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Can we make nuclear power safer?

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STEVE CHIOTAKIS: Because of higher radiation levels coming from the Fukushima plant in Japan, the government there is asking even more residents who live close to the plant to leave.

Of course, we look at Japan’s nuclear crisis as a cautionary tale for nuclear plants in our nation. Peter Coy is a reporter for Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine. In the new issue, he says there is newer, safer nuclear technology on the horizon here and around the world. But the focus on Fukushima and other plants that are decades-old, could overshadow that.

Good morning

PETER COY: Good morning to you.

CHIOTAKIS: What is wrong with today’s reactors?

COY: Today’s reactors are built on a standard that was developed in the 1950s. And the problem is that you can’t just — you know — let the plant go off on its own and shut down by itself. The pumps go out, suddenly you have a huge problem circulating the water that’s needed to cool down that uranium. The boiling water reactor that was used in all of the reactors in Fukushima is used in roughly a third of the plants in the U.S.

CHIOTAKIS: Yeah but the dangers at our plants here are different than the ones in Japan, right?

COY: Basically, you never know what could go wrong and we constantly get blind sided by disaster we didn’t expect to happen. I spokesman from Tokyo Electric Power about this, and I said you know, ‘Were you prepared for a worst cast scenario?’ He said ‘Yes.’ But I said, ‘What about this one then?’ He said, ‘Well I guess we weren’t prepared for a worst, worst, worst, worst case scenario.’ And the thought is how can you prepare for everything? Now the new plants that are being built now, they are substantially safer. They’re about 100 times as safe in terms of the risk of a core failure, as the current fleet of plants.

CHIOTAKIS: Can these be 100 percent safe though?

COY: These nuclear power plants are not 100 percent safe. Any time you’re splitting atoms, you’re taking some kind of risk. It’s really going to be a matter of society weighing the risks.

CHIOTAKIS: Peter Coy, economics correspondent for Bloomberg BusinessWeek. Thanks for being with us.

COY: Thank you.

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