The Need For New Safety Standards For Nuclear Power Plants

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Pablo Edronkin

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The explosion of reactor number four in Chernobyl, twenty years ago, killed thousands and produced nearly half a million victims. People still live in Ukraine, Russia and Belarus in areas that are highly contaminated with radiation, and still, the political effect peace-time Hiroshima seems to be fading away.

The whole incident at the then Soviet power plant took only a handful of minutes to produce a devastating effect that could last 250.000 years and is really getting worse day by day, because irradiated substances are being absorbed deeper into the soil. What was first a thin layer of nuclear fall-out is now nearly half a meter deep and impossible to remove by mechanical means. In future decades and centuries, the radioactive layer within the soil itself will thicken even further, contaminating even deep subterranean water streams and taking radioactivity farther away until the culprit isotopes lose their radioactive potential.

We also have the example of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington as proof that fanatical groups can hijack various aircraft at the same time; we also know that some of those groups are looking hardly to get some sort of weapons of mass destruction in order to make our lives miserable, or terminate them.

Current safety standards in most nuclear reactors across the world were designed during an era in which such threats were not conceivable: concrete and steel hard shells in which most reactors are encased were designed to withstand two airliners crashing at them almost simultaneously. This was considered as exceedingly improbable, but only if you think of such an even as an accident. The very sad events that took place on the World Trade Center speak volumes: committed terrorists can and will get their hands in more than one airliner, acquiring so the firepower to destroy the encasing of any present-day nuclear reactor. The effect of such an attack would be at least similar to what happened in Chernobyl, in 1986.

In these years oil reserves are getting thinner and global mistakes such as the invasion of Iraq left us with soaring barrel prices: since crude oil is a commodity with an international price, what happens in the Persian Gulf naturally influences the whole oil market, and the increased risk perception and war hazards in that region is what fuels so to speak a good deal of the increases that you, very far away from Basra, are suffering right now. So, governments around the world are rethinking their policies related to nuclear power: since the Chernobyl incident, construction of yet more nuclear plants has been a no-go for political reasons but now, fearing major economic problems caused by the current events affecting the oil industry, politicians are getting better disposed to authorize some new nuclear projects.

The problem with these projects is that none at all seems to meet the required new security criteria imposed by the presence of apocalyptic terrorist organizations, not to mention the fact that they are as dangerous as Chernobyl because of the nature of nuclear energy. It is perhaps inevitable that more reactors will be build, but at least at the very least they should be made safer than those that now are sitting ducks for any madman with enough initiative to take control of a couple of airliners.

If we plan to survive as part of this planet in the long run, we ought to add some value to our decision making processes: money is fine, but safety comes first. The human race and our world deserves better than yet another Chernobyl caused by greedy business people and fanatic mass murderers.

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