and I thought I was going to get attacked for minimizing the BP oil spill! and I agree completely re the everyday dangers of coal power - hence the need to really evaluate risks and costs. My main point is that complex systems generally CAN be managed to operate more safely over time, in an incremental fashion, but it's very hard to eliminate failure risk completely. This has important implications.
I don't claim to be an expert on nuclear engineering, and I do hear optimistic things about thorium nuclear - we had someone down to speak at UMass from Lightbridge, who was talking it up - but hardly an unbiased source!
as for costs, we are paying around 18c/kwh here in Mass. partly to bail out the bankrupt nukes, who cannot afford to decommission (oops, forgot to factor those costs in...)
But Bill, you ask that I "describe in detail the sequence of events that could produce a nuclear accident that ejects a large fraction of the core outside the containment building of a modern nuclear power plant."
- the problem with complex systems is that there are so many feedback loops between technical and human factors that it's hard a priori to describe the sequence that could lead to a release of toxic nuclear materials. Software engineers can check for rarely occuring bugs through simulation, but that's hard to do with live nuclear plants.
The French (and Japanese) experience tends to make me think that nuclear plants generally can be operated safely for decades on end, but we don't have data on thousands of plants (with new technologies) operating for hundreds of years. What failure rate is acceptable?
and back to the question of nuclear waste - the Hanford example is more than carelessness - if nuclear technology proliferates, at least some plants might be operated like this, if not in the US or France, then elsewhere. I still have not heard a good answer for the 24,000 year half life issue.....(aside from Thorium, a very different technology as yet untested on commercial scale).