Anja - that is an awful lot of personal accusations that condemn a lot of very fine and hard working people who care deeply about their responsibilities to provide safe, clean and reliable energy. You know little about those of us who proudly call ourselves "nukes". I will admit up front that the industry is not perfect, that human beings are not perfect, and that engineers can make errors or poor assumptions.
I have lost a lot of sleep during the past three months worrying about the long term effects of the tsunami and earthquake. My first concern is for the 20,000 people who lost their lives in the immediate aftermath and for all of the survivors who are now dealing with the loss of loved ones, the loss of everything they owned, and the loss of the physical infrastructure that provided sanitary services, fresh water, shelter and food.
Then I worry about the people who are improvising, adapting and overcoming at the Fukushima nuclear station. So far, they have done an admirable job in very difficult circumstances to contain the effects of the accident. They have made mistakes, but they are working in difficult and unanticipated conditions. It is really easy to armchair quarterback, but remember, their power station AND its surrounding area was overrun by a massive wall of water carrying a lot of destructive force that put a lot of obstacles in their way.
Yes, the plant equipment did not perform well in the situation of being underwater. Yes, the hydrogen explosions caused far more damage to the secondary containments than what should have happened if the hydrogen could have been properly vented.
The fifty year old design - which would not have been built even 10 years later - did not hold up as well as we would have hoped. However, the basic strength and resiliency of light water reactors with thick pressure vessels and thick containments has failed slowly enough to give time to save everyone's life. The vast majority of all of the core material remains inside the pressure vessel, though essentially all of the gaseous and water soluble isotopes have escaped through some penetrations and cracks through which some water leaked. I remain doubtful that very much of the core will be found outside of the containment. That is one of the reasons that I discount the hot particles theory - exactly what isotopes is Arnie claiming have escaped? As far as I can tell from digging through his material, he never says.
The whole notion of a "prompt criticality" in a used fuel pool is hard for me to comprehend. In other words, I think that Arnie is making stuff up because it sounds really scary.
Not to make this a secondary concern, but I could not figure out how to write this response and put all of my concerns in the first paragraph, but I am also very concerned about the people who have lost access to their homes and livelihoods as the result of the radioactive materials that escaped and as a result of the world's poor understanding of the real health effects of low level radiation. Our current rules are incredibly conservative and add huge burdens of fear that are unjustified by science. I have written a lot about this, quoting some real experts in the field.
It is fine to raise health and safety concerns, but you have to be willing listen to the answers to the questions. If you raise the concerns and then tell those of us who try to answer them that you simply do not trust us to tell the truth, what is the next step? How can we communicate?
You accuse the nuclear industry of secrecy, an accusation that has some historical basis in fact. Please understand that some of the secrecy has been imposed by elected government officials - heck, for the first 10 years after World War II, politicians (not scientists or engineers) made it illegal on penalty of death for us to share information outside of very carefully bounded programs. That heritage is difficult to overcome, but the commercial nuclear industry has been working hard for many years to be as open and forthcoming as they are allowed to be. There are a number of nuclear energy experts who have decided on their own to operate blogs and other forums. They engage with the public on a regular basis. Even the industry itself is operating a blog at NEI Nuclear Notes.
I care deeply about humanity. I want a far greater portion of humanity to live more comfortable lives with greater access to the services that reliable energy can provide. I have had a lot of conversations with other nuclear energy professionals and believe that we share some common motives. This is not an industry that attracts people who are in it for the money. The paychecks are pretty fair compensation for hard work, but there are not very many ways of getting rich quick in this business.
I have been fortunate to have always lived in places where electricity comes with the flip of a switch, but I have also been able to visit many places where such a capability is just a distant dream. I know a lot about making clean water, providing refrigeration, enabling lights and computers, providing labor saving devices, and enabling local climate control and understand how much that changes life for human beings. I recognize how little time our fossil fuel endowment will last if we keep consuming it at the present rate. I understand the long term effects of continuing to dump fossil fuel waste into the atmosphere.
I do live in a dream world - one that is haunted by the memory of being able to operate a powerful ship full of people sealed underwater, not consuming any fossil fuel and not allowing any waste to enter the environment. That ship used less fuel than my body weight while operating for 14 years. My dream is for more of the world to be powered by that kind of fuel source - long lasting, abundant, affordable, reliable, emission free.
I'll ask one final question - where is the accountability for fossil fuel waste? The nuclear industry can account for almost every kilogram of its waste material produced over the past 6 decades; it is all stored in safe secure locations that are not part of the common environment. Our competitors are constantly dumping their waste for free into our common environment.