Issue No. 33 Summer
(June 2011)


ENS News

Word from the President

Fukushima’s confirmation

ENS Events

NESTet 2011: putting nuclear education and training centre stage

Cogent and OECD-NEA join-up on nuclear skills at NESTet 2011

Member Societies & Corporate Members

Three new corporate members join ENS

The end of nuclear? A big mistake

Bulgarian Nuclear Society's Annual Conference

Uncertainty analyses of models for high-level waste and spent fuel disposal: Results of the MICADO and GLAMOR projects

Preparedness and a collaborative approach work best for meeting global customers’ growing energy needs

SNE News

The Hungarian Nuclear Society Celebrated its 20th Birthday

News from the Finnish Nuclear Society (ATS)


Westinghouse Hosts European Stress Test Workshop

Journal of nuclear research and development sees light of day

State-of-the-art gamma radiation measurement technology can improve how we manage disaster scenarios

YGN Report

Professor Helmuth Böck wins the prestigious Jan Runemark Award

BNS-YG newsletter

An educational initiative between the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid and Spanish Young Generation in Nuclear

European Nuclear Young Generation Forum 2011

ENS World News

NucNet News

IYNC 2012

ENS sponsored conferences

ENS Members

Links to ENS Member Societies

Links to ENS Corporate Members

Editorial staff


PIME 2012

PIME 2012
12 - 15 February 2012 in Warsaw, Poland


RRFM 2012

RRFM 2012
18 - 22 March 2012 in Prague, Czech Republic


ENC 2012

ENC 2012
November 2012 in Manchester, United Kingdom

Fukushima’s confirmation

Listening to others

by Andrew Teller

Three months after 3/11, a clearer picture is gradually emerging: we are starting to understand what actually happened on the site, we now see that an accident with the worst rating on the INES (International Nuclear Event Scale) scale does not necessarily lead to consequences as serious as those of Chernobyl and we have the confirmation that such events don’t do much to change the differences between the critics and supporters of nuclear energy.

In some countries, the Fukushima accident only stiffened the resolve of those who had already previously decided to exclude nuclear energy from their generating mix. The most conspicuous example is of course provided by Germany where the anti-nuclear movement has a long history of trying to put an end to domestic nuclear power generation because of mishaps that happened in places far away and in conditions that could not possibly prevail in their own country. It is worth recalling in this respect that after the Chernobyl accident in 1986, anti-nuclear demonstrators took to the streets to demand the closure of … RBMK reactors in the then Soviet Union? No, they were aiming at the light water reactors operating in western Germany, a country with one of the safest operating records in the world.

Other countries, and there are many of them, are sticking to their pre-Fukushima nuclear development plans, the nuclear option being still regarded as having too many advantages to be overlooked. Of course the decision-makers there recognise that having to impose an exclusion zone around the NPP site increases both in space and time the consequences of the devastation wrought by the natural disasters of 3/111 . But they also know that each accident is followed by the world-wide implementation of new measures reducing the likelihood of further accidents. They also know that each new train of measures does not simply address the problem that triggered the accident, by simply “locking the stable door after the horse has bolted” as the saying goes. These trains of measures are designed, not just to address a particular accident scenario (which already has its merits since a given scenario can repeat itself in different places), but to counteract all the weaknesses of the safety systems highlighted by the accident.

It is easy – and convenient – for either party to dismiss the other party’s position as utterly foolish. On one side, the anti-nuclear folks are often quick to accept any argument, no matter how weak it is, comforting their rejection of nuclear energy. Furthermore, their analyses are most of the time so neatly adjusted to their conclusion that the former seem to flow from the latter instead of leading to it. On the other side, while the supporters of nuclear energy are not prone to the same shortcomings in their analyses, their position assumes an overall safety record far better than what it turned out to be. This is why assuming that the guy opposing one’s views is is an idiot might be both reassuring and comfortable, but it would deprive us of some useful insights. Once we dispel the fog of fuzzy thinking on one side and unfulfilled forecasts on the other, it becomes possible to identify the premises governing the behaviour of both parties. On the anti-nuclear side, the basic premises are that “ensuring the safe operation of nuclear power plants is an impossible task” and that “any energy policy excluding nuclear energy is preferable to the having to live with the risk of incurring a nuclear accident”. The basic tenets of the pro-nuclear side could by summarised as “it is possible to improve the safety record of nuclear NPPs to a degree acceptable to everybody” and “the drawbacks of nuclear power generation are less than those that would result from depriving our power-hungry world of such a steady, CO2-free, energy source”.

So, although the positions of both parties are highly asymmetrical from the tactical point of view of the battle of arguments (as was pointed out in my previous column), it can be considered that the root positions of both parties are on the contrary symmetrical: neither can be demonstrated nor disproved; both are equally honourable insofar as they both stem from the same desire to ensure the well-being of humankind. This interpretation is comforted by the fact that numerous intelligent, highly educated, people are found in the ranks of both critics and supporters of nuclear energy. If one position could be demonstrated to be more appropriate than the other, all these people would have adopted it already. The consequence however is that the future of world energy consumption will continue to be submitted to the unpredictable opposition of those who want to rule out any accident risk and of those who think energy shortages could wreak even greater damage.

1The fact that the quantity of damage incurred is overwhelmingly due to the twin natural disasters and not to the man-made facilities won’t however move the critics: they will claim that natural disasters are unavoidable whereas humans should refrain from doing anything that could make them worse. This argument is not new; it dates back at least to the XVIIIth century, when Rousseau and Voltaire exchanged conflicting views on the great Lisbon earthquake. It is interesting to note that the controversy ran then about whether one should live in multi-storey buildings or not. Today, nobody is questioning this fact anymore. It seems that the boundary between acceptable and unacceptable human constructions is gradually evolving.

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