MSNBC has this interesting article this morning by Mark Gimein. We have all heard argument recently that, because exploiting new sources of fossil fuels requires going into more hazardous areas and the risk of environmental catastrophe has increased, we should go the nuclear route. After all, France gets some 40% or so of their electricity from highly safe and reliable reactors the latest only a little over 5 years old. Although Gimein originally thought that might be a valid argument, by the end of the article, he questions the premises behind it. The basic problem is that we cannot really calculate the true costs of a failure. The 'worst case' scenarios (low probability, high cost events) are so outside the realm of experience that they are almost incalculable.
"Deepwater Horizon brings those low probability, high-cost events close. The near meltdown at the Three Mile Island plant did a lot to sour Americans on nuclear power, but Three Mile Island was a disaster that didn’t happen. The safety systems and protocols worked. The plant shut down.
On the Deepwater Horizon well, the safety systems didn’t work. The same high-pressure conditions that made the well fail made the blind shear ram that was supposed to cut the pipe fail as well. This is the problem of the last-resort failsafe plan: It has to work in the least likely and most overwhelming conditions. In other words, it has to anticipate the conditions most likely to lead to disaster."
I would go a bit further, however. BP did not anticipate conditions most likely to lead to disaster--they disregarded them. They deviated from accepted and standard procedures, they chose low cost options not high safety options repeatedly, and they ignored problems, especially with the blow-out preventer, that created a high probability of failure. Anybody here think BP should be in charge of a nuclear power plant, of constructing a nuclear power plant? Trouble is, in our 'pro-business' and 'anti-regulation' political climate, I don't trust anyone else either.