Nuclear Power Is a Faustian Bargain

Theoretical Physicist, Author, and Science Educator
The U.S. hasn't commissioned a new nuclear plant since before the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, and will soon have to decommission all its aging reactors. What, if anything, will replace these nuclear plants?
  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Michio Kaku: Faust was the mythical figure who sold his soul to the Devil for unlimited power.  Now, remember that Japan has no energy resources of its own.  It does not have oil.  It does not have coal.  It has a little bit of hydropower. So it is dependent on nuclear energy to keep the economy going, and that economy is huge.  We’re talking about the third largest economy on the face of the earth. But what does an economy like that mean if it’s based on nuclear and one tsunami can simply wipe out scores of nuclear power plants?  

This is going to force every industrialized nation to reevaluate the Faustian Bargain.  Germany has already announced that it may begin the process of closing down reactors in that country.  In the United States we also have a crisis because we have old reactors just like in Japan.  In the United States we haven’t had a new order for a nuclear power plant since before Three Mile Island, 1979.  We’re dealing with really old reactors and they have to be decommissioned.  This means that the United States is undergoing a sea change with regards to a new generation of power plants.  What will replace all these aging nuclear power plants?  

We may even have to rethink whether or not nuclear is the best option at all because the question is let’s say that the Fukushima reactor was new. Let’s say it was brand new. Could it withstand 9.0? And the answer is probably no. Even if you were to brace a reactor, even if you were to add more redundant safety systems I doubt that it could withstand a one, two punch from a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

Think of driving a car. I'm driving a car that is out of control. What do you do? You hit the brakes. Well the brakes don’t work. It’s still out of control and then the radiator blows up and you say to yourself oh my God next is the gas tank, that gas tank is going to go. What do you do? You run it into a river. That is exactly what they did in Japan. First the brakes didn’t work because the tsunami wiped out the backup system. Then the core is heated up, caused a hydrogen gas explosion. That is your radiator blowing up and then what did they do? They ran it into the river. That is the same thing as dumping seawater on the these nuclear power plants and of course to keep the seawater going you have to have power and they don’t have power and meanwhile radiation levels rise to the point where it’s near lethal, so you’re caught in this bind even if that reactor was a new reactor, so some people are saying maybe we should rethink our commitment to nuclear at all.

Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd


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