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Why I’m becoming a pro-nuke nut, continued

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

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Radiation and Reason book coverLast week’s post served up facts from Power to Save the World (Vintage, 2008) by Gwyneth Cravens, whose book forced me to see nuclear energy in a more positive light. At the risk of destroying what little credibility I still possess, I’d like to urge readers to check out two even more provocative analysts of the risks of nuclear energy.

One is the iconoclastic political scientist John Mueller. He is best known for claiming in The Remnants of War (Cornell, 2004) and other writings that war between nation-states is declining and will soon cease once and for all. Mueller’s optimism about war’s end has fueled my own. In Atomic Obsession (Oxford 2009), Mueller argues that the threat of nuclear attacks by "rogue" states or terrorists has been greatly exaggerated.

Fear of nuclear attacks by terrorists "has inspired protective and policing expenditures that are likely to prove substantially excessive," Mueller wrote. "Actually, it is not at all clear that any terrorist groups really want the weapons or are remotely capable of obtaining them should the desire to do so take hold of them. If they try, there are a host of practical and organizational difficulties that make their likelihood of success vanishingly small."

Nuclear proliferation, similarly, "has been far slower than routinely predicted because, insofar as most leaders of most countries (even rogue ones) have considered acquiring the weapons, they have come to appreciate several defects: the weapons are dangerous, distasteful, costly and likely to rile neighbors." Atomic Obsession has forced me to reconsider my concerns about nuclear proliferation and terrorism, which I feared might become more likely in a world with many more nuclear reactors.

The other scholar challenging my nuclear views is Wade Allison, a nuclear and medical physicist at the University of Oxford and author of Radiation and Reason (Crown Octavo, 2009). I learned about Allison from Mueller; arguing in Atomic Obsession that the harmful effects of radiation have been overstated, Mueller cites Allison’s claim that "cells have developed the capacity to repair damage caused by low radiation doses and therefore low-level radiation represents no hazard whatsoever."

Allison’s perspective is so controversial that he had difficulty finding a publisher for Radiation and Reason, according to Mueller. In a recent essay in New Scientist, Allison summarized his argument that the risks of radiation have been vastly overstated. Studies of survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he asserts, show no harmful short-term or long-term effects from acute radiation doses less than 10,000 millirem. Radiation treatments for cancer kill tumors with doses as high as 4,000,000 millirem over the course of a month; during the treatment, healthy tissues near the tumor absorb doses up to 2,000,000 millirem. These doses do not destroy most of the healthy tissue, according to Allison, because they are spread out over four to six weeks; healthy cells have time to repair any radiation damage between successive exposures.

International standards, Allison notes, recommend limiting artificial radiation exposure to 100 millirem a year above natural background levels (which, as I pointed out last week, exceed 10,000 millirem a year in some regions). Allison urges relaxing these limits by a factor of 1,000. The limit would thus rise to 100,000 a year and (approximately) 10,000 millirem a month. "Changing the limits would bring practical benefits," Allison stated in New Scientist. "Radiation safety is a major contributor to the cost of nuclear power, so any relaxation should lead to big cost reductions. Given that we urgently need to develop carbon-free energy sources, that is hugely beneficial."

Raising limits on radiation exposure by a factor of 1,000 is almost certainly a political nonstarter for the forseeable future. Moreover, I’m still far too ignorant to endorse without qualification the claims of Allison or Mueller (or even Cravens). But I do think that these and similar views should be included in the conversation we’re having about how to solve our energy problems. These are desperate times, and we must consider all alternatives available to us—including nuclear energy, which just a few months ago I fervently opposed.

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  1. 1. JsemJ 11:51 am 08/23/2010

    This is just the type of thing a populace can demand. A grass roots movement for this type of conversation would clear the status quo for energy policy.

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  2. 2. dbtinc 12:18 pm 08/23/2010

    been to hiroshima many times – it looks like any major japanese city destroyed as part of the war. 100,000′s of Japanese civilians killed as part of "conventional" bombing so I guess the question is what’s the difference? It’s all bad.

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  3. 3. gunslingor 1:11 pm 08/23/2010

    If we had it to do over again, to rebuilt the nations power infrastructure from scratch, by any conceivable fair means of doing a cost, benifit and safety analysis, nuclear would win hands down without question. WITH OUT QUESTION! If you question it, do the analysis, then come back and talk to me.

    Safety: .02% of the weight of most coal is uranium and other radio active elements. With this in mind, a typical 2GW coal plant releases more radio active mass directly into the air we breath in a given year than a typical 2GW nuclear plant uses and stores safely in a 25 year timeframe.

    With that in mind, and considering the severely negatively health effects from burning coal and the likely global warming effects…. Nuclear wins safety hands down. Also consider how many people die yearly at coal plants, compare it to those deaths at nukes.. nuclear wins.

    Cost: Nuclear refuels every two years, Coal typically uses 50 train cars full of coal TWICE daily. For this reason alone, nuclear is far more profitable than coal, even with the rediculous over regulations.

    Benefits – Coal is plentiful… Can anyone think of anything else good to say about coal? I cannot.
    Nuclear: zero carbon, uranium is plentiful (1,000 years worth min), more profitable, far less maintence, inherently simpler process than coal (only one process path), waste is contained (doesen’t go into the air), refuel every two years, less staff, better construction, waste can actually be recycled and used again, waste is highly valueable, does not cause global cancer rates to rise, does not cause smog, provides the foundation for hydrogen or elecric vehicles (retards propose doing this with coal, lol)… do I really need to continue because I can…

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  4. 4. RDH 1:52 pm 08/23/2010

    "Actually, it is not at all clear that any terrorist groups really want the weapons or are remotely capable of obtaining them should the desire to do so take hold of them. If they try, there are a host of practical and organizational difficulties that make their likelihood of success vanishingly small."

    Well I don’t about you but that rigorous scientific analysis completely convinced me. We’ll just hope that in the future what vanishes is the probablility of such an attack and not, e.g., Washington D.C. or NYC instead.

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  5. 5. Kennith 2:00 pm 08/23/2010

    Yes, this author is exactly what I’m hoping for. Nuclear energy doesn’t have near the environmental degradation that coal power does, yet Greenpeace continues to oppose and be the most vocal opponent of new nuke plants based on a flawed argument. It is environmentally costly to keep enriching and throwing away uranium however. Designed correctly, it is power dense – it would take up less land then any other alternative including wind power – which currently offers a better return on investment megawatt then nuclear energy. Nuclear energy has been hindered by environmentalists, it’s own industry, the oil and gas industry, congress, the president, over-regulation, the local community – no-one seems to stick up for the poor physicist who understands that with great power comes great responsibility. I think that nuclear energy – combined with plutonium recycling, responsible waste management that isn’t hindered by fear, and an education campaign could do wonders to support this abundant, cheap fuel source that will be around for centuries regardless – it comes from the sun! An even better technology is RTG’s, similar to your household smoke detector, which is an electrically powered beta emission device – very low radiation, non-harmful, and could potentially power our cars if we let it develop – over-regulation is what killed nuclear energy.

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  6. 6. JsemJ 2:04 pm 08/23/2010

    Well your right RDH, how could we possibly even consider sacrificing our Nation’s Capitol or Largest City. We will have make do with the way things are, heck how much can we actually change things in my lifetime anyways. I imagine you walk your kids to the bus stop, for fear of them being abducted. Nor play video games because they may insight you to murder strangers. Believe that either a Democrat or Republican can do a better job than the other.

    Our society has been shaped by the forces of special and corporate interests at the expense of the citizenry. We are not safe from our own government, let alone a clandestine organization transporting and detonating a nuclear weapon in an urban center. Regrettably your type of sentiment and irrationally emotional response is probably enough for a politician or the coal industry to use as a wedge against forward thinking and experimentation.

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  7. 7. TBW 2:50 pm 08/23/2010

    It’s hard to take any defense of nuclear power seriously until two things happen:

    1) The Price-Anderson Act is repealed. Capping the industry’s liability at $10 billion is theft by another name. (9/11 cost $100 billion). If the industry wants to be taken seriously as a free-enterprise based competitor in the energy market, then they need to setup a $1 trillion nest egg of their own. At this point nuclear power would not exist without this socialistic intervention into the insurance markets.

    2) We have a cost effective and politically acceptable solution to nuclear waste disposal. We can destroy the waste using high energy particles, but that approach would be extremely expensive. Or we can bury the stuff, but no wants it near their ground water. There is a reason why this issue is still around after 40 years. If reasonable amounts of money could fix it, it would be fixed.

    So, please, explain how the industry should address these two gargantuan government subsidies and then we can talk about costs.

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  8. 8. amundsen 3:02 pm 08/23/2010

    The problem is you cannot separate the risk of exposure to radiation to the risk of exposure to contamination. Maybe one might stand so-called "low" exposure to radiations but only one atom of plutonium within your body might create a cancer and it will remain dangerous for several tens of thousands years. What we see here is an attempt of the nuclear lobby to make people forget Three Miles Island and Chernobyl. People living in zones polluted by Chernobyl in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia die from sicknesses caused by the accumulation of radioactive pollutants in their body. So they die from heart attacks at 40 years old or younger, or they might have problems with kidneys, etc. But because their blood cells are not in cause when they die, their death is not linked to nuclear. The forest fires of this summer in Russia have burnt also in places contaminated by Chernobyl. Therefore radioactive particles could have flown and dissipated in zones clean until now.
    If you want to know what people really endure in those polluted zones and how consequences are minimized with the help of both local authorities the IAEA read the book by Wladimir Cherkoff : "Le Goulag nuclaire" (only published in French so far). Do not forget that the World Health Organization hasn’t free speech when it comes nuclear energy and its consequences on health because of an agreement which subordinates the WHO to the IAEA. Consequently the proceedings of two important conferences about the Chernobyl disaster’s health consequences (Geneva, 1995 and Kiev 2000) haven’t been published so far.
    So, as long as the nuclear industry is surrounded by secrecy and lies, a serious and democratic debate about this energy is not possible. What is happening now is just pure lobbying.

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  9. 9. TBW 3:03 pm 08/23/2010

    So, let’s talk about the Price-Anderson act. What you’ve never heard of it? I didn’t think so. It is the legislation that limits the industry’s liability in case of an accident to $10 billion dollars. You heard it right. If any of our reactors goes Chernobyl you the tax payer will be picking up the other $990 billion in costs.

    This is extremely unlikely you say. Well the insurance industry doesn’t think so. The max insurance they will right on a single site is $375 million. The rest is covered by a government run no-fault plan with you, the tax payer, on the hook for anything over $10 billion.

    If you didn’t like Obama-care you should down right loath Price-Anderson. Talk about your socialist intervention in the private sector.

    Anyway, explain how to move this massive government subsidy onto the industry without killing it and we can start talking about that small technical problem known as waste disposal.

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  10. 10. craigrides 3:14 pm 08/23/2010


    You’re alive 50 years too late! You could have worked with Ed Teller on project Ploughshare in Alaska. Have a look at "The Firecracker Boys" by Dan O’Neill. Be skeptical when you are told that the "dangers of radiation are overrated" because the context of the radiation is critical.

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  11. 11. JsemJ 3:52 pm 08/23/2010

    Well that is just crazy that there project Ploughshare. That kind of thing is really scary, but it did not happen, thankfully. It goes to the idea of doing things differently, experimenting and coming up with something new. Back then it was a sense of self importances, these times necessitate new thinking out of desperation.

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  12. 12. ormondotvos 4:00 pm 08/23/2010

    Information is to behavioral change as spaghetti is to a brick.

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  13. 13. Gwyneth Cravens 4:25 pm 08/23/2010

    Epidemiological research indicates that people living in areas with high natural background radiation (the thorium sands in Brazil, the radium-rich area of Ramsar in Iran, the uranium-rich Colorado Plateau) do not have higher rates of radiologically-induced disorders. People living at high altitudes also are exposed to greater radiation than those living at sea-level. The radiation standards developed several decades ago were chosen somewhat arbitrarily. There’s no scientific basis for ascribing health impacts to exposures of 10,000 millirem per year. Actually, millions of lives are saved or prolonged because of therapeutic and diagnostic radiation.

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  14. 14. Gwyneth Cravens 4:34 pm 08/23/2010

    Typo: I should have said, "There’s no scientific basis for ascribing health impacts to exposures <below> 10,000 millirem per year.

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  15. 15. billnyethescienceguy 5:23 pm 08/23/2010

    I just read the second paragraph and immediately decided I had to comment…

    The idea that war between nation-states is declining and will soon cease altogether is ridiculous. The reason there has been a decline to date is because the United States’ military is vastly superior to every other military around the globe. States only enter into a war if they expect they can win, and if the U.S. gets involved they know they can’t. But no nation, including the U.S., can maintain military dominance if their economic position declines. And the U.S. economy has been on the decline (relative to other economies) by a wide range of metrics for a long time now. On our current trajectory, it is only a matter of time before other militaries catch up with ours. When this happens, nuclear warfare will become a reality. Other countries will feel they can start a fight and come out on top. Of course they will start a war. So no, state warfare is not dead.

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  16. 16. Marc Levesque 5:41 pm 08/23/2010

    Some problems that are being adressed:

    Cohort Profile: The German uranium miners cohort study

    Cancer risk around the nuclear power plants of Trillo and Zorita (Spain)

    Childhood Cancer in the Vicinity of German Nuclear Power Plants

    New US study on nuclear plant health risks

    I find the design of plants, oversight, regulation, inspection, and maintenance to be very important issues, as are fuel extraction and storage issues. I’m not sure at this time any new production plants (as opposed to test plants) are a good idea, and I don’t think private enterprise is interested for the moment to take on the complete costs of building a safe plant unless long term waste costs can be left unaccounted for, the cost of building and maintaining a really secure plant drops, or the large costs of inspection is left to a public entity.

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  17. 17. jeancalvinus 6:43 pm 08/23/2010

    the "waste disposal issue" is artificially created. Recycling is by far the safe alternative (and it has the track record in other countries to prove it), but we don’t do it because of a stupid political calculation during the late 70′s.

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  18. 18. rjones137 8:25 pm 08/23/2010

    TBW, Amundsun, John,

    I see a lot of claims, but no back up. The numbers are pure fantasy. For insurance purposes, you should look at the costs for disaster mitigation in the US over the last 50 years. $1 billion is more than the total cost for Nuclear Power.

    Chernobyl is not a true standard. US reactors use more shielding than a piece of corrugated steel. So do the French reactors.

    As far as dangers are concerned, arguing that something never experience MIGHT happen is meaningless. Costs as well as risks need to include the costs of not doing anything too. This should include the costs and impacts of continued burning of fossil fuels, as well as the costs of Solar and Wind. Tidal and wave, bio fuels, the lot.

    All of the analysis that I have seen ignore the impact of the solution being proposed.

    Well, we tried the bio fuels rout, and caused a famine in several third world countries that were dependent on US grain production. And, this was without actually decreasing the importation of oil.

    Hydro has reached the point where any new dam is found to threaten spceies, even entire ecosystems with drowning.

    Walk around any large windmill and count the dead birds. The effect on prevailing winds and rain patterns is not even on the radar yet.

    I live in the desert Southwest US. Solar power plants have a definite effect on the area where they are built. Ever hear of a heat island? Cities create them, so do solar plants. They also effectively roof off large areas of land.

    There are no problem free solutions. Nuclear is the only large power source we have that can be expanded to provide the power we need without destroying the planet.

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  19. 19. Karl Johanson 12:46 am 08/24/2010

    The Price-Anderson Act affects US nuclear plants only. The notion that nuclear industries couldn’t survive without it is thus false, as nuclear plants in other nations aren’t covered by it. The liability limit is $375 million first tier and $12.6 billion second tier (not $10 billion in total). If that is considered insufficient, municipal and state governments can petition for more. The money in the PA act fund comes from nuclear utilities and their rate payers.

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  20. 20. Justin_Case 4:02 am 08/24/2010

    Nuclear reactors still burn fossil fuel.
    =>Supply is limited
    =>No solution for the future besides reasoning about radiation and so forth.

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  21. 21. Nukemann 4:59 am 08/24/2010

    The Price -Anderson act has paid out how much money? $0 Where does that money come from? How much is the nuclear industry privately insured for? Research is amazing, learn the truth! The used nuclear fuel (High level waste) Still contains most of it’s fissile material, enough to power new nuclear plants for hundreds of years, leaving an extremely small volume of waste. Learn the facts, get educated, know nukes!

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  22. 22. DaveMart 8:23 am 08/24/2010

    The notion that the West can determine which nations have or do not have nuclear power is a fairly imperialistic remnant based on a power structure that no longer exists. We can no more stop nation states using nuclear power than the US was able to stop Russia, and later China, and so on.
    All they have achieved is to delay the peaceful use of nuclear power, and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands through coal emissions and the release of huge amounts of CO2.
    The notion that Price-Anderson is some vast and unique subsidy to the nuclear industry is entirely unfounded.
    No major chemical industry has a fund to cover it’s potential risks in full under all scenarios.
    One shoulder held missile in a gas tanker would cause an explosion of nuclear weapon proportions.
    The coal industry does not even pay towards present and certain damage from it’s air and water pollution.
    Many, many times as much radioactivity is released through coal smoke stacks as from all the nuclear plants.
    Renewables are entirely dependent on fossil fuel burn to make them work on any level, and so their collateral emissions are hugely greater than nuclear.
    For some reason those who bang on about the iniquities of Price Anderson never get around to mentioning the $30bn which the nuclear industry has put into a fund for Yucca mountain, which the Government has spent the money for and produced nothing.

    The notion that we don’t know what to do with ‘waste’ betrays either complete ignorance of the subject matter, or more likely ideological blinkers.
    It is useful fuel of which only around 1% has been used.
    Reactors such as Bill Gates’s Travelling Wave can use this fuel, and the energy in it is worth around $100 trillion.

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  23. 23. Bill Woods 11:16 am 08/24/2010

    1) The CBO has estimated the annual subsidy from the Price Anderson Act at about $600,000 per reactor.
    With 104 reactors producing 800 billion kWh per year, that works out to less than 0.01/kWh. Other people have estimated the figure as several times larger, but it’s still nothing like "gargantuan". Meanwhile, the NRC charges an annual licensing fee of $4.5 million per reactor.

    2) Nuclear plant owners have been paying the government 0.1/kWh about $300,000 per tonne to dispose of their spent fuel. That isn’t any kind of subsidy.

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  24. 24. pratandon 10:34 pm 08/24/2010

    I am not a nuclear scientist, but am curious to know. Why not build all nuclear reactors totally underground. In event of a very remote possibility of a nuclear accident, all radiation can be contained below the surface, which anyway has lot of radioactive material.

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  25. 25. Gwyneth Cravens 11:30 pm 08/24/2010

    Actually, many of our 104 commercial power reactors are anchored in bedrock below grade, some as deep as 30 meters. Containment buildings typically have walls 4-6 feet thick made of dense concrete and a lattice of re-bars the thickness of a man’s arm. The reactors tend to be small enough to fit in a suburban kitchen, about 12′ x 12′. There are many other protective barriers, starting with the fuel-pellet cladding, which has a very high melting point, the hollow rods into which the pellets are put, and the water surrounding the bundles of rods. The reactor vessel is made of steel with walls half a foot thick. These various barriers, from pellet to containment building, stop rays and particles; they contain the radiation, even in a meltdown. Any jolt to the reactor results in an automatic shutdown.

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  26. 26. TBW 11:59 am 08/25/2010

    To rjones137 and nukemann:

    Let me say first that I am no actuary. Since you’re reading SciAm I think I can assume that you aren’t either. But the world does contain such people. These are the professionals at estimating risk. These are the people who advise insurance companies on who to insure and for how much. It is these professionals who are saying the risk of a catastrophic failure is too large to insure.

    The U.S. government has looked into the question repeatedly. Please see:

    Just as we require automobile drivers to carry insurance to cover mishaps, the nuclear industry should be required to carry insurance sufficient for a "head on collision". Private industry should be allowed to provide that insurance at the lowest price possible. When that happens we will have a better idea of the real cost of nuclear.

    Only when we have a real cost can we compare that cost to other solutions like solar and wind. Claims to know the real cost of nuclear today are, quite obviously, lacking in rigor.

    The claim that the US is the only one doing this sort of thing is simple false. Just a few days ago India pass legislation resembling Price-Anderson. India’s legislature was told that without liability limits in the $300M range, no private nuclear supplier would consider building a plant in India.

    Finally, I should say that I support a nuclear solution that is cost effective. I spent two years handling uranium on a daily basis in a previous incarnation. I believe a hybrid fusion/fission reactor would address a whole host of issues, from eliminating the risk of melt down to eliminating our stock piles of spent fuel. But I am opposed to being asked to pay for less elegant solutions just because the nuclear industry has the clout in Congress to distort the economic system in its favor. The Price-Anderson act is no different than the ethanol subsidy and needs to go.

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  27. 27. wade allison 2:02 pm 08/25/2010

    I refer to your first paragraph. It is these professionals who do not know. I was recently invited to address a seminar for insurance underwriters in the City of London. They were pleasantly surprised to learn of the relative sizes of harmless environmental radiation doses and beneficial therapy doses. They were not well informed. Society is currently under the influence of collated salami-sliced "expert" opinion, each careful to protect its interests. We should concern ourselves with the whole picture of our environment if we are to survive.

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  28. 28. TBW 2:54 pm 08/25/2010

    Thanks for the link to the CBO analysis. I’ve seen references to it but not chased down the link.

    Two thoughts:
    1) The analysis is for future reactors. Inherent is the assumption that these third gens will be much safer than previous reactors. This could be true. However, my best friend did fire protection for a nuclear power plant in California. He would tell you that the CBO estimate does not apply to our current stock of reactors. I believe that safe reactors can be built, again the question of a safe design that is cost effective still lacks an existence proof. The current French experience in Finland raises questions for me.

    2) Given the small probability of an accident generated by the CBO, why bother with Price-Anderson? If the cost is really that low, why would Congress waste it’s time renewing the legislation? Do you have any back ground info on why it was continued when the CBO shows it is so clearly not needed?

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  29. 29. TBW 4:07 pm 08/25/2010

    I take a historical perspective concerning new technologies. That is, I am led by societies experience in the 19th century when metals first entered our environment in large amounts. Iron, copper, and lead went from rarely being touched to widely used in everyday life. All three added greatly to the immediate quality of life. And society did not just start adding these materials to our lives without any for thought. Consider that companies providing cooked tomatoes in lead lined cans did extensive studies to insure that the trace amounts of lead would not harm the consumer.

    It was only decades later, after our science had made substantial leaps that we discovered that infinitesimal amounts of lead cause problems for the young.

    I argue that our ignorance about the effects of radiation are about as far along as our knowledge of metals poisoning was in 1930. Just as iron and copper were benign, so many forms of radiation will turn out to have no affect on our quality of life. However, I worry about the lead variant that no one will catch until millions of babies suffer decreases in brain development.

    Arguments by analogy are fraught with pitfalls, so let me ask this: When looking at the damage done to healthy tissue near a tumor, had telomere length been affected? I could believe that the radiated cells did repair themselves but at the expense of their cellular lifetimes. I’ve seen nothing on this issue can you direct me to a study on this issue?

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  30. 30. TBW 5:42 pm 08/25/2010

    India just passed it’s nuclear liability law. Please Google the story. Every article you read will repeat the same line:" Without liability limits, no private company will supply India with parts." The nuclear industry in India is concerned that limits are too high! Clearly GE, Westinghouse, and Bechtel feel limits are important. These are the experts I trust on this issue.

    And India is not alone. Every first world country provides liability caps. Why all this legislation for a non-issue?

    I say again, repeal Price-Anderson, let’s see where insurance rates go, and then we can talk about the total cost of nuclear.

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  31. 31. dwbd 9:02 pm 08/25/2010

    Liability CAPS? How about the $85 million liability cap that mega-pollution, mega-CO2, mega-Spill Oil Rigs have long enjoyed in the USA?

    How about the $0 liability Cap that Oil/Coal/NG are getting for any catastrophic leaks from CCS storage. With liquid CO2 pipelines being a Terrorist’s dream. So in 50 yrs a CO2 reservoir ruptures in an earthquake and blankets a City killing EVERYONE – do you think Oil & Gas pays for that?

    How about aircraft liability limits? 911 virtually all the liability went to the public – some $500B worth. Now few insurance companies will provide terrorism insurance. Terrorist attack – i.e. LNG tanker detonated in New York Harbor – Public Pays EVERYTHING! Which they always do anyways, one way or another. New liability limits for airlines is the amount of insurance – and limits are severe, see:

    Speaking of Liability Caps – how about the Caps on GM going bankrupt from selling crappy products and crooked corrupt financial institutions getting bailed out for over $1 trillion by the taxpayer – not because they produced something useful like clean, green Nuclear Energy – but because they were Slimy, Self-Serving, Crooked Sleazoids who ripped off the public and paid themselves big bonuses for doing it. Yep, they deserve a $0 liability CAP.

    And speaking of $0 liability CAPs, how do Coal/Oil/NG get that protection for their deadly Emissions? Why is only the public liable for Global Warming Costs? Since Coal kills about 3 million people worldwide every year at $500k per person that’s a $1.5 Trillion liability protection subsidy for the Coal Industry Worldwide – EVERY YEAR!

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  32. 32. TBW 11:36 am 08/26/2010

    Dear dwbd,

    I agree with you that the government is subsidizing a lot industries.

    Burning coal means moving all of New Orleans in my children’s lifetime. At this point Louisiana doesn’t care because their confident the Feds will bail them out. If that security blanket were removed you might see some southern congressmen pushing a lot harder to change our current energy policy.

    Drilling for oil in the Gulf means a leak sooner or later. The $85M limit for drilling liability is another form of corporate welfare. There should be a minimum insurance level required so that small firms can’t just go bankrupt when things go south, not a maximum to protect the big guys.

    Building more fission reactors means an increased probability of a core meltdown. Price-Anderson is a subsidy for GE and Westinghouse. They agree and have been fighting hard to get a similar deal in India.

    In each case we cannot assess the true cost of ownership because the government is distorting the economic system.

    The best way to determine these costs is for the government to establish minimum insurance levels and for private insurers to set rates.

    Until that happens emotional blogging about the supposed cost effectiveness of this or that technology won’t be worth the magnetic domains it’s stored on.

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  33. 33. James Aach 11:01 am 08/27/2010

    I would like to point out another book that might be useful – something from the inside of the nuke energy biz written to both inform and entertain:

    Having worked in the US energy sector for over 20 years, I’m concerned about the vast knowledge gap in the public and the press and academia regarding the real world problems in producing cheap electric power. Achieving a better understanding of our energy present will surely help us develop a better energy future. For a free, realistic portrait of this generation of US nuclear plants, I suggest my "Rad Decision: A Novel of Nuclear Power." It is written as a thriller to avoid reader boredom – and that seems to be working, judging from the comments I’ve received at the website. Why not hear what someone in the bowels of the industry has to say? It is free online, or it’s in paperback. See


    I got to about page four and I was hooked, I couldnt put it down& It was very easy to read, the characters were well described, and they were vibrant.

    – DAVID LEVY, noted science author and Parade Magazine contributor. You can hear David Levy’s interview with the author of Rad Decision at

    "I’d like to see Rad Decision widely read"

    – STEWART BRAND, founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, National Book Award winner

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  34. 34. jctyler 3:03 pm 08/28/2010

    You write: "most leaders of most countries (even rogue ones) have considered acquiring the weapons, they have come to appreciate several defects: the weapons are dangerous, distasteful, costly and likely to rile neighbors.""

    Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Il Sung are just wetting themselves from laughing. <g>

    And that these weapons are dangerous and, my gawd, distasteful I fear only adds to their hilarity.

    You’re so funny.

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  35. 35. jerrycuttler 12:13 pm 08/30/2010


    Your articles on nuclear energy are a refreshing departure from the usual negative ones that I see in the media.

    You and your readers may wish to read my scientific article, Nuclear Energy and Health, which was published last year in the Dose-Response Journal. It’s available also on the PubMed website at:

    Jerry Cuttler

    Link to this
  36. 36. Fordi 9:47 pm 09/9/2010


    "1) The Price-Anderson Act is repealed. Capping the industry’s liability at $10 billion is theft by another name…"
    It should be noted that in the two nuclear accidents that have happened in american commercial nuclear power, the cost of neither even has exceeded the $10B liability cap, even in 2010 dollars.

    "2) We have a cost effective and politically acceptable solution to nuclear waste disposal…"
    We have two. First, dry cask storage. It could remain there indefintely, and plants are designed to be able to store their lifetime spent fuel supply on site. The other is reprocessing, which is currently banned by presidential (Carter) edict. If we can get that ban lifted, we get rid of the vast majority of our spent fuel while increasing the overall supply of fresh fuel.

    "So, please, explain how the industry should address these two gargantuan government subsidies and then we can talk about costs. "
    Nuclear power plants must, by law, include in their costs a fee to the US government to pay for disposal, and a fee for the liability limitation that has yet to be used. Calling these "subsidies" is either ignorant or dishonest. You choose.

    Link to this
  37. 37. rapier 11:50 am 09/12/2010

    $10 billion in current dollars and 10 years to bring plants online if they start right now. In other words the economics make no sense. The economics never made sense in America because of the insistence that we pretend it was a free enterprise undertaking. They made economic sense in places where the government built and ran them but that can’t happen here because in America everyone rips off the government and the failure of its projects becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. Some nuke will go forward here and several thousand people and a few dozen corporations will make a lot of money on it. It won’t be a disaster it will just be silly.

    That said the problem with nuke power is that it is part of the inferior model of gigantic centralized generation. Distributed systems are far better. Alternative local generation, an improved smart grid, storage and conservation would be better for everyone, on earth. It won’t be good for tiny elites or large corporations however so that’s out.

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