Public Acceptance

7.3.1 Public perceptions

Four cardinal technical issues are identified here that seem to mold public acceptance of nuclear energy and related technologies; safety (avoidance of both operational exposure and severe accidents); waste disposal (avoidance of long-term exposure); proliferation (of nuclear weapons); and cost. Before discussing each in turn (Section 7.3.2), the essential elements of comprising/defining the issue of public acceptance per se are addressed in the following order: nuclear legacy, social concerns; and public opinion metrics (polls).

7.3.1.1 Nuclear legacy

As indicated in Appendix 7.A, the development of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy followed a dual and often symbiotic track that, in the public's mind, has welded a connection between these two activities. Little differentiation is made between nuclear-weapons waste and nuclear-energy wastes. Nuclear energy is a generator of materials that can be clandestinely diverted to the nuclear-weapons dark side. The true cost of nuclear energy is sometimes obfuscated by which side has actually paid the bill. Lastly, the ultimate public image of an accident involving a nuclear reactor is inexorably drawn to the nuclear dark side. Together, these connections define for nuclear energy a somewhat muddled and imprecise, if not incorrect, nuclear legacy. Two contrasting stereotypical views about the nuclear legacy can be identified as: (a) that of the scientific technologist; and (b) that of a skeptical environmentally concerned public. Both are perceptions and, as noted earlier, perceptions have consequences.

A starry-eyed nuclear-energy technologist notes the successes. Starting with a dream in 1945, nuclear power produced 1% of the US electricity within 30 years by 1975-80. This position is supported by:

• A record of occupational safety equal to any industry;

• No important release of pollutants to the environment;

• A safety record (in western reactors) that has resulted in no loss of life to the public;

• A plan (albeit stalled) for waste disposal that is superior to the disposal of any other waste in society;

• Technological and analytical advances for environment and safety that lead other technologies;

• An open scientific discussion superior to any other industry; and

• All of the above-listed accomplishments have been achieved while producing electricity at reasonable cost.

A starry-eyed environmentalist sees the same facts differently:

• The nuclear industry has been a driving force (or at least a cover) for proliferation of nuclear weapons;

• The nuclear industry has failed to be honest with the public and covered up malfunctions accidents and other wrong doing;

• Radiation, even at low levels, is uniquely dangerous, and no amount is or can ever be safe;

• The radiation hazards associated with nuclear waste will last millions of years, and we are laying up insurmountable problems for our grandchildren;

• When properly accounted, nuclear energy is expensive and is becoming more expensive; and

• The whole nuclear enterprise is dominated by an unacceptable elitism.

While the optimism of the technologist is and will remain the driving force behind this technology, the doubts of the environmentalist are the brakes that, once understood in a context that is broader than that defining either the technologist or environmentalist perspective, must be released before anyone can proceed. In the sections below we discuss these issues and perspectives in some detail; resolution of these issues is crucial to any sustainable advancement of this technology.

7.3.1.2 Social concerns about nuclear power Kasperson (1993) has noted that "public response to nuclear energy is value-ladened and cultural in context; this condition has far-reaching implications for efforts to win greater acceptance of this technology".

More generally, the public acceptance issue is defined under a societal-cultural paradigm rather than in terms of a technological-economic one in which the expert operates. The introduction of nuclear energy as a limitless and nearly "cost-free" source of "labor-liberating" energy simultaneously with a war-making tool having nearly unlimited destructive power created a kind of public schizophrenia that combined total acceptance of the new source of energy and complete fear of its military dark side. This dichotomy of public acceptance and fear, that previously was kept at abeyance and separated, has dissolved as:

• The economic benefits originally promised never materialized;

• Safety issues when calculated became visible and caused concerns;

• Fear of the spread of nuclear weapons increased; and

• Public trust and credibility in any regulatory authorities and most government activities decreased.

The chronology laid out in Appendix 7.A lists a few of the defining events that energized the metamorphosis of nuclear energy from "the great hope" to "the great concern". Without public acceptance, this technology cannot advance, even if technical solutions to the four cardinal issues exist or emerge. While no single source of the public concern with nuclear energy can be identified, Kasperson associated the following societal vectors with this public concern:

• The nature of risk perception by the public;

• The aforementioned legacy of fear;

• The perception of benefit;

• Value conflicts and shifting cultural settings; and

• Diminished institutional credibility and trust.

A committee of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS, 1991) noted that "forces shaping public attitudes towards nuclear power are social-cultural in nature, and are not (directly) resolved within a technological-economic paradigm"; these forces are related to:

1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986

Figure 7.17 Public attitudes towards nuclear power in the US during early years

(Kasperson, 1993).

• No need for new electricity generating capacity;

• An increased cost of nuclear energy;

• A lack of trust in industry and government advocates;

• Concerns over the effects of radiation at low doses;

• Concerns that means of disposal of high level waste do not exist; and

• Concerns that nuclear electric power will increase the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

An important feature is that the general public judge risk and hazard differently than experts. The public finds difficult the assessment of low-probability events and tends to over-estimate related impacts, particularly if such events have potentially catastrophic consequences and are well advertised. This tendency on the part of the public is reflected in the under-estimation of the risks associated with chronic diseases that occur with high frequency, but have few fatalities per event and are not persistently or sensationally advertised (Kasperson, 1993). Figure 7.17 summarizes public attitudes towards nuclear power in the US and the correlation with the TMI accident.

Most analysts agree that the fear of nuclear weapons and the connection with nuclear energy is deep seated, and this fear is sustained by novels and the cinema. While the public accepts higher risks associated with technologies that offer higher benefits, support for such technologies falls rapidly if the perceived benefits do not come to fruition; nuclear energy is in this position. The issue of public value conflict is complex, evolving, and culture dependent; typical examples of these conflicts are:

• The aforementioned connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy and the attempt to create a "civilian" control of nuclear energy under the hopes and claims of increased general welfare (e.g., limitless, cheap energy); and

• Value judgments driven by the moral responsibility to future generations in dealing with long-lived nuclear waste.

Oppose..

Favor

I Inci ira

1975 1976 1977 1978 1979 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986

Lastly, the institutional issues of credibility and trust, as they determine the going level of acceptability or risk associated with a hazardous technology and the trade-off with the benefits promised by the implementation of that technology, are strongly dependent on the openness or closed nature of the society. In the US, the long neglect of the civilian nuclear waste issue, as well as related issues that reside on the nuclear waste side of the institutional house (among other events) have diminished public confidence in the rule-promulgating, regulating, governing institutions responsible for nuclear energy.

The parameters of a given culture represent a strong determinant of acceptance or rejection of large, potentially hazardous technologies like nuclear energy. Grid-group analyses of political cultures (Douglas, 1970) have been applied to technical and industrial societies (Thompson, Ellis and Wildavsky, 1990) and most recently and more specifically to nuclear energy by Rochlin (1993) and Rochlin and von Meier (1994). The degree to which individuals within a given social unit interact is "measured" by a group parameter; a free market is a social unit with weak group interactions, and communal collectives have strong group interactions within each respective social unit. The grid parameter "measures" the interaction between agents within social units; weak grid interactions correspond to weak constraints (egalitarian behaviors), and strong grid interactions tend towards bureaucratic, hierarchical systems. In short, the group parameter establishes the rules for group incorporation, and the grid parameter prescribes individual rules for members in that group. This grid-group structure is illustrated and further elaborated by Kasperson (1993), Rochlin (1993) and Rochlin and Suchard (1994), in matrix form in Fig. 7.18. The discrete (four) hierarchical social structures indicated on this figure should be viewed as a continuum. Rochlin suggested that only if the socio-cultural and socio-political attributes of a given technology are compatible with the social and political culture attributes of the system into which that technology is being introduced will that technology gain acceptance by the public of the host system.

Figure 7.18 (Rochlin, 1993; Rochlin and von Meier, 1994) gives a heuristic view of these constraints for nuclear energy and explains in part the success experienced in the Former Soviet Union (FSU), France and Japan. Since any given system (country in this case) temporally migrates in this grid-group space, the level of public acceptance of a given hazardous technology can shift, giving rise to "legacy stresses" (e.g., the in-place technology cannot readily undergo metamorphosis in response to cultural shifts, and in fact can determine the rates and directions a given system (country) drifts in 'grid-group space'.). Finally, social and political culture attributes should also play a role in determining the large-scale introduction of some of the "small-is-beautiful" renewable energy technologies [e.g., solar (PV), solar (H2), wind, OTEC,

Feedback Acceptance Model
Figure 7.18 Application of group-grid analyses (Douglas, 1970; Thompson, 1990) to nuclear energy (Rochlin, 1994, 1993). The underlined countries were analyzed in Rochlin and Suchard (1994); Tigers refers to fast-growing Asian economies.

biomass, geothermal, etc.] (Johansson et al., 1993), and boundaries similar to those drawn in Fig. 7.18 for nuclear energy could be established [most likely in the low-high regions (egalitarian) of grid-group space].

7.3.1.3 Public opinion polls

Most nuclear advocates have had the personal experience of discussing (arguing) the issues with anti-nuclear scientists. Often the advocate can conclusively disprove the contention of the anti-nuclear scientist. Nonetheless, the anti-nuclear scientist often remains anti-nuclear for reasons he does not or cannot articulate. Although this leads to a problem in interpreting public opinion polls, few alternatives are available. In addition, it is well known that public opinion polls can give apparently different results depending upon the precise formulation of the questions being asked. While the poll quoted below was commissioned by the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), which has an obviously pro-nuclear interest, that poll was actually performed by an independent polling organization (NEI, 1998).

While public opinion about commercial nuclear energy in the US seemed to be generally in favor of nuclear energy in its formative years, changes began about 1970. The changes during 1975-86 are illustrated in Fig. 7.17 (Kasperson, 1993). The marked change at the time of the Three Mile Island accident is evident and is more important than the Chernobyl accident. A more recent (1995-98) survey of (US) public attitudes towards nuclear power (NEI, 1998) indicates a significant shift towards a more positive disposition, at least for the college-educated group to which that poll was restricted; a summary of these poll results is as follows:

• 61% favor use of nuclear energy as one way to provide electricity (June 1998);

• 67% believe that nuclear energy should play an important future role (March 1997);

• 70% believe that nuclear energy will be important in meeting future energy needs (May 1997);

• 62% believe that the option to build more NPPs should be maintained (June 1998);

• 74% believe that manufacturers of US NPPs should play a leading world role (November 1995);

• 72% believe that NPPs should be considered for electricity generation "in your area" of the US (June 1998);

• 80% agree that it is a good idea to renew licenses to current NPPs that meet Federal safety standards (June 1998);

• 63% believe that nuclear energy is clean and reliable (November 1995); and

• 81% think we should reduce unneeded stockpiles of weapons plutonium by processing it into fuel and using it for electricity (February 1997).

This survey of 1000 adults has a 3% 'margin of error'. The most surprising finding of this survey is that those expressing favorable opinions thought (mistakenly) that the majority of the US public held negative views. While these more recent US trends signal a shift towards a more favorably disposed public, no survey of this kind can assure a strong reduction in the public concern over the four cardinal issues, or the occurrence of adverse events or forces (real or perceived) that can re-energize public concerns.

In summary, threading through the four cardinal issues (e.g., safety, waste, cost, proliferation) are concerns about health effects of low-level radiation, which impact safety, waste, and cost issues, and the generally low level of public trust in either governmental or industrial advocates of nuclear energy (NAS, 1991). This combination of the four cardinal issues interwoven with threads of public distrust of institutions and things radioactive in some countries is shrouding nuclear energy in a difficult-to-shed fabric. Nonetheless, these issues define the problems, solutions, and prospectus for nuclear energy. While economic and safety improvements vis a vis the "re-engineering" route are impor tant, "re-culturation" of nuclear energy is sorely needed to make any headway on the all-determining issue of public acceptance.

7.3.2 Nuclear energy: four cardinal issues

As discussed above, the public concerns about nuclear energy can be condensed into four cardinal issues: safety, waste, proliferation, and cost. The following sections elaborate on each in turn.

7.3.2.1 Safety

It is important to recognize at the outset that a nuclear reactor cannot explode like a nuclear bomb in spite of the fact that a 1000-MWe LWR contains enough fissile matter to make 3-5 nuclear weapons. It is not easy to achieve a bomb explosion, so that when effort is made to avoid an explosion it will succeed. The bomb-crucial fissile material contained in the core of a nuclear reactor is surrounded and intermixed with so much material that interferes with the forming of the required bomb configuration, that it is not unlike gathering the fertilizer from many thousand acres of corn fields to fashion a chemical bomb of the size that destroyed the Federal Office Building in Oklahoma-City. Nonetheless, meetings of anti-nuclear groups often convene with a picture of the mushroom cloud that follows a nuclear explosion. Apart from this common misconception (which has not completely disappeared with time) there would be little public concern about the safety of a nuclear reactor if radionuclides were not released and people were not exposed to the radiation emitted from the radio-nuclides, either during a serious accident (from the view point of damage and loss of capital investment), during routine operating conditions, or from effluent resulting from a range of post-operational activities (e.g., reprocessing, transport, waste disposal, etc.). Even under accident conditions, the radioactivity contained in the core of an operating reactor will not be dispersed (and, therefore, people will not be exposed) unless the nuclear fuel melts or evaporates and releases the contained material to the accessible environment. Even if released from the fuel, the radionuclides must pass through a series of engineered barriers (fuel cladding, pressure vessel, containment building, etc.) before entering the environment. If released, however, these radionuclides have the potential of increasing the radiation dose for many people.

All modern reactors (the Russian RBMK reactors of the type operated at Chernobyl are an exception) are designed with many inherent safety features. For example, if a light-water-reactor overheats and the water evaporates, the disappearance of the moderator shuts down the nuclear chain reaction; this is a safety feature not possessed by the RBMKs. The RBMKs also have tonnes of a highly combustible moderator (e.g., carbon), and the fuse to ignite it (e.g., zirconium/water, should sufficiently hot conditions be achieved, which they were), and for a brief, ignominious period, Chernobyl was a fossil-fuel power plant out of control! Although an LWR shuts down if the water escapes following a loss of coolant pressure through (say) a pipe or vessel rupture, or the inadvertent opening of a value by a confused operator, the decay heat (initially 6-7% of the full thermal power of the full-up core, but decaying rapidly, as shown in Fig. 7.13) is still sufficient to cause melting if nothing, or the wrong thing, is done. Under these conditions radioactivity would be released. All western power reactors have a containment to retain the radioactivity in the event of core melting. At Three Mile Island in 1978 about one third of the core melted. Although many of the comparatively innocuous noble gases (argon, krypton, etc.) were released, the dangerous radioactivity was contained within the primary containment or auxiliary buildings. (Some of the radioactive iodine was absorbed by the water and pumped into the auxiliary building.) Much of the radioactive inventory actually remained within the damaged core/pressure vessel. It is estimated (for example) that only 15 Curies of radioactive iodine, which corresponds to less than one millionth of the inventory in Three Mile Island (TMI), was released to the environment.

Since 1974 a systematic procedure for estimating the probability and consequences of an accident has been applied, where all the barriers to fission-product release are broken (WASH 1400). The calculated probability is low (<10~4 core melts per year and <10~6 accidents with serious release of radioactivity per reactor year). Nonetheless this raises concern, since for ~2000 reactors expected under a number of scenarios given in Fig. 7.19 (IAEA, 1997; OECD, 1998b; Krakowski, 1999), the resulting (< 1/5yr) rate of core melts and (< 1/500yr) serious reactor accidents would raise serious questions in the public mind (not to mention the corporate mind) of the social and economic viability of this technology.

Public concern about safety issues was driven by the demonstrated acts, omissions, and incompetence leading to the TMI accident. This concern developed in spite of the fact that no loss of public life or property resulted from the TMI accident; the utility was the main (financial) casualty. This concern exists also in spite of the fact that such an industrial accident would have caused little concern in other industries that do not release radioactive material in severe accidents. Indeed few people noticed in the US when railroad cars carrying flammable gases and toxic chemicals overturned a few weeks later in a Toronto (Canada) suburb; this accident led to the largest evacuation in peacetime North American history.

The acts and omissions of incompetence associated with the TMI loss were

Figure 7.19 Comparison of world NE generation scenarios (IAEA, 1997; OECD,

1998b; Krakowski, 1999).

Year

Figure 7.19 Comparison of world NE generation scenarios (IAEA, 1997; OECD,

1998b; Krakowski, 1999).

not limited to one area, but instead were threaded/shared/communicated throughout the responsible institutional system, as structured under the unusually diffuse paradigm that defines US nuclear energy (unlike those in France or Japan, shown in Fig. 7.18):

• The reactor manufacturer had not performed a rigorous safety analysis using the procedures developed by Rasmussen five years before;

• The utility had not performed a safety analysis; the operators did not understand the reactor and in particular the behavior of a boiling-water PWR; and

• The NRC panicked and did not understand when the danger of radioactivity release was over.

These public concerns were reinforced by the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant even though the RBMK reactor was neither built nor operated according to standards of safety in Western industrialized countries.

7.3.2.2 Waste disposal

As shown in Figs. 7.13 and 7.14 (discussed in Section 7.2.4), nuclear waste remains hazardous for hundreds and thousands of years. Means must be found, therefore, to keep it out of the environment for a long time. But a nuclear waste repository is not a reactor or a bomb (Bowman and Venneri, 1996; Kastenberg et al., 1996), so that no driving force is available to melt, disperse, or evaporate the spent fuel. The time scale for any problem with waste disposal is of the order of months, rather than on the scale of hours that characterize a reactor accident; this time scale leaves mankind plenty of time to react. Furthermore, "nuclear waste" is not some amorphous, ill-defined radioactive compost over which the technology has little control. By separating acti-nides and/or long-lived fission products (at both some cost and some benefit), these repository lifetime and size determinants can be directed to alternative destinies for the betterment of both the repository storage, for future generations, and for the sustainability of nuclear energy (Arthur and Wagner, 1996, 1998; Takagi, Takagi, and Sekimoto, 1998). While experts believe that both the probability and consequences of an accident in a waste repository are low, provided that appropriate compositions are sent to the repository, an appreciable segment of the public distrusts the experts. Uncertainties enhanced by the very long time scales involved also drive concerns of both the public and segments of the scientific community.

The public concern about waste is driven by the absence of a safe disposal repository for high-level waste (e.g., fission products and some activated structural materials). Concern over the interleaving of the proliferation issue (if plutonium is inadvertently and incorrectly treated as a waste product), the longevity of the waste, and the lack of closure on this issue are primary forces behind the waste concern, both within the US and abroad (Shlyakhter, Stadie, and Wilson, 1995). Generally, more can be done in building public trust with regard to this issue of nuclear-waste management, if feasible "above-ground" solutions having (public) acceptable time lines can be developed, while dispelling the "out-of-sight/out-of-mind" nature of the present approaches that have only the short view and nuclear phase out in mind.

7.3.2.3 Proliferation of nuclear weapons

The proliferation issue is entwined with the issues of cost and waste, and general resolution is made difficult by the historical connection between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, and a lack of quantitative differentiation between the difficulty of building massively destructive weapons using source materials originating from the civil nuclear fuel cycle versus other sources of materials (including increasing potential for aggressions using chemical-biological materials). A large literature exists on proliferation (Willrich and Taylor, 1974; OTA, 1977; Meyer, 1984; Davis and Frankel, 1993; Gardner, 1994; Reiss, 1995) but there is comparatively little describing how to have a nuclear power program without compromising the demands of non-proliferation. One expert commentator argued that proliferation of nuclear weapons is the only aspect of nuclear energy where a technically literate person has reasonable criticism (Cottrell, 1981).

As is indicated in the chronology given in Appendix 7.A, the nuclear energy industry is an outgrowth that occurred in parallel with, and in some cases was partially supported by, national efforts to build nuclear arsenals. During the Cold War era and before threats of nuclear terrorism and significant sabotage related thereto, the enormity of the task of constructing nuclear arsenals, combined with the challenges and struggles of a fledging nuclear-power enterprise, reduced perceived connections between civilian nuclear power and the desire of the state to acquire nuclear weapons; the two were not strongly connected prior to about 1970. In fact, a common belief that to some extent prevails even today was that a nuclear weapon could not be constructed from the plutonium generated in high-burn-up commercial spent fuel (e.g., Sakharov, 1977). The connection between civilian nuclear power and nuclear-weapons proliferation was made visible to public concern only after the growth of terrorist activities in the early 1970s, although the world has lived with the spectre of nuclear-weapons proliferation since the first detonations in 1945, and proliferation control has been a key element of the socio-political consciousness ever since.

While a deceptively simple phrase, the definition of "nuclear-weapons proliferation" has been broadened (OTA, 1977) from one pertaining only to the acquisition of nuclear-explosive devices or weapons by countries not currently possessing them (NPT context) to encompassing any country that has acquired the capability to produce rapidly any nuclear-explosive device or weapon. Policy debates over ways to reduce the risk of proliferation center largely on three key issues (OTA, 1977):

• The likelihood, rate, and time delay of proliferation via various alternative routes (diversion from civilian nuclear power, clandestine indigenous facilities, and/or direct purchase or theft of key components);

• The nature and consequences of proliferation (regional versus global impacts on political or military stability); and

• The differing assessments of political and/or economic impacts of different policy options.

A system of safeguards and security has emerged from the chronology given in Appendix 7.A that applies to all "declared" nuclear facilities, and in particular those facilities that comprise and support nuclear energy. While the IAEA is responsible for setting standards of (nuclear) Materials Protection, Control, and Accounting (MPC&A) for each state operating such a facility, through negotiations with the state and facility, and for verifying that these standards are being met, the actual responsibility for assuring that a given facility is not being used in the proliferation of nuclear weapons rests with the state and not with the IAEA. Generally, each nuclear facility reports to the state, who in turn reports to the IAEA, and in cooperation with the state the IAEA verifies compliance with the MPC&A standards originally agreed between the state and the IAEA. Additionally, the IAEA engages in surveillance and accounting activities to reduce the cost and effort associated with direct verification actions. In short, a strong regime of nuclear-materials control, accounting, and physical protection surrounds all facilities required of nuclear energy, and this regime is one that exists under IAEA-state mutual (negotiated) agreement, state enforcement responsibility, and IAEA verification/ surveillance/accounting.

While the expertise required to operate a safe and economic nuclear-energy enterprise can easily be "diverted" to support activities that aid in the proliferation of nuclear weapons, by far the strongest connection between civilian nuclear power and proliferation is the potential for providing nuclear-explosive material to that dark activity. Correlations between states having research reactors, power reactors, and latent proliferation-related capabilities and states that actually have developed nuclear weapons is at best weak (Meyer, 1984). Nevertheless, the potential for a nuclear-power state to acquire nuclear weapons through the civilian nuclear fuel cycle, while small, is non-zero and must be accommodated. Figures 7.10-7.12 illustrate points within a number of nuclear fuel cycles that are most susceptible to the diversion of nuclear material (plutonium). The above-described safeguards and security umbrella extend to each facility that comprises the flow charts in Figs. 7.10-7.12. The nuclear-weapons value of plutonium in spent fuel can be significantly diminished by increasing the time during which power is generated from that fuel (e.g., increased exposure or burn-up, GWtd/tonneHM) (Beller and Krakowski, 1999). Once the used fuel and contained fission products are discharged from the reactor (typically after three years, with this power-production time increasing as more advanced fuels are developed), the radiation field created by the contained fission products makes a casual retrieval of weapons-usable from this used-fuel plutonium impossible. Should economics and politics allow reprocessing of the spent fuel to recover and recycle the unused plutonium and uranium fuels back to the reactor and enhance utilization of that resource, these points where diversion from the fuel cycle to clandestine use are few, contained, and a strong focus of MPC&A activities.

Generally, sources of nuclear-explosive materials that are simpler and more attractive than the forms derived from the civil fuel cycle are readily identified. The South Africans, for example, used the Becker nozzle to separate uranium isotopes (additional clandestine uranium enrichment using advanced (e.g., higher production rates) difficult-to-detect technologies, as well as smuggling and theft of nuclear-weapons materials and components represent other alternative sources). In spite of this situation, proliferation remains in the public mind one of the four cardinal issues for nuclear energy. In this regard, with the rise of terrorist acts since the 1970s, the end of political bi-polarity accompanying the end of the Cold War, the rise of multi-polarity and regional conflicts, the increased use of terrorist tactics having large-scale impacts against established governments, and the weakening of the powers of individual states as globalization of economies proceeds, guidance for the physical protection of nuclear materials has increasingly been strengthened as an important component of nuclear safeguards and security (Bunn, 1997; Kurihara, 1977).

7.3.2.4 The cost of nuclear electricity

It is likely that the majority of Americans will be in favor of the electricity generators that will produce the cheapest electricity. It is to be expected, therefore, that public concern about nuclear power will not be ameliorated unless nuclear energy is economically competitive with alternatives.

The cost issue revolves around the general trend of high capital costs of the technologies that are used to utilize the very abundant and cheap fuels (e.g., the progression fossil ^ fission ^ solar ^ fusion shows increasing capital costs to utilize cheaper and more abundant fuels). At present, no perceived urgency exists in the Western industrialized countries for new electric-generation capacity. Fossil fuels remain cheap and abundant, and, while the cost varies across regions (OECD, 1998a), nuclear energy is at present perceived to be more costly than alternatives. As indicated in Fig. 7.16 (Diaz, 1998) and Table 7.4 (OECD, 1998a), these perceptions often conflict with reality (here we assume that the perception of the expert is more real than the perception of a lay person).

7.3.3 Gaining (or restoring) public confidence

Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to Alexander McClure that stated: "If you once forfeit the confidence of your fellow citizens, you will never regain their respect and esteem". A more modern writer (Slovic, 1993) has emphasized the need for trust in technologists and assessors of risk.

Great uncertainty characterizes means to (re)gain public trust. In developing a plan for the future of nuclear energy, a conflict arises between the technical/economic paradigm and the societal/cultural paradigm. Both paradigms have their place. The technologist offers his plan using the first (technical/economic) paradigm. The ultimate fate of that technology, however, is largely determined in the streets, the market place, and in the courts under the second paradigm. As noted previously, Kasperson (1993) argued that the evidence points to a public response to the nuclear technologies that is "value-laden and cultural in context". This condition has far-reaching implications for any effort to win increased societal acceptance of nuclear energy. The following multiple pathways to increased public acceptance of nuclear energy were suggested (Kasperson, 1993):

• Demonstrate a record of safe operation of present NPPs;

• Contain the potential for catastrophic risk;

• Continue to improve present NPPs;

• Develop new, reduced-risk and standardized NPPs;

• Separate nuclear energy from nuclear weapons (we would add in so far as possible);

• Re-discover the benefits of nuclear energy;

• Reduce the impacts of future oil price shocks;

• Increase energy security;

• Mitigate GHG emissions;

• Improve competitive prices;

• Maintain steady progress on waste management, leading to sustainable nuclear energy;

• Begin with specific waste facilities (repositories, MRSs);

• Plan, develop, implement no-actinide, minimum-(long-lived)-fission-product systems (Arthur, Cunningham, and Wagner, 1998; Takagi, Takagi, and Sekimoto, 1998);

• Create and implement fair, open, equitable institutions for the administration of nuclear energy; and

• To the extent necessary, break with the past (even if the technologist believes in that past).

Given the capacity to "re-engineer" and based on the previous discussions, the key to resolving satisfactorily the four cardinal issues to a degree needed to impact public acceptance is "socializing/culturating" the application of this technology (Kasperson, 1993); elements of this "socialization/culturation" include:

• Demonstrated public and occupational safety, even in the face of capital($)-but not necessarily human-effects-intensive events;

• Reduced and standardized nuclear power plants;

• Total separation of nuclear energy from nuclear weapons;

• Re-discovered benefits of nuclear energy either in competition or symbiosis with other renewable sources of energy;

• Total waste containment/control/management;

• Open/fair/equitable administrative institutions.

The detailed means by which resolution of nuclear energy's four cardinal issues are translated into positive forces for public acceptance is beyond the scope of this chapter. They must use tools available from both technology and engineering sciences and from the social, institutional and political sciences. The development of mutual understanding and appreciation of each science and more open, transparent and simultaneously efficient regulation is essential. Nuclear energy must maintain and increase the distance from nuclear weapons. The "reculturation and socialization" process must occur in unison with the "reengineering" scenarios described in section 7.4.2.2.

7.4 Future Directions 7.4.1 Technological responses to a nuclear-energy future

7.4.1.1 Management responses

Desirable responses on the part of managers of both the development, implementation, and regulation of all systems required for safe and sustainable nuclear energy are largely captured by the multiple pathways towards public acceptance suggested by Kasperson (1993) and by Slovic (1993), as summarized in Section 7.3.3. From the perspective of government managers of things nuclear, of paramount importance are: (a) the need to maintain a long view with respect to an evolving nuclear infrastructure as related to safety, waste, and advanced (economic, future niche-filling) systems, including non-electric applications; and (b) maintenance, if not enlargement, of both functional and institutional barriers between nuclear weapons and nuclear energy, in spite of any economic incentive to the contrary (e.g., breeding of weapons-directed tritium in commercial nuclear power stations). The responses of industry managers to this issue focus largely on: (a) the demonstration of a record of safe operation of present nuclear facilities (both power plants per se and all supporting facilities); (b) continued improvement of safety and economic characteristics of existing nuclear power plants; (c) development of new, reduced-risk, standardized NPPs; (d) dealing with the often opposing rules and constraints of centralized versus distributed electricity generation in an energy market that increasingly is becoming global both in extent and interconnectedness. Lastly, from a regulatory viewpoint, management of the crucial rule-making/compliance functions must increasingly seek to achieve performance-based, less-adversarial operations while protecting the safety and long-term interests of the public. These responses of all management components (governmental, industrial, regulatory), depending on region and history, must break with past practices in a way that deals with the emerging nature of the risks associated with this large and potentially hazardous technology, as perceived by a range of publics, in a way that does not jeopardize basic trends towards increasing democratization and liberalization of governing systems that are to benefit from such technologies (Hiskes, 1998).

7.4.1.2 Regulatory issues

We address here the problem of regulation and the intricate and complex relationship between regulator and licensee. There is always a conflict in regulation. A regulator must ensure that "a nuclear power plant is operated without undue risk to the public". On the other hand, it has been said that "the power to regulate is the power to destroy". It is evident that safety is a large part of the cost of nuclear power. Without attention to safety a containment vessel, often one-third of the capital cost of a nuclear power plant, would not be necessary. But the important issue is for how much safety should one pay? If one demands too much (beyond reason, as defined by or in reference to other comparable risks), nuclear energy will inevitably be priced out of any market.

The first attempt to address "how much safety" for radiation exposure was begun by the first Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to take office some 14 years ago when astronaut William (Bill) Anders was chairman. After two years of public hearings started by the AEC the NRC set some radiation and safety guidelines in the rulemaking document RM-30-2 (NRC, 1975). The Commission proposed that expenditure on radiation exposure reduction should be made if it costs less than $1000 per person-rem (prem), now doubled to $2000 (Kress, 1994); this number is higher than anyone in the hearings had proposed. Somewhat later the National Council for Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP, 1990) suggested that the number be between $10 and $100 per prem for dental and medical exposures. A corollary was implied, but not explicitly stated. If a proposed dose-reducing action would cost more than this, it should not be done. The US EPA (1998) in their draft "Guidelines for Preparing Economic Analyses" suggest a number of about $5 million per life saved, and later use the $6.1 million for their arsenic "rule" (EPA, 2000), which corresponds closely (using a linear dose response relationship) to the number in the above rule of $2000 per person-rem, and should probably include the time spent talking about the particular issue.

Issues with a direct impact on severe accident probability are more difficult to address. In the 1980s the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safeguards (ACRS) made a study that led to the promulgation by the Commission in 1986 of a set of safety goals (Federal Register, 1986):

• "Individual members of the public should be provided with a level of protection from the consequences of nuclear power plant operation such that individuals bear no significant additional risk to life and health"; and

• "Societal risks to life and health from nuclear power plant operation should be comparable to or less than the risks of generating electricity by viable competing technologies and should not be a significant addition to other risks".

These somewhat vague goals were supplemented by the following quantitative objectives:

• "The risk to an average individual in the vicinity of a power plant of prompt fatalities that might result from reactor accidents should not exceed 0.1% of prompt fatality risks from the sum of prompt fatality risks from other accidents to which members of the US population are generally exposed"; and

• "The risk to the population in the area near a nuclear power plant of cancer fatalities that might result from nuclear power plant operation should not exceed 0.15 of the sum of cancer fatality risks resulting from all other causes."

These objectives are met for light water reactors (with containments) if a subsidiary objective is met: "The core melt frequency must be less than 1/10000 per year". Although not stated, it was implied that steps to decrease core melt frequency still further were unwarranted and it was not worth the expense to undertake them. For simplicity we address only this "intermediate" safety goal here, but the same argument can be applied to the more fundamental safety goal.

A fundamental problem arises in implementing goals as opposed to issuing or following regulations - no definitive way of proceeding can be found. But studies can be made retrospectively to see whether they are met. An independent study (Tengs et al., 1995) suggests that expenditures in the nuclear industry for radwaste have been over $1 million per person-rem - 1000 times the goal. It seems that either the regulations (in this case probably the technical specifications) are stricter than needed, that the industry is spending more than the regulations call for, or the total amount of money is so small it is not worth worrying about. The procedure does not, however suggest how they be relaxed or whether the cost decrease is large enough to be worth the bother.

Similarly, the ACRS has repeatedly stated that it is not sensible to regulate on the basis of a probabilistic risk assessment (PRA). But a PRA can be used to discuss retrospectively whether reactors that were designed and operate under existing regulations meet the goals. If they meet the goals, fine. If they do not, regulations might be tightened. On the other hand, if the safety goals are met with a large margin maybe the regulations can be relaxed. Indeed, the important parts of a PRA can now be put on a small PC or laptop so that the effect of any small change in procedures can be quickly calculated.

As difficult as it is to reduce the severity of a regulation, it is not easy to forgive a deliberate violation of regulations even when that violation does not result in any safety goal being exceeded. But again, immediate and rapid effort in this direction seems warranted. If a procedural violation has occurred, the NRC must of course act in some way because such violations can escalate. But a graded response seems sensible. The power plant might be shut down, as were the four power plants at Millstone and Connecticut in 1996, when a "whistle blower" pointed out that the technical specifications had been routinely violated. But a graded response would suggest that a restart be permitted (and replaced by a fine) as soon as it was determined that the procedural violation did not result in the safety goals being exceeded. With fast computers a PRA can be set up to do such an analysis within a week or two at most.

The US NRC was spawned in 1974-75 from the old Atomic Energy Commission to separate the promotional role of nuclear energy from the regulatory role. It was already geographically separated by putting the promotional arm of the AEC in Germantown, Maryland, and the regulatory arm of the AEC in Bethesda. But unlike the mandate given to the AEC by the Atomic Energy Act of 1945, the NRC has no mandate to keep power plants in operation - only to ensure that the power plants operate without undue risk to the public. It was left to ERDA and now the Department of Energy to promote nuclear energy and to provide the balance. It is important to realize that the utility companies cannot and will not by themselves perform this function of balance. The utility companies are under close local or regional control, and historically have shown extreme reluctance to challenge any regulatory body. A great unbalance in power exists. A regulator often has the ability to keep a power plant shut down for an extra day - an action which costs the utility company $1 million per day. A counterbalance to ensure that this power is used wisely and well cannot be found. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been sued in the courts (in what seems to be the preferred procedure in the US for obtaining balance) by one or another group opposed to nuclear power, but to the best of our knowledge has not been sued by utility companies. Any regulator will automatically adjust his strategy to minimize lawsuits - and probably that is easiest done by ensuring that the number of lawsuits from each side is equal. If no one is actively promoting nuclear energy, therefore, the regulation will inevitably become more strict and will force unnecessary price rises until price competition destroys the industry.

The cost of over-regulation at Millstone is huge and seems to have been deliberately understated in many reports so far. We take it here to be the busbar cost of replacement electricity of about $3 million a day or 2 billion dollars so far. The effect on public health is also huge. Supposing the replacement electricity to come from a mixture of fossil fuels and hydro power in the average proportions, each power plant replacement costs over 50 premature deaths a year from air pollution (Wilson and Spengler, 1996), or over 400 deaths so far.

In addition to the above we must also remember the cost that regulatory delay involves. The license hearing for the Maine Yankee construction permit was only six hours long. The operating license hearing a few years later was only two days long. More recently some hearings have lasted ten years. Temporary storage of high level nuclear waste and uranium isotope separation are inherently safer than operating a reactor - the latter much so. Yet the hearings for storing waste in the Goshute Indian reservation are optimistically estimated to last four years and plans for a uranium isotope separation facility in Florida were abandoned after seven years of no progress.

These procedures are largely under the control of NRC. Indications are that NRC may be changing. The chairperson of the NRC stated in October 1998, "Regulation, by its nature, is a burden, but that burden must be made clear, based on risk insights, with performance expectations clearly defined" (Jackson, 1998). However, she did not go so far as to discuss the ALARA and safety goals directly.

Two steps can help to regain a balance in regulation. The first is a procedure to decide to regulate nuclear power in a more efficient way (including deciding upon how much regulation is necessary). The second necessary step is to find a group which will play the active promotional role that is so necessary in the US system and those patterned after it. This second step could happen by the DOE returning to the political concept of 1973 when the AEC was broken up. Other mechanisms might be found which should constantly call the regulator to task when he takes actions that exceed his own goals. In the US that approach would have to involve lawsuits because that is where the action finally occurs in any subject.

7.4.1.3 Government responses

From both historical and future policy perspectives, the response of individual governments to the prospects and directions of a nuclear-energy future varies widely. At both cultural (Fig. 7.18), social, political, and economic levels, each country having or contemplating a nuclear energy alternative prioritizes and emphasizes differently the four cardinal issues facing civilian nuclear power (cost, safety, proliferation, waste). This section summarizes a sampling of governmental responses to the issues facing nuclear energy and the way in which local orientation to these issues shape the nuclear-energy futures.

Sweden. Sweden has adopted two approaches which seem to be unique. The 1980 referendum, which was widely considered a vote against nuclear energy, could in fact be called a reprieve. The following three alternatives were presented in a widely publicized referendum of 1980 (Lindstrom 1992).

• Immediate shut down or phase out;

• No new plants and phase out by the year 2010;

• Further expansion.

It is a well-known fact of political life that most people, when faced with three alternatives that they do not understand, choose the middle one. This propensity can be enhanced by making the extremes very unpalatable. An immediate shut down would have provided much disruption of the Swedish economy; whereas an expansion of nuclear energy seemed unnecessary in a country where enough power plants were operating or under construction to supply half of the electricity generation by nuclear fission. Despite every effort made to inform the electorate about different nuclear energy options, some confusion still exists among the public. One person remarked on Swedish TV on the day of the referendum "I still don't understand why we want nuclear power, when I've got electricity in my house already" (Price, 1990, p.72). The government declared that a necessary condition for continuation was to have a solution to the waste problem. Swedish scientists did not propose a simple solution; the comparatively expensive solution required encasing the waste in solid copper containers, which would not be eroded, and then putting them into an area of little ground water. In nearly twenty years since the nuclear referendum, Sweden in 1999 still has not shut down a nuclear power plant and may be the only country with a politically accepted solution to nuclear waste.

France. France has a fair quantity of hydropower in the south east, but has very little coal, oil or natural gas. After the "oil shock" of 1972/1973, France made a bold decision to base all the electricity expansion in France on nuclear power, and with nuclear reactors of a specific type (pressurized water reactor, PWR). These PWRs were made by a French company, Framatome, under license from the Westinghouse Corporation. Public opinion surveys similar to those carried out in the US show that the French public have the same perception of safety as the US public (Slovic, 1993). Nonetheless, nuclear power seems to be well accepted in France. Several possible reasons have been advanced for this situation:

• The French have a high degree of confidence in their professional engineers. Jealous Americans describe this as the dominance of the personnel from the Ecole Polytechnique (founded by Napoleon). This belief in professionalism is one of the characteristics that make France so different from other developed countries (Jasper, 1990; Price, 1990). Associated with this belief in professionalism is a pride in achievements in art and technology, particularly those of a spectacular nature.

• France has a centralized political structure in contra-distinction to the federal structure of Germany, or the political power of the states in the US (Nelkin, 1971, 1974). For a technology like nuclear energy that has national and even transnational ramifications, the centralized structure may be particularly appropriate.

• Opposition to nuclear power in the west has often been considered to be a left-wing phenomenon - a revolt of the people against oppressive industry or government. In France, the powerful French communist party supported nuclear energy because Moscow supported it. A small example of this was Nobel Laureate Frederic Joliot-Curie, a leading communist who was a member of the French resistance movement in WWII. Few opponents of the Government wanted to repudiate him.

• The press have generally been in favor of nuclear energy. It is not easy to assess the extent to which this media support reflects public attitudes and the extend to which it molds them. Generally, the press have been very sophisticated in discussions of nuclear energy.

• Those who live within 30 km of a nuclear power plant have especially reduced rates for electricity as a kind of compensation for being near an industrial facility. This rebate considerably reduces local opposition to nuclear power plants.

• France has a representative government rather than an American style democracy. The average French citizen expects their elected representatives to govern, and does not expect to be second-guessing them all the time by letters, faxes and referenda. This acceptance of rule leads to a historically close cooperation between government and industry.

In spite of the six reasons listed above, opposition to nuclear power is growing in France, and the concerns seem to echo those in the US.

Germany. Germany built several pressurized-water reactors. In East Germany the reactors were VVER 400s of Russian design (now shut down), and in the west PWRs similar to those sold by Westinghouse. In addition, an active research program in new reactor types was pursued, particularly the "pebble bed" (high-temperature, gas-cooled, HTGR) reactor. This activity in Germany slowed after the Three Mile Island accident and came to a halt after Chernobyl. The differences from the French situation are discussed by Nelkin (1983), who pointed out that the decentralized political structure allowed nuclear power to be used as a political weapon in "states-rights" issues. In addition the closeness of Germany to Chernobyl, and the relationship between nuclear power and nuclear weapons, make the adverse concerns about nuclear energy seem more important in Germany.

Former USSR. During the Communist regime in the USSR, nuclear power was closely coupled to the military industry. Even now, both are under the same industry in Russia (MINATOM). Nuclear power was centralized in the USSR. Abundant electricity was considered to be very important for the Soviet state, according to Lenin's dictum "Communism is Socialism plus electricity". After Chernobyl, hostility to nuclear power developed in many ways. The accident itself demonstrated to the governing elite that they had failed to manage adequately a modern technology; the governing technocratic elite immediately put expansion plans on hold. Hostility to nuclear power is particularly widespread in the Ukraine and in Byelorussia, with other regions suffering heavily from Chernobyl fall-out. It was said that the people of Byelorussia did not want any kind of nuclear power - even safe nuclear power (Price, 1990). The fact that the central government had failed to produce a safe system, coupled with the fact that the central government kept the details of the accident and the radioactive deposition secret from the people (Shlyakhter and Wilson, 1992), were used by the fledgling opponents of central rule to discredit the USSR. After voting for, and gaining, independence from the USSR in December 1991, the parliament of the Ukraine voted to halt all expansion of nuclear power and to shut down the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in December 1993, which had been cleaned up, the destroyed unit "entombed", and the remaining units restarted, after tremendous effort and work at a moderately high radiation exposure of the 600000 clean-up workers or liquidators. Economic realities changed this anti-nuclear, Chernobyl-driven position; when faced with paying world market price for gas and oil from Russia, the Ukraine recommenced construction of the partially finished nuclear power plant in 1992 (although it was shut down nine years later), and rescinded the vote to shut down Chernobyl.

Nuclear power does not seem to be high in the concerns, either for or against, of either the Russian Government or its people. A division of opinion and position seems to exist, however; the ambitious nuclear expansion program was canceled after the Chernobyl accident, and only a part of it has recommenced.

Japan. After WWII Japan followed the lead of the US in many ways, including taking up baseball as a national sport. This parallelism also included the development of nuclear power. But the fact that Japan is an island with few indigenous fuel resources makes the incentive for nuclear energy far greater than in the US. Japan entered two world wars driven in part by a search for fuel supplies. In 1914, Japan joined England and France against Germany to gain control of the coal in the German concessions in Manchuria. After the US and Holland had imposed an oil embargo in 1941, and less than a one-month supply of oil was left, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It is easy and usual to stockpile many years supply of nuclear fuel, while it is difficult and uncommon to stockpile more than a few months of oil or gas. With nuclear power Japan can more easily sustain another oil embargo by an unfriendly nation.

In addition, decisions are made and changed slowly in Japan. Although the world supply of uranium seems adequate for more than 50 years, Japan, nevertheless, is pursuing a strong breeder-reactor program and is stockpiling separated plutonium for the purpose. Also, Japan is continuing its nuclear power expansion with six advanced boiling-water reactors (ABWRs) that are either built or under construction.

China. China has a larger energy intensity (ratio of energy use to gross domestic product, GDP) than western countries and this intensity is decreasing steadily. This decrease is in accord with various scenarios for development of Hafele et al. (1981). Present plans of the Chinese government call for most of their expansion of electricity supply to be fueled by an abundant supply of coal (with enormous increase in CO2 emissions and potential for global warming (Fang et al., 1998). At the present time nuclear powered electricity is perceived as too expensive to compete, even in favorable locations (such as the SE China coast), where the transportation route for fossil fuels is very long.

7.4.2 Technological responses

Concerns and potential problems related to a (global) nuclear energy phase-out scenario have been listed in Section 7.3. This section deals with a few "reengineering" directions required primarily for a nuclear-energy growth scenario, albeit, some of the technologies described below would be necessary even for a nuclear-energy phase-out scenario.

Shlyakhter et al. (1995) and others have addressed the possibility of modifying the technology to meet perceived issues. In examining the technological responses to these issues noted in the following sections, the extent to which these responses (listed in Section 8.3.3. above) are met as elaborated.

7.4.2.1 General approach to a nuclear future Todreas (1993) suggested a general paradigm for bridging to a nuclear-energy future based on a progression from safe and economic current reactors (LWRs) to evolutionary LWRs (ELWRs), and finally a movement into advanced nuclear systems that would address the longer-term problems of resource, waste, and sustainability. Building on that paradigm, Fig. 7.20 elaborates this progression, which might be comprised of the following essential elements:

PRESENT/NEAR FUTURE

BRIDGE TO

SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

FUTURE

[Maintain (growing) market share in technologically advanced regions (OECD, China, Russia, India)]

SECURE EXISTING PLANTS (LWRS)

EVOLUTIONARY LWRs

License renewal

- Pressure-vessel life

- small component replacement Enhanced O&M cost effectiveness

- NDT, monitoring, robotics

- Chemistry control

- waste/dose reduction

- validated reliability Minimize challenge to Safety Systems

• economic and safer

• optimal mix of passive and active

Safety Systems

• meet lifecycle requirements

(close fuel cycle)

• Address diseconomies-of-scale issues --600 MWe and expandable

- grid matching

- collability (LOCA)

- FP inventories (many versus few sites)

- reduced capital costs

- modularity (factor

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