In 1908 chemist Frederick Soddy commented on the enormous power contained within the nucleus of an atom, believing that it had the potential to fuel the world. Today, that potential has not been met, with only about 13.5 percent of the world’s energy coming from nuclear. But that’s not to say that this is a bad thing.
Harnessing nuclear energy is like playing with fire — it’s downright dangerous, and people get hurt. Plant meltdowns, radiation, and nuclear waste have become terms now familiar to anyone born within the last 100 years, but they are only one side of a very dangerous industry.
The massive amount of money needed to construct a plant means one thing. To own one you must be very rich, have government approval, subsidies, and other economic incentives. It seems redundant to argue anyone would get into the business unless they were very sure about financial security and a profit margin — something only the government can guarantee. With the hefty price tag that accompanies nuclear power and the relatively low cost of other forms of energy, economic incentives are necessary to make nuclear look good. That is where the industry becomes a little shaky.
In the United States, the projected costs of a meltdown are in the trillions of dollars, according to CNN Money. Because no private company would take such a risk, the U.S. government requires that a nuclear power company purchase insurance, and then foot the remainder of the bill in the case of a meltdown. The problem is no insurance or nuclear power company can manage a multi-trillion dollar sum, so insurance requirements are set at around 10 billion dollars. The rest is left up to taxpayers.
The government’s job in America and European countries is to both regulate and promote atomic energy. Does that seem possible?
Regulating means making growth more difficult — as opposed to promoting the progress of. Now, when one institution, in this case the government, is invested in each, the result is a conflict of interests that can end in disaster. Either development is abandoned and the industry falls apart completely, or safety precautions are loosened in the name of saving money and moving forward. All the while, dealing with the most hazardous power source known to man.
Therein lies the danger of nuclear power for nations all over the world. The repercussions of meltdown are too big for any one person or corporation to deal with, and so the government must step in. As soon as that happens, however, it risks sending the country into near bankruptcy, not to mention environmental catastrophe.
The risks are too great. While nuclear power is becoming safer as technology is improved, the nature of what nuclear power deals with does not disappear.
With this in mind, I must say, I am happy about Hollande’s election, but I am even happier about his proposed agenda.