Up until the earthquake and tsunami caused a breakdown of the nuclear power plant in northeast Japan, support for nuclear power was on the rise. Even some environmentalists had come around to the nuclear option, given its presumed cleaner technology compared to coal and oil. The ongoing (seemingly serious) troubles at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant is causing a slow reversal of some of that support.
Just in recent days changes are afoot. On Sunday, the German Green Party defeated Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats in a southwestern German state - a major upset resulting from growing opposition to nuclear power in Germany. Before the vote, Merkel had temporarily shut down seven of the country's 17 nuclear power plants following the Japan earthquake, but that was not enough for the voters, since she is a big supporter of nuclear power.
In the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recently approved a 20-year extension for Vermont Yankee. However, the State Legislature and the Governor want it closed.
These citizen-inspired happenings are centered on the potential (and in some cases real) threats to the environment and to human health. Others will argue that many more people die from oil and coal extraction and processing and that the risk from nuclear energy is comparatively low.
I think it is the unpredictability of nuclear shutdowns and accidents and the still uncertain methods for disposal of nuclear waste that cause the most concern. Living on Earth, a weekly environmental news program distributed by Public Radio International and broadcast on NPR, discussed nuclear power this week. Host Bruce Gellerman spoke with Amory Lovins, co-founder, chairman, and chief scientist of the Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado. This segment titled, True Cost Accounting for Nuclear Power." is worth a listen (or you can read the transcript).
Gellerman's first question to Amory Lovins: "So, is it possible that we can meet our carbon reduction targets without nuclear power?" His answer: "Of course! Not only that, but we could do so more effectively and more cheaply..." One of Lovins' main points is that nuclear power is extremely costly because of the risks. No private investors will invest money, only the government...... The interview with Amory Lovins is short, but you can read more about his thinking at the Rocky Mountain Institute website, or read his recent blog post, Learning from Japan's Nuclear Disaster.
I'm with Amory Lovins on this one.