Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Costs, benefits, and nuclear

This Monday's Room-for-Debate featured a perspectives from several U.S. physicists about the earthquake-related damage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. The third, MIT's Michael Golay, points out some of the more subtle aspects of the problem that only an economist could love. (His piece is entitled "Realism about costs and benefits.")

In a study he led for Tokyo Power and Electric, the authors argued that any earthquake large enough to result in problems with radioactivity containment would cause many more direct fatalities than through any associated release of radiation. Thus the marginal dollar (yen) might better be spent on earthquake preparedness rather than nuclear safeguarding, because the former would result in more lives saved.

Not an argument that anybody probably wants to hear right now, but a sound if ultimately sad one.