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More Opportunity Costs of Foregoing Nuclear Power

We’ve written quite a few times about the helter-skelter path that nuclear power has taken in this country; see this Times column, this supporting evidence, and this blog post for a quick summary.

Here, from today’s Times, is an assessment of nuclear power that has a good deal in common with ours:

“All careful analysis confirms that the risk of nuclear power is small. The chance of a large accident is very low, and consequences of such an accident would be substantially less than most people think. … In the United States, the near-term risk of doing without nuclear power is the risk attached to using oil or coal instead … The problems that these cause include acid rain; enormous balance-of-payment problems in the case of oil; the risk of war to ensure oil supplies; carcinogens in the air as oil and coal are burned; heavy metals such as mercury, lead and uranium emitted to the atmosphere as coal burns; black lung disease as coal is mined; vast areas of the country ruined as coal is strip-mined, etc.”

Like I said, this appeared in today’s newspaper. But when do you think these words were first written?

Try … 1983. The article in today’s paper is an obituary of Herbert J.C. Couts, a nuclear power safety expert who died last week. The text above is from an appendix to a report by a commission assembled to advise New York Governor Mario Cuomo what to do about the controversial Shoreham nuclear power plant on Long Island. It should be noted that Kouts’s advice was ignored: Shoreham was built, but shut down without ever making any electricity.

The obituary is worth reading if you’re interested in the history of nuclear power. Here’s another choice quote:

In 1984, lamenting the decline of the civilian nuclear industry, Dr. Kouts said the problem was that the duty to regulate had been given to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, without giving it any responsibility for the viability of the industry. The Atomic Energy Commission had had both jobs, but Congress decided that was a conflict of interest for the agency.