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Nuclear accidents are rare but costly and a common, but wrongly, held opinion is that, if the external cost of nuclear accidents were included in the price, then nuclear power would become economically unfeasible. Probabilistic Safety Analysis (PSA) is the standard method used to identify potential accident scenarios, estimate their probability, and their consequences with a focus on plant states as well as impact on health, the environmental, and certain direct costs. This methodology has developed substantially and is now used for regulatory purposes but is not without defects, notably when quantifying overall risk (level 3) and is best complemented and compared with statistical experience. More broadly, impacts of accidental releases are highly uncertain due to the difficulty of realistically estimating the effect of low doses of radiation to human health and mortality.
Here, the severity of nuclear accidents, quantified on an approximate integral cost basis and relying on the (conservative) Linear No Threshold (LNT) approach to estimate latent fatalities, is balanced with their rare probability, estimated based on accident precursor statistics. This, as well as more comprehensive sustainability assessments, indicate that the external cost of nuclear accidents is not worse than modern renewables, and far better than carbon-based energy. Further, a meaningful reduction in risk, and convergence of PSA estimates to match experience, is documented—especially in the US and North and Western Europe. However, the sheer potential for major accidents remains, leaving the pragmatic door open to seriously explore technologies with radically less severe potential consequences, as discussed in Chap. 6.
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