How to Stop the Nuclear Power Plant Promoters in the Philippines

I just came across some brilliant writing from CrisisMaven’s blog about how he got to stop the nuclear power industry in his country. Pro-nuclear power lobby money seems to be flowing in our country lately with all those politicians wanting to explore nuclear energy again. We stopped them once with the Bataan Nuclear Power plant, we can stop them again this 2011 with the Fukushima worse than Chernobyl event.

During that public hearing we asked essentially but two (complexes of) questions:

How great is the risk of the above scenario with millions of long-term casualties? The obvious answer always is: negligible. Then what is negligible? Ok, one accident occurring in more than one million years! Ok, so, does that mean it could only happen in a million years from now? Oh no, that is a statistical figure arrived at by calculation. Of course it could occur much sooner and then not occur for another million years. So, we said: if its probability is not exactly zero and it will happen at some point in time, could it not actually happen just as we speak? Well, that always gets your pro-nuclear proponent a little aggravated, but, under subpoena in a public hearing he will admit, “yes, it could actually happen right now ‘as we speak’”. All you then have to ask is: well, if it did indeed happen right now and our country would be uninhabitable for thousands of years and hundreds of thousands would be killed within days and weeks and possibly millions in a generation, would you then still call this “cheap electricity”? Would you still –in hindsight!- call this the safest form of electricity generation? You need not say more.

But then, for good measure and before they persuade your politicians and civil servants behind closed doors as to how unrealistic and unscientific such an approach would be, you ask a second question: how reliable is your calculation of the “one in a million years” risk? Now, before it gets complicated, let’s jump to the solution: all these calculations are based on estimated frequencies of failures of certain parts in a nuclear power station. So they say, for example “normal cooling fails once in x years”. But if that fails, emergency cooling sets in (like at Fukushima???) and the chances that this also fails is y. And so in order for both to fail during the same incident we arrive at a multiplication of x and y and that is, say, a million years (of course there’s more to that to justify some of the highest salaries in industry). But when you are adamant to see how they arrived at those figures that went into this seemingly “exact” calculation, then, you see, they can only estimate. Unlike the automotive industry which crashes hundreds of specimens of each new model, they never even crash-tested one nuclear power station in the whole world! It’s like if GM or Ford or Toyota would say “hey, we here have two models, one costs only half because we didn’t test the airbags but we made a damn good calculation of their risk of failure; and because we didn’t crash anything in the process, we saved a lot of money and you can have a cheaper car”. Well – which would you prefer to drive your daughter to school in? You see. Now, if you multiply two estimated figures, while the result looks exact beyond ten digits after the decimal it still is nothing but a guess! How good such guesses tend to be can be clearly seen when the air intakes of Fukushima’s Diesel generators were less then twenty feet above the ground, but the Tsunami came in at about forty-five! So, when you do guesswork, you have to allow for a margin of error. But how great is that margin of error? Well, while no one knows exactly, after all, it’s all anyone’s guess and only a rough estimation, we asked the subpoenaed experts in my country during that public hearing: wouldn’t you agree that this accident every million years (which could be now) will happen “once in a million years with a margin of error of plus or minus ten million years?”. Again, there’s no arguing about that – since they don’t have any figures but assumptions.

Now that killed the most advanced nuclear design at that point in time – if the then most advanced and “safe” reactor couldn’t be built because of safety concerns, shouldn’t all other, less “advanced” nuclear power stations be decommissioned immediately?

Read the full text of this insightful blog post at http://crisismaven.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/how-i-brought-down-the-nuclear-industry-in-my-country-and-how-you-can-do-it-in-yours/

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