"That’s why I don’t agree with nuclear power, not because nuclear power itself is unsafe, but because the human beings controlling it are."
I’ve heard this argument far too much.
By saying you take issue with nuclear power because human beings are inherently flawed and make sometimes grave mistakes, you are essentially taking issue with virtually every industry in the world, regardless of whether or not you agree with it. If we treated every industrial accident like the Chernobyl accident, the world would crumble. It seems like an estimated margin for human error is only mentioned where nuclear power is concerned, but human error is factored into industry. The Chernobyl accident isn’t even the worst industrial accident in history.
In 1984, a gas leak at a fertilizer plant in India exposed upwards of 500,000 people to a toxic gas called methyl isocyanate that reacts violently with water. 2,259 people were killed immediately, and the official death toll, 3,797, was confirmed later by the government. The government also confirmed that 558,125 people had been injured (~4,000 of which suffered severely and permanently disabling injuries). Dow Chemical refused to acknowledge any blame, attempted to pass it off as sabotage, and denied allegations against it publicly.
In 2007, 32 people were killed and 6 gravely injured in a steel mill in China when a ladle filled with 30 tons of molten steel separated from the rail that connected it to the blast furnace.
More recently, as I’m sure you know, 800 people died when a factory collapsed in Bangladesh.
I could go on, but I’m sure you’ve gotten my point. Demand for the collapse of the steel industry never came, nor did a demand for the collapse of the pesticide industry. Why is nuclear power so unacceptable?
Fear, mostly. The average person has little to no knowledge of this industry, making them easy targets for anti-nuclear recruitment. Shortly after the partial core meltdown at Three Mile Island, the media ran with it. One anchor said something like “We almost lost the East coast” off-air. Another anchor claimed the United States almost lost Detroit. People are so willing to accept the credibility of the news, presumably because the media can NEVER lie about something so no one should ever properly and privately do some more research on anything.
While human error was accounted for in the run-up to the accident, many research committees decided design flaws were the primary aggressor but how reactors proceeded from various things (like the reactor operating at around 30 Mw thermal, which was completely out of its parameters; no RBMK reactors should be operated below 700 Mw thermal) certainly didn’t help. The Soviet Union’s overall safety culture was terrible and this became apparent in the seconds before the explosion, as well as during cleanup operations. I will concede that, but these issues were all rectified after 1986.
In short, “But what about human error?!” appears to be a cop out for providing a real and proven reason why the nuclear industry is the only “dangerous” one.