Safe Nuclear Disaster

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After the Fukushima Nuclear Accident happened, I made a comment about the safety of nuclear energy. I’ll freely admit I am not an expert on such things, and a few friends called me out with some numbers, pointing out that more people died from coal mining disasters. (Though I’m still not sure that long-term, that’s true.) The difference in my mind, was that typically coal miners (and their families) are affected by coal mining disasters, while nuclear disasters have a greater chance of affecting the environment more, not just people, but animals, plants, and the world we live in.

After reading How I spent my Sunday in Fukushima by Sean Bonner, and seeing the fallout from this nuclear accident, I don’t know how anyone can think that nuclear energy is safe.

Again, I’m no expert, so if I’m missing something, please let me know.

The only good to come out of this disaster is the rise of Safecast, which is a global project working to empower people with data, primarily by building a sensor network and enabling people to both contribute and freely use the data collected. I’m a fan of data, and sensors, and sharing information, and if it can help people live safer lives, then all the better.

6 replies on “Safe Nuclear Disaster”

Comparing the “safety” of coal and nuclear power in that way is not correct. One has long tail risk, the other doesn’t.

Nassim Taleb has recently written a good book on long tail risk. Well worth the read.

In the nuclear power industry, our regulations actually encourage more long tail risk than necessary since they are biased toward fewer large instances rather than very small, more easily contained reactors. imo.

I think you need to take a look at the bigger picture. If the amount of carbon in our atmosphere hits a certain level (~450 ppm), shit hits the fan. Let’s assume this is true. Current methods of power generation emit known rates of CO2, and when you boil it all down, we have about 25 years to get our act together (see link to video below). So we have to replace humanities energy generation (16 Terra-watts!) in 25 years with non-fossil fuel sources. Lets get started:

– “Two terawatts of photovoltaic would require installing 100 square meters of 15-percent-efficient solar cells every second, second after second, for the next 25 years”

– “Two terawatts of wind? That’s a 300-foot-diameter wind turbine every 5 minutes. (Install 105,000 turbines a year in good wind locations, times 25.)”

Even nuclear: “Three terawatts of new nuclear? That’s a 3-reactor, 3-gigawatt plant every week — 52 a year, times 25?

The botton line is that the situation is not good. The scale of the problem is just massive. We use a lot of energy. The truth is that some renewable technologies just won’t scale fast enough. Or the cost associated with scaling them is astronomical. I don’t think nuclear is the only solution, but I think it must be a part of the solution. Its my belief that we don’t have a choice but to rely on nuclear power for a large part of our future energy needs. I don’t see an alternative if we are to avoid the catastrophic consequences of >450ppm CO2 in the atmosphere.

Saul Griffith (Smart MIT dude, founder of Instructables) came to Madison a couple years ago and gave this presentation on the topic. The whole version is roughly an hour long and goes very in-depth:

Some more links:

Philip, Dave, I was unaware of the extent of damage from coal disasters, though the second link on the coal ash seems to talk about how it can be put to use in positive ways, and I can’t think of any ways that radioactive soil could be put to good use.

Steve, the numbers are frightening when it comes to how much energy we need, so… what’s the solution exactly??

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