Setting It Straight: Nuclear Power Sets the Gold Standard For Safe & Reliable Power Generation

The French get 85% of their power from nuclear plants and haven’t suffered so much as a scratch since they started in 1962. By contrast, the wind industry (which really only got off the ground in the late 1990s and still generates a trifling amount of electricityhas clocked up around 190 fatalities, so far (eg, see above).

Climate alarmists railing about carbon dioxide gas and not talking about nuclear power generation, can’t be taken seriously. Nuclear power is the only stand-alone power generation source that does not emit carbon dioxide gas during the process.

The fact that, among climate warriors, those seriously promoting nuclear power are few and far between, speaks volumes about what’s really driving them. If CO2 really was about to destroy the planet, these characters would be talking about nothing else but nuclear power, and how to deliver it to all and sundry.

Instead, for reasons that escape the logical and rational, we’re told that the only way forward is backwards: ie a life dependent upon the time of day and the weather.

Of course, if anyone wants hot showers and cold beer, wind and solar haven’t a hope of delivering them on cue.

When the argument eventually turns to the obvious merits of nuclear power, the zealots start frothing at the mouth about Chernobyl and Fukushima. Nothing about the facts, mind. Just the usual emotional claptrap about the horrors of radiation, blah, blah, blah.

However, the well-worn meme about the dangers of nuclear power doesn’t stand first contact with reality.

Indeed, as Paige Lambermont details below, the idea that nuclear power generation is unsafe is two parts group psychosis and three parts mob hysteria.

Three Mile Island and the Exaggerated Risk of Nuclear Power
Foundation for Economic Education
Paige Lambermont
14 January 2020

You’ve likely heard of the 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident. It’s often cited as an example of the dangers of nuclear power. It’s usually mentioned in the same breath as Chernobyl and Fukushima.

But what exactly happened there? Was it truly an exemplar of the grave dangers posed by nuclear power?

The answer is no. No one died. No one was injured. The other reactor on the site was still in operation until September 20 (yes, September 20 of last year). The Three Mile Island incident is an example of both the recallability trap and the sometimes negative results of being too yielding to the demands of the precautionary principle.

The Psychological Impacts
The main impact of the Three Mile Island accident has been psychological rather than physical. Big events like this one shape public attitudes for decades. People don’t remember the real impact of the event; they remember the feelings of uncertainty and fear that came with it. Those feelings now taint the public image of nuclear power in the United States.

The accident at Three Mile Island Unit 2 occurred at 4 a.m. on March 28, 1979. There was a malfunction in the reactor’s secondary cooling circuit, and the temperature of the reactor’s primary coolant rose, causing an automatic shutdown of the reactor. Control room instruments didn’t alert operators that a relief valve failed to close. Because of this, the reactor did not cool as it should have, and the core was damaged. Later that day, a small amount of gas was released accidentally, but the released gas traveled through air filters, which removed all of the radionuclides save the relatively harmless and short half-lived noble gases.

The event caused no physical harm, but the public perception of the risks of nuclear energy was heightened dramatically.

The accident created public fear but posed no real threat to the public. According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the two million people in the area around TMI-2 at the time of the accident received an estimated dose of only 1 millirem above the usual background dose of radiation, less exposure than they would receive from a chest x-ray and a tiny fraction of the 100-125 millirem normal yearly background dose in the area. This is a minuscule amount of radiation compared to what all of us encounter in the normal course of everyday life.

Because of cancer concerns following the accident, the Pennsylvania Department of Health maintained a registry of people living within five miles of Three Mile Island when the accident occurred. The 30,000 person list was kept up until mid-1997 when it was determined that there had been no unusual health trends or increased cancer cases in the area immediately surrounding the accident.

People were frightened by the event, but there was no physical harm. Only the public perception of the risks of nuclear energy was heightened dramatically. The greatest effects were on the future permitting and construction of reactors and on NRC rules and procedures.

Changes in Nuclear Regulation and Construction
Following this accident, it became far more difficult to construct a reactor in the United States, in part because the politics and economics both shifted. Heightened fear makes approval more difficult and causes people to be less supportive of new construction, and changes on the regulatory side of things increase costs, shifting the economics of bringing new plants online. A 1984 New York Times article on the abandonment of construction of the Marble Hill plant in Indiana cites more than 100 plant cancellations following the Three Mile Island Accident.

Significant changes came to the NRC following Three Mile Island. It expanded its resident inspector program in which two NRC inspectors live near each of the plants and provide oversight of adherence to the agencies’ regulations. Safety became a more essential element of the system, but regulatory costs also rose.

It also expanded both safety and performance-oriented inspections and established an operations center staffed 24 hours a day to provide assistance in plant emergencies.

The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations, which is now the Nuclear Energy Institute, was also established to be an internal policing mechanism for the industry, providing a single point of interaction with NRC and other agencies on many issues and allowing them to share a framework for approaching generic issues they all experience.

Plants were also required to install additional equipment to monitor certain conditions in order to mitigate future accidents. These and other changes created a far more safety-oriented regulatory environment than previously existed. Safety became a more essential element of the system, but regulatory costs also rose.

The Role of Precautionary Thinking and the Recallability Trap
This is certainly a case where the downside of the precautionary principle has negative effects. Decisions that account more for the damage caused by rare accidents than by the constant benefits produced operate under an inaccurate cost-benefit analysis. This is even more true in this case, where there was widespread fear but no real off-site damage.

The Mercatus Center’s Adam Thierer made a similar point about the aftermath of Japan’s Fukushima disaster in an October 31 piece titled “How Many Lives are Lost Due to the Precautionary Principle?” wherein he pointed out the hidden costs of overly precautionary thinking. Following Fukushima, Japan stopped using nuclear power, which had previously been 30 percent of its energy. Energy prices rose, and in the subsequent four years, there were 1,280 cold-related deaths. Precautionary thinking can lead to costly unforeseen outcomes.

Reliable and affordable energy is essential—a fact no more apparent than when it becomes less affordable and less reliable. Although the Three Mile Island aftermath isn’t quite so dramatic, it’s a similar concept. Fears of worst-case scenarios prevent the development of important resources.

Overprecaution fueled by outlier events means that less nuclear power is constructed, plants are shut down before they need to be, and the public is misinformed about the safety of this technology.

The public is strongly influenced by accidents in this space, and public perception is quickly changed when they occur.

When major events occur, we often fall into the recallability trap, wherein more dramatic events are remembered more sharply and seen as more likely to occur than less dramatic ones. We might be more afraid of a nuclear disaster or a lightning strike than we are of a car crash or heart attack even though we’re far more likely to be done in by the latter than the former.

Rare but dramatic events tend to feel far more likely than statistics indicate. We misestimate the chances of these things happening. The recallability trap is especially relevant to nuclear power. Although there have only been three major commercial nuclear accidents—Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima—and only one of those was in the United States, the general public views these events as far more likely.

According to a CBS News survey, in 1977, 69 percent of Americans favored building new nuclear power plants, but by 1979, after Three Mile Island, support fell to 46 percent. Following Chernobyl in 1986, support had fallen to just 34 percent. By 2008, it had risen to 57 percent, but in 2011, after Fukushima, it fell back down to 43 percent. The public is strongly influenced by accidents in this space, and public perception is quickly changed when they occur.

Shifting Public Support
Following the Three Mile Island incident, attitudes toward nuclear power in the United States shifted.

The impetus to license new plants was all but gone. Public fear was overwhelming enough to discourage new development. From 1978 to 2012, the NRC didn’t approve the construction of any new commercial reactors. As the chart below shows, new reactors were still constructed following the incident, but new permitting did not occur, although various projects were attempted throughout the period. Much of this gap can be attributed to the Three Mile Island accident. Indeed, in 2019, Exelon, the owner of the Three Mile Island plant, announced it would be closing down its final remaining reactor after years of losing money. Following an incident like this one, people become overcautious.

Nonetheless, in the early 2000s, this finally started to change as the “nuclear renaissance” began. Following a few decades of no development, nuclear power was planning a big comeback. But because of a combination of the fears created by Fukushima and economic realities at home thanks to the financial crisis, the renaissance never materialized.

So, even though no one died or was even harmed in the Three Mile Accident, its impact is still clearly seen today. The accident seemed major and ominous, and because it was seen that way, public pressure made new construction far more difficult than it otherwise would have been.
Foundation for Economic Education

Guess which one’s killed more? Nuclear or the fireball in the foreground?

5 thoughts on “Setting It Straight: Nuclear Power Sets the Gold Standard For Safe & Reliable Power Generation

  1. According to the National Wind Farm Commissioner
    ( a Wind Map of Australia 2018 Compiled and published by Paragon Media that lists Major Operating Wind Farms (over 1 MW) states there are 25 locations with 746 turbines generating 1,756 MW capacity in AU.

    A further Approved Wind Farms (Not Operational) at 12 locations with 469 turbines with a priviso that 2 locations are approved for up to 228 & 20 turbines each with a (total?) 1,700MW capacity.

    There are Planning Permit Applications Lodged with the Minister for Planning (Permit Process Underway) at 4 locations with 147 turbines generating 635MW capacity.

    Under Construction are 7 locations with 607 turbines generating 1,902MW capacity.

    The companies (location numbers in brackets) currently operating locations are:
    RES Australia (1)
    Infrastructure Capital Group (1)
    Pacific Hydro (State Power Investment Corporation) (7)
    Fezero, Impact Investment Group and ProVentum International (2)
    Windlab (2)
    Hepburn Wind (1)
    Malakoff Corporation Berhad and H.R.L. Morrison & Co (1)
    China Guangdong Nuclear Wind Energy Company (1)
    Acciona Energy (2)
    Meridian Energy (1)
    AGL Energy Ltd (1)
    Tilt Renewables (1)
    BayWa re (2) – name a possible misprint see below
    Ratch Australia (1)
    Regional Wind Farms (1)

    The operators of approved but not yet operational locations are:
    Acciona Energy (2)
    Global Power Generation Australia (3)
    Infigen Energy (1)
    BayWa re (4)
    WestWind Energy (1)
    Global Power Generation Australia (1)
    NewEn (1)
    Wind Farm Developments (1)

    Of Planning Permit Applications Lodged with Minister for Planning for new permits (Permit Process Underway) the operators are:
    Synergy Wind (1)
    Wind Farm Developments (1)
    Woolnorth Wind Farms (1)
    Wind Farm Developments (1)

    Site operators of those Under Construction are:
    Neoen (1)
    Pacific Hydro (State Power Investment Corporation) (1)
    Tilt Renewables (1)
    Macquarie Capital (1)
    Goldwind Australia (2)
    RES Australia (1)

    This amounts to Victoria having 26 companies in the market.

    Wikipedia states The total capacity for Victoria as of 2014 was around 1,080 MW, according to the Victorian Department of State Development, Business and Innovation, lists the following Wind farm locations in Australia in a summary expandable at the of the page bottom (
    NSW 15
    QLD 4
    SA 13
    TAS 3
    VIC 27
    WA 8

    With Proposed wind farms (with no info for 1 location listed; total 10):
    NSW 0
    QLD 3
    SA 1
    TAS 2
    VIC 2
    WA 1

    Then within their other expandable list of Energy in Victoria, Wind farms (List) it has 19 existing farms in Victoria with no information on 8 other locations with some of the names indicating being in Victoria.

    The main page body lists 24 locations as operating in Victoria.
    Under construction are 10 locations and Planning approved for 6 locations, with those Seeking approval being 5 locations with Planning approved for 4 locations, and 6 locations or applications cancelled.

    To make matters complicated the term ‘Sponsoring company’ rather than the ‘operator’ is used by Wikipedia:

    Mitsui a Japanese company, isn’t listed by NWFC.
    Pacific Hydro – Chinese (but noted as State Power Investment Corporation by NWFC).
    AGL Energy/Meridian Energy – an AU/NZ joint sponsor with Meridian Energy not mentioned by NWFC yet is listed separately as a Sponsoring company as is Transfield Infrastructure Fund and Acciona Energy (Spain)/ANZ Infrastructure Services with the latter not listed by NWFC.
    Future Energy isn’t listed by NWFC nor is Tian Run Australia, Wind Power Pty Ltd or RES Australia/Macquarie Group that is listed by NWFC as a joint operator with only Macquarie Capital mentioned as an operator, not listed is Unión Fenosa Wind Australia (Spain), the same for Wind Power Pty Ltd, Hydro Tasmania, joint Stanwell Corporation (QLD Government) and WindLab Systems (listed separately by NWFC).

    There are 24 locations listed as operating, 10 Under construction, with Planning aproved for 10, 5 Seeking approval and 6 Cancelled.

    Then there is a Summary of Victoria-wide total production in MW for all of the above categories.

    The NWFC site link to “NSW: Map of wind resources” returns an Error 404. With the “SA: Renewable energy resources map – wind” linking to “South Australia’s Renewable Energy Atlas shows locations with ideal conditions to deploy wind and solar projects”, being for business and investors, is next to useless to understand what exactly is happening.

    What is interesting, is that the above mentioned Wind Map of Australia 2018, lists South Australia as having 26 wind farms, with 32 being in Victoria, making it AU’s most prolific state for them.

    This is a brief look at mainly Victoria. It would appear the authorities responsible for approving development licenses are thoroughly confused, disjointed and uncoordinated either by accident or design. Under such a situation much required and necessary information, for employee and public safety and accountability, can fall through the cracks, resulting in danger and unnecessary costs to all concerned.

    This is much like today’s news of the QLD handling of asbestos exposure in the Cross River Rail Project. For those who perhaps don’t know, there is a comparative: Had it not been for the deaths of many journalist’s families and relatives, we would still be wading through asbestos. Banned in 1978, the dangers were known since 1928. Lang Handcock who operated asbestos mines was asked to comment on TV and said, “Some must die so others may live.” Gina Rhinehart is still making money from his legacy that should be compensating victims since James Hardie Industries ran off with the Asbestos Compensation Fund. Another runner was the company BP Solar after their 2009 Bürstadt, Germany fire (info disappeared from internet) spreading carcinogens over the city. Its panels are notorious for catching fire.
    Had it not been for the deaths of many journalist’s families and relatives, we would still be wading through asbestos.

    If the standard displayed by the office of the the National Wind Farm Commissioner, is indicative of government’s operational abilities no-one should even consider buying a chook raffle ticket from any of them.

    1. No one should rely on the map provided by/to the Commissioner, just two inaccurate listings in the SA section are Myponga which was withdrawn in 2011 and Green Point which was withdrawn in 2013, so the TBA on the map in 2018 should instead either have been as ‘Cancelled’ or not even mentioned.
      Further Paragon Media stating there were 25 locations with turbine capacity over 1MW was inaccurate.
      With only those connected to the Eastern Grid alone in December 2018 there were:
      21 in SA with a combined capacity of 2138MW
      15 in Victoria with a combined capacity of 1741MW
      December 2019
      SA had 22 with a combined capacity of 2138MW
      and 17 in Victoria with a capacity of 2117MW.
      So where were these … “25 locations with 746 turbines generating 1,756 MW capacity in AU”, which seems to include those in other States NOT connected to the Eastern Grid.
      I agree the magnitude of the misinformation or avoidance of accurate information from the above resources could be seen as created to cover up what is really going on.
      For anyone to take anything the industry provides seriously could be considered as misjudgement or acquiescence on their part.
      But considering the article on Nuclear it suggests/states the Precautionary Principle is being taken to extremes, and yes it could, but in the case of Wind Turbine and large solar installations it has never been properly applied and as a result damage has and is being caused to the environment, human health and the ability of our endangered and maybe even those not endangered ‘yet’, creatures and flora.
      The Precautionary Principle when properly applied can be a safeguard, never bringing it into the equation with something that affects the existence and health of so many is nothing more than criminal.
      While it has been used ‘unofficially’ to prevent the use of Nuclear energy by it’s challengers, there’s no reason it cannot be used effectively to curb the dangers of Wind Turbines and large Solar arrays, which do today in the numbers and sizes being installed pose a significant danger to the earths environments and ability to safely cater to our current and future needs.
      Precaution: protection, safeguard, security, deterrent.
      Caution: carefulness, thoroughness, care, restraint.

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