While the fact that location of nuclear power plants must be in proximity of large sources of water leaves it wide open to natural disasters such as Japan’s recent triple meltdown and Nebraska’s ongoing “island” nuke plants that are surrounded by the Missouri River and just an accident waiting to happen, there are better ways to go about it.
There are two areas that cause nukes problems, both of which concern cooling – hence the proximity to water. The core itself which in most U.S. reactors are boiling water nukes and the requirement of circulating water in the core plus cooling spent fuel rods that have outlived their life as core rods but hold sufficient reactive material that if they are not continuously cooled, will heat up, boil the water in the cooling ponds, eventually boil off the water, expose to air and start throwing radioactive junk into the air and melt down to puddles in the bottom of the concrete cooling ponds.
I cannot speak as to the vulnerability of the primary boiling water loop, where water circulates through the active nuclear core, runs through a heat exchanger to heat a secondary loop which, in turn, drives turbines in the generation of electricity. I don’t know enough about the primary loop and backups to comment on it.
But I can comment on the cooling ponds used to store used fuel rods that can also melt down and cause major radiational releases to the atmosphere.
This failure mode is one that should never happen. Because the Federal Government, the NRC and states cannot seem to work out what the fuck to do with used fuel rods, they are currently being stored – in mass – at each nuclear plant where they are used up. This, as illustrated above, adds a second layer of risk to the nuclear generation of power in that we have two points of failure instead of one. See Fukushima articles ad nauseam.
Simply put, instead of storing depleted uranium filled rods coated with zirconium that is guaranteed to generate hydrogen when heated sufficiently in highly vulnerable concrete lined tanks at each nuke plant, if we recycled the waste and processed what’s left into casks (an already proven technology that glassifies the waste into an almost impervious form of ceramic bound waste) and then bury them (as in the Yucca mountain facility or better yet, dump them in the Mariana Trench where they will be recycled into the earth’s mantle long before the casks degenerate) the problem of depleted fuel rods would vanish..
This will not solve all the problems of nuclear power but it will reduce the accident potential by 30-40%. Using new designs (Thorium, pebble bed, submerged reactor) rather than Hyman Rickovers boiling water submarine nuclear plant will further reduce any risk of radiational leaks.
Why don’t be do this? P O L I T I C S. Not science, I assure you. The NIMBY syndrome is running at full force as far as Yucca Mountain is concerned and the environmental paper work needed to dump glass nuke waste into the Mariana Trench would probably fill up the trench.
So we stumble along from one disaster to another, trashing the only good and reasonably rapid way we have of cutting down on coal and oil produced electricity because we are too stupid to grasp and utilize solutions that are right in front of our noses.
One more giant step on the way to “we are doomed”..