Monday, January 14, 2008

Obituary: Herbert J.C. Kouts, Nuclear Power Safety Expert

Herbert J.C. Kouts, an important figure in the early years of the development of the American nuclear energy industry, has died at the age of 88 at his home on Long Island. In an obituary in today's edition of the New York Times, Matthew Wald quotes a passage from Kouts that was included in an appendix to a New York State-sponsored report issued in 1983 about the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant on Long Island. As many of you might recall, the plant was shut down by local opposition even as it was just about to being commercial operation:

In an appendix to the commission’s report, Dr. Kouts said: “All careful analysis confirms that the risk of nuclear power is small. The chance of a large accident is very low, and consequences of such an accident would be substantially less than most people think.”

“In the United States, the near-term risk of doing without nuclear power is the risk attached to using oil or coal instead,” he wrote. “The problems that these cause include acid rain; enormous balance-of-payment problems in the case of oil; the risk of war to ensure oil supplies; carcinogens in the air as oil and coal are burned; heavy metals such as mercury, lead and uranium emitted to the atmosphere as coal burns; black lung disease as coal is mined; vast areas of the country ruined as coal is strip-mined, etc.”
Wise words, indeed. Here's hoping that New Yorkers considering the fate of Indian Point take heed of them.

UPDATE: More from Steven J. Dubner of Freakonomics fame and Nick Loris of the Heritage Foundation.

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