About the SA Blog Network



Critical views of science in the news
Cross-Check Home

Nuclear fall in: Why I’m becoming a pro-nuke nut

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

My belated education in nuclear energy continues. I just read Power to Save the World: The Truth about Nuclear Energy (Vintage, 2008) by Gwyneth Cravens, a petite, energetic novelist and journalist. Cravens contacted me after seeing my chat with Rod Adams, a nuclear-trained Naval officer, on last May (which I followed up with a post). I recently met Cravens during a tour of the Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York State, which she arranged. I’m feeling a lot better about living near Indian Point, less because of what I learned during my tour (although plant employees were quite informative) than because of Power to Save the World.

The 2007 book describes how Cravens morphed from a nuke-fearing greenie who in the 1980s opposed the Shoreham nuclear plant on Long Island, where she lives, into a proponent who believes that we need nuclear power to save us from global warming and other adverse effects of fossil fuels. Cravens repeats the refrain that the risks of nuclear energy have been exaggerated; nuclear power, both civilian and military, hasn’t killed a single person in the U.S. over the past half century. But she fleshes out these statements with surprising (to me) details.

—Day in and day out we are all bombarded by radiation, including alpha and beta particles, x-rays and gamma rays. Americans receive an average of 360 millirem (a rem is a measure of radiation dosage) a year from radon gas and other background sources, cosmic rays (doses rise at higher elevations, where there is less atmospheric protection), consumer products (such as smoke detectors), and medical procedures. (I learned at Indian Point that the 360 estimate has recently been revised upward to 620). A set of dental x-rays delivers 39 millirem, a flight from New York City to Los Angeles 1.5 millirem. Radiation treatments for cancer can deliver millions of millirem to a specific organ and tens of thousands to the whole body. Federal regulations allow nuclear workers to receive up to 5,000 millirem annually, but they receive less than 240 on average. U.S. nuclear plants increase the radiation in their neighborhoods by less than one millirem a year, on average.

—There is no clear-cut evidence of adverse health effects from radiation at levels below 100,000 millirem a year. The health effects of radiation have been calculated from people who received extremely high doses, including survivors of the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Chernobyl accident, and "radium girls" who painted radium on watches and other instruments in the early 20th century. The cancer epidemiologist Charles Key told Cravens that "compared to tobacco, gasoline, drunk drivers or being a couch potato, radiation is of very little risk to most of the public."

—Claims about adverse effects from low levels of radiation are often based on a so-called linear non-threshold model. The model assumes, for example, that if an exposure of n millirem kills 50 percent of a population, then 0.1 n will kill 5 percent, 0.01 will kill 0.5 percent and so on. There is no evidence for this model. Background radiation from natural sources varies around the world from an annual dosage of less than 100 to over 10,000 millirem. (Residents of Ramsar, Iran, receive up to 26,000 millirem a year!) Studies have not found increased cancer or other illnesses in areas with naturally high radiation.

—Fifty plant and emergency workers died of acute radiation exposure in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the U.S.S.R., the worst nuclear accident in history. The explosion contaminated more than 200,000 square kilometers with radioactive fallout, but radiation in parts of this zone is now lower than in Finland and other regions of the world with naturally high radiation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer estimates that radiation releases from Chernobyl caused a slight increase in thyroid cancer but adds that "smoking will cause several thousand times more cancers in the same population." So far, there have been no excess deaths among the 200,000 "liquidators" who helped clean up the mess from Chernobyl compared with controls.

—The worst nuclear accident in U.S. history was the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, which led to venting of radioactive gas. The highest dose received by plant workers was 4,000 millirem, 1,000 less than the annual dose permitted for U.S. nuclear workers. The highest dose for people living near the plant was 100 millirem. There is no credible evidence of increased cancer or birth defects among plant workers or residents near Three Mile Island.

—According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, so-called depleted uranium, which consists primarily of the isotope U 238 and not the more fissionable U 235, "has never caused a case of cancer in animals or humans." The dense metal is used to make tank armor, armor-piercing projectiles, shielding for x-ray machines, boat keels and other applications.

—Nuclear power in the U.S. has grown steadily more efficient and cheaper. Plants now operate at 90 percent of peak capacity (up from about 50 percent a few decades ago) compared with 73 percent for coal, 29 percent for hydroelectric, 16 to 38 percent for natural gas, 27 percent for wind and 19 percent for solar. In 2005 nuclear power was cheaper per kilowatt than any alternative.

—The waste from coal-burning plants is much greater in volume and more harmful than from nuclear generators. If you, as an average American, got all your electricity from nuclear plants, you’d generate one kilogram of nuclear waste during your lifetime, enough to fit in a soda can. If you got all your electricity from coal, you’d generate almost 70 tons of waste. Coal plants emit far more radioactive materials than nuclear plants do; each year a 1,000-megawatt coal plant disperses about 27 metric tons of uranium, thorium and other radioactive substances. Coals plants also emit mercury and other toxins, in addition of course to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. An estimated 24,000 Americans die prematurely per annum because of pollution from coal plants; in China, the number is 400,000.

—Hydropower has killed many more people than nuclear power. About 1,000 Americans have died in dam collapses in the past 100 years. Dam collapses caused by a typhoon in China in 1975 killed 26,000 people immediately; another 145,000 people later died of disease and famine. The output of hydroelectric plants is decreasing because of droughts, possibly brought on by global warming.

—The footprint of nuclear power is much smaller than that of solar and wind. A 1,000-megawatt nuclear plant like Indian Point requires less than two square kilometers of land. Comparable solar and wind plants would require, respectively, 130 and 500 square kilometers of land, and they cannot produce a steady supply of power, as nuclear plants do.

I’ve always had a knee-jerk distrust of nuclear advocates, just as I have of right-wing Congressmen, psychiatric-drug shills and string theorists. But I trust Cravens and the experts she interviewed—including physicists, engineers and epidemiologists—over many years of reporting. If you’re agonizing over whether to support nuclear energy, read Cravens’s book and see if you find it as persuasive as I do. I also welcome (and expect) challenges to the assertions above.


Rights & Permissions

Comments 50 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. RodAdams 2:41 am 08/18/2010

    Bill Woods at 02:31 AM on 08/18/10
    <macleod77 at 04:24 PM on 08/16/10: "there are 104 nuclear reactors in the USA producing 806.2 TWh of electricity, which is 19.6% of the nation’s total electric energy consumption"

    Terawatt-hours, not terawatts.

    That’s an average of 7,752 GWh per year = 884 MW>

    @Bill Woods – no, TWh is short for Terawatt-hours. The US Energy Information Agency reports that US nuclear plants produced 806 Terrawatt-hours of electricity (806 billion kilowatt-hours) in 2007 and 2008 and dipped slightly to 798 billion kilowatt-hours in 2009.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

    Link to this
  2. 2. jctyler 6:07 am 08/18/2010


    <If you were not just a philosopher, but also an energy professional, you would know that there are hard chemical and physical barriers that limit battery energy density.>

    That’s the difference between my work and yours. You stand so close to the trees you don’t see the forest anymore. My job it is to see the whole. Energy storage is not just a matter of boxes storing energy. I am presently in a different context looking at the feasibility of pumped storage power plants in a dry region. People who can build dams can build energy storage pump power plants.

    Other than that, Adrian’s remark about 1kg of nuclear waste per person, i.e. 250 million kilos per today’s USA, kills everything you can throw at us from your lobbying hill.

    Link to this
  3. 3. RedRoseAndy 9:48 am 08/18/2010

    It takes more conventional energy to process uranium than is ever generated by the uranium after it has been processed. The cost of uranium is kept artificially low by not cleaning up the lakes of acid that are needed in order to mine it. The conclusion must be that we only need nuclear power stations in order to create nuclear weapons. Not in my name.

    Link to this
  4. 4. twee643 10:13 am 08/18/2010

    Nuclear energy’s achilles heel is not radiation, it is cost. Despite the numbers provided in this article, the fact is that when you remove the subsidies that Nuclear enjoys, Solar reaches "grid parity" with Nuclear – see – so further development of Nuclear power provides no benefit whatsoever, except perhaps to those who profit directly from it.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Andy J 12:19 pm 08/18/2010

    John – thanks so much for this Cross-check. I followed up on the liquid salt thorium breeder reactors; the best introduction I found is

    Energy From Thorium: A Nuclear Waste Burning Liquid Salt Thorium Reactor, a July 2009 Google Tech Talk found at

    Also read macleod77′s post #23; he sums up Kirk Sorenson’s presentation very well. Thanks Rod Adams for your insights as well, here and on your site.

    A lot of people in this discussion (and everywhere) seem to be arguing that there’s only one answer for all energy needs. I think there’s room for everything – LFTRs, geothermal, hydro on all scales, solar, and OTEC (ocean thermal energy conversion). And as many more good ones as we can invent. We’d choose from the options to suite location and needs.

    For a vision of what OTEC could be, check out Marshall Savage’s The Millennial Project – Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps. Info at

    His OTEC powered ocean colonies (step 2) produce energy, food, fuel, and remove CO2 from the ocean to boot.

    Link to this
  6. 6. hotblack 1:35 pm 08/18/2010

    Very neat: Thorium Reactor vid, 3hrs of Ted Talks compressed into 15 min.

    Very interesting indeed.

    Link to this
  7. 7. DocForesight 3:07 pm 08/18/2010

    @Gwyneth – 10:44 AM – I appreciate your efforts to educate the lay public on the benefits of nuclear power. Your humility at recognizing what you didn’t know and willingness to find the answers is refreshing and encouraging. Those who decry nuclear power out of ignorance would do well to follow your lead – and let the facts speak for themselves.

    That being said, please consider this article and study on "ocean acidification". Assess it based on the facts as you would the nuclear power industry.

    Link to this
  8. 8. marshall13 3:53 pm 08/18/2010

    Nuclear energy may have its advantages, but apparently price is no longer among them.

    Link to this
  9. 9. denismaftei 5:04 pm 08/18/2010

    I see little scientific value in the musings of a self-professed ignorant on the subject, who only bases his opinions on the say-so of others. It is not that I am "against" nuclear power; I am rather pro. Nevertheless, I read SciAm to listen to people who "know" rather than to speculations of people who don’t know.

    Link to this
  10. 10. Bill Woods 6:02 pm 08/18/2010

    I may have been too succinct. (And the "The following is a direct response to this comment." thing didn’t show up for some reason.)

    Back in comment #28, Macleod had taken 104 reactors and 806.2 TW·h and somehow gotten 7,605 MW per reactor.

    Actually, that’s an average power *per reactor* of 7,752 GW·h per year = 884 MW.

    Link to this
  11. 11. dwbd 9:39 pm 08/18/2010

    A couple of people have linked a Nutball study that claims Solar PV is cheaper than Nuclear. The study was so bad, the NY Times went to the extraordinary length of publishing a retraction. The Study is Torn-To-Shreds and Flushed down the Sewer here:

    I have calculated that the true cost of Solar PV including the INESCAPABLE backup in my comments here:

    "…So $69 k per kwavg, about 200 gms CO2 per kwh… pushing avg O&M to about 2.7 cents per kwh. That’s ignoring the opportunity cost to the homeowner for cleaning/maintaining/replacing their own Solar PV & batteries – also some repair/replacement costs.

    Final Result $69k per kwavg capital cost with at least 2.7 cents per kwh O&M cost, 200 gms CO2 per kwh generated, and 20 yr lifespan.

    I would say it would make much more sense for the homeowner to invest (through the utility) in Clean, Green Nuclear Energy at $4k per kwavg capital cost, 2 cents per kwh O&M and about 10 gms CO2 per kwh and lasts for 60-80 yrs…"

    The recent Korean sale to the UAE of $20B for four APR-1400 NPP’s at $4k per kwel is 17X cheaper than Solar PV. And the thermal waste heat is very cost effective for desalination power plants. This in spite of the High Cost of Business in the UAE, which includes widespread Corruption & Payola, Terrible lack of Infrastructure, no Supply Chain, very little Skilled Labor, very high shipping costs.

    To say the USA cannot do as good as Korea can in the UAE, in their own homeland, is tantamount to a declaration that American Workers & Engineers are among the Worst in the World, completely incompetent screw-ups and the USA might as well RESIGN right now as a World Power and admit that it is a third-rate pathetic excuse for a nation.

    Or on the other hand, you could just realize how Big Oil/NG/Coal used their immense Lobby Power to create the NRC – Nuclear Rejection Commission and other Nefarious, Devious Methods to artificially inflate Nuclear Costs and throw Roadblocks in every step of NPP builds. Knowing that only Nuclear Energy is a threat to their Energy Hegemony. They have also Hyped up Renewable Energy which is a good SUCKER TRAP for GULLIBLE FOOLS!

    The truth about NPP costs in the USA:

    Link to this
  12. 12. RodAdams 6:21 am 08/19/2010


    You wrote:

    <That’s the difference between my work and yours. You stand so close to the trees you don’t see the forest anymore. My job it is to see the whole. Energy storage is not just a matter of boxes storing energy. I am presently in a different context looking at the feasibility of pumped storage power plants in a dry region. People who can build dams can build energy storage pump power plants. >

    Hmm. The problem is that looking at forests does not help when you also need knowledge of the details. From a distance, they can all look green. However, there are many questions that can never be answered unless you actually go and see the trees to find out what kind of trees they are, how healthy they are, what kind of creatures live in and around the trees, and countless other details. If you look at forests, but not trees, you might overlook little things like the worms that are killing hemlocks all over the eastern US until it was too late to stop them.

    When you talk about storage in a "dry" region and then mention dams, I would imagine that you have overlooked a few details – like where will the water come from? Have you read about Lake Mead and its falling levels? You might also have overlooked a small detail associated with pumped storage – the system requires elevation differences. I grew up in a state where the highest point in the entire state was only 330 feet above sea level. How would Kansas use pumped storage?

    250 million kilos sounds like a big number, but every bit of the 60 million kilos currently in storage would fit on a single football field and not even cover the goal posts. Isolate a few football fields worth of land, put a fence around it, and tell people not to eat the material stored in the containers. Simple.

    No one in the world has been hurt by exposure to used nuclear fuel because we know how to use time, distance and shielding to protect ourselves from the potential danger.

    I am not a lobbyist who is employed to sell government officials on programs that will benefit my company. I am an advocate who is sharing knowledge about an important and useful technology. There is a significant difference.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

    Link to this
  13. 13. DaveMart 6:35 am 08/19/2010

    The costs to run, as opposed to build, a nuclear plant come to 1.86 cents kwh according to the audited accounts in the US. This includes all the fuel costs, at around 0.49 cents, wages and payment into the waste disposal fund, which has got $30 billion so far to bury perfectly good ‘waste’ aka fuel in Yucca mountain.
    It is very difficult to damage a nuclear reactor by a terrorist attack, as the 3 foot thick containment dome makes a tough target.
    Hitting an oil pipeline or a gas tanker is in contrast trivially easy, and in the latter case would result in an explosion equivalent to a small nuclear bomb.
    Renewables build in fossil fuel use, as they are utterly dependent on them to make up for intermittency, and by their demands make it impossible to optimise the fossil fuel burn as it is at the beck and call of unreliable renewables.
    Extensive and expensive use of renewables in Germany and Denmark has resulted in no appreciable reduction of their very high CO2 emissions, in contrast to nuclear France.
    Renewables in their present form are at best a distraction to moving on to abundant low carbon energy, at worst a scam.

    Link to this
  14. 14. RodAdams 6:38 am 08/19/2010

    @twee643 – The NC Warn commissioned paper needs a close read with a calculator by your side. It also requires a critical thinker who recognizes that there are profits to be made from opposing nuclear energy as well as profits to be made from employing it.

    The folks that profit from opposing nuclear include people who are interested in profiting from wind, solar, oil, coal, natural gas, wood waste, biofuels and geothermal. All of those energy sources have a competitive disadvantage to nuclear on objective measures of effectiveness.

    If you want to read more about how NC Warn paid a couple of lightly qualified advocacy researchers to produce an actively marketed paper that attracted the attention of a gullible reporter from the New York Times, please read:


    Yes, these are blatant self promoting links, but they provide far more detail and additional links than can fit in a blog comment.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

    Link to this
  15. 15. adam.nygaard 7:49 am 08/19/2010

    Your right wing comment suggests you keep to the left side of things (typical anti-nuclear side). It’s sad to think that most people may have negative feelings about nuclear just because the political party they associate themselves with does too. I applaud you and anyone else for listening to the experts rather than the politicians.

    Engineers/Experts will tell you what you SHOULD do. Economics will tell you what you CAN do. Politicians will tell you what you WILL do.

    You’re helping to reverse the above – Thanks.

    Link to this
  16. 16. jctyler 11:55 am 08/19/2010


    <The problem is that looking at forests… from a distance, they can all look green….>

    Somebody’s got to look at the whole from time to time else the nuclear power tree would overshadow all others by virtue of its military funding-by-interest.

    <there are many questions that can never be answered unless you actually go and see the trees… you might overlook little things like the worms that are killing hemlocks all over the eastern US until it was too late to stop them. >

    a) I did that and the one tree that looked most rotten was the "nuclear" tree, that’s why I propose to cut it;

    b) to see the damage by the worms it’s not enough to look at one tree. If they had looked at the whole picture early enough the worst could have been avoided.

    Therefore I maintain that nuclear is the worst solution, both in time, money and result. No other energy source needs to be kept away safely for that long and cost money centuries after its remains have been stowed away (and in practice to rot quietly until an environmental disaster is about to happen).

    <When you talk about storage in a "dry" region and then mention dams, I would imagine that you have overlooked a few details – like where will the water come from?>

    Why water necessarily? (BTW, more people die in the Sahara drowning than from thirst.)

    <250 million kilos sounds like a big number, but every bit of the 60 million kilos currently in storage would fit on a single football field>

    Every seventy years the amount doubles, the facility would cover more than a football field, would have to be maintained for centuries, one major problem in one field could pollute a whole state etc.

    Nuclear as we use it today was an incredibly valuable and absolutely necessary experiment. The lesson we learn is that it’s a dead end. Need to refocus. Sorry, that’s what it is. Knowledge not lost tough.

    <put a fence around it, and tell people not to eat the material stored in the containers. Simple.>

    Simply don’t touch it and it will go away??? Check Asse and Gorleben (and only because German journalists are more investigative and harder to shut up than their US colleagues) …

    <No one in the world has been hurt by exposure to used nuclear fuel because we know how to use time, distance and shielding to protect ourselves>

    Chernobyl, everything’s dying off from tumors and cancers but you’re saying that if it had been properly disposed of it wouldn’t be a problem? Wait until the next Eastern cooker blows.

    Link to this
  17. 17. Sisko 12:52 pm 08/19/2010

    Probably the best economic thing the current administration could undertake would be to vastly streamline the administrative approval process associated with the design and construction of new nuclear electrical power generation facilities (power plants), and then to work to get something like 100 new facilities completed with 4 years. A standard design should be established and built for nuclear power plants (probably 4th generation type).

    This proposal would:
    1. Improve the economy immediately by employing the same types of people as work in the defense industry (a mix of highly technical people and touch labor)
    2. Improve the economy long term by reducing the outflow of US capital being spent on foreign oil
    3. Improve the environment by reducing CO2

    It seems so obvious that I am amazed it has not been taken up by a politician.

    Link to this
  18. 18. lakota2012 6:08 pm 08/19/2010

    sisko says, "…work to get something like 100 new facilities completed with 4 years. A standard design should be established and built for nuclear power plants (probably 4th generation type)."

    While for once, I can probably agree with you on this project, as long as it is GenIV reactors, and that they start replacing our dirty coal-fired energy plants.

    Two questions though….First, how is nuclear power generation going to reduce foreign OIL imports, if most of that goes towards transportation?
    Secondly, and I hate to keep repeatedly asking this, but why do you optimistically think that defense contractors that are always over budget and late on every schedule, should be trusted with delivering such a high quantity of nuclear energy?

    Link to this
  19. 19. lakota2012 6:12 pm 08/19/2010

    Oh, and sisko, what makes you think that the fossil fuel industry interests, especially BIG COAL, their hordes of lobbyists and piles of money, not fight something of this magnitude tooth and nail — basically like they have been doing for decades?

    Link to this
  20. 20. sethdayal 9:38 pm 08/19/2010

    Well for once I agree with you. This is what Big Oil has been doing to nuclear since the seventies when they first started donating big to the Big Green, putting greenies in charge of messing with the nukes at the NRC..

    Nuclear power provides the hydrogen to make synfuels. During the transition to nukes, NG based fuels like CNG, LNG, methanol, DME and Isobutanol can power transportation.NG power and heating load transition to nuclear as gas supplies tighten.

    Call it the nuclear Pickens plan.

    Link to this
  21. 21. jctyler 1:22 pm 08/20/2010

    fyi – contextual – as is:

    Journal of evolutionary biology

    "Historical mutation rates predict susceptibility to radiation in Chernobyl birds"

    Link to this
  22. 22. chevyclutchfoot 3:11 pm 08/21/2010

    Sure, but why pay to reprocess spent nuclear fuel when you can lathe it into projectiles that vaporize on impact, and then fire them out of cannons all over the Middle East?

    The author ought to do a little more research into the CDC’s claim that depleted uranium "has never caused a case of cancer in animals or humans." Google "Fallujah radiation" and see what you come up with. 26% infant mortality, with 75% of those severely deformed? Cancer rates 5x-6x higher than surrounding areas and rising? To save a buck, our government is volatilizing TONS of depleted uranium on the battlefield. This stuff has gone stratospheric.

    Whether or not safe nuclear power is our best way out of greenhouse gas emissions, nuclear power is never safe in the hands of unscrupulous and corrupt officials. Consider all the waste sunk off the coast of Somalia and Italy by the Calabrian mafia over the last 20 years. IN WHAT WAY IS THIS SAFE?

    Link to this
  23. 23. jctyler 3:59 pm 08/21/2010


    <"Fallujah radiation">

    or in the US, google "Three Mile Island veterinary" and that should return reports to the same effect, possibly even mentioning the threats to regional vets by shady lawyers and strange government envoys. Why vets? The US administration and military had shut up the GPs in the area right after the first ones reported strange stillbirths and even stranger deformities but they had forgotten to do the same with vets and some hasty but major leaning had to be used to keep the vets mum if I remember correctly.

    If nuclear was a car they’d shoot it. <g>

    Link to this
  24. 24. Karl Johanson 11:38 pm 08/21/2010

    @ Adrian: "You make some good points but haven’t mentioned a word about nuclear waste disposal which is an ongoing nightmare. "

    Spent nuclear fuel becomes around 10,000 times less radioactive in around 10 years. Depending on burn up, spent nuclear fuel can decay to less dangerous than some grades of Uranium ore in less than a thousand years.

    Natural nuclear reactors at Gabon, Africa (just under 2 billion years ago) produced around thousands of pounds of Plutonium. The produced Plutonium barely migrated through the rocks it was formed in (as evidenced by decay isotopes), in spite of being unclad, uncontained, lacking a bentonite clay surrounding, in spite of the rock being fractured and in spite of boiling water flowing over the Plutonium for hundreds of thousands of years. Dealing with spent nuclear fuel isn’t as big an issue as fossil fuel revenue financed anti-nuclear groups would have us believe.

    Link to this
  25. 25. RodAdams 1:40 pm 08/22/2010


    Some of us get our information from sources other than Google searches on the Internet. We can use those other sources of information to judge the validity of the material that we find using searches.

    I was a nuclear submarine engineer officer. I lived within 200 feet of a nuclear plant for months at a time and was responsible for knowing nearly every detail about the plant and the people operating that plant. I reviewed health records, set up continuing training programs, reviewed all maintenance procedures and performed hundreds of qualification check outs. I regularly inspected the plant, including the areas inside the containment when the plant was not operating.

    I have read dozens of books and articles on the health effects of low level radiation. As part of my professional training, I had to demonstrate a detailed understanding of radiation measuring devices and record keeping.

    You are here blowing smoke and spreading fear about a topic that you know little about. Depleted uranium is actually a bit less radioactive than uranium that comes out of the ground and is a natural component of a number of different kinds of rocks and minerals. You can hold uranium in your hand or carry it around in your pocket without fear of health effects. The main radiation that it emits is alpha, which can be stopped with a sheet of paper, and uranium has such a long half life that the rate at which it emits radiation is quite low.

    Certainly, getting hit with a depleted uranium shell is deadly, but so is getting hit with a shell made of lead or tungsten. I will agree that war is hell, but that is no reason to claim that there is something wrong with using fission power plants.

    Rod Adams
    Publisher, Atomic Insights

    Link to this
  26. 26. jctyler 2:52 pm 08/22/2010


    <You are here blowing smoke and spreading fear about a topic that you know little about.>

    You are here blowing smoke and spreading inanities about an industry you don’t want to admit or are incapable of understanding that it’s become a deadend.

    <Depleted uranium is actually a bit less radioactive …>

    With you, everything nuclear is always safe and healthy and cool and clean. Would you accept a nuclear waste site in your backgarden? What would happen to the value of your house and why?

    If it was as safe and productive as you pretend, there would be no reason for this discussion. The fact is that in all those years your industry never managed to prove its safety, especially because reality has proved them wrong time and again. And yet you keep spreading that inane "safe and healthy" ideology. Why is there so much coverup and lying everytime something goes wrong? That alone discredits everything you say.

    As for your remark on google, true, if one has your insider connections and your sort of help, one doesn’t need Google, one is safely tucked away in a cocoon of subjective thinking. Alas, in a democracy we also have the right to know the other side. Why does that bother you? Afraid we find out things you don’t even want to admit to yourself?

    One last time: the nuclear industry has proven to be far too expensive, far too unproductive, far too unsafe and far too environmentally dangerous to be contending as a serious source of energy in the medium and long term. It’s only alive because of special interests. If a fifth of nuke money was spent on proper energy management R&D there wouldn’t be any need for more nuke power and all of its unpleasant side-effects and hidden costs.

    It is not the military’s mission to be in the business of objectivity and independent thought so why do you believe that you military formation is a guarantee of an independent and objective mind and that it puts you high above the opinions of people who do not have a nuclear military background?

    You either come to grips with reality and move on or you stay behind with your strange love for strange misconceptions but whatever the choice please spare me with your repetitious "cuddly, cozy, comfy, nukey" self-serving echolalia thank you.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Karl Johanson 3:15 pm 08/22/2010

    The internet gets around 16% of it’s electricity from nuclear power plants. Everyone who uses the internet is choosing to use nuclear energy, and thus either thinks it is safe enough to make use of, or is being hypocritical if they say it is too dangerous to use.

    Link to this
  28. 28. Karl Johanson 3:16 pm 08/22/2010

    The internet gets around 16% of it’s electricity from nuclear power plants. Everyone who uses the internet is choosing to use nuclear energy, and thus either thinks it is safe enough to make use of, or is being hypocritical if they say it is too dangerous to use.

    Link to this
  29. 29. GRLCowan 4:56 pm 08/22/2010

    "<em>Everyone who uses the internet is choosing to use nuclear energy, and thus either thinks it is safe enough to make use of, or is being hypocritical if they say it is too dangerous to use.</em>

    Similarly, physicians who oppose bloodshed must neither do surgery nor prescribe it. Vegetarians may, however, speak out loud in forwarding vegetarianism — PROVIDED they do all the necessary inhaling through a filter that excludes even the tiniest flying insects. Thrips, for instance, if they fly. Anyway, very small insects can be suspended in air even if they don’t fly on their own power.

    Horgan mentions how some places have more natural radiation than others. If all this radiation could magically be shut off, and then nuclear power stations were built to replace it, with the same uneven distribution, in some regions there would need to be three stations within five miles of a given spot, and in others 30 stations. This map — — shows the differences across the USA and in parts of Canada.

    You want hypocrisy? What organization’s name is on the banner at , and what kind of boat is the man on the ice pulling?

    — G.R.L. Cowan (‘How fire can be domesticated’)

    Link to this
  30. 30. sethdayal 6:06 pm 08/22/2010

    Falujah? DU? YOu deniers are so funny. The backrooms boys down at big oil musta had a good laugh when they came up with that one, and dumped it on the alternet for fools to look at.

    Y’all see the video of troops dumping white phosphorous on that town a settin folks on fire.

    If we stopped nuke power tomorrow there is enough DU sittin around to fuel several world wars worth of arty.

    If fact the only way to get rid of it would be to burn it up in nuke power plants mixed with recycled fuel rods. Called MOX

    Tyler has to be the thickest denier I have seen in a while. Everything he’s says gets shredded so he just says the same thing again. I’m sure I’ve seen he him on climate issues posting the same bilge from Big Oil’s denier shop over and over and over.

    Link to this
  31. 31. rodrigobernardo 3:09 pm 08/23/2010

    According to wikipedia there were more than 5,000 deaths and more than 300,000 resettled people due to Chernobyl accident.

    Link to this
  32. 32. rjones137 5:35 pm 08/23/2010

    Just read this piece after seeing part tw0.

    You are correct, as everyone who has actually looked at the facts know, including scientists involved in Greenpeace and the Sierra Club.

    One minor nitpick, you state that you are always wary of right wing congress critters. The current evidence suggests that you would be more accurate if you distrusted the left wing congress critters. The current economic problems began just after the Democratic majority came in 4 years ago. Bush managed to hold it off for a little while, but things have really gone in a hand basket after Obama came in.

    You would probably be even better served to distrust ALL Congressmen and Senators. Most are ill informed posers.

    Link to this
  33. 33. rjones137 5:40 pm 08/23/2010


    Speaking as an Electrical Engineer, Geothermal plants have a history of corrosion problems. They also seem to increase the frequency of earthquakes nearby.

    Geothermal plants have been around for over 100 years, but are not currently cost competitive, except in rare locations. The Utility I used to work for would have been happy to put in a geothermal plant, if it could beat the cost of coal based electricity. They never did. It never could.

    I hope that one day that changes. in the mean time, Utilities and Government keep trying to lick the problems. They should keep up the good work.

    Link to this
  34. 34. dwbd 8:52 pm 08/23/2010

    rodrigobernardo you are misinformed, and the Wikipedia states: "…It is estimated that there were 4,995 additional deaths, between 1991 -1998…". This is an arithmetic calculation based upon the debunked LNT – Linear No Threshold Theory of Radiation Exposure and was completely contrary to actual statistical data.

    In the most accurate report on the Chernobyl incident, 31 died as a result of Soviet ZERO-SAFETY-CULTURE Practice. There is zero evidence of any further deaths. See:

    "…the mortality rate among these 103 survivors was 1.08 percent per year… less than the average mortality rate in the three affected countries, which was 1.5 percent in 2000…"

    "…In 2000, the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), the most authoritative body in these matters, and in 2006, the United Nations Chernobyl Forum (a group composed of representatives of eight U.N. organizations, the World Bank, and the governments of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine), stated in their documents that except for thyroid cancers, there was no increase in the incidence of solid cancers and leukemia, and no increase in genetic diseases observed in the highly contaminated areas…"

    "…The most nonsensical action, however, was the evacuation of 336,000 people from the contaminated regions of the former Soviet Union, where the radiation dose from Chernobyl fallout was about twice the natural dose. Later, the radiation dose limit at which people were evacuated was decreased even to below the natural radiation level, to some five times lower than the natural radiation at Grand Central Station in New York City…"

    "…In the most exposed group of this population (those receiving a dose of 5 mSv per year), there was a 17 percent lower incidence of all solid cancers…"

    Notice the AstroTurfers, never talk about the Banqiao Dam Failure which caused 230,000 fatalities. Or the NG Power plant explosion which killed 128 people and destroyed one square mile of Cleveland, Ohio.

    And they avoid all reference to the 3 million people who are killed by Coal Power Plant pollution every year and the 80,000 who have died in Coal Mines in the past 10 yrs. Casualities that could have been prevented if the World had ignored the paid-by-fossil-fuel pseudo-greenies and embraced Nuclear Energy back in the 70′s. It is amazing that anyone listens to a word that they say after the Death & Destruction they have caused.

    Link to this
  35. 35. aggellos 7:51 am 08/24/2010

    Though i do favour safe Nuclear power , the content in this article about the chernobyl is utterly false and without merit which leads me to question the whole topic.

    I was involved in the international response to chernobyl an event which almost caused large parts of northern europe to become uninhabitable for 10,000 years.

    there where 63 deaths alone just among the helicopter crew’s, where this figure of 58 comes from god knows and it required nearly a quater of a million troops and engineers to stop a disaster which would have destroy half of europe.

    the article is an afront to the millions affected by it I could go on and on and on .

    Or maybe they should just go and visit orphanages in the ukraine to see some of the damage caused by the disaster.


    Link to this
  36. 36. aggellos 8:20 am 08/24/2010

    @dwbd please dont use wiki as a validation to arguement or a cut paste response.

    the reactor in chernobyl where built on top of the biggest underground water course in europe which supplied almost 1/3 of the population of north eastern europe with freash water.

    I also sure some of our atomic guru’s will understand what happens when a super heated core meltdown reaches several million tons of cold fresh water.

    A good reference from an eye witness is
    Chernobyl: The Forbidden Truth
    read dont just cut and paste.

    My involement was after the fact by 3 months. watching demolition and repair crews work for just over a minute before have to high tail away from their machines was a frightening thing considering the impact if they had failed.

    I welcome Nuclear power ….but down playing it’s risk is a fools folly.

    Link to this
  37. 37. Sisko 10:09 am 08/24/2010

    @JCtyler- Wouldn’t you agree that the reason that nuclear energy is currently higher cost that necessary due to the inefficiency in the regulatory process? Wouldn’t you also agree that all forms of energy production have environmental risks and costs associated with them, but at the end of the day, humans need/want vast amounts of additional energy???

    @lakota- Regarding your point that building nuclear power plants not eliminating the need to import oil currently used in automobiles….you are correct……building nuclear power plants will not solve all problems in the world. It would be good for the US economy, and would reduce the amount of oil that the US needs to be import.

    Regarding your thought about defense contractors. You misunderstand the problem. The reason defense spending is higher than necessary is generally due to how the government buys things and not the contractors. Defense contractors usually have the infrastructure and experience to manage large complex projects reasonably efficiently. That said, it really does not matter what companies are contracted with to build nuclear power plants. Whoever gets the contracts would employ the types of people employed by defense contractors (a mix of touch labor and highly skilled engineers).

    Link to this
  38. 38. Matthew C. Nisbet 10:56 am 08/24/2010

    Over at my blog Age of Engagement at Big Think, I discuss these books in the context of efforts to effectively communicate about nuclear energy. Include a video interview with James Hansen on why he supports nuclear.

    Link to this
  39. 39. Matthew C. Nisbet 10:57 am 08/24/2010

    Over at my blog Age of Engagement, I discuss John’s post in the context of effectively communicating about nuclear energy. I also include a video interview with James Hansen on why he supports nuclear energy.

    Link to this
  40. 40. Karl Johanson 9:53 pm 08/25/2010

    @ aggellos "I was involved in the international response to chernobyl an event which almost caused large parts of northern europe to become uninhabitable for 10,000 years."

    People went back to work, right at the reactor site, within weeks of the accident. The notion that the area will be "uninhabitable for 10,000 years," is sensationalist nonsense.

    Link to this
  41. 41. aadepade 2:34 am 08/26/2010

    @JamesDavis….we have enough supply of fissinable U-235 for next 50 to 100 years…New fast reactors use U-238..those can run upto next 1000+ years ….also if we run a closed fuel cycle and recycle fuel (like France does) we literally can run it for 1ooos of years….and hopefully bu next 2-3 thousand years (if not sooner) we will find way to do "fusion"….and once fusion is accomplished we will be set for next trillion or so years…I hope that answers your query…I am a nuclear engineer…working in the field for past 8 years so take my opinion on that…

    Link to this
  42. 42. aadepade 2:39 am 08/26/2010

    @Kenn…Probabilty risk and cost analysis has been done for over past 50 years for 104 current operating reactors in US itself. The need is to build new ones to keep up with growing energy costs. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and American Nuclear Society websites provide lots of information on these operating reactors, like their cost-benefit, saftey, PRA studies, radiation and environmental safety studies near sites etc; We have been successfully running 104 reactors for over 30-40 years…France gets 80% of energy from Nuclear. I am a nuclear engineer myself and have been working in risk analysis area for long time now. I have no agendas to push for anybody but Nuclear is the only way to go forward.

    Link to this
  43. 43. harvey wasserman-solartopia 1:22 pm 08/27/2010

    Nuclear power is a failed technology. It cannot compete in the marketplace with wind or solar, and can’t even come close with increased efficiency. No other technology has the risk or proven killing power of atomic energy. I went into central Pennsylvania the year after the accident & can guarantee that people were killed in large numbers by radiation from Three Mile Island. 2400 families sued in federal court & never got a real trial. The French industry is a form of national socialism, and the new reactors AREVA is trying to build are just more of the same……There is much more to say, but let’s leave it at this: why would any sane society pursue a technology that cannot be insured for the damage it could do? we’ve seen in the Gulf the folly of allowing the deployment of drilling techniques that could no proceed without strict liability limits. Lift those limits from nuclear power plants and they would all shut tomorrow. Which they should do. We cannot afford more games of Russian (Chernobyl) Roulette. We have the technology to get the energy from cleaner, cheaper, safer & more reliable technologies. It’s time to leave this uninsurable 20th century radioactive clunker behind.

    Link to this
  44. 44. ScottP88 5:00 pm 08/27/2010

    "It takes two to lie. One to lie, the other to listen." – Homer Simpson

    Link to this
  45. 45. David_Lewis 2:10 pm 10/1/2010

    John states that after reading Gwyneth’s book, he learned that "there is no evidence for this model", meaning the Linear No Threshold, or LNT model which is used by experts to describe the effects of radiation exposure. This is a misinterpretation of the discussions in Gwyneth’s book, and is completely incorrect.

    Gwyneth interviewed one of the most senior scientists responsible for preparing the latest update from the highest level scientific organization in the US, i.e. Dr. Evan Douple, who directed the Board of Radiation Effects Research that oversaw the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council’s seventh panel on the Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII). Quoting Douple on page 120, Gwyneth writes: "BEIR VII faced the challenge of examining all of the world’s epidemiology data to estimate the current risks to people exposed to radiation and then used the new biology data to see what the radiation risk estimates might be at doses below which epidemiology cannot provide statistically significant estimates".

    What did BEIR VII find? I don’t think Gwyneth quoted them exactly. I looked it up.

    Quoting from BEIR VII on LNT: "The committee judged that the linear no threshold model (LNT) provided the most reasonable description of the relation between low-dose exposure to ionizing radiation and the incidence of solid cancers that are induced by ionizing radiation". – page 6, BEIR VII, Public Summary.

    By the time you’ve got the US National Academy of Sciences NRC convening its seventh committee to review everything that is known about radiation to give you an assessment, you’ve got the highest level assessment in the world.

    The problem with LNT is what people not expert in assessing what is known about radiation do with what they think it means.

    Link to this
  46. 46. David_Lewis 2:12 pm 10/1/2010

    Adding to my comment #108: As Gwyneth wrote: "BEIR VII committee was asked to develop the best risk estimates; it was not asked to recommend whether there should be changes in the permissible dose levels for the general public…". and: "As is usually the case on the frontier of any scientific discipline, more data will be needed to come to a resolution."

    More data is not required to make common sense policy however. US lawmakers required the designers of the now discontinued Yucca nuclear waste repository to come up with a design that would prevent anyone wandering around the site thousands of years from being exposed to orders of magnitude LESS radiation than all people who live in NE Washington state for instance. Why? There is no evidence that living in Washington State or anywhere there is greater than normal background radiation causes any harm to anyone. Yucca, thousands of years from now, if it emitted far less radiation, would also be no cause for concern. People are phobic about radiation that can be pinned on the nuclear industry, and lawmakers respond, because of fears trumped up by people exploiting ignorance about what LNT means.

    But this is no reason to add confusion to the mix: John should not be saying there is no evidence to support LNT. Gwyneth’s book does not say this.

    Gwyneth did a great job in writing her book. John is right to highly recommend it.

    Link to this
  47. 47. David_Lewis 2:14 pm 10/1/2010

    Adding to comments #108, and #109: John may have made an error when he says he learned from Gwyneth’s book that "there is no clear cut evidence of adverse health effects from radiation at levels below 100,000 millirem a year". The book quotes several sources saying otherwise. Perhaps John just added a zero to his figure by mistake, but the issue is more complex than he describes. Relevant discussion in the book occurs mainly between pages 112 – 124. Eg:

    " ‘Things are pretty linear for cancer down to five rads’ [5,000 millirem] Fred Mettler told me…. ‘The argument really becomes what happens below that level’ " – page 124

    "There’s no evidence of human cancers from exposures below 10,000 millirem" – quote attributed to Dr. Leo Gomez, page 123.

    In other words, there is evidence for adverse health effects below 100,000 millirem.

    Link to this
  48. 48. Bloodnok 2:59 pm 12/13/2010

    We won’t run out of the ore if we use breeder reactors. What’s more, that reduces the waste disposal problem by about 100 in mass, and 1000 in duration.

    We’ve enough "waste" uranium to provide all our energy for 200 years.

    Link to this
  49. 49. Bloodnok 3:08 pm 12/13/2010

    I get the impression that the cost of decommissioning old plants is chiefly the consequence of running them as a proprietary venture. In Britain at least, Margaret Thatcher’s "privatisation" of the CEGB has led to decommissioning several plants that had seemed perfectly viable, and to "British Energy" becoming a part of the French government’s creation, now the EDF company.
    During the great California electricity debacle, there was some suspicion, not proven, but not vigorously pursued, that some companies had made a profit by scheduling non-urgent maintenance upon their nuclear reactors, and thus aggravating the need for peaking power.

    Link to this
  50. 50. jctyler 12:40 pm 03/12/2011

    You can now go preach your pro-nuke nutting to the Japanese as I’m sure Fukushima needs all the support it can get from you and the other pro-nuke nutters here.

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article