Nuclear Power: An Overview of the Principal Technical Concerns


The introduction of electricity-generating nuclear power plants has been the focus of one of the most intense controversies of our era. While opposition in the United States to the new plants began in a limited manner about twenty years ago, it has grown in intensity and has spread to most of the other countries in which nuclear power has been or is being introduced.

The causes of controversy are complex and are almost as controversial as nuclear power itself. The purpose of this paper is to examine the principal technical concerns about nuclear power; in doing so, I shall explore their origins, their history, and their current state. As I have been either intimately involved in or close to many of these developments, much of the material for this paper is drawn from personal recollection. Because the scientific evidence is limited and occasionally in dispute, unassailable conclusions are not always possible. Where my analysis differs from the views of others, I shall clarify the bases of my views.

This paper cannot purport to be exhaustive, because the technical concerns regarding nuclear power are manifold. This paper will instead focus on three of the principal areas of concern. The first involves early fears about the safety of nuclear power plants. Those fears have been largely dispelled. The second involves the more recent controversy over nuclear power plant safety. The third involves the relation between nuclear power and nuclear weapons.

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