all operating and "decommissioned" (but still functionally active) plants ought to be an ongoing topic of discussion and exploration.
The main problem here, and in all areas where our regulatory commissions are assumed to be protecting the public's interests first and foremost, is that in fact they are protecting business interests while public safety takes a back seat. We learned that about our energy regulators during the Gulf Coast oil spill, and about our banking regulators during the financial meltdown. It is no surprise that our nuclear regulators work the same way.
The real question ought to be: How can we get our government regulatory agencies back to protecting the public welfare, which is supposed to have been their mission all along, instead of protecting the financial interests of the businesses they are supposed to be regulating?
Financial regulators & the finance industry? I was thinking about mining & drilling regulators & those industries, which in some cases were literally in bed w/each other!
Question for your guest: Is there a parallel with the deregulation of the oil exploration before the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?
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