Gregory Jaczko, former chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, said in early April that all 104 US nuclear power plants are flawed, namely that they have unfixable safety problems and (if we're going to continue to keep nuclear power as part of our mix) they should not have their lifespans extended and should be replaced with newer-technology plants.
Asked why he did not make these points when he was chairman, Dr. Jaczko said in an interview after his remarks, “I didn’t really come to it until recently.”“I was just thinking about the issues more, and watching as the industry and the regulators and the whole nuclear safety community continues to try to figure out how to address these very, very difficult problems,” which were made more evident by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, he said. “Continuing to put Band-Aid on Band-Aid is not going to fix the problem.”
This is a serious issue.
The solution? He recommends making new plants smaller sized, for one thing.
Now, Jaczko's time at the NRC was contentious, as the story notes. But, there too, it was in the issue of safety. And anti-nuclear activists have long charged the NRC with being an industry lapdog.
That said, I'm one of those climate change worriers who says nuclear power needs to be part of the picture in our energy future. It needs to be safer, yes. It also could become even more efficient, ie, some sort of breeder reactor. Or maybe thorium-fueled reactors will turn out to be the real deal.
Renewables can't be all of the mix, unless you want to get rid of utility companies, period, or unless you're ready to start investing in storage. Nuclear power helps us transition further away from coal, and not rely almost solely on natural gas. Plus, as the western United States dries out more and more with climate change, there's going to be less and less hydropower available.
We should not see this as a chance to junk nuclear power once and for all.
Germany (vaunted by many American non-skeptical-thinking green types) did just that after Fukushima. Result? Despite its rooftop solar, it's greatly increased the amount of coal it burns, so that it's now the second largest importer of US coal, after China.
Rather, this is a call to do nuclear better and safer. If that means, to prevent private lobbying, the nuclear power industry in the US gets nationalized, that's fine by me.