EarthSky originally posted this interview with electrical and nuclear engineer Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. in May 2009. Also see the counter post: Paul Wilson believes nuclear power is a good, safe choice
Arjun Makhijani is one scientist who believes that nuclear power is too costly and too risky.
The technical case for nuclear power, just like the technical case for wind energy, and solar energy, is partly built on the idea that it’s a low CO2 technology. But it’s a high cost, high-risk technology, and it is very expensive. Today, wind energy, for instance, is cheaper than nuclear power. If you use a combination of efficiency, wind, and solar energy, it would cost less.
Makhijani said that there’s still no long-term plan for storing radioactive nuclear waste, which some fear could be used to make nuclear weapons.
Plutonium is generated in every nuclear power plant in its operation – about 40 bombs worth every year.
Makhijani has done studies to show how the U.S. could have low-carbon energy without nuclear power.
We have the technology today to say, we can do this completely with wind and solar energy. We don’t have a shortage of low carbon dioxide energy sources. We have a shortage of two things – we have a shortage of time in which to solve the problem, and we have a shortage of money.
Dr. Makhijani told EarthSky that cost is the number one reason why he argues against developing nuclear power. He explained that since a very large amount of heat and fission products are generated in a relatively small volume, it is essential to control the chain reaction to a very close degree. A mishap could result in a meltdown, he said. So the construction has to be of extraordinary quality, the materials are expensive, the labor is expensive – highly skilled welders, inspectors of welds, and so on.
He also said that precautions against severe accidents require back-up systems that will function with very high probability. And he added that delays in nuclear construction often extend for years and are very costly.
Learning to love science. As a producer for EarthSky, Lindsay Patterson interviews some of the world's most fascinating scientists. Through EarthSky, her work content is syndicated on some of the world's top media websites, including USAToday.com and Reuters.com. Patterson is also charged with helping to stay in steady communication with the thousands of scientists who contribute to EarthSky's work of making the voice of science heard in a noisy world. She graduated from Colorado College with a degree in creative writing, and a keen interest in all forms of journalism and media.