Via the Associated Press (From Germany – Surprise Surprise!) (Presumably the dollar figure was translated from Euros for reprinting in the US)
Insurance cost vs. nuclear power risk
BERLIN — From the United States to Japan, it’s illegal to drive a car without sufficient insurance, yet governments around the world choose to run more than 440 nuclear power plants with hardly any coverage whatsoever.
In the United States, every nuclear power plant is required to maintain a minimum of $300 million in privately paid liability insurance. This is about the maximum that anyone can really hope to effectively get from private insurers, since much more would risk the insurance company itself would be unable to pay out. In addition to this, every plant operator pays into a shared risk insurance pool, which now totals over twenty billion dollars. Anything above that is government underwritten, since no private entity ever could guarantee such massive insurance burdens. Obviously these amounts are significantly higher than one could ever hope for most plant operators to ever be able to come up with on their own.
I don’t know the specifics of other countries, but most have some kind of insurance requirements.
Japan’s Fukushima disaster, which will leave taxpayers there with a massive bill, brings to the fore one of the industry’s key weaknesses — that nuclear power is a viable source for cheap energy only if it goes uninsured.
Governments that use nuclear energy are torn between the benefit of low-cost electricity and the risk of a nuclear catastrophe, which could total trillions of dollars and even bankrupt a country.
The bottom line is that it’s a gamble: Governments are hoping to dodge a one-off disaster while they accumulate small gains over the long-term.
It is a cheap source of energy even when heavily insured, which it generally is.
The Japanese have a huge bill from a Tsunami and earthquake. This may have been made worse by the fact that the government is continuing to enforce an unnecessary evacuation area, even after nearly all the iodine-131 in the reactors is gone, decay heat has been reduced and cooling is stabilized. But that’s the Japanese government’s fault if they want to continue to support the evacuation.
The cost of a worst-case nuclear accident at a plant in Germany, for example, has been estimated to total as much as $11 trillion, while the mandatory reactor insurance is only 3.7 billion.
11 trillion? Now you’ve gone from wrong to complete absurdity. You could completely destroy much of Germany and rebuild it all for less than that. We know. We’ve actually done it. Even if you adjust for inflation it comes nowhere close to $11 trillion. Even if you consider the increased costs of labor, infrastructure construction and the fact that there were costs that were locally-paid, it does not even come close.
I’d love to hear where this $11 trillion figure comes from. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard.
From there on, the article pretty much says the same thing, claiming all nuclear plants should carry insurance for amounts of money that don’t even exist and adding in a few dramatic statements from “experts” on the matter. There is also the high and mighty claim that it’s unethical for a society to have to be burdened by the risk that a nuclear plant will suffer a cooling system failure and thus bankrupt superpowers.
A major nuclear accident is statistically extremely unlikely when human errors, natural disasters or terror attacks are excluded, but the world already has suffered three in just about thirty years — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima.
No, actually a “major accident” is statistically extremely unlikely even when human errors, natural disasters and terrorist attacks are included.
Of the accidents listed, Chernobyl can legitimately be called a tragedy. People did indeed die because of the accident at Chernobyl, others suffered radiation poisoning. Chernobyl did result in some increase in thyroid cancer, although this is largely because of the fact that the Soviet Union responded very poorly to the accident and did not quickly implement the measures necessary to prevent this from happening, such as immediately warning citizens to stay indoors, quick evacuations and providing potassium iodine.
Three Mile Island continues to be used as an argument against nuclear energy, being equated to some kind of nightmare and cited as a “major accident” which we cannot allow to ever happen again. It’s amazing this argument actually holds water with anyone. Despite the fact that Three Mile Island did suffer multiple failures that resulted in no active cooling of the reactor 2 core, the result was hardly disastrous. In the end, nobody died, nobody was injured, nobody’s health was ever really in danger, no property beyond the plant was damaged, evacuations were not necessary and there was no measurable environmental damage.
Fukushima has likewise not resulted in any deaths and the only injuries to have occurred are a handful of non-life-threatening injuries to workers. No worker has been exposed to radiation levels high enough to cause acute radiation sickness and the worst case is that a few may have a slightly elevated risk of cancer. No member of the public has been exposed to radiation levels of concern. It is true that the Fukushima plant sustained massive amounts of damage and that the efforts to stabilize and secure the facility will be expensive, as will the loss of generating capacity.
Yet the expense of the damage to the Fukushima plant is not really the result of it being a nuclear facility. The earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11 was a disaster of historic proportions. All industrial structures that were subject to the quake and tsunami were destroyed or severely damaged. Transportation infrastructure, utilities, communications systems and structures all suffered many billions of dollars of damage.
The cost of securing Fukushima has been largely shouldered by TEPCO. Anti-nuclear activist like to point to any costs, however indirect, that may be paid by the government as proof that the nuclear industry is not responsible and that the events in Japan are more than just a horrible act of nature. Meanwhile, local and national government agencies in Japan continue to foot the bill for numerous other industrial disasters that occurred because the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. As a result of the quake, the Fujinuma Dam failed, washing away numerous homes and destroying roads and bridges. Four bodies have already been recovered from the Fujinuma dam failure flood area and four more residents are missing and presumed dead. A major fire broke out at the Chiba Oil Refinery, forcing workers to evacuate and leaving the Japanese military and local fire departments to fight the blaze until it was brought under control more than a week later. The Japanese will be paying for cleanup and environmental mitigation for a vast number of industries. The tsunami washed away everything from dry cleaners to chemical refineries.
“Ultimately, it comes down to the question of how big a risk the society is ready to bear,” he said.
The majority of Germans and the political parties have concluded that the potential damage outweighs the benefits, and the country now stands alone among industrialized nations in its determination to overcome nuclear power.
Phasing out nuclear energy — which like in the U.S. produces a quarter of the country’s electricity — was meant to happen slowly over the next 25 years. But in the wake of Fukushima, the government seems determined to speed things up, possibly pulling the plug on the last reactors within a decade, gradually replacing them with renewable energies.
“No society has to bear the potentially enormous risk of a nuclear disaster,” Hohmeyer said.
What is not mentioned is that there is a source of energy that does indeed cost society billions of dollars directly and indirectly and kill enormous numbers of people: coal. However, (with the exception of mine accidents and dust explosions) coal does not kill because of an accident or mishap. Rather, it is during its normal mode of operation that coal kills and costs society enormously.
What society bears from coal:
- Tens of thousands of premature deaths per year. By some estimates, more than 30,000 in the United States alone. Of course, these deaths are not as cut and dry as those killed in an accident. Rather, it represents the number of persons who would have lived longer if they had not been exposed to the pollution from coal fired power plants. Hundreds of thousands will see their health decline and face an early death every decade.
- Millions of additional cases of asthma and respiratory ailments per year. Estimates vary quite widely, but it is universally agreed that coal pollution is responsible for many billions of dollars burdened by healthcare systems per year. By some estimates it could be as high as $345 billion dollars per year. The largest single utility in the United States, the TVA, estimates that its own coal burning contributes to tens of thousands of hospital visits and $26 billion in annual healthcare benefit costs.
- Billions of dollars of damage due to acid rain, which has decimated freshwater fisheries, damaged forests around the world and resulted in erosion to numerous structures, even forcing some historic structures and sculptures to be brought indoors or covered to protect them from the effects of acid rain.
- Production of millions of tons of toxic coal ash per year, with few regulations for disposal, often leaving governments to handle the costs of remediation and safe disposal.
- Hundreds of mines around the world have caused or contributed to coal seam fires. Often the original companies responsible no longer exist, leaving government agencies to spend millions on controlling and containing these fires. Often it is not even possible to control the fires and, if they occur in inhabited areas, whole communities must be moved.
- The complete destruction of natural features, including mountain top removal in the US Appalachians and elsewhere. In Germany, mining coal seems has lead to the destruction of huge areas of land and historic communities. The continuous digging for coal has lead to the forced relocation of many who had the misfortune of living in towns built in coal seems.
- Pollution of major ground and surface water systems in coal mining areas, often resulting in the need for new potable water systems to be built.
- Periodic spills of coal refuse, runoff and mining sludge. These spills are always environmentally destructive and may cost billions to clean up. On occasion they can be deadly.
- Periodic mining accidents which cost the lives of miners each year. In addition to the cost in lives, when mines suffer cave-ins or other accidents, local emergency services and national agencies are usually the ones who must pay for the rescue efforts.
- Coal burning is an enormous source of greenhouse gasses in addition to nitrous oxides, sulfur emissions and numerous other forms of pollution, a burden shared by the entirety of society.
This entry was posted on Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at 9:59 pm and is filed under Bad Science, Just LAME, Not Even Wrong, Nuclear. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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