The disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor in Japan has raised a lot of questions about the safety of nuclear power. In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to consider nuclear power for our energy needs, but peak oil is a serious issue, and while alternative energy options can produce some power, they aren't yet at the point where they're viable as a way to provide all of the energy we need.
Can nuclear power ever be 100% safe? Should we invest more time and energy in putting together disaster-proof reactors, or do we need to seek another solution?
Fukushima Was A Perfect Storm
The Fukushima reactor was designed to withstand a natural disaster, but nobody expected that there would be an earthquake followed by a Tsunami, and that all of the backup power generators would go out at once. If future reactors can be designed to be able to cope with explosions, earthquakes, water exposure, and a lack of power, then they could be described as "safe".
When things go wrong with nuclear reactors, the results are long lasting, and serious. The Fukushima disaster taught us a lot of lessons, though, and those lessons could be applied to make safer reactors.
1. Don't build nuclear reactors near plate boundaries
2. Don't build nuclear reactors near coastal areas.
3. Stop using meltdown prone nuclear fuels - consider thorium instead.
4. Use underground containment installations.
The Case For New Reactors
Building new, thorium powered reactors would not only solve our energy problem, it would also offer a relatively safe and clean source of power. Thorium has a far shorter half-life than currently used nuclear power sources. It's easier to contain, and easier to dispose of.
Building new reactors would create new jobs for engineers, welders, and plant staff once the reactor is built. There would be increased demand for welder's machinery, building supplies, welding positioning equipment, and construction vehicles. This
would have a positive effect on the economy.
Alternatives to Nuclear Power
Even something as "safe" as thorium still poses some risk. The risk can be minimised by building the reactors inland, in areas that are generally earthquake-free, but there is always the risk of freak weather or a terrorist attack.
Instead of continuing with nuclear power, another option would be to invest in research of alternative energy sources. Building wind farms, hydro-electric dams, and other green energy plants would still create jobs, and would still mean a demand for welding positioning equipment, building supplies, and people that know how to use welding machinery.
The debate comes down to risk aversion - nuclear power is abundant, and the chance of something going wrong is minimal - but if something does go wrong, then the results would be catastrophic. Who wants to be the person that signed off on the idea of a nuclear power plant if that plant goes into meltdown in 20 years, and makes an entire city (or more) uninhabitable for several coming generations?