The Cost of Nuclear Power

George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott had at it on DemocracyNow! this week, in part because of Monbiot’s take-down of Caldicott’s claims. Monbiot himself seems to have become a convert to nuclear power. Having laid out these very sensible criteria – to which I also subscribe – he has recently decided to ignore much of the evidence showing that nuclear power violates them. In order to support nuclear power, he needed to be convinced that

1. Its total emissions – from mine to dump – are taken into account, and demonstrate that it is a genuinely low-carbon option

2. We know exactly how and where the waste is to be buried

3. We know how much this will cost and who will pay

4. There is a legal guarantee that no civil nuclear materials will be diverted for military purposes

I’m baffled by the questions of political economy shrugged off by #4. Particularly after Fukushima, finding places to dump the waste will be harder than it is already, so that’s #2 out. Not knowing where the waste is going, you can’t answer #1 or #3. And even if the number of deaths by direct radiation exposure are small, the costs of evacuating the area around Fukushima, and keeping tens of thousands from their homes and lives, isn’t chump change. It’s a cost that comes from no other source than the meltdown. Some scientists, and I stress that they’re scientists with reputation to preserve and a peer-reviewing history behind them, have taken a stab at posing the question of the true cost of nuclear power. The ever-thoughtful Bob Costanza writes here and the Union of Concerned Scientists writes here.

Incidentally, the most useful commentator I’ve read on all this is Geoffrey Sea, and I hope to post his recent analysis here since, as far as I can tell, he’s not posting anywhere else. Again, watch this space.