Frank Von Hippel: Superficially, it is reasonable to leap to the conclusion that fear generated by the Chernobyl disaster turned the public against nuclear power—so strongly that even now, three decades later, there is serious doubt that it will ever be a major alternative to climate-threatening fossil fuels. In the 15 years before the Chernobyl accident, an average of about 20 new nuclear power reactors came online each year. Five years after the accident, the average had dropped to four a year. But the full story is more complex. The effects of Chernobyl on people, though significant, were not devastating. Beyond the evacuation area, it is estimated that the radiation will cause tens of thousands cases of cancer across Europe over 80 years. That may sound like a large number, but it is a mostly undetectable addition to the background cancer rate. One exception is thyroid cancer, caused by the ingestion of radioactive iodides: there have been visible epidemics—only 1 to 2 percent fatal, fortunately—in the most affected regions of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. contrary to the claims of boosters in the 1950s that nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter,” it is quite expensive. Fuel costs are low, but construction costs are huge, especially in North America and Europe—$6 billion to $12 billion per reactor.
Scietific American 1st April 2016 read more »