CONSTRAINTS LIMITING THE EXPANSION OF NUCLEAR ENERGY
Alexander Shlyakhter, Klaus Stadie, and Richard Wilson
Department of Physics
Cambridge, MA, 02138
There are a number of issues that are raised by the public in their concern for nuclear power and a turn away from nuclear power world wide. It seems not to be productive to respond to them in a purely technical way, and it seems important to understand these issues of public concern and address them on the public terms - which are usually non technical. In this article we address several of these. These include the way nuclear power impacts on the desire to prevention of nuclear war, prevent large accidents, avoid an accumulation of nuclear waste in the environment, avoid sabotage and terrorism. Also we discuss the difficulties that occur because nuclear power tried to penetrate the market very rapidly compared with other energy supplies. Finally we address the issues of excessive construction cost, operating cost, and what is sometimes perceived as excessive or inefficient regulation.
One of the major environmental issues of the present time is whether or not rising CO2 emissions alter the Earth's greenhouse enough to cause serious global warming, and if so what can be done about it. Among the matters under discussion is the replacement of the burning of fossil fuels by other "alternative" fuels, such as nuclear energy, hydropower, or other renewables. There are various constraints about the development of these alternatives, both technical and social, and it is the purpose of this paper to explore some of these constraints and how they might be removed or averted. In particular we will be discussing the public concerns about nuclear power and the constraints that they impose.
The discussions of the pros and cons of nuclear energy over the last 20 years are very instructive. On the one hand, nuclear power proponents argue that it is safe, can be economic, and that environmentally it is a good way for society to generate its electricity, and on the other opponents argue that it is inherently unsafe, uneconomic, and environmentally bad. Some go as far as to say it is evil and should not even be discussed.
In Daniel Ford's view the U.S. nuclear power program is "the most ambitious, expensive and risky industrial venture ever undertaken," (Ford, 1982).
On the other hand, Samuel McCracken concludes that "nuclear energy is environmentally the most benign of major energy sources expect natural gas. The most benign in terms of public health [and] major accidents and the only major source able, over a long period of time to give us large amounts of flexible energy (McCracken, 1982).
Sir Alan Cottrell states an intermediate position. "I am in principle in favor of nuclear energy because I do not think that the coming multitudes can survive the bitter winds and sunless winters of the next century without it... nuclear energy can be made a sufficiently safe form of energy, certainly much safer than any realistic large-scale alternative.
"Whether it will be safe in practice is an entirely different matter.", (Cottrell 1981).
Various reports have been written on this topic including one by the Office of Technology Assessment of the US Congress (OTA 1984). In this paper we do not argue the pros and cons in a standard technical manner. We discuss what we have noticed seem to be public perceptions of nuclear energy, and perceptions that have lasted long enough to be difficult to change or remove. Perceptions deeply enough held, cannot be changed easily even if wrong; we suggest that they be regarded as constraints and that ways be found (albeit at some expense) to make the perceptions moot. To achieve this goal we need to develop nuclear reactor technology that would be not only "inherently safe" (in the view of the experts) but also "transparently safe" (in the view of skeptical public). Moreover, this new technology must be not prohibitively expensive and still allow nuclear energy to be a competitive alternative to fossil fuel in the longer term.
II. PUBLIC CONCERNS AS WE SEE THEM
Although the degree of opposition to nuclear energy as well as methods of addressing them differ from country to country some of the public concerns are similar. We start with a listing and then a systematic description of public concerns about nuclear power as they are often expressed.
A. Prevention of nuclear war.
B. Disposal of nuclear waste
C. Prevention of large accidents
D. Vulnerability to Sabotage and terrorism.
E. Difficulties in Rapid Penetration of the Market
(including mistakes of industry).
F. Excessive capital cost
G. Excessive operating Cost
We also discuss some constraints that are perceived as such by the "industry" but not so perceived by the public:
H. Excessive regulation.
We then explicitly discuss the questions on a country by country basis, and end up with a discussion of the possible futures.
A. Prevention of nuclear war.
This has always been a fear among the large countries with nuclear weapons that the world would be far less stable, and less prosperous, if many small countries had nuclear weapons also. Cottrell (1983) argued that proliferation of nuclear weapons is the only legitimate issue about nuclear energy, in the sense that he as a technical expert was not completely comfortable with this issue. Although there is no doubt that many professionals in all major countries are concerned with this possibility, many observers believe that the public is less concerned or do not attribute the problem to nuclear power (Kammen, Shlyakhter, and Wilson 1994). However some professionals use this as a reason for raising public opposition. This occurs in western countries with nuclear weapons - particularly the United States and Great Britain, and to a lesser degree in a number of countries which accept the United States "nuclear umbrella", such as Canada and many European OECD countries. New Zealand, also seems to be dominated by this concern. Other countries which have developed nuclear power, including the USSR and its' successor in nuclear weapons matters - Russia, and Japan have also been concerned about nuclear bomb proliferation, but that not yet become a reason for opposing nuclear energy. It is important to try to understand why these other countries are not so concerned, and to learn from this understanding.
In this discussion it necessary to understand the connection between nuclear power development and the development of bombs. Many nuclear power opponents in the USA argue that nuclear power will inevitably lead to proliferation of nuclear weapons, yet all countries that have made bombs so far have made them before they began to make nuclear power plants. This makes the problem less obvious and makes it too easy for nuclear power advocates to ignore it. This has to be discussed on a fundamental level.
The world would be a simpler place if there were no nuclear fission, or if we could adjust our society so that it never took place. If that could be achieved, maybe Mwe price (abandonment of many useful medical and social applications of nuclear fission, including nuclear power) might be worth while. Most people would argue that abandonment of nuclear fission, and hiding all knowledge of it, is not possible, so that most people have never bothered to answer the second question - would it be worth it? And would it in fact be possible? Can nuclear fission be undiscovered and the critical assembly uninvented? Most people say no, but nonetheless this thought seems to be at the back of the mind of many anti nuclear people, and maybe if it were explicitly addressed, the anti nuclear feeling would diminish. We suggest that this issue might be addressed by postulating a number of ways of eliminating nuclear fission, including starting with unilateral disarmament and including Stalin's approach of shooting all the scientists when there is no more use for them (Holloway 1994). This might stimulate a public discussion and confirm our belief that there is no such reasonable possibility.
If the world accepts the next alternative of controlling fissile materials, how much control is needed, and how can this best be achieved? This has been a matter of intense discussion and debate ever since 1945.
The first nuclear weapon states (USA, USSR, Great Britain, and France were also the leaders in developing civilian nuclear energy. Reactor industry created for bomb production could serve both military and civilian purposes (Midttun and Rucht 1994). In all Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) there were close links between civilian nuclear and weapons programs so that tight government control was universal. State agencies responsible for nuclear energy (Atomic Energy Commission in the USA; Commissariat a l'Energie Atomique in France; Ministry for Medium Machine Building in the USSR) were untouchable "states within the state". As the (anti nuclear power) Swedish physicist Hannes Alfven put it "Atoms for peace and atoms for war are Siamese twins" (quoted in Miller 1979).
For example, throughout the 1950s, France, China, UK, and the United States each had a secretive system of nuclear research in which military and civilian applications were closely related. In particular, France concentrated on nuclear reactors which use natural uranium and chose a gas coolant and a graphite moderator. Sweden concentrated on a heavy water reactor. They did so for two reasons. First, at the time they had no uranium enrichment capability. Second, this design could produce plutonium (if desired) for a weapons program (Jasper 1990).
Even Sweden, in 1954-1958, had a dual program for a short time and there were public debates whether the country should develop nuclear weapons. In 1958, politicians deliberately delayed the decision. They decided neither to start a weapons program nor to preclude having such a program in the future. A large civilian nuclear program was viewed as a convenient way to keep all options open since much of the plutonium and technology for weapon program could be developed under the cover of a peaceful nuclear energy program (Jasper 1990). It is now very unlikely that Sweden will decide to develop nuclear weapons.
More recently, India used the 40 MWt CIRUS (Canada-India Research Reactor) heavy water reactor, built in 1963 with the U.S. heavy water and Canadian technical assistance, to produce plutonium for the Pokharan "peaceful" nuclear explosion of 1974. The officially declared goal of the first stage of the Indian nuclear program was to produce energy and plutonium using heavy water reactors fuelled by natural uranium. The second stage was to build fast breeder reactors fuelled by plutonium and thorium to produce energy and uranium-233 (India has large thorium reserves). The third stage was to use breeder reactors fuelled by uranium-233 and thorium which would make India self-sufficient in nuclear fuel. However, a military program was proceeding side by side with the civilian program.
Canada had demanded, in their agreement with India, that India not reprocess the fuel provided to obtain pure plutonium. But India went through a loophole; they prepared their own nuclear fuel rods and processed them in an unsafeguarded facility. This showed the countries of the world the necessity of being carefully legalistic in their safeguards agreements.
After the 1974 test nuclear explosion, USA and Canada withdrew their assistance, and banned trade in any materials useful for nuclear fission. India had to spend over 200 million dollars on six plants to manufacture heavy water for their CANDU reactors (and copies thereof). The loss of international cooperation caused poor performance and high production costs for civilian nuclear power program; it also has delayed reaching the Indian nuclear power targets by about a decade. However non-adherence to the Non-Proliferation Treaty has become a matter of national pride. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards were perceived as an imperialist ruse to keep India a third class power (Marwah 1981) and deny India access to modern technology. The initial objective of producing affordable electricity was replaced by the goal of producing unsafeguarded plutonium at any cost (Bhargava 1992).
The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty is a remarkable treaty. It has been signed by more countries than almost any other; the exception being the UN Charter itself. It is remarkably successful; until recently none of the 175 signatories who were not already weapons countries had developed weapons (as far as one can tell). Two recent situations which were almost exceptions were Iraq and N Korea. Iraq tried (about 1975) to buy a heavy-water (research) reactor, similar to that in Dimona (Israel) which had already (most people believe) been used to make plutonium for bombs. But the French refused to sell. Instead they sold a small light water research reactor, unsuited for making plutonium because it was fueled by highly enriched uranium. Nonetheless Israel bombed that reactor in 1981. Iraq then began (or at least accelerated) a clandestine nuclear weapons program. This was neither hidden inside civilian research reactors nor a nuclear power program. Instead dedicated facilities were secretly built. This shows that if a nation at an intermediate level of industrial development believes that nuclear weapons would be essential to its own security it can sooner or later gain sensitive nuclear technology. External controls can lengthen that time but to stop the spread of nuclear weapons security concerns that stimulate the spread must be mitigated in the first place (Fischer 1992). One estimate, made in 1982 during a visit to Iraq's nuclear facilities at Tuwaitha, was that Iraq could make a bomb unaided within 9 years (Wilson 1983). The big surprise (to experts) in 1991 was not that they had the technical competence, but that the particular approach that they used - building a set of calutrons (large electromagnetic separators) to separate pure uranium 235 (Wilson 1991, IAEA 1995). It now appears that Iraq explicitly violated their obligations under the Non Proliferation treaty beginning about 1988.
North Korea also built clandestine facilities (in this case a reactor and chemical facility to make plutonium) and started to violate their obligations under NPT about 1990. In many ways the situation was similar; Both Iraq and North Korea were politically and technically somewhat isolated. Ordinary scientific activities can create an atmosphere of openness in the technical community which makes secret work hard to hide. But the west has not always encouraged such openness. For example invitations from Iraqi scientists to attend a nuclear physics conference in Baghdad in 1989, which could have been a way of finding out what was going on, were ignored by the U.S. Department of Energy.
In the period 1960 to 1970 the nuclear industry was encouraged to be separate from the military complex and to establish their own facilities as much as possible. This then led to nuclear power advocates to insist that there was no connection - yet there is at least the connection of a common fuel source. This argument did not win the anti-nuclear organizations. It has been common to assert that the IAEA had powers that it does not have, and complain when they do not exercise these non-existent powers. For example the IAEA is not permitted to make unannounced inspections of a countries' facilities. This contrasts with the authority provided by the Chemical Warfare Convention which explicitly allows unannounced inspections anywhere. IAEA is only capable of detecting diversion from declared facilities. It is incapable of detecting independent clandestine operations.
But the argument can be inverted; The world can try to do more than rely upon NPT to prevent militarization of a civilian nuclear program; the first step is to acquire information about what a country is doing, and secondly the world can, by agreements and sanctions endeavor to prevent it. The world wide nature of the nuclear industry can be used, if the parties so wish in both these steps. Now that the "cold war" is over, individuals and professional societies may do more to create the necessary open society than governments. We hope that with care, the argument that the use of nuclear energy leads to bomb proliferation, or even to proliferation of nuclear weapons, can be inverted, and that the existence of a world wide nuclear power community can inhibit the development of nuclear weapons (Cottrell 1983, Sokolow 1994).
But there remains a problem that is evident but officially ignored. The "atoms for Peace" program started by President Eisenhower, is the origin of Section IV of the Nuclear non-proliferation treaty that recognizes the right of every country to use nuclear fission for peaceful purposes. Twenty-five years ago that seemed to include the right of every country to have a nuclear power program. The IAEA inspections are designed to help ensure that any program remains peaceful. But twenty years ago several nuclear suppliers questioned the sense of selling plutonium reprocessing plants and uranium isotope separators to countries with only a minuscule program. To what extent should nuclear equipment suppliers withhold their wares from small countries? The recent agreement to provide North Korea with a two large nuclear power reactors, in exchange for openness in all nuclear issues, is viewed by many experts as a strange reward for violating a treaty obligation under NPT. These experts think it may encourage proliferation by reducing the incentives to adhere to the IAEA safeguards. It contrasts with the recent US attempts to discourage Russia from completing two nuclear reactors of the same type in Iran. These policies of the USA seem inconsistent. A serious study of these policies seems worthwhile, although some analysts believe that the policy should deliberately remain fuzzy.
In 1945, the prevention of proliferation of nuclear bombs was a matter for discussion in many science (particularly physics) laboratories. For example at Oxford it was the consensus that a hundred countries had the technical capability to have an atomic bomb, and would build them by 1965 - but no one dreamed that two countries (USSR and USA) would have 30,000 each with 6,000 delivery vehicles each, because such a huge arsenal seemed so stupid. The record shows that only 5 countries (USA, USSR, UK, France and China) admit to having them, 1 (South Africa) has admitted to having had some and dismantled them, 3 (Israel, India and Pakistan) are believed to have the material and capability of assembling them at short notice (in minutes), and 2 (Argentine and Brazil) have shut down development facilities. This suggests that we can fruitfully discuss the reasons (presumably political) why so few countries have made atomic bombs; and further we can endeavor to enhance these political reasons.
The technical difficulties of making a nuclear bomb are diminishing with time. Early hopes for containing the proliferation of nuclear weapons were that plutonium from power reactors would be unusable in weapons because the irradiated fuel contains about 20 percent of the plutonium-240. This isotope is spontaneously fissile: in 10 kilograms of plutonium containing 20 per cent plutonium-240 there would be about one million fissions per second. This would cause problems in bomb design because of the possibility of a premature fission at the moment of explosion causes uncertainty about the total yield of the explosion. However this difficulty can be overcome (and with the passage of time it has become easier to overcome it) and any mixture of isotopes with at least 50% Pu-239 can be used to make bombs, and this includes plutonium from the spent fuel of light water reactors (Price 1990). This puts more emphasis on political reasons.
The way in which the public (and government) concern about nuclear proliferation has constrained nuclear power development is far from simple, and differs from country to country. The concern about these matters in the United States has been a factor in fostering an anti nuclear power "establishment" that has helped to prevent further nuclear power development in many countries, (thereby increasing very slightly the burning of fossil fuels and emissions of carbon dioxide). The concern in Germany and Sweden is more indirect. People fear a loss of individual freedom (a police state) as society protects itself against diversion of nuclear materials. This is also true in countries without existing nuclear power such as Australia and New Zealand.
It seems paradoxical that the United States, which has more nuclear weapons than most of the world, should restrain the peaceful uses of nuclear energy by discouraging any use of plutonium as fuel and discouraging activities in other countries. The argument is often that the USA should "set an example". Yet to set an example without endeavoring to understand the considerations relevant to other countries, and this ends with an unhealthy resignation that no one will follow the example!
There has also been a strong indirect effect on the development of nuclear power in the Peoples' Republic of China. About 1980 China planned to start nuclear power development. But China had not signed the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty, and the United States was unwilling to help China in civilian nuclear matters until China did so sign. Accordingly, China went to France for help; and Framatome was the contractor for two 1000 Mwe power reactors at Daya Bay, Guandong province. Although China has now signed NPT, the USA still will not let its companies or overseas companies with US ties such as ABB-Combustion, Mitsubishi-Westinghouse, Hitachi-GE) help China because of sanctions imposed after the human rights violations at Tianamen Square. These sanctions fall especially upon nuclear power. They have not prevented US industries from contracting to build fossil fuel power plants.
B. Disposal of nuclear waste
Since some fission products will stay radioactive for thousands years critics argue that waste disposal has an ethical dimension: the insist that it is immoral to make our descendants take care of our waste. This applies to all sorts of waste problems in society. Technical experts often argue that nuclear wastes will not pose an unusual risk to life, and perhaps are the only waste problems of society for which there exist good technical solutions for disposal. The important technical fact here, which cannot be emphasized too often, is that the wastes start out very concentrated, and the initial volume is small. The high concentration should not, in the view of the experts, be considered a disadvantage, but an advantage, because it becomes practical to keep it concentrated, thereby to contain it, and to keep it out of the environment for very long times. It is possible to spend a lot of money per unit of volume or weight. This is not practical with any other waste. Considerations of this sort led a study group of the American Physical Society to write that "We see no important technical barrier to the implementation by 1985 of the technology for the solidification, encapsulation, transport and emplacement of commercial HLW (High Level Waste) into mined salt caverns (one of the locations suggested)" (Hebel 1978)
However, it is evident that nuclear wastes are not so perceived. As Daniel Ford, then executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists put it "We consider radioactive waste to be one of the grave issues posed by this nation's large nuclear program. It is deadly. And nobody knows exactly what to do about it," (cited in Fenn 1981). While these two statements seem contradictory, they can be reconciled if it is accepted that the present problems are political and not technical (Bullard 1992).
Because of the long time scales involved and the novel nature of the radioactive waste it is hard to convince the skeptics that the proposed methods of disposal are reliable. However there are natural analogues that can be used to justify our predictions of the rate of leaking from repository (McKinley 1992). There is a well established evidence that about two billion years ago several nuclear reactors were active in what is now a uranium mine at Oklo, Gabon (IAEA 1975, Cowan 1976, Petrov 1977). The very fact that the remains of such reactors are observable today suggest that the concept of containment over geological times may be feasible. Detailed analysis indicates that even long lived radionuclides (such as plutonium-239 with a half life of 24 thousand years) decayed totally within the ore body, and within a few cm of where they were born.
Most experts agree that we can, and have, kept nuclear wastes out of the environment and that this will not be a serious problem. But an experience in the military sector in the USSR has led a number of people in the public to disbelieve the experts. A temporary waste storage tank at Kyshtym (Russia) was allowed to dry out, and in 1957 it exploded and distributed 4 million Curies over the countryside to the northeast. (The East Urals Radioactive Trace).
This makes a dichotomy between the perceptions of an expert and the instinctive feelings of the public. Many members of the public still believe that nuclear waste can explode. It therefore vital to make it transparently obvious that such an accident cannot happen with any proposed scheme for ultimate disposal of nuclear waste including any conceivable malfunction or mishap.
Long-lived fission products and actinides can be transformed into a shorter-lived nuclides by an irradiation in the intense neutron flux of a nuclear reactor (which has to be a fast neutron reactor to avoid poisoning) or accelerator particle beam. This has been proposed. Most experts believe it is not worth doing. Others argue that the public tolerance thereby obtained would be almost priceless.
The problems of waste in society are very badly characterized and discussed. Although waste problems are often thought to be ecological or environmental issues, no specific ecological or environmental hazard is usually adduced. Nonetheless, waste problems of all industries have attracted public attention, and the "solution" of the problem of nuclear waste is often regarded as essential to the future of nuclear power. A crucial misconception, however, is a common feeling that nuclear waste is uniquely bad. In what follows, we discuss the limited extent to which this might be true.
Since the amount of energy from fission of uranium is 3 million times the amount from burning of coal, the burning of coal produces enormous quantities of waste, which technically dwarfs that of nuclear wastes. Nonetheless coal wastes are not perceived by the public as a major problem. It is correct, but perhaps an oversimplification, to state that the problem of nuclear waste is political rather than technical. The fundamental question most raised by activists is: "Is it morally acceptable to leave the burden of waste disposal to future generations?" We keep this question as one to be continually addressed.
There is a major failure of the technical community who are planning waste facilities. They are often asked "which is the BEST waste disposal site on technical grounds, when several, and for low level waste disposal many thousands, of sites meet reasonable criteria. This inevitably leads to a public perception that any other site is less good. We suggest the alternative of defining what they regard as a technically acceptable site - of which there might be many thousands. Then the choice can be made between these sites on non-technical, political grounds. As noted below, the Swedes may have resolved that issue.
Few people have directly addressed the question of intergenerational equity. A person (or society) can, and recently it has been stated that he should, make appropriate investments to pay for the cost of the future consequences of major societal actions. While most people will address this intuitively to some extent, it is useful to consider an analytical approach.
Raiffa et al. (1977), in a classic paper, argue that future "lives" in the risk/benefit equation should be discounted at the same rate as money. Their argument is that money can be invested now, at the monetary discount rate, and at the time the hazard arrives, the money has been appropriately increased by the interest accumulated. They further argue that if it is proper to discuss a relationship between the amount one is willing to pay to reduce a hazard and the benefits one gets from the reduction, then it is also appropriate to discount that amount with the usual monetary discount rate.
The money could be set aside for "balancing" the risk over future generations, as well as for finding a way to avoid the risk. Money might be invested in trying to find a cure for cancer, or in avoiding some other risk, (of which many are comparable in magnitude) -- such as the risk of cancer from chemicals (either natural or man MADE). In this paper, we argue that this is not the way people perceive the problem.
Nonetheless we follow Raiffa's argument to see where it might lead. If, for example, we take an amount to save a life of $1,000,000 (corresponding to the $1,000 per man-rem suggested by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1975 in their discussion of the ALARA principle in RM-30-2), and we take a discount rate of 5 percent, then we should be prepared to put down $1,000,000/(1 + 0.05)n per life, where n is the number of years over which we discount. For a hazard in 100 years time, we should invest $7604. For a hazard in 1,000 years, this becomes $58. For a maximum of 1000 cancers caused by a possible leak of a high level nuclear waste repository in a 1000 years time, this would be an "up front" charge of $58,000. This is far from the billions of dollars now being spent for this purpose.
What does this calculation mean? Should we not pay something reasonable for keeping waste out of the environment 1000 years hence? Certainly few people worry much beyond their grandchildren in most societal decisions. EPA do not require this for toxic chemical wastes, even for arsenic, asbestos and mercury whose lifetimes are infinite. It is evident that our societal decision making is not working this way; whether from intent or from accident. Naturally, this remains a matter of considerable debate, and we raise the issue as a question for risk managers. If the difference is unintentional, it should be easy to correct. If the difference is intentional, the discussion of this point may help pinpoint other possible solutions.
A syndrome "Not in my Own Back Yard" (NIMBY) has been blamed for a public unwillingness to accept many aspects of nuclear energy, as it has been blamed for a the unwillingness of society to accept many undesirable things (Jakimo and Bupp 1978). While there is no doubt that such a syndrome exists, there is also considerable evidence that when there is a perceived advantage to the residents of the "front yard" the facility may be allowed to proceed. Such an advantage might come if a government agrees to locate a "desirable" facility in the same state that accepts an "undesirable" facility. The discussion of the syndrome falls into the more general category of "Interregional equity"
Society has developed a variety of tools for coping with interregional inequities. The most obvious is a transfer of payment, by taxation or otherwise, from those gaining the benefit to those incurring the risk. It is easier, and perhaps fairer, to make a risk-related decision when the risks are borne by the same person or group to whom the benefits accrue. If the risk of an action exceeds the benefit perceived by that person, then the action will not proceed. However, if the person who bears the risk is different from the person to whom the benefit accrues, and if the risk bearer is willing to value risk lower than the benefactor values the benefit, it may be possible to achieve a net excess of benefit over risk for each party; this might be achieved by some charge of payment, whereby the party who benefits compensates the party who bears the risk. Although by such a monetary transfer the risk/benefit decision for each party becomes favorable, there is the complication of deciding upon the exact payment; one party may benefit (overall) more than the other, and negotiation(s) may be time-consuming. In fact, the time and effort needed to make the negotiated transfers themselves become an additional cost.
Of course such interregional equity considerations are not new. What may be new is the area over which some consideration of compensation must be given. Even when there are several groups, this procedure might be generalized to ensure that the risk/benefit balance is positive for each affected group of importance. This concept has been advanced by Fischhoff (1994). Clearly, the manner and degree to which existing institutions are able to effectively apply this conception of acceptable risk is a matter of considerable debate. Nevertheless, it is useful to consider how simple conceptions of interregional equity can be used to help in the nuclear waste problem. While, as noted above, NIMBY can sometimes be overcome, there is a more pernicious problem that we categorize as "Not in my neighbor's back yard" (NIMNBY). We briefly discuss below three examples of the effect in the nuclear waste issues over the last twenty five years.
(i) Waste site in Lyons, Kansas.
In 1970, the Atomic Energy Commission made plans for vitrifying high level nuclear waste, after uranium and plutonium had been removed by reprocessing, and placing the vitrified waste in a salt bed in Lyons, Kansas. It was expected that since the salt had been in place for millions of years, that the site would not be inundated by ground water for some time. The local community wanted the facility, because as noted above under NIMBY, it would have paid their taxes. The project was stopped by the state of Kansas, who pointed out that water had been injected into the same salt deposits, although some distance away, and that the long term stability of the site was far from assured. There were many technical people who thought that the risk was minimal, but we do not here wish to enter that discussion. The relevant point is that the issue was NOT raised by the local community but by a group at a distance. Was this a watchful state taking fatherly care of the children in Lyons? or was it unwanted and undesirable interference with local rule?
(ii) Low level waste site in Martindale, Illinois
Low level nuclear waste, both from the nuclear industry and from hospitals, was dealt with by a variety of ways before 1970. Some was put into drums, encased in concrete and dropped by the US Navy into the deep ocean outside the continental shelf. This is now forbidden by the law of the sea. Some was taken to waste disposal sites on federal reservations at Barnwell, South Carolina and Hanford Washington. These are now closed to all but states with a specific agreement. Congress passed a law requiring all states to find their own site - or a contractual agreement with another state (Congress 1980).
In 1990, in conformity with this law, the state of Illinois was close to finding agreement on a site in Martinsville. This small farming community was pleased to have the facility because it would pay their taxes. They had been convinced by a variety of meetings that the risk was minimal, and indeed, when one of us (RW) visited, they were more interested in a visit from a live physicist than in the waste and the main question they asked was why the sixth quark had not been found!
However, the neighboring communities were not so pleased. In addition a State Senator Jerome Joyce did not want the state to be the first state to open a waste repository, for fear it would become the national waste repository. Criticisms of the project were raised. Then a three man commission was formed with no person who knew about radiation or public health, and no objective standard by which to judge the facility. They explicitly avoided making a judgement on each of the many issues they did not understand and recommended against the site.
Thus the people of Martinsville were prevented by the state from having a nuclear waste facility in their own back yard. This was also the end, for Illinois, of a bottom up approach which was always considered by democrats to be the way to proceed. The state of Illinois is now starting a "top down" approach with a state commission deciding on acceptable sites from above.
(iii) Low level waste site in California.
The state of California has long been considered to be strongly anti-nuclear. power. But nonetheless, the state agreed in a regional compact with Arizona and with North and South Dakota to search for a low level waste site in California. A small community in Needles on the Columbia River, was pleased to accept the facility at a site 20 miles west at Ward Valley 1 1/2 miles south of a main road (US highway 40). However, there was a small condition which laid the seed for trouble. The land was is on National Forest land owned by the Bureau of Land Management of the US Department of the Interior (DOI). After a two year site review a license was issued the California Department of Health Services to the contractor, US Ecology in September 1993. A law suit by a small opposition group had been resolved. But the Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, received a letter from three geologists raising concerns. He declined to give approval, and instead asked for a study by the National Academy of Sciences to address these specific questions. This has now been completed (NAS 1995). One month after the NAS review, the approval for land transfer was given. Court challenges may still occur. We note that delays by the federal government are very far from NIMBY.
(iv) One way of avoiding a local problem might be to deposit waste in the sea bed of the deep oceans. This was espoused by the Nobel laureate Louis Alvarez (1987). This affects all nations and all coastal nations equally. It could , in principle, be the ultimate top down approach with no local constituency to object. But this is forbidden so far by the United Nations.
No high level waste facility has yet been built, and no new low level waste facility in recent years. It seems to us that to avoid the problems a bottom up and top down approach must be pursued simultaneously. This takes a lot of planning and thought, and will involve many people.
. Although it has often been said that nuclear waste is the only long lived waste problem in society for which there exists a good technical solution, that is not the way the federal government and the states envisage their procedures. For example the Environmental Protection Agency has set regulations for a high level waste repository which far exceed that for any other waste facility. Moreover, they persist in this in spite of explicit criticisms of advisory committees both of their own and of the National Academy of Sciences. Political delays in deciding upon a procedure results in problems and costs for the power plants.
We suggest that the problem in all of these cases is the absence of a realistic criterion, based upon public health or at least some other criterion of clear and demonstrated importance, for disposing of waste; without this criterion, political discussions on who should decide and so on are empty. Of course there are criteria; both from NRC and EPA. But these disagree, and the EPA criteria have been unanimously criticized by their own advisory committees. This might be compared with the Swedish situation.
It seems to us that the nuclear waste discussion is at the moment at an impasse and imaginative new ideas are needed. If indeed the high level nuclear waste issue is less dangerous than perceived by the public, anyone willing to accept high level waste can make a very handsome profit. A mining engineer and regulator in Port Darwin (Northern Territories of Australia) noted that the present world wide nuclear industry pays $ 6 billion per year for disposing of the spent fuel rods costs (although they are not yet disposed of.) Any country that is willing to take them is therefore bidding on a $6 billion a year industry. He has therefore proposed that the Northern Territories offer a complete set of fuel services for the back end of the uranium fuel cycle as it already offers for part of the front end - mining. There is a port - port Darwin, with a road into the interior and an old rail bed that could be rehabilitated, little industry and spacious deserts that have been space free of water for millennia for ultimate disposal (Watters 1985). However, this has not been received with favor in Canberra, which would have the ultimate decision - another example of NIMNBY and not NIMBY.
Other countries have tentatively discussed this, although an open discussion can often develop political opposition prematurely. The list therefore might include the following areas where this has been discussed:
- Northern Territories, Australia (Watters 1985)
- Bikini Atoll, Marshall Islands (already contaminated)
- Gobi desert, China
C. Prevention of large accidents
A large nuclear reactor accident would have world-wide effects. The fear that a reactor can explode like a bomb seemed to be confirmed by the Chernobyl accident of 1986 where the reactor power got out of control and increased hundredfold in less than a second. Apart from the errors of operators (who had disabled critical safety systems) this accident was due to a design fault. Under specific (abnormal) conditions in the reactor a positive feedback loop was possible: an increase in power caused an increase in the number of nuclear fissions and further increase in power. It is important to realize that this instability is a special feature of the Soviet RBMK reactor (with graphite moderator and light water coolant) and does not apply to the reactors which use water both as a moderator and as a coolant. These reactors which are the primary reactors of the western countries, are designed to exclude positive feedbacks under any circumstances. Moreover the extensive water in the Pressurized Water Reactors would interact with fission products to reduce the emission of radioactive iodine and cesium.
20 years ago, antinuclear power groups would often open their meetings with a slide of an atomic bomb explosion. This is now much less common. Nonetheless the experience of Chernobyl, and even of Three mile Island that harmed nobody, suggest to the public that nuclear power is not safe.
The possibility of a potential catastrophe arises from a simple fact that energy concentration in nuclear fuel is millions times higher than in fossil fuel and that nuclear fuel which would allow several years of operation is mixed in the reactor core with highly radioactive fission products. This is unlike the fossil fuel plants where the amount of fuel inside the burner is very small (only enough for less than a minute of operation). Nonetheless no one is worried by a chunk of uranium ore straight out of the mine because is not possible to sustain a nuclear reaction with such chunks of ore; they must be purified.
There are two aspects to the public concern about accidents;
(ii) Public Health and Safety
(i) The economic cost is high for two reasons:
(a) The loss of facility prematurely
(b) The necessity for cleanup, often to unrealistic standards.
(ii) The death rate is probably small. But the interdiction of land can be very large under interdiction rules that are unnecessarily strict.
If it were possible to state with absolute assurance that an accident with significant off site consequences such as that at Chernobyl could not happen in the future it might be different. Unfortunately such absolute assurance cannot honestly be given for the present generation of light water reactors. This then leads to two contrasting possibilities for the further development of nuclear power. For convenience here we simplify the discussion by calling them the "evolutionary approach" and the "revolutionary approach". We discuss first the "evolutionary approach."
In each case we first discuss the probability of a large accident - which is very low according to the Probabilistic Risk Assessments (NRC 1975) but not zero. In order to win public acceptance engineers "must limit, through design, the effects of a severe accident no matter how low its probability" (Hafele 1990). In the "evolutionary approach" the existing designs are being improved with more appropriate materials, devices and operating procedures until the probability is "acceptably" low. But this still begs the question of what is "acceptable" and who does the accepting.
But public acceptance of nuclear power requires that safety be based on principles clearly understandable by laymen - and probability is not so understood. Spiewak and Weinberg (1985) point to the call (in 1980) of the first chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission David Lilienthal to nuclear engineers "to come up with a technical fix: a reactor that both friend and foes of nuclear energy would agree could not under any circumstances suffer the fate of the Three Mile Island-2 reactor - in short, a reactor that was transparently and patently immune from a core melt...". Such a reactor we call a "revolutionary" reactor.
There have been many discussions, particularly since the Three Mile Island accident 15 years ago of such a "revolutionary" reactor, often called an "inherently safe" reactor. The general argument is that whereas absolute safety may not be able to be guaranteed, it is preferable to depend upon "inherent" safety features that depend upon fundamental physical principles rather than on a "patchwork" of an engineered safety feature, designed to prevent the progression of an accident scenario which has commenced. (IAEA 1988, 1992)
The inherently safe reactor must ensure that it is impossible to have a power excursion, that after heat can be removed by conduction, natural convection, or radiation, using no electric power, that heat can be removed after a loss of coolant accident without an active part, or even better if such an accident can be eliminated by design. Moreover the reactor control and protection system must be designed to avoid operator action following abnormal occurrences. It is not sure that a reactor system can be designed that meets all of these requirements.
Briefly we must:
Control the Power Level and shut down when appropriate
Maintain cooling to prevent disintegration
Confine the radioactive material
We list below how these can might be met in an evolutionary reactor (E) or a revolutionary reactor (R)
Impossibility of a power excursion
(low excess reactivity)
Remove after heat (conduction and convection)
Passive Heat Removal after LOCA
Prevention of Loss of Coolant by design
Avoidance of bad operator action after accident
Inherent features that have been discussed include:
(i) Use of atmospheric or low pressure in a reactor to avoid a "Loss of Coolant Accident" by a "blow down" of the pressurized water. (used in liquid metal cooled reactors (LMR)
(ii) Use of materials that allow the reactor to rise to a high temperature without radioactivity release or destruction of any cooling system.(particularly in the High Temperature Gas Cooled Reactor)
(iii) Use of convection cooling for long term heat removal (usually associated with "small" (300 Mwe reactors).
(iv) Use of a reactor with a large water inventory which can act as a thermal time constant, giving ample time for operators and others to respond to a malfunction.
There is a continual debate between the advocates of the evolutionary reactor and the revolutionary reactor. A National Academy Committee (NAS 1991 recommended that the limited research funds available in the USA in the 1990s are best spent on the evolutionary designs. It is clear that the development, construction and operation that could demonstrate the technical viability of a revolutionary design is a long term effort requiring major funding. the idea that such a reactor would produce no off site consequences, and thereby simplify decision making may justify its development. In the end it must be able to prove its economic competitiveness, particularly with coal, although it is possible that coal will carry the economic burden of a carbon tax.
In this section we discuss further another completely different scheme; to use uranium in an assembly large enough to be an energy amplifier but too small to be "critical" and sustain a nuclear chain reaction. We do not do this because we necessarily think that it is the correct way for a government to proceed, but to put the subject (which has been raised from outside the industry as an important approach) into perspective. We first ask to what extent, if at all, it resolves any of the problems of concern.
When neutrons fall upon uranium or other fissile material, they can produce fission of the atomic nucleus which releases more neutrons. This is described by the neutron multiplication coefficient, k the number of neutrons released from the fission of uranium minus the number of neutrons absorbed by the reactor construction and shielding materials. If k > 1 the rate of the fission reaction increases with time; In a stable reactor, the fuel assembly must be have k = 1. This value is called the "critical" value. One of the important features of reactor design is to limit the value of k. In a normal reactor this is controlled by negative feedback mechanisms or insertion of neutron-absorbing control rods. If the value is uncontrolled, the value is limited only by disassembly (explosion) of the reactor. A release of even a small fraction of the energy stored in nuclear fuel can cause a Chernobyl-scale accident.
A number of authors posed the question, can one have a design where we can state with absolute assurance that the reactor can never become critical on the neutrons yet have a large value of k? (Petrov 1991, 1992, Daniel and Petrov 1993, 1994; Takahashi 1991; Bowman 1992; Carminati et al. 1993; Butler 1993). Then the energy contained in an external source of neutrons will be multiplied, or amplified by the factor of 1/(1-k).
At first sight it might be thought that an amplifier system has the considerable advantage that if anything goes wrong, the initial source of neutrons, the accelerator, stops. A large number of possible accident situations would be eliminated from consideration and we here outline this approach. This would be an important psychological advantage. While the accelerator would stop in a power failure it is possible to imagine failure scenarios where the accelerator keeps going.
The system is only attractive if we can be sure that k is less than unity under ALL conditions; as the fuel moves for example, or as the uranium (or thorium) is burned up and some of it is transmuted to plutonium (or uranium 233). Since we are here addressing the perceptions of the public rather than those of experts, this must be done in a credible manner. Unfortunately with the thorium fuel cycle which Carminati et al. espouse (for other reasons) k changes over the burn up of the fuel, so it is not possible to have a large amplification and at the same time have stability under all conditions. Clearly, these possibilities should be explored further.
The use of a subcritical assembly removes only one of two major causes of large accidents. Although a subcritical assembly cannot explode like a Chernobyl reactor did, accidents such as that at Three Mile Island, could still occur as the amplifying assembly overheats during a Loss Of Coolant Accident (LOCA). This concern is addressed in the 'Inherently safe' reactor designs which rely on the passive safety systems rather than on the sophisticated engineering. Passive safety systems can provide a guarantee of adequate cooling because their operation is based on fundamental laws of physics, such as gravity. For example, General Electric's Safe Boiling Water reactor would be able to operate at full power without pumps using only natural circulation. The 640 Mwe Swedish PIUS (Process Inherent Ultimate Safety) reactor has been described as a "reactor in a swimming pool." The pool is filled with borated water which cannot enter the reactor core under normal operating conditions because the cooling water has a slightly higher pressure. In case of a fault in the cooling system, the borated water floods the reactor core and since boron is a strong neutron absorber it shuts the reactor down (Price 1990; Martensson 1992).
D. Vulnerability to Sabotage and terrorism.
Where there is a potential for accidents, there is also a potential for sabotage and terrorism. We distinguish the two here. Sabotage is merely destroying the facility so that it cannot operate and produce electricity. Most industrial facilities are vulnerable to sabotage, and nuclear power plants are no exception. We define terrorism as an action or set of actions by a person or group threatening to cause an environmental or public health mess by destroying a facility. It is usually a threat of sabotage. A terrorist threat has to be believable to be effective.
A terrorist group could for example use plutonium as a radiological weapon by dispersing a few grams of plutonium through an air-conditioning system of a large building. Plutonium is one of the most carcinogenic agents when taken into the bloodstream and such an attack could give lung cancer to almost each person in the building. Another option for a terrorist group would be to disperse a few dozen grams of plutonium in an open area. This could contaminate several square kilometers to a level that would require the evacuation of people and expensive decontamination (Taylor and Willrich 1974, Fenn 1981).
Diversion of a small amount of plutonium could go undetected. The U.S. General Accounting Office reported in 1976 that tons of weapon-grade nuclear materials were unaccounted for although no direct evidence of theft was found (see discussion in Fenn 1981).
Another threat comes from a possible takeover of a nuclear power plant by a group of technically trained terrorists who might deliberately cause a Loss of Coolant Accident. It is claimed that any nuclear reactor in the USA could be sabotaged by three to five Green Beret men (Krieger 1975). For many people terrorism against a nuclear power plant is particularly troubling. Can that be changed? We believe so; but there is a major problem with trying to change it; the two methods we suggest below have in common the idea that by discussing exactly how much, or how little, a terrorist can accomplish in society, the matter can be put into perspective. But such discussion can inevitably lead to better information for a potential terrorist to exercise his malevolent imagination.
First one should consider carefully all the possible scenarios that a terrorist might use to sabotage a power plant, and what damage could be caused by such a saboteur, both to the physical property of the plant and to the health of the surrounding populace. This can suggest possible modifications to make sabotage harder or have less consequences. Second, suggested procedure is to carry out a similar study for other parts of society, especially other energy industries. The unattended substation at the street corner is a particularly vulnerable target. Dispersal of facilities can reduce the effect of a sabotage attempt, but probably increases its frequency by making an attempt easier.
It is important to realize that for nuclear power it is hard for a saboteur to do more than what would happen in an accident. Even exploding a charge next to the control rod drives, may not be worse than an Anticipated Transient Without Scram (ATWS) event. Studies of the potential for sabotage therefore focus on the possibility of increasing the probability of accident, and studies to mitigate the effects of sabotage follow the same paths as mitigation of a natural accident. Analysts of the accident at Three Mile Island were surprised that the safety devices allowed the operators to do what they did; could, or would, a saboteur do as much?
On the other hand, for other facilities in society, a similar analysis would show much more likelihood of sabotage and terrorism. During the floods of 1993 in the mid west of the USA, levees were particularly vulnerable to sabotage; in at least one case a saboteur, for reasons which are far from clear, removed sandbags from a levee at a particularly weak point and thereby may have caused the breach that flooded a town downstream. Anyone who hijacks a liquified natural gas (LNG) or gasoline truck can use it to set off a major fire and possible explosion. A terminal for any hydrocarbon fuel would seem particularly vulnerable. Hydroelectric plants are also particularly liable both to sabotage and to terrorism. Dams can fail by accident. But they have also been blown up in time of war. Since one can blow up a dam by dropping a bomb from the air, under the unfavorable circumstance of being shot at by accurate anti-aircraft fire, how much easier is it to blow up an unattended dam with a more modern, lightweight, bomb that can be carried on one's back? Therefore, any discussion of the sensitivity of a nuclear power plant to terrorism must be tempered with the realization that all of modern society is vulnerable - and the effects can be particularly bad when the is a large concentration of easily useable fuel whether water, or hydrocarbon, or uranium in an operating reactor.
Ammonium Nitrate as an explosive has been brought to public attention as a result of the bomb explosions at the World Trade Center, NY and the Federal Office Building, Oklahoma. Because it is a fertilizer it is very easily available, and a string of barges on the Mississippi river can hold 20 kilotons (and make a larger explosion than Hiroshima or Nagasaki). Large explosions did occur by accident in Oppau, Germany in 1924 and Texas City TX in 1950. Terrorism can particularly occur in time of a limited war. The possibility of terrorism by their Azeri neighbors has led some Armenians, and friends overseas, to oppose the reopening of the Medzamor nuclear power plant, (which could help to solve their energy crisis).
It is hard to quantify these issues, but analysts tend to agree that blowing up a nuclear power plant is far from the easiest way of making a mess, although it might be psychologically very attractive to a terrorist.
The role of sabotage as a constraint on nuclear power development is indirect and very dependent on country. Visitors were encouraged at early nuclear power plants in the United States, even to control rooms and other sensitive areas. In the United States, this has been somewhat discouraged, with a consequent increase in feelings of secrecy and elitism among the public. In the USSR (and Russia and now Ukraine) the controlled nature of society led to additional security being unnecessary.
E. Difficulties in Rapid Penetration of the Market.
It is instructive to plot the way in which new technologies, and in particular energy technologies, enter the market. This is not only interesting for penetration of the domestic market but also for penetration of the international market where the field encompasses what is called technology transfer.
In figure 1, we make such a plot for energy use in the United States. In the year 1800 America was almost entirely fuelled by "renewables" - particularly wood. Whereas even the first steam railway (railroad) engines in Europe were powered by coal, American engines were mostly wood powered until about 1880. The use of coal in penetration of the US market for fuel depended upon a number of factors, of which the discovery of coal seams was the least important, and the transportation cost was perhaps the most important. Coal changed from 20% of the market to 80% of the market in about 50 years. After oil was discovered in the USA and the internal combustion engine invented, it was still many years before oil penetrated the market. Diesel engines did not replace steam engines on the railroads until long after the internal combustion engine was invented, and then penetration of the market was slow - the period 1935 to 1955.
In 1970 it appeared that nuclear fuels, firstly with nuclear electric power and later with reactors for process heat, desalination, and district heating would be an exception. Electric utility companies were ordering nuclear reactors for most of their planned expansion, then anticipated to continue at 9% per year for several years. Projections then considered plausible showed that nuclear power would provide more than half the world's electricity by 1990. The rapid increase before 1980 is clearly shown in figure 1. But only 5 years after the oil crisis of 1973, which many people would stimulate nuclear energy, new power plant orders ceased in the United States, and most of the western world stopped and has only resumed in the Asian rim countries. In this section we examine the contention that one problem was the attempt by governments, with the United States Government in the lead, to develop the new technology faster than natural market forces would allow it to develop.
There were several reasons for this haste. The end of the second world war saw the development of the first attempts to consider providing food (FAO 1945) and fuel to everyone on the planet. At the same time, some saw very low limits on the amount of the traditional fuels that were available. They were incorrect in this; few people foresaw the enormous oil reserves in the Persian (Arabian) Gulf and even as late as 1980, oil experts predicted that the North Sea oil field (then producing 1 million barrels a day) would be exhausted by 1995. (It is now producing 4 million barrels a day). Government help seemed necessary because of the large scale of the enterprise (although the even larger oil industry operates mostly without intervention). Also, many scientists thought, and still think, that nuclear energy has distinct environmental advantages over alternative ways of producing electricity in bulk (Wilson 1994). The haste was unnecessary and may have contributed to the downfall of the industry.
There seem to be two major consequences of the haste, both associated with inadequate time for the technology to mature and achieve public acceptance:
- A. One is on the industry itself and
- B. the other on the public perception of the industry.
(Industry here is defined to include all people who are involved from the government promoters of nuclear power, through manufacturers, utility companies to academics who either train personnel, or discuss the industry either with applause or criticism.)
A (i) Utility companies ordered nuclear power plants without having the staff or expertise to know what they were ordering. Under these conditions the free market does not lead to efficiencies, but to inefficiencies. In the congressional discussions of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 in the United States, democrats favored development of nuclear energy by the central government; whereas republicans (who were in power) favored open competition among reactor vendors. But the most important rule in a market economy is caveat emptor and the purchasers did not know what they were buying.
Both the reactor vendors and the utility companies took their lead from (and perhaps were even pushed by) the Atomic Energy Commission. The separation of the regulatory arm, later the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, was too late or inadequate to prevent this. Instead of thinking about reactor safety, reactor operators they thought about meeting regulations.
A (ii) Containments are desirable to prevent outside events (tornados, hurricanes and falling aircraft) from upsetting the critical parts of the system, and for preventing escape of radioactive material in case of accident. These are unique safety features with no parallel in other industries. Containment challenges were always hard to specify without a very careful consideration of accidents, which has been comparatively recent. The specification was that all water vapor produced be contained without raising the pressure unduly. This allowed a containment, the ice condenser containment, which although economically efficient, that does not protect against a class of unspecified accidents. The ice condenses the water, and allows the containment to be smaller. But it also allows a dangerous hydrogen build up! Many containments are too small to allow equipment to be serviced when repair is needed. The replacement of the steam generators in the Palisades reactor necessitated cutting a hole in the containment and rebuilding it. With hindsight it is hard to see how any utility with a competent and responsible engineering department could have ordered such reactors. The excessive haste certainly contributed.
A. (iii) Utility companies and reactor vendors have complained about excessive regulation (next section). One might argue that if the utilities and vendors were responsible, all that is needed for regulation would be an application of tort law as rigorous as the application to EXXON after the Valdez oil spill. Until recently utility companies have not shown this competence. Recognizing that every utility company is the hostage of the those which are operated less well, the utilities established of the industry group INPO, which has done much to compensate for this. Again the haste in building up an industry was partially responsible for INPO not being in place earlier.
B. All these mistakes inevitably create a bad public image. It is important to change the public image that these mistakes created. One way might be to emphasize and explain the role of INPO, which has been very effective, and also the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) which endeavors to do the same world wide. But there is wide agreement that effective Government oversight is needed for public authorities to set general safety goals.
F. Excessive Construction cost
Nuclear electric power in the United States of 1994 is expensive and is not competitive with, for example, electricity generation by natural gas. It is harder to discern whether nuclear power has to be this expensive.
The U.S. nuclear industry often complained about the effect of delay on cost - primarily construction cost. A part of this delay is caused by developing engineered safety features while the plant was being built, which led to installations that were unnecessarily complex. Another part occurred through court challenges to the regulatory process. It is hard to disentangle the contributions of each. If a 1000 Mwe power plant is delayed a day in operation it costs over $1 million. In some plants, public concern held the plants up 4 years, doubling the overall cost.
Public Utility Commissions in the USA have traditionally allowed the full cost of construction of a power plant (and interest on investment during construction" to be included in the "rate base"; and then allowed the power companies a "reasonable" rate of return on that rate base. In the late 1980s, PUCs have increasingly questioned the cost claims in "prudency" hearings, and in many cases, the full cost has not been allowed. The "nuclear industry", noting that the charges of imprudence come up with nuclear power plants more than with coal fired power plants, have regarded these hearings as unfair and unreal.
But we have seen no systematic study of these cases to determine the actual costs, and any reasons for "imprudent" charges.
G. Excessive operating cost
Operating costs of nuclear power plants have risen (in real terms) a factor of 2 in the USA, largely driven by personnel increases. While the record shows that nuclear power was competitive with oil and coal in 1970, critics argue that it was only economically viable because many costs, particularly development costs are hidden by including them in the military budget. This subsidy was certainly present in the early days of the US nuclear industry when R&D costs were absorbed by the government and much of the know-how was transferred from weapons programs, but it is probable that this was over by about 1970.
With a fossil fuel plant it is possible to have an attitude "If it ain't broke, why fix it?". With nuclear power plants this was already leading to potential precursors of major accidents - such as at the Dresden power plant in 1972. Quality Assurance and other expensive measures were introduced to improve safety - but with extra expense. Moreover, as nuclear energy captures a sizable proportion of electricity production, it has to compete with fossil fuels. Since the investments required for a nuclear power plant are about 50 per cent higher than for a similar fossil fuel plant, nuclear plant is competitive only if it the load is high enough.
The introduction of Quality Assurance on a system that was not designed for it, seems to have led to series of "band-aid" fixes that become very expensive. While there is no detailed study of what this does to costs, this suggests that new, more inherently safer designs will be easier to assure, and easier to regulate. This should reduce the cost.
Comparison of nuclear and coal electricity costs in France shows that nuclear is cheaper than coal if nuclear reactors are on average operated at and above 5,000 hours per year (about 57% of total hours) (Baumier and Bertel 1987). Whatever the exact number, it would be higher in a country like the USA which has indigenous coal or the cost of its transportation is low. Although international cost comparisons are difficult, French nuclear costs seem about 10 percent lower than German or British nuclear costs. This difference is often attributed to the size of the French nuclear program and the effects of standardization in reactor manufacturing
G. Excessive regulation
It is widely claimed by nuclear utility companies and nuclear reactor suppliers that excessive regulation is a major constraint. However, there have been few specific statements of concern and proposals of what to change and how to change it. In this it is important to examine the proper role of a regulator.
A regulator has, and should have, tremendous power. But he should be knowledgeable in the field that he regulates. A modern nuclear power plant earns $1,000,000 per day. A delay in regulatory approval can often cause costs far in excess of the worth of the delay. An individual regulator is often more concerned with the public perception of himself as regulator, rather than the public perception of the industry that he is regulating. It is therefore vital to discuss the proper role of a regulator and explain it so that it is well understood.
In the USA there are three major types of regulation that have affected the nuclear power industry, but there are differences in other countries.
(a) The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) must specify that the nuclear power plant can be operated without undue adverse effect on the health and safety of the public.
(b) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) takes responsibility for matters such as ultimate disposal of "high level" radioactive waste.
(c) The Public Utility Commissions (PUC) of each state are supposed to be merely financial regulators but have used their power in a number of ways that appear to be uniquely constraints upon the nuclear industry. (The prudency hearings discussed in the previous section are a typical example.)
The role of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission probably should be, and perhaps is, the most important. As stated in the Atomic Energy Act of 1954 and carried over in later legislation, much authority is delegated to the Commission. Nowhere is it stated that the NRC must run the nuclear industry, or to respond to the "complaint of the day" from a tabloid or the New York Times. Yet it has been pushed into this position. In section D we noted that the reactor vendors and utilities did not all have the expertise needed to cope with safety themselves (before INPO) and often deferred (or gave in) to NRC. This has changed somewhat in the last 10 years with INPO and WANO. But the damage to the public perception of NRC has been done. It is perceived as the first line of safety defense. In turn, the public then make more frequent demands on NRC than is, perhaps appropriate.
III. SPECIFIC CONCERNS IN DIFFERENT COUNTRIES
Sweden has adopted two approaches which seem to be unique. The 1980 referendum, widely considered a vote against nuclear energy could in fact be called a reprieve. There were three alternatives presented in a widely publicized referendum of 1980 (Lindstrom 1992):
(i) Phase out in the indefinite future
(ii) No new plants and phase out by the year 2010
(iii) Immediate phase out.
It is a well known fact of political life that most people, when faced with three alternates that they do not understand choose the middle one. This propensity can be enhanced by making the extremes very unpalatable. An immediate shut down would have provided much disruption of the economy; and an expansion of nuclear energy seemed unnecessary in country where enough power plants were operating or under construction to supply half of the electricity generation by nuclear fission. Despite every effort made to inform the electorate about different nuclear energy options there still was some confusion among the public. One lady remarked on Swedish TV on the day of referendum "I still don't understand why we want nuclear power, when I've got electricity in my house already' (Price 1990, p.72).
Sweden was the first Western country that the fallout from Chernobyl had reached two days after the accident (even before it was announced by the USSR). Food supplies worth $200 million were destroyed because of radioactive contamination (Some people claim that the government were over hasty in destroying food and set too low a level of acceptability by a factor of about 30). Prime Minister Carlsson used it to promote the Social Democrats' commitment to phasing out nuclear energy: "Nuclear power is one of the greatest threats to our environment...Nuclear power must be gotten rid of." (New York Times 1986).
Nevertheless, public confidence in nuclear power recovered soon: 26 percent were anxious about nuclear power in April 1986 (just before the Chernobyl accident); 42 percent were anxious in September 1986; 27 percent were anxious three years after the accident in May 1989 (cited in Price 1990, p.285). Interestingly the mood was much more positive in the population around the Folsmark nuclear power plant where Chernobyl fallout was first detected. While a search for a leak from one of the local reactors was going on, the pre-arranged emergency measures were applied and evacuation of population began promptly. In a few hours it became clear that the cause of high level of radiation was not local and the people who had been evacuated were allowed to return. This successful test of contingency plans may have been the cause of the relative increase of confidence in nuclear power within the district (Price 1990, p.284).
The second bold decision was about nuclear waste. The government declared that it was necessary, for continuation, to have a solution to the waste problem. Swedish scientists did not propose a simple solution; but a comparatively expensive one; encasing the waste in solid copper containers which would not be eroded, and THEN putting them into an area of little ground water.
France has a fair quantity of hydropower in the South East, but very little coal, oil or natural gas. After the "oil shock" of 1972/1973, France took note of this fact, and desiring to have enough energy independence to be a major political force in the European Common Market the French government made a bold decision, to base all the electricity expansion in France on nuclear power, and with nuclear reactors of a specific type (pressurized water reactor, PWR) These were made by a French company, Framatome, under license from Westinghouse. Public opinion surveys similar to those carried out in the USA show that the French public have the same perception of safety as the US public (Slovic 1992). Nonetheless nuclear power seems to be well accepted in France. Several possible reasons have been advanced for this situation.
(i) There is a high degree of confidence of French in their professional engineers. Jealous Americans describe this as the dominance of the personnel from the Ecole Polytechnique (founded by Napoleon). This belief in professionalism is one of the things that make France so different from other developed countries (Jasper 1990, Price 1990). Associated with this belief in professionalism is a pride in achievements in art and technology, particularly those of a spectacular nature.
(ii) France has a centralized political structure in contradistinction to the federal structure of Germany, or the political power of the states in the USA. For a technology which has national, and even transnational ramifications such as nuclear power the centralized structure may be particularly appropriate.
(iii) Opposition to nuclear power in the west has often been considered to be a left wing phenomenon; or a revolt of the people against oppressive industry or government. In France, the powerful French communist party supported nuclear energy because Moscow supported it. A small example of this was Nobel Laureate Frederic Joliot-Curie, a leading communist who was a member of the French resistance movement in the second world war. Few opponents of the Government wanted to repudiate him.
(iv) The press have generally been in favor of nuclear energy. It is hard to tell the extent to which this reflects public attitudes and the extend to which it molds them. But the press have been generally very sophisticated in discussions of nuclear energy. In 1982 a mortar shot was fired at the containment of the Creys Malville nuclear power plant as a gesture of protest. The next day the newspaper "Figaro" published an article by a member of the French Academy who pointed out that the protest was at a technology which had directly killed nobody; yet only the previous day 2 people had been killed in a natural gas explosion in the Ruhr. In 1980 the press favorably reported a conference on the risks of alternative energy sources in Paris, (France 1980) which put nuclear power on a par with natural gas and better than oil or coal. The press even asked a question of the French Premier at a press conference (the next day) which enabled the government to congratulate itself for advocating this energy source.
(v) Those who live within 30 km of a nuclear power plant have especially reduced rates for electricity as a sort of compensation for being near an industrial facility. This considerably reduces local opposition to nuclear power plants.
(v) France has a representative government rather than an American style democracy. Frenchmen (and Frenchwomen) expect their elected representatives to govern, and do not expect to be second guessing them all the time by letters, faxes and referenda. This leads to a historically close cooperation between government and industry.
In spite of the above 5 reasons, opposition to nuclear power is growing in France, and the concerns seem to echo those in the USA.
c) Former USSR
During the communist regime in the USSR, nuclear power was closely coupled to the military industry. Even now, both are under the same industry in Russia (MINATOM). Nuclear power was centralized. Abundant electricity was considered to be very important for the Soviet state according to Lenin's dictum "Communism is Socialism plus electricity".
After Chernobyl, hostility to nuclear power developed in many ways. The accident itself demonstrated to the governing elite that they had failed to manage modern technology, and the governing elite immediately put expansion plans on hold. Hostility to nuclear power is particularly widespread in the Ukraine and in Byelorussia which suffered heavily from Chernobyl fall-out. It was said that the people of Byelorussia did not want any kind of nuclear power - even safe nuclear power! (Price 1990).
The fact that the central government had failed to produce a safe system coupled with the fact that the central government kept the details of the accident and the radioactive deposition secret from the people, (Shlyakhter and Wilson 1992) were used by the fledgling opponents of central rule to discredit the USSR. After voting for, and gaining, independence from the USSR in December 1991, the parliament of the Ukraine voted to halt all expansion of nuclear power and to shut down the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in December 1993 (which had been cleaned up and restarted after tremendous effort and work at a moderately high radiation exposure of the 600,000 clean-up workers or liquidators. But realities changed their position. When faced with paying world market price for gas and oil from Russia, they recommenced construction of the partially finished nuclear power plants in 1992, and rescinded the vote to shut down Chernobyl.
Nuclear power does not seem to be high in the concerns, either for or against, of either the Russian Government or its people. There seems to be division, however. The ambitious nuclear expansion program was canceled after Chernobyl, and only a part of it has recommenced.
Dr. Alexei Yablokov (Chairman of the Russian National Security Council Commission on Ecological Safety) and advisor to President Yeltsin, toured the USA in April 1993, and talked about radioactive pollution in Russia. His statements seemed so exaggerated that they were dismissed by many as an appeal to get United States dollars to pay for cleanup. However he is influential and his writing in Izvestia and Novy Mir (Yablokov 1994, 1995) about "myths" about nuclear energy created by the "nuclear-industrial complex" suggest a number of concerns of the Russian nuclear opposition. It will be readily seen that some concerns are real, and some are not.
(i) Reactor safety.
Yablokov quotes an estimate that it would take at least 26 billion dollars and 10 years to upgrade Russian nuclear reactors to the Western safety standards. He states that this would not eliminate the concerns because technology accounts for only 30-40% of all nuclear power plant accidents; the rest occur because of human errors. (This shows his lack of understanding of the way accidents proceed; the effect of human errors will be far less important if the hardware safety improvements are made). For comparison, he states that it would take only 4-7 billion dollars
and 5-6 years to replace all Russian nuclear plants with gas turbines, but ignores fuel costs.
(ii) Environmental impact of nuclear reactors under normal operation conditions.
Yablokov claims that ground water around nuclear plants is contaminated with tritium. (This is a strange claim; this is only important in Canadian heavy water reactors). But the major problem in his view is global pollution of the biosphere with plutonium that "has reached catastrophic proportions." (There is a lot of plutonium; that released into the biosphere generally is from bomb tests and some from Chernobyl; the rest is so far kept out of the biosphere).
Yablokov refers to the report of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) which "...has demonstrated a fourfold increase of leukemia rates among people living or working within the 20 mile zone around Pilgrim nuclear power plant near Plymouth, Mass." (We have analyzed the data used in the DPH report (Wilson 1991a, Shihab-Eldin, Shlyakhter, and Wilson 1992) and demonstrated that the controversy caused by that report was due to arbitrary data selection).
Yablokov also refers to an "established fact" that leukemia morbidity among children living near Sellafield nuclear plant in Britain has increased tenfold. (here (Yablokov has it wrong on two counts. Sellafield is not a nuclear power plant and its main facilities were military. Leukemia mortality was increased among children of plant workers, but about as much as among children of farmers or steel workers. This increase, small in absolute amount, has not been confirmed in similar situations (Shihab Eldin, Shlyakhter and Wilson 1992))
(iii) Environmental Impact of Chernobyl Accident in the USA.
Yablokov refers to American researchers (unnamed) who "have established considerable increase in mortality among general population and children in May-August 1986." He mentions that infant mortality in the U.S. South East in these four months immediately after Chernobyl accident increased by 20-28%, mortality from AIDS increased by 60%. (We have analyzed these claims elsewhere (Kammen, Shlyakhter, and Wilson 1994) and shown that they are due to misreporting and incompatible with modest upper limits reported in Europe.)
(iii) Weapons plutonium from nuclear plants.
In Yablokov's view, "nuclear energy and nuclear weapons are twins." He refers to the use in the British, French, Chinese, and North Korean nuclear weapons of plutonium produced by nuclear power plants. (Yet see the note on the North Korean program earlier). He concludes that "expansion of nuclear energy makes the world more and more dangerous."
(iv) Economic efficiency of nuclear industry in Russia.
Yablokov believes that it is grossly exaggerated by the nuclear industry particularly because huge expenses on decommissioning of nuclear power plants and rehabilitation of the radioactively contaminated territories are not taken into account. In his view "nuclear industry" causes a considerable fraction of the national income go down the drain." (This claim might well be true - it is hard for westerners to understand the budget of the MINATOM complex)).
(v) Expansion of nuclear energy in Russia.
Yablokov notes that Russia is spending 2-3 times more energy per unit of national product than other industrialized countries. Therefore he suggests that energy-saving measures could easily eliminate the need for nuclear power. (Most western energy experts would agree with this, but note that energy
efficiency may depend on societal changes that are as slow as development of other sources of energy).
(vi) Credibility of IAEA
In Yablokov's view, IAEA charter makes this UN agency heavily biased in favor of nuclear energy. He points out that this agency is unique among other UN agencies as it was created to promote one particular technology. Other UN agencies are designed to address one specific class of problems each: culture (UNESCO), environment (UNEP), health (WHO). The choice of approaches to solve these problems can change with time as new technologies emerge. The creation of IAEA reflected the mentality of the fifties when many people believed that peaceful nuclear energy could solve all the problems that the mankind faced.
An example of IAEA bias, according to Yablokov, is its analysis of health effects of Chernobyl accident that was flawed by the reliance only on the "official" data. Yablokov mentions the "top secret" guidelines of 1988 in the USSR that prohibited doctors to link ailments of their patients to radiation exposure. (We also noted deficiencies in the IAEA report (Shlyakhter and Wilson 1992). But the objective nature of the principal ailments increased by radiation exposure makes it possible to check many of these claims in a reliable way. Moreover the medical teams assembled by Professor Fred Mettler explicitly made their own diagnoses and assessments in several villages and found no other effects attributable to radiation exposure.)
Maintaining the IAEA reputation as an impartial international body is extremely important. To achieve this goal, IAEA should work not only with the "establishment" but also with the "grass root" environmental groups.
Yablokov believes that IAEA mission should be reconsidered. It should be transformed into an agency addressing all energy problems of the mankind. Another reason for this change, in his view, is that nonproliferation activities of IAEA proved useless as it failed to prevent development of nuclear weapons, particularly in
India, Pakistan, Israel, South Africa, North Korea, and Iraq. (Yet as noted earlier, the IAEA had no authority in the first four countries, and it can be argued that in the last two and many other countries, the existence of IAEA has prevented proliferation.)
Yablokov shows some concern about the problems of global warming. Yet he seems to claim that Kr-85, one of chemically inert products of uranium fission, is an important greenhouse gas. (The energy density of nuclear energy in uranium is millions times higher than chemical energy density in fossil fuel. Therefore, the amount of Kr-85 produced per unit energy is negligible compared to CO2 emissions.
Although, therefore, Yablokov's arguments are mostly technical nonsense, they must be considered seriously because of his position.
(i) Mixing of military and Civilian Control
Immediately after the end of World War II the USA set up the Atomic Energy Commission with a dual purpose. To exploit the potential of nuclear fission for the many civilian applications, and also to build an maintain a small arsenal of nuclear weapons. The weapons were deliberately placed under the civilian control of the Atomic Energy Commission rather than the Department of Defense. While scientists were almost, if not completely, unanimous about the importance of this step, it may have been a major cause of problems that now face the nuclear power industry. The Department of Energy, the successor the Atomic Energy Commission, has a very bad public image largely because of the hasty build up of capability for producing nuclear weapons that occurred in the last 30 years. The public demand the "clean up" of the dozens of DOE weapons sites without being entirely sure to what level the clean up should reach, or even what "clean" means. As one astute observer put it, after the cold war is over, and we get away from the scary confrontations of the last 30 years, we want to clean up our consciences.
Inevitably this has rubbed off on nuclear electric power. The public image of a nuclear power plant was in 1960 in the USA an image of a peaceful, rather than a military, use of a technology - in the same way that a knife can be used for eating rather than stabbing a neighbor to death. Nuclear power was therefore automatically thought of as good. Now, the very presence of the technology is often regarded as evil, and must be resisted at every step, and by any means. How did this come about? Since the ability, and occasionally a reluctant duty, to wage war is the preserve of the federal government and the President and Congress in particular, local hearing boards and courts have no jurisdiction over the fundamental issue of war. This led objectors to use delaying actions for which the US regulatory and legal system is almost uniquely suited.
The way in which the old Atomic Energy Commission was split up in 1975 accentuated this problem. A separation of promotional functions (now formally in DOE) and regulatory functions was considered a good idea, although many observers think that was wrong (Lewis 1994). A much more important separation was never made - a handing over of the plutonium production facilities to the Department of Defense. This has allowed the promotional part of the DOE to wither and be subject to the same emotional problems as the military part. A proposal made in 1973 to create an "Energy Regulatory Agency" to regulate all energy industries consistently, was not considered. Yet this occurs in the Health and Safety Inspectorate in the United Kingdom.
How can these issues be addressed? In some cases, as noted in the introduction, one might sidestep around them. In others they may have to be faced head on; but there may be ways of facing them in a general way that is not unique to nuclear power and therefore may be more generally acceptable.
(ii) Fear of cancer and of Radiation
In the USA there is an extraordinary fear of cancer as distinct from other causes of death, even other lingering ones, and on radiation as a possible cause of cancer. To some extent this is fed by the fact that the main source of information for a quantitative risk assessment of radiation comes from the effects of the nuclear bombs at Nagasaki and Hiroshima on survivors. More information is likely to be forthcoming on the effects of the Chernobyl accident and on the Russian radiation accidents at Chelyabinsk.
Here we, as scientists, point the finger at those fanatics who in the name of science (in our names) continually make exaggerations on this issue. That such fanatics exist in any subject is self-evident. But we also point the finger at those of our competent scientific colleagues who encourage (by appearing on the same platform or publishing together) such fanaticism or condone it (often by silence).
It is perhaps appropriate to understand why medical uses of radiation and radioactive isotopes have not been as extensively feared. In 1945, expansion of medical uses of radiation was a primary objective of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). Already by 1970 some nuclear procedure is used in 25% of all hospital visits. In this, therefore the AEC can be said to have succeeded, even though at that time only 10% of the research funding for nuclear medicine came from AEC and the rest from NIH or other medical sources. The timing suggests that the success might not have been as great if it had been delayed ten years and become associated with the distrust of the DOE of the 1980s. But the medical community have found it desirable to downplay connection with anything nuclear. Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) is widely used under the modified phrase Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).
We see no alternative to a proper public education program on risks of radiation cancers. This cannot be imposed from above, but will have to be agreed by all those educating the public on science, and on health and safety.
In 1995 the cost even of operating an existing nuclear power plant is barely competitive with building and operating a natural gas plant with a high efficiency (Wilson 1993). In the previous section we have detailed how each of the various factors, delay, increased interest rates, low construction efficiency, Quality Assurance (QA), security staffing, over regulation are important, they are important primarily as they increase cost. While one may grumble about each of the other factors, reactor designers and operators have to deal with them.
In the USA the revolutionary reactors, with inherent safety devices, are at the moment rejected on account of cost. Yet if the whole system with its regulation and public acceptance were considered, it seems likely that the overall cost can come down. Whether or nor that would make nuclear power acceptable in the USA and on what time scale remains to be seen.
(iv) The Nuclear regulatory problems
The US regulatory system has come in for especial criticism. In the US congressional climate of 1995, the role of regulators in general is being reexamined. Three examples will illustrate the way in which the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission first attempted to establish some criteria and guidelines for its' operation, and then found that they were unable to follow them in a logical way. In many ways, this has reduced, rather than enhanced, the credibility of the NRC as a competent organization that has a clear view of what is necessary to protect public health and safety.
(I) In the first days of the fledgling Nuclear Regulatory Commission, just after it was formed, it inherited a rule making hearing about standards for Radionuclide release (RM-30-2). In promulgating the final rule, the Commission stated that further reduction in emissions should be done IF cost was less than $1000 for every Man-Rem of integrated dose reduction. This was after asking the participants at this hearing and rounding off to a higher figure than any participant had used. This is roughly $1,000,000 to $5,000,000 per cancer averted. The stated intention was that this should be an interim number awaiting a common risk/cost approach for all federal agencies (NRC RM-30-2).
It was the orally stated intention of the Commissioners in 1975, that some of the rigid regulations on control of radioactive material be relaxed, and be replaced by this performance related guide. In their view, and the view of many experts, this would relate the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) actions more closely to the goal of protecting the health and safety of the public. In later years the NRC have not found it possible to apply this bold, far sighted, view.
Firstly, no other agency has picked up on the idea of how much one should pay to avoid a risk, although this may be changing with the many "risk" bills now before congress. However we note that the US Supreme court while rejecting the role of cost-benefit analysis in the NRC's main role (assuring that the reactor can be operated without undue risk to the health and safety of the public, have agreed that it can legitimately used for residual risks which we here assume are matters such as risks of waste handling.
(II) After a lot of work, and a formal public comment period, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a set of safety goals in the mid 1980s. These stated inter alia, that one goal is to keep the Probability of Core Melt to below one in 10,000 reactor years. At that time, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had begun to require that each reactor operator produce a Probabilistic Safety Analysis (PRA) for his reactor following the lead of the Reactor Safety Study of Rasmussen et al. (AEC 1975). A "demonstration" modern study was done for five typical reactors (NRC 1990). In this report, the core melt frequency was calculated for five typical reactors including a GE Mark I boiling water reactor. A probability distribution was presented, and the median probability was less than 1 in 10,000 years in each case.
Independently, the regulatory staff had been urging safety upgrades and were pressing for a rule that certain safety improvements be required for all General Electric Mark I reactors even though they already met the safety goals. This would have led to a contradiction. Either the research program leading to NUREG-1150 was wrong and should be abandoned, OR, the numbers were reasonable and there was no basis for requiring an improvement. In the end the Commission were persuaded NOT to issue a blanket order. Many utility operators decided to make the safety improvements anyway. This cost the utility company (and hence the electricity rate payers) extra money but they probably gained extra credibility with the public. Extra equipment was installed in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Fortunately in Massachusetts, the Public Utility Commissions, following a recommendation by a Governor's committee of 1980, allowed safety improvements to be in the rate base, even though they might not be required by NRC'
(III) Congress in 1987 asked NRC to consider what amounts of radioactive material are too small to regulate. NRC promulgated a draft rule on "Below Regulatory Concern." This suggested that the NRC would not concern itself with any material where the anticipated collective dose was less than 10 mrem. Professionals mostly approved, although a few thought that the limit was too rigorous (low). But there was opposition from a number of people. Not about the level proposed, but about the idea of proposing a level at all. Some congressmen exerted pressure on NRC which withdrew the proposed rule. In retrospect, it would have been better if the NRC had declared the rule to be interim and call for a long and open public hearing like the RM-30-2, where all points of view could have been aired. I might also have been better to choose a more erudite phrase such as the Latin phrase beloved of lawyers "de minimis" level. Those words would have established continuity with centuries of previous discussion
Those (pro-nuclear) people who think that such a rule is essential would be reduced to going to court to point out the illogic of the existing situation. But no one has taken the NRC to court and insisted that people be buried (or cremated) in approved low level waste facilities. Although the NRC has no jurisdiction over natural radioactivity such as the potassium-40 in our bodies, it does have jurisdiction of the actinides that came from bomb tests. Therefore the concept of Below Regulatory Concern is likely to come back, with a different name. We urge that either it be ascertained that none of the "environmental" groups oppose it, or that there is an extensive public hearing of the type noted above.
Although we argued that some of the constraints imposed by the public upon nuclear power might be avoided by technical changes, even though the constraints themselves have no technical merit. One regulator has commented that there should be no problem with a tight regulation because "industry can meet it." But this view assumes that he, the regulator, knows as much about the costs, both direct and indirect, and that he understands more than anyone the overall desirability of meeting the regulation. Here we discuss the possibility of establishing some "space" between the regulation and what a utility company will actually achieve. AS noted above, this makes sense if and only if the utility companies , either individually or through INPO, have a technical and engineering competence of their own. Since they are also regulated by local Public Utility Commissions (although in principle only for comic concerns) they are very sensitive to local pressures.
If NRC regulators apply more regulation merely because the public demand it, there can be a spiralling upwards of cost. It leads to an impression that the tighter regulation is NECESSARY for reasonable protection of the health and safety of the public, and often that slight exceedance of the regulatory level is close to catastrophe. It might be better were extra safety improvements were installed by the manufacturers or the utility companies. There should be some "space" or leeway, between the operating levels and the requirements of the agencies. A change in the attitude of regulators, initiated perhaps by the appropriate appointments to these agencies by the executive and by appropriate support by congress, may well be the single most important stimulus.
Nuclear reactors satisfy federal safety requirements that are not demanded of any other industry. Even the regulation of oil tankers seems less than that of the nuclear industry - perhaps because although they despoil the environment more, the direct risk to people is less; when some of the operators at a nuclear power plant were found sleeping on their shift, the power plant was shut down for several months. Yet nothing untoward had happened, and it could be argued that so many (awake) operators are unnecessary under normal conditions. When a Captain of an oil tanker "under the influence" of alcohol runs his ship aground, (as did the Captain of the Exxon Valdez) and causes a massive oil spill, oil tankers are still allowed to operate. Ordinary tort law handles the damage claims.
(iv) States Rights.
In the original Atomic Energy Act there was federal preemption for all matters dealing with atomic energy. Obviously we did not want each individual state making its own bomb; but less obviously, the number of people who understand the proper roles of radiation safety was already too small to cope even with the medical and industrial X ray tubes at the time. As time went on the states were encouraged by the AEC and congress, through the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy (JCAE), to develop their own radiation protection programs within their Departments of Health. But the Federal government maintained the ultimate jurisdiction on radiation and safety standards. But the federal government never had a preemption on economic issues, except in so far as Interstate Commerce is concerned.
This federal preemption has been steadily whittled away. Two particular items are worthy of note. California passed a law in 1975 that forbad the construction of any new nuclear power plants until the State energy board could certify that a there existed a facility for disposal of nuclear waste. This was appealed to the U.S. Supreme court and that court accepted that this state restriction was an economic one and therefore not governed by the federal preemption (Pasternack and Budnitz 1987). A more generally serious one occurred in 1980, just after the accident at Three Mile Island when the NRC adopted a rule that every state governor has to certify that the "evacuation plan" prepared by the utility with the aid of FEMA and NRC satisfies his state requirement. Although the NRC modified this rule in 1988 to prevent an indefinite delay, this rule gave each state Governor a veto power that he had not previously and that he could effectively use for any reason he chose. This was used by Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis to delay the operation of the Seabrook nuclear power plant and to drive the owner, Public Service of New Hampshire, into bankruptcy.
This veto is still on the books. It acts as a strong impediment to any utility that might have the temerity to propose a new nuclear power plant in the USA. The political situation is now closer to Germany with its Federal structure than to France.
(v) Structure of the Utility Industry
The utility industry in the USA is changing. After an early period of a number of small independent, sometimes competing, companies, the concept of a regulated utility developed. A utility company was granted a monopoly to provide electricity. In return the Public Utility Commissions regulated rates allowing a modest return on the capital assets in the "rate base". Utility companies owned power generation facilities, electricity transmission lines, and local distribution systems. New power plants were added to the "rate base". Strict procedures were established for depreciating these. In many jurisdictions, "Construction Work In Progress" (CWIP) was allowed as an expense taking away the risk of new construction. When oil prices fell in the 1960s a "fuel adjustment charge" was included to pass on to consumers any change in fuel price. In the 1970s this acted in reverse.
During the 1960s there was some incentive to build new power plants to add to the rate base. But the inflation and increased fuel prices of the 1970s added to a sudden change in the rate base to cause "rate shock" with considerable political consequences. Public Utility Commissions examined the "prudency" of such expenditures and disallowed many of them. Yet increased fuel prices could be passed through, leading to a preference for low capital power plants, independent of fuel cost.
In the 1990s a further change is occurring. Utility companies now have to allow others to use their transmission facilities at cost, and are also being ordered under "PURPA" laws, to buy electricity from other local "independent power producers (IPPs)" at "avoided cost". In addition, utilities are being encouraged to pay customers to install energy efficient devices. This produces a distortion in ordinary economic behavior. In many states the "avoided cost" does not include their share of the Energy efficient devices and customer information, leading to unbalanced competition with possible bankruptcy of some utilities in the future.
In some states the IPPs are restricted to small sizes - less than 100 MWe - thereby making it impossible for the large nuclear plants to become involved. In 1967, after the Public Utility Commission of Illinois denied the application of Commonwealth Edison of Chicago to put two nuclear power plants on the rate base, Commonwealth Edison proposed to put their latest 6 power plants into a separate company as an IPP. However, this was not then possible either. In many states the situation is in a state of flux, and the economic and regulatory risk faced by anyone proposing a large power plant has correspondingly increased. This by itself makes it unlikely that a utility company will order a new nuclear power plant until the new structure of the utility industry has stabilized.
e) The Asian Rim
In the context of this work we consider the Asian Rim countries Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and to a small extent China itself. The economic expansion of each of these countries is very rapid compared to that of the United States. Associated with this economic expansion is an expansion in fuel use which is not quite so rapid, and an increase in the proportion of that use which uses electricity as an energy vector.
Japan is the one country which suffered from the consequences of a nuclear bomb explosion. This does not seem to have made them against nuclear power, and the sentiment equation power and bombs that is prevalent in the USA does not seem to occur. Japan is an island economy, with almost all of its fuel imported: coal from China oil from the Middle East and natural gas from Alaska or Indonesia. A large part of the desire for nuclear energy is a desire for an electricity source that is independent of short term international disturbances.
Japan has bought reactors from the USA, but is quietly developing its own nuclear power industry. 90% of components of the new Advanced Boiling Water Reactors being built by GE in Japan are of Japanese origin. Similarly, Of the 5 System 90+ reactors being built by ABB-Combustion in South Korea, the latest will be mostly South Korean construction. Each country is increasing the fraction of electricity produced by nuclear power to 30% -40%. Thus prospects remain good for further development.
However, an antipathy to nuclear waste is developing in Japan as it returns from fuel reprocessing in UK (BNFL) or France (COGEMA).
Bearing in mind the context of this work, the reduction of the potential for
global warming, we here make some initial comments on the possibility of nuclear power in the Peoples' Republic of China (mainland China) (Fang, Kammen, Li and Wilson 1995). The economy of China is rising fast, and fuel use increasing at 8% per year.Present plans of the Chinese government call for most of their expansion of electricity supply to be fueled by an abundant supply of coal (with enormous increase in CO2 emissions and potential for global warming). Since replacing a coal burning power plant by a nuclear plant anywhere in the world has the same effect on global warming potential, western nations could usefully address the question of how scientists, technicians and industry generally can help China in this nuclear development. China has a larger energy intensity (ratio of energy use to Gross Domestic product) than Japan, Korea or western countries although this intensity is decreasing steadily. This is in accord with various scenarios for development of Hafele et al. (1985).
Before 1992, the failure of China to sign the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was used to prevent any assistance to China in civilian nuclear energy by industry in the USA. The USA still will not allow its companies (which include those working in Japan and South Korea) to sell directly to China because of sanctions imposed after the human rights violations at Tianemen Square. We note that these sanctions apply more to nuclear energy than to other industrial goods.
However, China has been very slow in its nuclear power development. The stated reason is capital cost, and particularly cost of capital to be spent overseas. If an indigenous industry can develop this might be avoided.
It seems that making and sticking with decisions about an industry, nuclear or otherwise, is easiest in a country where scientists and technologists have considerable influence in the government. An example of this was the totalitarian regime of the USSR. Rapid development of a civilian nuclear power economy is stimulated, rightly or wrongly, by the existence of a cadre of people trained in nuclear matters for military reasons, and retrain themselves to work in the civilian sector. This was the situation in the USA, USSR, England and France. Both situations prevail in China. There is therefore some optimism that China will decide to expand its nuclear industry and do so rapidly.
The implications for the future
We have considered nuclear power in each of the areas USA, USSR, France, Sweden, and the Asian Rim (Japan, Taiwan, Korea and other countries). The issue is the extent to which any of the constraints that seem to be imposed upon the industry in a country are unique, to what extent they are infections and spread to other countries, and to what extent they can be avoided by vaccine (sensible action to prevent the spread.)
It appears that only in the Asian Rim is there any appreciable likelihood of increase in nuclear power in the next 20 years. The non financial constraints (which take money to overcome) seem to be less than in the other countries considered. Moreover the plentiful supply of oil and natural gas in particular makes nuclear power less attractive.
At the present time, there is a lot of rhetoric about the need to act to prevent global warming. This was evident at the international meetings at Rio de Janiero in 1992 and Berlin in 1995. But positive action has been lacking even in the USA. It seems that in the democracies the general public is unconcerned. But this can change rapidly. It is therefore appropriate to examine the ability to expand rapidly again if an when the situation changes.
The first and most important item is "how do we make sure that we do not hinder the Asian Rim countries and particularly China?" Diseases are often infectious. Will the orient develop our anti-nuclear diseases and can we develop a vaccine to help prevent such infection? An examination of our diseases may help them make such a vaccine. On the other hand is it possible to overstimulate them so that they make the same mistakes as were made in the USA in the last 20 years? Can we help them avoid the problems of excessive haste?
This research was partially funded by the US Department of Energy's (DOE) National Institute for Global Environmental Change (NIGEC) through the NIGEC Northeast Regional Center at Harvard University (DOE Cooperative Agreement No. DE-FC03-90ER61010). Financial support does not constitute any endorsement by the Department of Energy of the views expressed in this paper. We are grateful to several people who reviewed earlier versions, including John Frewing, Jean C. Guais, John Landis, Jacques Panossian, Norman Ramsey, David Rossin, John Rowe, Chauncey Starr, and Bertram Wolfe.
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