Balance is key

Written by Latha Ramchand on April 26, 2011

The disaster at Fukushima will stay with us for a long time to come.  On April 11, the International Atomic Energy Agency revised its preliminary rating of the disaster raising it to the level of Chernobyl, which meant a rating of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES).  The disaster has increased public concerns around nuclear energy all over the world.  Nuclear power provides 20% of electricity in the U.S. Driven by economic growth in the developing world, demand for energy is expected to increase rapidly in the coming decade.

Even as we phase out coal-fired plants and alternative energy is still not economically viable, how do we inform a rational strategy on nuclear power?  The Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California is built to withstand an earthquake that measures 7.5 on the Richter scale.  Are we prepared to live with this level of safety given the events in Fukushima?  At the same time, it is worth mentioning that the reaction to the Three Mile Island disaster led the U.S. on the path to coal plants, which in retrospect turned out to be an error.

Nathan Myhrvold is founder of Intellectual Ventures, which is building a nuclear reactor that is safer and cheaper that runs on depleted uranium and can go years between refueling.   This reactor is years in the making.  What do we do in the interim?  Nicholas Taleb, who wrote the Black Swan, writes that our current risk measures do not reflect the cost of small probability albeit costly disasters.  How do we build these costs into our decision making and at the same time build balance in our way of thinking and reacting?  Your turn.