Sunday, April 10, 2011

People Are Not Rational

There is a lot of back and forth going on about nuclear power. The advocates say it is plenty safe and there are others who say radiation scares me and I don't think nukes are safe at all.

Let us think about it in terms of "fear of flying". By objective criteria (compared to automobiles) airplanes are 10X safer than they need to be. But without that extra margin of safety the customer base might be 1/2 of what it is. That is reality. We should accept that same reality for nukes. Yeah it sucks. But that is what people want. We can give it to them. So why don't the pro nuke folks quit bitching about the irrationality of it all and just work harder to give those folks what they want?

When nukes are safe enough to get private insurance I think the acceptance of nuclear power will be much easier for the whole population. Plus if they had to be privately insured they would be much safer. And political influence (which leads to moral hazard) would have no bearing on the game. Get rid of the NRC and put something like the UL in charge. With a deal like that everyone has skin in the game. That is how you keep the game honest.

Personally I like this criteria for nuclear safety:

The ongoing Fukushima Daiichi disaster is naturally making many people wonder about the safety of nuclear power. It's a good illustration of how unexpected failures happen in practice, and also shows how Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) is a fundamentally safer approach. When building a reliable system, you must assume it will fail. Regardless of how many layers of safety you build into something, what really determines its fundamental safety is what happens if all safety systems fail at once. For a nuclear facility, aside from specifically hardening against disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, terrorist-flown airplanes, tsunamis, earthquakes, malicious actors, etc., you must also make a fundamental engineering assumption that it will melt down. No matter how improbable you think you've made it for a meltdown to occur, the most important feature of any nuclear facility is what happens when a meltdown does occur. And not only that, but there should be contingency plans for what happens when the plant is hit with God's flyswatter, not because such a thing is likely or even possible, but because you can't really be too paranoid about engineering for such scenarios.
It seems like that design philosophy would bring a lot more people on board and only leave a few cranks howling at the moon.

Cross Posted at Classical Values

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