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Talking Point On Air Wednesday, 8 February, 2006, 17:44 GMT
Nuclear safety - join the debate
Nuclear safety - join the debate
In the light of recent leaks at nuclear plants in Japan and South Korea, we have hosted a live debate on BBC World Service Radio and BBC News Online to discuss concerns over nuclear safety.

Select the link below to watch Talking Point On Air

Your Reaction:

Read and hear a reflection of your comments during the programme

Read what you said before we went ON AIR

Read what you have said since the programme


Your comments since the programme

I was born and spent 24 years in Kiev, city in 80 km from Chernobyl. I was 12, when it happened. Now I am scientist, ecologist, I know everything about the nuclear power and other sources of energy.
I KNOW that it's safe and ecologically friendly in comparison with others, BUT - can I be SURE that my mother, who died from cancer, died not BECAUSE of Chernobyl? Can I be SURE that my children will be healthy? Can I be SURE that the nuclear station in Antwerp (or lets say in 5 km from Antwerp) will NEVER have an accident? The key word is - CERTAINTY and SECURITY.
Nataliya Tomashevska, Ukraine/Belgium

The bottom line is that nuclear power is probably the safest cheap form of generating electricity: there has been only one major accident in a nuclear power plant ever - one that has directly caused deaths, that is. It took place in Chernobyl and resulted in the death of 7 firemen. Even if you count the more ambiguous deaths over the years, they surely won't amount to thousands. It is a fact that nuclear plants generate less radiation to their surroundings than the soil.
It is also a fact that people get ten times more radiation in the form of X-rays than they get from nuclear plants over their lives. One must remember that there have been single accidents taking place in dams and power plants using fossil fuels that have killed hundreds and even thousands of people. Therefore being against nuclear power is irrational.
Pekka Tuominen, Finland

Unlike 'normal' catastrophes which may result in higher fatalities, a nuclear disaster has far reaching consequences in terms of the genetic disorders that will be passed on from one generation to the next. Further, umpteen number of safety precautions will still not preclude the possibility of a freak accident.
There has been a lot of talk on harnessing alternative energy resources without any visible success. So, we are still left to play with this ugly duckling till a new friend comes along. Till such time, we should resort to developing better disaster management plans not just for the site but for everyone likely to get affected.
Suresh, Canada

Nuclear power necessitates a vast centralisation of power and a vast investment of capital; it is therefore neither democratic, or economically viable (as the government have at times admitted). What is required is investment in renewable, ecologically sound energy industries, and not in nuclear power which produces dangerous waste which future generations for thousands of years will have to guard and cope with. Moreover, why risk more Chernobyl's unnecessarily?!
Roy Ashton, UK

Why is there a need for Nuclear power, yes unlimited power, but unlimited harm too. We still do not fully understand the capabilities of the power, and in the UK bury the waste it causes, what form of a solution is this. Why is there a need for such dangerous energy?
James Cohen, UK

Nuclear Power, using today's technology is a very limited and dangerous process. Many alternatives are viable at today's level of technology, such as wave power, wind, solar (photovoltaic) geothermal and many others. I feel nuclear power has been pushed to the front of the agenda merely for weapons purposes and an entirely objective viewpoint would welcome many alternative forms of fuel.
Ryan Walters, England

Wind and solar power can produce enough energy for everyone if we consume less. Instead of the perpetual industrial growth sought after by governments we need a sustainable economy that measures success by the happiness and satisfaction of its people not how many consumer goods they produce or buy.
Olaf H, Ireland

I think that nuclear power should not be eliminated as a form of electrical power, but it should not be widely used until more advances in science have been made. Splitting atoms releases an immense amount of energy, but then there is the radioactive waste to deal with.
Until atoms can be split and fused over and over again and until the engineering is such that no radioactive leak is possible or could contaminate the atmosphere, nuclear power should be used cautiously and in small amounts. Even with the best engineering, there is always the problem of human error.
Jeff Fallis, USA

Nuclear power is obviously too risky - if governments had put all the billions that they have put into the nuclear industry into renewables our planet would have a much longer life guarantee.
Ruth E Jarman, UK

Nuclear power is too dangerous because no-one knows what to do with the huge amounts of radioactive materials generated by its production.
Jenny Maxwell, Britain

They plan to deposit that highly radiating nuclear waste in a salt mine near my hometown. I know how this mafia works!!! Greetings from Gorleben!!!
Hanko Rubach, Germany

Choices to be made:
(1) shut down a large proportion of the world's industry until a "green" power source can be found
(2) remove the autonomy of governments of countries with nuclear reactors to enforce higher safety standards with an international government
(3) muddle on as we are going, accepting a few deaths in the name of the "greater good" I expect that no. 3 will be the only acceptable option
Jon Stone, England

Far more people die each year in the name of nuclear safety than are protected. The facts are indisputable: The cancer risk due to fossil fuels is several orders of magnitude greater than those due to nuclear power. In fact, the nuclear power industry is prevented from allowing radiation dose rates at its fence line far below those that are typical around fossil fuel plants due to the natural radioactivity in coal and oil.
Glenn Roberts, USA

These problems with nuclear power have been increasing over the past five to ten years. The fact is, the nuclear reactors work fine but when it reaches the stage of deterioration, what do we do with this material? Aren't we making the problem worse by building more of these things? One other issue is the uncertainty of the effects the Year 2000 (Y2K) will have on nuclear plants that are in countries where technology is old and outdated. What will happen then? It will not only affect the country of origin, but SURELY the neighbouring countries as well!!! Let's get rid of these dreadful time bombs and use our heads to create a power source that is not going to disturb the health of our most precious gift.......life!
Christopher Klemm, Finland

Nuclear power...no thanks! Renewable energy....Yes Please! Take the NFFO funding of UK nuclear energy away and it no longer seems an attractive prospect Invest this money to improve renewable research and we all benefit!
Dr Mike Perks, Ireland

Talking Point - On Air
The nuclear accident in Japan shows that nuclear power is not safe, even in developed countries. The magnitude and frequency of problems that would occur if developing countries turn to nuclear power is frightening. Not only is the safety of nuclear plants a major issue, but also the disposal of the high level radioactive waste. Nuclear power can not be considered as a safe and sustainable choice if our descendants for the next 2000 years need to deal with the nuclear waste that is being produced now.
Emily Rudkin, New Zealand

To those who point out that many people have died in coal mines, oil rig fires, etc., but those forms of energy have not been banned: you are ignoring the difference between nuclear power and fossil fuels. If a coalmine collapses then some coal miners die. That's bad. But if a nuclear plant explodes then a whole hemisphere can be showered with nuclear fallout that can cause death, cancer and birth defects. It's the scale of potential problems that's at issue, not the actual number of nuclear workers killed in the last 50 years compared with the number of coal, oil and gas workers killed since the Industrial Revolution.
Paul, UK

If nuclear power is so safe then why are there accidents at all. With so many lives at risk nuclear power would have to be deemed 100% safe before it should be employed. It is not a case of just the plant being affected by an accident. The whole world might suffer the effects.
Kate, UK

I'm am a host parent involved with the Chernobyl Children's Appeal so I see at first hand the awful results of mistakes with Nuclear energy. NO No No I say Never Nuclear energy. Yes Yes Yes I support renewable energy.
Nuala McAuley, N Ireland

As what happened in Japan did not happen in a third world country but a highly sophisticated industrial nation, according to prevailing standards of sophistication, I understand that nobody can claim ignorance. Should we or our children find our selves in the future under direct threat due to failure in an nuclear plant or subsidiary industries. Given the importance of nuclear energy, we should organise a functional competent international committee, which could assess cost benefits of employing nuclear energy under optimum conditions. I think we still have yet to come a considered conclusion.
Saeed Feyz, Spain

Both sides of this debate seem to have a flat earth mentality. The trouble is each believes their flat earth is oriented at 90 degrees to the other. I can't help feeling that we have no choice but to use fission power since it produces such prodigious quantities and we mustn't use it because it produces such toxic waste. What's to debate - we're damned if we use it, we're damned if we don't.
David A. Mair, USA

I have just read that the workers injured the JCO/Sumitomo nuclear accident had little education and no understanding of the forces of nature that they were dealing with. We all need more education related to nuclear issues/problems/benefits from an unbiased viewpoint. What little I learnt at school about nuclear science scared my pants off - so little matter storing so much energy.
I am sure that those workers would not have worked for JCO if they knew what I knew about nuclear science. Knowledge is great but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. BTW: Solar and Wind power stations do not blow up or irradiate or kill innocent bystanders.
Simon Fuller, Australia

The attitude to nuclear power among some segments of the public is similar to their attitude to air safety. They know that more people are killed on the roads than in the air, but somehow an air crash seems so horrendous that it feels like the higher risk, and so passengers are nervous in planes, even though they were in more danger driving to the airport.
In the same way, we have all been scare-mongered to such an extent about nuclear power that we simply ignore the very real risks associated with other energy sources. Every year, people die in mines, or from the effect of smog, or on oil rigs, or while transporting oil or coal, but we rarely think of these deaths as being energy-related. But any death in the nuclear industry is treated as the stuff of nightmares.
The government needs to do one of two things. Either it should abandon nuclear power - what a laugh - or it should make a determined effort to educate the public about the actual risks of all forms of power generation.
Jon Livesey, USA

We cannot cure a common cold or make fail safe train signals. What chance do we have against a force we don't really understand and cannot control. We should try to control ourselves before we control the world.
R. Roberts, UK

The odd thing about the nuclear industry is not that it is so dangerous, but that it is perceived as such. With the possible exception of the aviation industry, no other area of human endeavour has such a wide gulf between the actual risk, and the perceived risk. Whilst the levels of safety required of nuclear facilities is very high indeed, the actual harm caused by nuclear accidents even including the odd disaster, such as at Chernobyl, pales alongside the appalling death and injury rates directly caused by the chemical industry.
I would advocate the expenditure of similar levels of effort and indignation at both industries - Nuclear power may not be totally safe, but there are more pressing things to worry about in the modern industrial world. Notwithstanding the above, it does take a special kind of idiocy to produce a highly toxic waste product from a new industry BEFORE you have worked out how to cope with it!
Bill Boddington, Australia

Nuclear power, while providing higher and higher portion of energy supplies in almost every countries, does do harm to the environment and threaten the health of human being at least in the near several hundreds of years. However, human beings must depend on such an approach to solve the present lacking of energy supply, which is the most practical and available solution so far.
Zhang Hengyun, China

Nuclear power is a very expensive option when all costs including the so called externalised costs are taken into account. Eg. storage, and processing of nuclear waste, decommissioning of old plants, the security which surrounds the plants and the transport of fuel & waste, environmental damage, health damage, and the cost of clean ups after accidents. Many of these costs are subsidised by the state at present. Renewable energy sources ARE a feasible alternative, (otherwise certain oil companies would not be investing so heavily in their development), but need to be developed for use at a local level, not a national one.
David Ashton, UK

Fission power has proved itself to be too dangerous to people now living and (through its wastes) to the ecosystem and to those living in the future.   It must be abandoned. On the other hand, we must very soon give up fossil fuels also.  Since the 19th century we have disrupted the earth's biosphere by pumping into it billions of tons of fossil fuel waste, the residue of dead organic matter originally safely trapped beneath the earth's surface (as coal and petroleum) for millions of years. Our only other available alternatives are renewable sources of energy.  But solar, water and wind power will never be enough to supply our needs. This leaves hydrogen power as an essential final alternative. 
Louis B. Massano, New Jersey  

I'm a campaigner for an international NGO called Y2K WASH (World Atomic Safety Holiday) that was initiated by concerned citizens in Japan last July. Firstly, Y2K is more complex and hence more serious than governments are letting on. The only question is: How serious will the consequences of Y2K be? The only answer is: We won't know until it happens. In a nightmare worst case scenario, we'd have nuclear weapons systems malfunctioning and / or nuclear reactors melting down. To mitigate the risks of Y2K-related nuclear accidents, the Y2K WASH (World Atomic Safety Holiday) campaign demands:
1. De-alert nuclear weapon systems and de-couple nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles.
2. Begin a managed phase-down of nuclear reactors to standby status during the critical period.
3. Provide additional back-up generators at all nuclear facilities, with adequate fuel supplies for worst-case scenarios.
4. Institute a worldwide moratorium on the transport of all nuclear materials until the crisis is over.
5. ensure that emergency contingency plans are in place in every community where a nuclear facility is located, including adequate supplies of potassium iodide tablets
Paul Swann, London

Thank you for letting me participate in your Talking Point debate. I will ask my local expert about the alleged poisonous components of solar panels. Meanwhile, I noticed that none of your participants mentioned the risks if someone drops a bomb - of any type - on a nuclear power plant. I'm not sure it's a good idea to publicise this via the BBC, in case it gives ideas to some glittery-eyed fanatic, but can you imagine what would happen if a suicide bomber were to take a nuclear power plant as hostage?
Ellen Drake

I am living about 60 km from the Tokai area with my family. I was of course frightened that Friday and kept watching TV until very late at night. Because I studied physics at university, I understood that the biggest danger had gone away early next morning. Now, I am concerned about how the Japanese courts treat this accident.
Y Ueno, Japan


Your comments during the programme

All this talk of nuclear power doesn't take into account what you are going to do with the waste! Dump it in Australia if you get your way.
Nigel Dent

This reaction in Tokaimura have a lot of things in Common with Three Mile Island, despite that they're two different types of nuclear facilities. First of all the people didn't hear of the reaction at TMI until four hours after it had actually begun. There was a lot of confusion, there were time delays and insufficient and untimely evacuation. They were telling us things were under control and they were under control. And on the third day of the accident the governor finally advised an evacuation for some of the pregnant women in the area. What I think the people in Japan can expect to see is of course the fear and the post-traumatic stress for some people. But possibly, more importantly, if the accident is truly on the level of Three Mile Island, they will see miscarriages, leukaemia, lung and brain cancers.
Scott Portzline, near Three Mile Island, USA

Japan's nuclear crisis
I live in Ludington Michigan USA on the east side of Lake Michigan.We are down wind from several nucular power plants in Wisconsin across the lake. I personally feel quite safe where I live. But not for people who live near most of the processing and power plants. Safety measures are only as safe as the people who follow them.Human workers don't do more than they are forced to, period. If the workers are not properly trained the just don't care. How many times have you herd the phrase "HUMAN ERROR"..."Accidents Will Happen"... Murphys Law?
Rick Smedberg

When a coal mine collapses, coal miners die, and few other people are affected. When a nuclear power station goes into meltdown, or there is a nuclear release, people who have nothing to do with the reactor are affected, whether in the case of the release in Japan affecting people within 500 metres, or in the worst case, people who live kilometres away.
Lucien Wells, Australia

I'm about 30 miles away here [from the site of the accident]. I don't think it was very unfortunate. There are obviously shoddy work practices going on there. It leaves me thinking that the government and the industry doesn't really inform us as well as they should do. They obviously haven't got as good safeguards in place as they should have. Obviously the company was putting profit ahead of safety.
Dr Michael Jones, Tsuchiura, Japan

Human kind is dependent on the earth as a living space for many more thousand years to come. According to the theory of probabilities it is just a question of time when the next serious accident takes place. The problem being, that radiation once leaked will persist in its obnoxious effects such as cancer, gene deformation, etc. almost forever.
Ravinder Jain

The primary alternative in the US is coal. How does the total health risk compare between coal and nuclear including the death and disability of miners, death and disability of energy production plant workers, pollutants in air and water and the production of greenhouse gases.
Alan Amenta, Pennsylvania, USA

There's one way of tackling shoddy construction and maintenance of hazardous industries. Those involved in the design and construction of the plants (including the Minister and local governmental bodies) should be forced to live in the vicinity of the plants they are ordering to build.Either themselves or their immediate family. In case of a change of government or contractor, the new people in charge should be submitted to do the same.
Leo De Clercq

As a result of the Chernobyl disaster 400,000 people were forced to abandon their homes forever. 2000 villages in the area were evacuated. An area of 160,000 square kilometres was contaminated and food cannot be grown on this land for 25,000 years. 9 million people were affected of which 3-4 million are children. Incidences of thyroid cancer in children continue to increase and will peak around 2010. The 'Belarussian necklace' is a common sight amongst children there. It refers to the scar left after thyroid surgery. The overall increase in all cancers is incalculable. Only 1% of the agricultural land is safe, according to international standards. Now, ask the citizens of Belarus (a country with no nuclear power stations of its own) if they think nuclear power is safe.
Neil, Scotland

We (physicists) have known about the criticality problems involved with U235 since 1943 when it killed two senior physicists in the Manhattan project. There appeared to have been no trained staff on hand in Japan and no warning sensors had been installed. This is the reason for the investigation and possible charges to follow. In the West believe in private enterprise which has only one motive profit. Others such as the PRC believe that the state knows all. Neither system works. Nuclear energy is at the same stage of development as steam was in the early 1800's, does anybody remember the number of people killed due to improperly built boilers? No, in about 100 years we shall be building safer Nuclear plants, but accidents will happen no matter what !
Nick Long, Australia

I've spent all my life working in the nuclear industry and research. In my experience it is an industry which has been very carefully developed. I'm not going to say it is incident or accident free - what industry is? But it has been very comprehensively researched and well documented and it is also very comprehensively regulated. These regulations are of course a matter for national government but usually they follow a set of rules that have been developed internationally by the industry.
Lyall Smith, Zurich, Switzerland

Human greed and error caused these accidents. The "real" problem of Atomic energy is the disposal problem that will be with us for the next 500,000 years.
Doug, USA


Your comments before we went ON AIR

It's not just the risk of the actual processing of the fuel and the power plants themselves that bothers me but the problem of disposing of the spent fuel. I also think its scandalous that so much money should be invested in such a high-risk industry when so little is being spent on promising renewable energy technologies. I believe the government should provide more incentives to use renewable fuels.
Dave Snowdon, UK / France

Listen. Think. Learn.
Caroline Balll, UK

One thing occurs to me time and again when the subject of nuclear power is raised. If the Victorians had introduced this technology, we'd STILL be spending millions guarding their waste!
John Luby, Scotland

Would nuclear energy be cheap, if the costs of dealing with nuclear waste are also included in the calculations? How could we consider nuclear energy to be safe, given Windscale, Threemile island, Chernobyl; and, the overwhelming public perception that authorities downplay the risks?
Mohansingh, India

What are the current and viable alternatives to nuclear power. My impression is that political will is lacking to fund, subsidise and implement on a large scale the alternative sources of energy . I live in a country where there is abundant regular sunshine . Yet a private installation of solar energy - either for heating or electricity is by far more expensive that simply connecting to the local power company - or worse yet - installing an oil burner . For the moment it appears to be an option only for the trendy, the wealthy, or a very long term investment for the ordinary concerned citizen.
Gustavo Federico Migoya, Girona, Spain

Though I am very much concerned about the usage of nuclear as a means of power generation for our daily domestic and industrial consumption, I do still agree to the use of nuclear power. It is true that there is a tremendous hazard caused if it is mishandled. However, that could be due to the incompetence or negligence of nuclear workers. Therefore, we should have a proper and foolproof procedure as well as safety standard for nuclear power generation. Likewise, I believe there is, at this present time, countless number of very dangerous chemicals that are used in chemical industries. By all means, these health hazardous and equally dangerous chemicals should be our daily concerns as well.
Cheong, Singapore

I think individuals within the company should be held responsible for their actions. It has become very common to hear reports quoting the company for actions rather then the actual person that made the policy or procedure causing the problem. The only way to truly discover if nuclear energy is safe or not is to threaten to prosecute those persons responsible for such accidents.
Maxwell, USA

Nuclear power is to risky, not only in case of accidents. For example, in about one year the reprocessing plant in Sellafield is setting free as much radioactivity as Chernobyl.
Thomas Wolf, Germany

As someone who has happily lived adjacent to nuclear power plants for the last 43 years I would like to offer some of my comments to your discussions.

1. With the increasing debate concerned with global warming, it is important to remember that nuclear and hydroelectric power are the only established forms of electricity production which do not contribute carbon dioxide to the greenhouse gases. The anti nuclear power lobby seem not to realise that it is equally important to be objective in the future choice of power sources that society requires, as it is to cry wolf. There is no such thing as 100% safe.    

2.The nuclear industry has been comprehensively researched, documented and regulated on an international scale over the last 50 years. Probably only the aircraft industry has had a comparable history of research, development and regulation.

3. Thanks in large part to the IAEA and its member states, the nuclear industry and its supply peripherals are subjected to regulations based on internationally agreed rules. These regulations, when complied with, have provided excellent safety records in practice.

4. Government regulators, however, have an equally key role to play in the safety scenario . They have a clear responsibility to assure compliance with the regulatory requirements using programmes of compliance assurance.
Lyall Smith, Switzerland

Disclaimer: The BBC will put up as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.

See also:

01 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
05 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
08 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
30 Sep 99 | Asia-Pacific
08 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
01 Oct 99 | Asia-Pacific
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