Those are indeed the facts, Ringo. You would be remiss in not pointing them out, as would be John, as would be Mike. Nor have I denied them...
The question, however, is not whether the rate of failure is low or not — though within certain limits, you do have to consider that the rate must be low for the process even to be considered — but what the effect of a failure actually means in terms of the outcome for the populations concerned.
You do not and will not hear me building an argument in favor of more coal or more oil. If you hear me doing so, you are mistaken, and you conflate my position with Mike's, who does want to do more drilling for oil. His position on coal is not clear to me at this point; but I believe he is in favor of something called "the new Clean coal." I believe there is no such thing, and I believe that the new clean coal is just as vulnerable to the underground fires you mention as the old dirty coal was.
I cannot tell you if nuclear power is more or less dangerous than hydrocarbons as a power source. I know it is a source that we are using now, but it is a source that, as is the case with all our power sources, we did not understand before getting involved with it. Each of them has provided advantages and drawbacks for us, and in the case of each, we made entrepreneurial investments in the new source that made it difficult to back out or rethink the original commitment.
I don't think you've said anything untrue about the nuclear industry. I do think that you may have omitted some things.
Nobody builds a catastrophe on purpose. They only build them in hindsight. Your comments about Chernobyl are flawed, I believe, by overlooking this. It appears that the plant couldn't help but fail when we look back on it, but while it was being built, it was somebody's proud baby. In this, it is no different than any other house, sludge plant, farm, automobile or nuclear power plant. The decision makers thought it was good enough, just like everybody else who makes decisions thinks the project they shepherd through to completion is good enough. And exactly like those folks, these Chernobyl folks had the power to make their decision stick.
Tell me how this is different from the decision makers anyplace else in the world.
Sometimes these people are right, and sometimes they are wrong. The reasons for their rightness or wrongness don't particularly matter as long as they have the power to make their decisions stick, does it?
I admire the design capability of many of the nuclear engineers, by the way. I am very impressed with the MIT website that I've quoted several times in this thread, and I think you might be as well. They are not alarmist, they are quite objective and very thoughtful; and I think you might find a lot there to bolster your case, if you're interested.
But the fact is that when people make errors with nuclear power, the errors are not small ones, and we haven't even begun to solve some of the most basic problems necessary to make nuclear power a safe option. Key among those is what to do with spent nuclear power rods. This in particular is one of the problems that's proving troublesome in Japan right now.
And across the United States we have the same problem, lots of spent nuclear power rods sitting in pools of water on the grounds of nuclear power plants serving as terrorist magnets and waiting for some sort of accident to have them begin their own little melt-downs. Nobody wants to have the things transported through their neighborhoods to a larger storage facility because there are issues with the safety of moving them, and nobody wants them to stay where they are. And nobody has really thought the problem through.
That's a "for example."
That doesn't mean you're wrong, Ringo. But It does mean that I disagree with you and John and Mike and President Obama about the safety of nuclear power. And it does me that I believe that the promises were oversold, and the liabilities were not thought through, as I stated above.
And it does mean that having a low failure rate is not enough, not even a spectacularly low failure rate. After all, suns fail only once in several billion years. You quite simply don't want to be anywhere in the vicinity when they do. We have trouble enough with the fluctuations in that particular power plant, after all.
There are, according to the European Nuclear Society, 442 nuclear power plants in current operation around the world with another 65 under construction at this very moment. That does not include the number of nuclear powered submarines, whose numbers cannot be verified.
Since 1952, there have only been 5 partial of complete meltdowns recorded (and one nuclear sub reactor that was never officially confirmed). That would be 1 severe incident every 11 years and months. Of those, there has only ever been one recorded total meltdown, and that wa the reactor at Prypiat, Ukraine (Chernobyl).
By comparison, there are hundreds of underground coal fires currently burning with no hope of extinguishment (short of burning out) because they are hard- or impossible- to get to. Also, there have been 118 major oil spills (10,000 gallons+) around the world since 1967. Yet, no one seems to be complaining about how oil and coal energy is unsafe and needs to be banned. And, you will notice I didn't mention the explosions in oil tank farms around the world... just the leaks.
Since we don't know how many nuclear powered boats there are, let alone subs, we can't talk about potential failures there, can we? If there were any, it is indeed probable they'd be state secrets. Nor do we have good numbers for plants that are sited in countries that are not forthright in data reporting. We may have reported data from those countries or not, depending on whether or not we wished to reveal the state of our own detection capability, right?
Your figures may be spot on, they may not be; but your confidence in them should not be as high as it seems, I believe, for the reasons I suggest. I can sympathize with your wish (and my own) to accept them as accurate, of course.
Your belief that there are no people who wish to ban coal and oil power in this country or in the world is false. The problem is with finding an alternate generation source for electricity. I believe that coal and oil should be saved for other things than power generation, and I'd like to find some way of using solar, tide and heat differentials to make up the difference. I believe that fusion is the holy grail of power, but that it seems to retreat before us as we search.
So yeah, I'm against coal and oil power, though I see no way of getting off it right now.