Nuclear Power

Joel W. Cannon (
Thu, 9 May 1996 11:27:58 -0500 (CDT)

Dennis Schweitzer wrote:
> Maybe it is time to redebate the issue, since this is 1996 and Three Mile
> Island & Chernobyl have occured in the meantime. Not to mention safety is
> only part of the issue. Economics are changing quite a bit as well.
> Let me fire an opening salvo (in all brotherly love & humility of course).

Sorry I don't have either the time, the will, or the knowledge to
engage in a long dialogue (I have been out since `82 and forgotten
much). I note only that Three Mile Island happened prior to (and
inspired) the discussion at the ASA meeting and the articles in the
Journal. I know of no subsequent findings would change the way I and
the technical community would view that accident.

Significantly, the Browns Ferry accident which to my mind (and to a
number of other people) posed a much more serious risk to the public
had also happened. My talk dealt with these two accidents. My writing
skills were such that the talk was not published.

As I stated earlier, to people familiar with nuclear power, Chernobyl
differs technically (it was a graphite moderated, gas cooled reactor
in contrast to being water cooled, and it had no containment--the
domes you see at some nuclear plants), and culturally in the way
Russians approached safety. I heard while in grad school long before
the accident about the way the Russians did safety analysis
(Assumption: There will be no accidents).

As an honest disclaimer, I am only superficially
familar with Chernobyl since I had returned to grad school in physics in `82
before it occurred, but I am nevertheless confident that this would be
born out. What I said is obviously true--I believe the differences run
even deeper.

I have no quarrel with your economic statistics although I am
surprised by them and wonder whether they would withstand more
critical scrutiny than I can give them. They don't come from Amory
Lovins do they? I am not so enamored with nuclear power that I want
to spend more to have it. It is also my fuzzy recollection that other
developed countries can build reactors safely, defined as meeting what
professionals would call reasonable safety criteria, for something
like half of what it costs here (that memory probably came from the
Atomic Industrial Forum which seemed to be more credible than Lovins
but capable of overly simplistic statements when it served them). The
differences were attributed to differences in the regulatory and
licensing processes (I am for licensing, regulation, and public input
but my time in the nuclear industry lets me see the other side of the
fence; it can be done sensibly and can be done insensibly).

My willingness to cite favorable statistics that I think I remember
makes me feel uncomfortably like Ronald Reagan trying to remember
details early in his administration so I had better stop at this.

You may have the last word.

Joel W. Cannon
Dept. of Physics
Centenary College of Louisiana
P. O. Box 41188
Shreveport, LA 71134-1188

(318)869-5026 FAX