Image Source: https://www.reviewjournal.com/
For Gregory Jaczko, the nuclear power question comes down to a basic quandary: For a nuclear reactor to be designed, built and operated safely, it has to be small, too small to make it useful as a commercial source of electricity.
And given that other, less complicated and risky sources of renewable energy are available, spending time and money on solving the large-scale nuclear issue isn’t necessary, he argues.
Jaczko’s conclusions are controversial, especially in the energy industry, where he ruffled feathers as a former member and chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But Jaczko, who holds a doctoral degree in theoretical particle physics from the University of Madison-Wisconsin, is convinced the equation is relatively simple.
“The longer you operate nuclear power plants, the more accidents are going to happen,” he said. “The more power plants you upgrade, the more accidents you’re going to have.”
It’s a bold statement in America, where there have been some mishaps, but nothing even close to the scale of infamous nuclear catastrophes, such as the 1986 Chernobyl explosion or the 2011 disaster at Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Many in the industry would accuse Jaczko of being an anti-nuclear alarmist, and note that he’s a longtime opponent of the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository in Nevada.
But Jaczko, whose rocky tenure atop the NRC is discussed in his book, “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator,” documents his opinions carefully, and suggests that even if nuclear plants could be designed more safely to avoid catastrophic accidents, the expense wouldn’t be worth it because of the availability of cheaper, renewable alternatives such as solar power, wind farms, geothermal plants and the like.
“Today, there’s not a debate anymore because you can solve the climate problem without nuclear,” he said. “So you don’t have to deal with any of these other issues anymore. And you can solve them with things that are cheaper. They do not create the same kinds of challenges.”
And the challenges aren’t just in designing, building and operating nuclear plants safely, or in finding a way to dispose of or reuse the spent fuel from those reactors. They’re also political, he says.
“In hindsight, the Fukushima incident revealed what has long been the sad truth about nuclear safety: the nuclear power industry has developed too much control over the (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and Congress,” Jaczko writes in his book. “In the aftermath of the accident, I found myself moving from my role as a scientist impressed by nuclear power to a fierce nuclear safety advocate. I now believe that nuclear power is more hazardous than it is worth.”