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PUBLISHED: Are We Being The World's Guinea Pig for SMR Nuclear Power?

Hard Question #1:

If a small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) in the Caribbean goes wrong, who can physically, or by financial means, stop it before it causes widespread harm in our relatively small archipelagic crescent of geographical space?

This question is hard because it forces us to confront the reality of nuclear incidents and accidents, which can be catastrophic and irreversible. Even if we or the owner can summarily replace the top managers of an SMR plant with more "experienced experts", it may not be enough or in time to avert a disaster. SMRs are a new and unproven technology, and there is no guarantee that they will be safe or that the new hires know anything appropriate to do since the technology would be absolutely novel to them.

How do you fix something like a getaway hazardous process that you do not quite understand when, even at your quickest and brightest, you have no time to learn because "things" are so immediate?

In the event of a nuclear accident the consequences could be devastating for the Caribbean. The islands are densely populated and rely heavily on tourism, which would be severely disrupted by even a hint of a nuclear disaster. The region is also certainly vulnerable to earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural disasters, which could make it difficult to contain a nuclear accident. Jamaican and all Caribbean people deserve a serious and honest assessment of the risks and benefits of SMRs. They need to know that if something goes wrong, there may be no way to stop it.

Hard Question #2: How can we ensure that SMRs are safely designed, built, and operated in the Caribbean?

Hard Question #3: What are the long-term risks of nuclear waste disposal in the region?

Hard Question #4: What are the economic and social costs of nuclear accidents?

Hard Question #5: Are there better proven and practically risk-free green alternatives to SMRs for meeting the Caribbean's energy needs?

Hard Question #6: Can any Caribbean terrorist gang/insurgents or group of enemy combatants gain the capacity to hold citizens or any governing authority to ransom by occupying or targeting an SMR from 200 Ukraine-like kilometres?

These are just six of the hard questions that need to be answered before any decision is made about whether to deploy SMRs in the Caribbean.

As I recall, Jamaica is still within the Caribbean where even a little 5.0-magnitude shaker near Hope Bay vibrated The Turks & Caicos, Cuba, Florida, and Hispaniola. Within exactly three minutes of 7:31 pm that Thursday, one of my friends in America was calling to know if I was OK.

I hate to break it this way: My friend understands geophysics. My daughter is a Yale teaching fellow geophysics specialist, and my late wife was an ODPEM senior director who understood these matters very well as she taught the stuff at university level for many years, up to months before she died of cancer. As a physicist who communicates with my tribe I would be dishonest if I pretended ignorance of the true reason for my friend's call. Here it is:

The Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone is a major fault system that extends through Haiti and the Dominican Republic into Jamaica. It is a strike-slip fault where the motion is primarily horizontal, with the Caribbean plate moving eastward relative to the Gonâve microplate. This fault has been associated with significant earthquakes in the past, including the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake which laid claim to 0.25 million human lives in minutes.

Both Jamaica and Haiti are located in seismically active regions, and understanding the fault lines and tectonic activity in these areas is crucial for assessing and mitigating seismic risks to even the best-designed SMR touted by our wealthiest citizens who know money movements but, respectfully, not the deadly movements of neighbourhood tectonic plates. My learned friend in America does, and called me immediately.

Flow's cables remained unbroken — one more time.

Dennis A Minott, PhD, is a physicist and energy specialist.

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