*The Economist* Nuclear power: A dream that failed — Promise of global transformation gone — Concern over safety, finances — Previously concluded industry “safe as a chocolate factory”

Published: March 13th, 2012 at 3:31 am ET


Title: Nuclear power: A dream that failed
Source: The Economist
Date: March 12, 2012 – 5:48 PM

Link to original Economist article: http://www.economist.com/node/21549936

Nuclear power: A dream that failed

One year after Fukushima’s nightmare, the industry’s future is not bright — for reasons of cost as much as safety.

The enormous power tucked away in the atomic nucleus, the chemist Frederick Soddy rhapsodised in 1908, could “transform a desert continent, thaw the frozen poles, and make the whole world one smiling Garden of Eden.”


Looking at nuclear power 26 years ago, The Economist [concluded] that the industry was “safe as a chocolate factory” proved something of a hostage to fortune. Less than a month later one of the reactors at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine ran out of control […]

Then, 25 years later, when enough time had passed for some to be talking of a “nuclear renaissance,” it happened again. The bureaucrats, politicians and industrialists of what has been called Japan’s “nuclear village” were not unaccountable apparatchiks in a decaying authoritarian state like those that bore the guilt of Chernobyl; they had responsibilities to voters, to shareholders, to society. And still they allowed their enthusiasm for nuclear power to shelter weak regulation, safety systems that failed to work and a culpable ignorance of the tectonic risks the reactors faced, all the while blithely promulgating a myth of nuclear safety.

[…] nuclear’s promise of a global transformation is gone.

Read the report here

Published: March 13th, 2012 at 3:31 am ET


Related Posts

  1. The Economist: Japan is without nuclear power for first time in 50 years — “A silent majority speaks” — Analysts say anti-nuclear party could soon vault to national prominence May 3, 2012
  2. Leading Japan newspaper comes out against nuclear power: “The illusion of nuclear power safety has been torn out by the root” March 8, 2012
  3. Asahi: U.S. gov’t concluded Fukushima disaster “could spread to a global scale” January 29, 2013
  4. The Economist: Fukushima engineer reveals workers “often keeled over” while clearing radioactive rubble, heat blamed — Taken away in ambulance, “usually” they returned November 8, 2011
  5. The Economist on ‘Positive Side’ of Fukushima: Kids just need to gargle after being outside — “In Japan, that is something that children mostly do anyway” August 6, 2012

53 comments to *The Economist* Nuclear power: A dream that failed — Promise of global transformation gone — Concern over safety, finances — Previously concluded industry “safe as a chocolate factory”

  • Misitu

    The Star Tribune appears to be of Minnesota. Not the buzzy cities of New York, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco. Not the major University centres of the USA. Not even Chicago or Texas. Just the Twin Cities, about I guess as near the psychosocial centre of "Middle America" as you can get and still see the bricks.

    On this basis, a crucial piece of publishing as it addresses the folks out there as it were.



    • ENENews

      Hey Misitu, the article was republished by the Star Tribune. Originally published in The Economist magazine. Appears to authored by the magazine's editorial board.
      The subtitle at the Star Tribune link credits The Economist and the article states, "Looking at nuclear power 26 years ago, The Economist observed…"

  • goathead goathead

    Yes, a failed dream alright but soon to become one of humanity's most successful nightmares!!

  • Indeed, finally well said by semi mainstream….nuke lets us down again and again, poisons us.

    Lie and more lies. Nuke cannot stand the light of day.

    Shut them all down NOW.

    • HoTaters HoTaters

      Economist highly respected in business, corporate, and academic circles. Agree with everything there except the closing statements, making it sound like Germany's shutting down reactors is a bad idea.

      Article didn't discuss AT ALL the issue of the giant elephant in the room — the waste, and how to dispose of it.

      Nonetheless good to see a mainstream business publication beginning to recognize the obvious — the nuclear dream of "atoms for peace" is an abysmal failure.

      • HoTaters HoTaters

        Important to realize, IMHO, this article reflects the beginning of a paradigm shift. If articles like this are being published in "top flight" business journals, it indicates a sea change in thinking. Good. It's beginning.

    • aSpadeisaSpade aSpadeisaSpade

      So many of the posts here cry out for shutting down nuclear power plants:

      Shut them all down NOW

      The sad truth is that even if all nuclear power plants were shut down today, we're all still screwed. We would still be left with tons of waste and spent fuel which would need to be monitored, cooled, and sequestered for many millenia to come. There would still be a high likelihood for many nuclear catastrophes in the future.

      That having been said, though, we still need to shut them all down NOW.

  • bleep_hits_blades

    "Nuclear's promise of global transformation" is not 'gone' – rather, it is being hideously fulfilled. Like the legendary 'undead' it's gonna be around for a long,long time, with its 'kiss of death (and transfiguration)' – the 'gift' that keeps on giving…

  • Mack Mack

    I was thinking the same thing, goathead.

    Nuclear was never a dream; it was always a nightmare.

    How many miles of contaminated and uninhabitable land is there because of nuclear radiation?

    How many cancers, miscarriages, birth defects, childhood leukemias and other health effects were caused by nuclear radiation?

    How much of the world's drinking water, groundwater, rainwater, rivers, lakes and oceans are polluted with nuclear radiation?

    How much of our milk, fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, etc. are polluted with nuclear radiation?

    How many thousands of tons of radioactive waste is there, and with nowhere to put it.

    Nuclear energy was never worth the risk to our health, food supply, drinking water, environment, and future.

  • Wow! i can emagen Fukushima like the start of a canser,the plants,tree's,bugs,and animals die, then turns to dust. The dust then blows in the wind to contaminate the next green area. Then that area die's then turns to dust and so on. The wind and rain blows and washes away the dust untill there is just solid bed rock left. its to hard to emagen what that would do to the weather. Maybe eventualy there will be no oxigen left that earth will end up looking like the planet mars. There just is no reson to have nuclear power. These people are so sick with gread for money in there short life that its imposerble for them to emagen. Even now they still love nuclear power i just can not work it out its so sick becuse its imposerble for me to emagen what they are thinking they can see with there own eyes but still lie and cheat they way out of it its so so crazy

  • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

    Nuclear warheads are the most terrible form of warfare. Nuclear energy is the most terrible form of power generation. Nuclear medicine is the most terrible form of medicine. Let's dial way back on our power consumption, and make wind, solar, and fuel cell backup generators our source of electricity. No nukes. Shut then down now.

    • Whoopie Whoopie

      That's why we'll not see the END of nuclear for a long time. WAR: OUR LEADERS LOVE WAR and will probably end up attacking Iran soon. I hear the drums, dont you? SHUT NPP's ALL DOWN!!

  • pure water

    "So we must have the courage to say that this trivialization of evil has become pervasive and, consequently, our societies have become nothing more than "democratic totalitarian systems" leading us to one or several final disasters, which should be analyzed as such in the realm of politics. The nuclear industry, which carries the potential universal death of all living beings on the planet, is a particularly striking example. But governments along with most media in the Western world (the cold war, which lasted forty years, contributed largely to this) did everything to cover the historic defeat of humanity which occurred on the 6th and 9th of August 1945, with a thick blanket of admiration and devotion to the brilliant ideas and the power of research, science, technology, industry … A new god had emerged on August 6 1945, naturally yielding fearsome power, as do all gods, and new hymns were promptly created for his glory.

    The dropping of atomic bombs, and the "Chernobyl experience" were not only a crime against humanity but also something new: a crime against Nature, what we today would call an Ecocide. If the consciousness of such a systemic disaster for the ecosphere continues to be suppressed, it will not be without consequences for the future of humanity and the way history will be written.

    All this leads to a necessary conclusion: there is a need for an international tribunal to be set up, similar to the one created by Bertrand Russell, for judging atomic crimes against humanity that occurred at Chernobyl and elsewhere since August 6 1945, all the way to Fukushima, through Fallujah."
    International Appeal : Hiroshima, Chernobyl, Fukushima, Crimes Against Humanity
    There are scientists who think this way!

    • hbjon hbjon

      Creating a weapon to be used against ones enemies is like manufacturing a product to sell to a customer. If the product were to malfunction and can cause the death of millions of people the crime would be involuntary murder by the manufacturer. If the manufacturer brought the product to market through deception that would include malice. The blame is put squarely on the manufacturer of the thing that causes death. Nuclear fuel rods cannot be owned by people, they are the responsibility of the government. In some cases, the people have paid for that fuel with tax money. Taxation with representation. Perhaps we were paid back with a discount on our energy bills. I donno. The failure of the electricity producing machine was not the fuel, it was the machine itself. If the machine was able to keep the fuel rods cool the meltdown could not happen. Build a reactor on the moon and transmit the energy to the power grid.

  • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

    Suppose there was another quake, which causes the collapse of Fuku #4 building, dumping the contents of the SFP onto the cement driveway, including the new MOX fuel bundles. What is the consus among ENEnews community? How much smoke and fire? How much gets into the jet stream and Pacific Ocean? By how much would the lives of people all over the Northern Hemisphere be shortened? How many would die, how quickly? Hmmm?

    • James2

      since about march 13th of last year we have been beyond where anyone can predict what is going to happen next.

      Your guess is likely as good as mine.

      The official statement is there was no MOX in #4 pool, but I personally think that's not likely true.

      I think a portion of that fuel has already burned.

      When it falls (not if- there's nothing that will keep it from falling now), my guess is all of it eventually goes into either the earth, ocean or the air. That is inevitable. It'll be a pretty big fire for a long time, then it will burn into the ground like the other coriums, and hit the water under ground.

      How many people will it kill? I don't think many will die quickly – that's not what we've seen. The question is how many will have their lives shortened and by how much? I don't think we'll ever know the answer to that – I don't think there's a way to find out.

      • lam335 lam335

        It doesn't make any difference if there was MOX in SFP #4. ALL SPENT FUEL contains plutonium.

        • James2

          yes, it does, but it does not all contain plutonium in the same form.

          That's what I've been arguing with folks about for months.

          The spent fuel plutonium is resultant from a fission reaction of the uranium.

          The MOX fuel plutonium was manufactured and mixed in with uranium in a nanometer ground powder form.

          The uranium rods were not produced with nanometer ground powder.

          Since these materials are very heavy metals – the size of the particles has everything to do with how far they will fly out of an explosion or fire.

          As far as I can tell there has been no scientific studies – or at least if they've been done they haven't been released to the public – but my understanding tells me that new MOX rods would be infinitely more dangerous than spent fuel in an explosion or fire.

          • HoTaters HoTaters

            James, would you please explain why (in layman's terms) you think new MOX rods would be infinfitely more dangerous than spent fuel? What would happen to the MOX i.e., plutonium & uranium (and in what forms) that would make it so much more dangerous?

            Thanks in advance.

    • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

      I was thinking more along these lines: What if we use the existing dispersion models to map the dispersion from Fuku over the planet, both as it has been, and as a warning of how bad it could become if SFP4falls to earth. (I'm thinking of those wonderful maps of dipersion of radiation from March of last year that we have seen here on ENEnews recently.) How many mSv/m2 have (or could be) deposited over the Northern Hemisphere? Then, we biologists can calculate the bioaccumulation of the radiation up the food chain and into the human population. From existing studies of radiation exposure, we can extrapolate the future mortality and lifespan of the human population. If this is, or could become, an ELE, shouldn't we all know before the ELE has come to pass? (So we could each cash out and go through our bucket lists before we sicken and die of radiation). What I have in mind is a collaborative scientific study of the affect of Fuku on the human population as it now is. The second phase of this collaborative study would be to study the further affects of a Fuku building 4 collapse on the outcome for humanity. Anyone for such an effort? (Admin, this would need expert moderation, editing, and a presentation of results. Are you up to this challenge?) Participants must show links to raw data, and show their calculations as proof of their calculations. The basis of this collaboration must use existing peer-reviewed scientific literature at the PhD level. Agreed? We could move such a study forward amid the "noise" of this discussion in a separate thread.

  • TheBigPicture TheBigPicture

    Time to pull the plug on this horrid technology.

  • lam335 lam335

    re: "…they had responsibilities to voters, to shareholders, to society. And still they allowed their enthusiasm for nuclear power to shelter weak regulation, safety systems that failed to work and a culpable ignorance of the tectonic risks the reactors faced, all the while blithely promulgating a myth of nuclear safety."

    This sentence distorts the nature of the problem. It suggests that TEPCO shirked it's responsibilities to the public and its "shareholders" because of its "enthusiasm for nuclear power." In fact, it was TEPCO's enthusiasm for maximizing their profits by cheapening up on safety and faking test results that led to this accident. That was clearly a betrayal of the public, but, prior to this costly accident, TEPCO's shareholder were no doubt perfectly happy with TEPCO's modus operandi since it seemed like it would maximize the return on their own investments as well.

    TEPCO's shareholders are not victims–they were enablers who stood to benefit from TEPCO's corruption. With hindsight it is clear how short-sighted and, ultimately, self-destructive TEPCO's mode of operating was. Will shareholder's who support similar companies learn the lesson and demand more responsible behavior, or will they also prefer maximizing profits in the present, making the wager that it won't happen again, or if it does, that it won't happen to their own company?

    • lam335 lam335

      I'm not optimistic. Human beings are short-sightened, greedy little creatures. Genuine integrity and concern for one's fellow human beings is rare. Does anyone really think the TEPCO management is kept awake at night worrying about the children whose thyroid health has been compromised, the farmers whose livelihoods and familial lands destroyed, the children who even today are eating radionuclides in their school lunches? If anything might keep such base men awake, it is no doubt only their own financial worries relating to the accident, not the psychological, physical, financial, and emotional damage their decisions have wrought upon so many other people.

      • Dr. Anne Lee Tomlinson Maziar anne

        The Japanese nuclear industry is busy making money selling nuclear energy to other countries including our own. They own the IAEA and GE and Westinghouse. How can we let them build new nuclear power plants in the US or any where else in the world.

        The nuclear industry reminds of a person who goes up a tower and shoots everyone in sight before committing suicide. Only humans have the capacity to want to take everyone else with them. Man's vicious inhumanity to man.


    • James2

      I don't believe Tepco cheapened up on the safety any more than any other nuclear power company.

      They all are equally dangerous. Tepco drew the short straw

      • lam335 lam335

        "I don't believe Tepco cheapened up on the safety any more than any other nuclear power company."

        Yes, that's exactly my point. No one thinks it will happen to them, but they are all playing the same game (it's called Russian Roulette).

    • BreadAndButter BreadAndButter

      Hi Iam335, good point. Shareholders do enable companies to do their deadly business. Sadly, most people don't really care where their banks invests their money. I mean, you don't have to deliberately buy GE or Tepco or Areva shares to make your money a part of their system, do you?
      It's enough to buy funds shares or just have an account at a bank which invests your money in nuclear without telling you….
      How radioactive is your bank? Check here:

    • PhilipUpNorth philipupnorth

      Great post Iam335! Spot on! Sadly, corporate profits and shareholder value ALWAYS trumps public safety. Arnie Gunderson recently said, TEMCO still wanted 'further studies' of the vulnerability of Fuku to tsumani damage even after the problem had been known for some 20 years! This is why corporations can never be put in control of nuclear power. You heard this first here on ENEnews: NATIONALIZE NUCLEAR POWER NOW! Nuclear power must not remain in the hands of for-profit companies, who will ALWAYS put corporate profits and shareholder value above public safety. Nationalize nukes now!

      • lam335 lam335

        The problem is that a nationalized industry won't be run any better. They may be less profit-driven, but budget concerned will still lead them to decide cost-saving trumps preparing for problems that their cost-benefit and risk models tell them isn't worth it. In addition, look at the way the rest of our government is run. Does anybody really think that the government that manages the TSA and the post-office is really going to do a top-notch job keeping reactors operating safely? Look at the NRC–as it is it's owned by the industry. Even if the NRC (or something similar) actually ran the plants, private companies (with huge profits at stake) would still construct the plants and manufacture all of the parts for them, so there would still be tremendous pressure to downplay problems, suppress information about releases, as well as pressure to construct more of these thinks, whether or not they are needed (on this subject, go back and view Gundersen's video on the push to construct the AP1000 down south http://fairewinds.com/content/fukushima-and-its-impact-upon-westinghouse-toshiba-designed-ap1000-atomic-power-plant see @ 3:15 and 15:45 to 16:30). As Gundersen shows, the push to construct this reactor despite safety concerns about the design has nothing to do with any actual need for more electric power, and everything to do with politicians wanting to create jobs in their districts/states. It's got all kinds of safety issues, but there are powerful political forces pushing for it anyway. How could nationalizing the nuke industry ever take politics out of it?

        They need to be shut down, and we need to move on to something that human beings, with all there imperfections and tendency to corruption, will actually be capable of handling responsibly (or at least something that can have only limited bad consequences if it is handled irresponsibly).

  • blackbeer blackbeer

    When I was a kid, Sunday was a very special day. It meant fried chicken, my moms fried chicken was to die for, and uncle Walt.
    This is part one, the rest are to the right, I was in the 3rd grade I think when I saw this………………


  • StillJill StillJill

    I'm soooo sorry you were fed Uncle Walk every Sunday Tom! I truly am!

  • StillJill StillJill

    'Uncle Walt",…see, I told you I screw up every punchline! πŸ™‚

    Gotta love me!

  • blackbeer blackbeer

    I do love you StillJill even when you screw up the punchline. Back in my day uncle Walt was considered wholesome. What did we know. Now that I'm in my doderage I spend a bit of time trying to figure out why I think as I do, maybe too much time. To tell you the truth I could have redone this program from memory, that's how much of an effect it had on me. We had a lot of help getting to where we are now………………..


    • HoTaters HoTaters

      Yeah, what did we know? I was probably five – eight years old if I saw that one.

      "Our friendly atom" and all that synaptic drivel spewing forth ….

      • Mack Mack

        Maybe it's time for someone to counteract this propaganda by writing a children's book about a furry lemming named arclight who flies in the air on his magical motorcycle taking radiation readings all around the world, and of the food kids love to eat like ice cream, pizza, etc.


        • PoorDaddy PoorDaddy

          A kid's book is a GREAT idea, Mack.
          Maybe kind of a take off from Dr. Seuss. Hey, or-well…..are you listening??
          And I'd wager there is an excellent illustrator somewhere on this site.
          Shit, I'd write it myself, but there is just zero demand for kid's books that say "asshole" and "motherfucker".
          Rude and crude, I confess, but mild compared to the obscenity of pro-nuclear culture.

        • arclight arclight

          nice one mack.. my life has turned out to be a bit of a fairy tale since fukushima!! talking of fairy tales how about this article ..

          UN nuclear body says ageing reactors fuel safety concerns

          "Eighty percent of nuclear power plants are more than 20 years old, raising safety concerns, the UN atomic agency warned in a draft report seen by AFP on Tuesday, a year after Japan's Fukushima disaster."

          "The IAEA, ..[redacted BS).. said that five percent of the world's 435 nuclear facilities have been in operation for more than 40 years and 32 percent for more than 30 years"

          "It also said that 70 percent of the world's 254 research reactors — for producing medical isotopes and other uses — have been in operation for more than 30 years, many of them "exceeding their original design life."

          This has raised "serious concerns" amongst research reactor operators, regulators and the public, it said."


          comes with reassurances about reactor safety too! lol! πŸ™‚

          some nice stats on decrepid polluting unsafe nuke water boilers!! and "medicinal isotopes" that cause cancer so they can make some more to cure the cancer caused by the first isotope.. nice buisness model if you looking for a smart investment.. πŸ™