The questions raised by Chernobyl and reiterated by Fukushima are more relevant today than ever before, and they are still unanswered. How can we be sure that nations using nuclear power for civil or military purposes will comply with the necessary protective measures and regulations? How can we reduce risk to the welfare of future generations? Are we hiding from the answers to these questions when we shut down debate by invoking “national security” or energy needs?
Contrary to the statements of nuclear energy advocates that there were only two major accidents, if one redefines an accident to include incidents that either resulted in the loss of human life or significant loss in property damage, a very different picture emerges.
At least 99 nuclear accidents meeting this definition, totaling more than $20.5 billion in damages, occurred worldwide from 1952 to 2009 – or more than one incident and $330 million in damage every year.
This recurrence rate, demonstrating that there are many risks that are not being properly managed or regulate, is worrying, to say the least, given the severity of harm that even a single serious accident can cause. The meltdown of a 500- megawatt reactor located 50 kilometers from a city would cause the immediate death of an estimated 45,000 people, injure roughly another 70,000, and cause $17 billion in property damage.
And moreover according to recent findings of Swiss and Danish experts the chances are 50:50 that a major nuclear disaster will occur somewhere in the world before 2050.
It is vital that any discussions about nuclear energy address the issue comprehensively and in all its complexity. Nuclear power systems are not just a security issue, an environmental issue, or an energy issue. They are all of those at once. And as Green Cross International has been arguing for years, these aspects of the issue must be addressed together.
Consider the question of cost. The information we can get from financial markets is not above suspicion, but it cannot be neglected either. In principle, private capital does not take the direction of non-profit activities. Therefore it does not take the direction of atomic energy but of renewable. According to a recent report in 2011 the United States, for example, invested over US$48 billion in renewable energy, up from US$34 billion in 2010, regaining first place in the global clean energy investment rankings.
This means that the money needed to build nuclear plants cannot be found in private capital. It is found in State tax coffers and bonds. Taxpayers or unconcerned buyers of such securities finance nuclear energy usually without any knowledge of this.