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Top 5 reasons why intelligent liberals don’t like nuclear energy

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

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Schematic and description of a liquid fluoride thorium reactor which holds much promise for the future of nuclear energy (Image: Thorium Singapore, click to enlarge)

Many of my friends are science-loving liberals. Many of them are also environmentalists. But most of them are against nuclear energy, and this is where I disagree with them. Over the years I have had several conservations with these friends about nuclear power and most of their objections seem to boil down to a handful of arguments that are well-meaning but often ignore some basic facts. So here’s a purely personal, short list of reasons which in my opinion drive a lot of liberal objections to nuclear power. These are by no means exhaustive, but it just seems to me that there are some simple answers at least to a few questions raised by well-meaning liberals regarding nuclear energy, and it’s worth delving into them.

1. Ignorance: This simple reason remains remarkably pervasive. I am not trying to sound preachy or elitist here but reading two or three books would greatly benefit people who have a gut reaction against nuclear energy. The whole set of beliefs about any kind of radiation in any proportion being harmful, about nuclear plants releasing large amounts of radiation (when in reality they release fractions of what everyone naturally gets from the environment), about nuclear waste being a hideously convoluted and insoluble problem (the problem is largely political, not technical) can be dispelled by reading some basic books on radiation and nuclear energy. The most important revelation in this context is how, in our daily lives, we face risks that are hundreds of times greater than those from nuclear energy (transportation, air pollution etc.) without being nonplussed.

In the half century during which almost 500 nuclear power plants have been steadily humming and providing energy to millions, there have been only two serious accidents – Chernobyl and Fukushima – one of which was a truly rare event and the other was entirely preventable. The number of deaths from these two accidents are a small fraction of the number from almost every other energy source, not to mention from indoor and outdoor pollution arising from chemical and fossil fuel sources. In addition coal-fired plants emit much more radioactivity than any nuclear power plant. The small casualty rate from even the two worst nuclear accidents in history attests to the generally outstanding record of nuclear safety all over the world and in the US in particular. The large-scale adoption of nuclear energy in the US has been thwarted more by political inertia and gut fears rather than by a sound assessment of the costs and benefits. The high costs are mostly capital and have stemmed from unrealistic standards and layers of bureaucracy. If you typically think of problems like waste reprocessing or disposal that on the surface seem like insurmountable technical difficulties, delving deeper will usually reveal that the real issues are political and social. Nobody thinks that waste disposal and making nuclear plants failsafe are trivial issues, but deeper investigation almost always reveals that the situation is much better than most people think and that the principal opposition has been human, not scientific.

There’s several objective books that presents a balanced view of the topic. As a starting point I would recommend Richard Rhodes’s article in Foreign Affairs and his book Nuclear Renewal which talks about the extensive and safe deployment of nuclear energy by countries like France. Samuel Glasstone’s timeless classic Sourcebook on Atomic Energy is still excellent on basics, so is Bernard Cohen’s book. Gwyneth Cravens’s very informative “Power to Save the World” is particularly noteworthy since Cravens was vociferously against nuclear power before she educated herself and found herself in favor of it; it’s a remarkable example of how someone can change their mind in the face of evidence. Another informal, breezy and excellent treatment is Scott Heaberlin’s A Case for Nuclear-Generated Electricity: (Or Why I Think Nuclear Power Is Cool and Why It Is Important That You Think So Too). For those who are ok with a slightly heavier dose of science, I would strongly recommend David Bodansky’s Nuclear Energy. In addition there’s some very promising new technologies on the horizon in the form of advanced new-generation reactor designs and new thorium-based fuel cycles. These developments are geared toward increasing safety (both passive safety and proliferation resistance) and efficiency and reducing cost. Liquid fluoride thorium reactors are especially noteworthy in this regard and Richard Martin’s “Superfuel” does a very good job of explaining their function and advantages. The main obstacle to the testing and use of these designs is again political rather than scientific.

2. Bad psychological connections: There are two bad connections in the minds of many liberals, both of which are rather unjustified and contribute to their dislike of nuclear power. One is the connection between nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Knowing the basics about how different weapons are from reactors can contribute to mitigating this misunderstanding; for instance it’s been known for years that contrary to popular belief, reactors can’t blow up like a bomb. The fundamental fact to be understood is that every power source carries some risks, and the danger from nuclear proliferation mainly exists because of human fallibility, not because of some inherent problem with nuclear energy. The thrust should be at maintaining an international system that safeguards nuclear material from being used for weapons, not to ban the material and technology themselves.

Another flawed connection is between environmentalism and the boycott of nuclear power. Unfortunately die-hard environmentalists are mainly responsible for reinforcing this connection. Their decades-long opposition to nuclear energy started with some reasonable premises, but then mainly descended into irrational, uninformed and exaggerated polemic. Helen Caldicott whose dedicated opposition to nuclear weapons is commendable is a prime example of peacemongers gone awry. Her latest book warps and misrepresents facts, grossly in some cases, and demonstrates ignorance of simple scientific principles. It also indulges in much cherry-picking. A resounding counterexample to Caldicott is James Lovelock, the originator of the Gaia hypothesis, who was staunchly against nuclear power before he realized that it’s the only source that truly promises to be a cheap, high energy-density and low-carbon alternative to fossil fuels. Solar and wind energy could provide a small percentage of our energy needs over time, but Lovelock realizes that nuclear technology is already here and it’s the only form of energy that can be deployed quickly on a large scale to prevent the grim consequences of climate change. The fact is, liberals need to know that nuclear power is completely compatible, if not especially so, with environmentalism. It releases very little greenhouse gases and is a model for efficiency.

3. Waste: A point again related to the first point above. Many people think that this is the single greatest threat from nuclear power, that we will all be inhabiting vast atomic wastelands if we allow nuclear power to flourish. Many of the books cited above have detailed sections on nuclear waste. It’s not a trivial issue, but many of the problems have to do with inefficiency and increased proliferation threats from burying valuable plutonium-containing nuclear waste. If we reprocessed the waste from nuclear reactors on a large scale, much of it would become much more benign and could be handled much more safely in low volumes. Yucca Mountain was a failure because it was a hasty, politically-motivated project that was a public relations disaster. But other enterprises like the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant are much more sound and should be vigorously pursued.

4. Damn them Republicans: There is actually a third connection- that between nuclear weapons and belligerent right wing political leaders that drives liberals’ disdain for all things nuclear. If the erroneous connection between power and weapons takes hold in your mind, then it is not too difficult to perceive a connection between nuclear energy and right wing excesses. Although George Bush Sr. and Ronald Reagan presided over sweeping weapons reduction reforms, in the last two decades Republicans have been vocal opponents of nuclear treaties and compromises. It does not help that climate change deniers such as Republican Senator James Inhofe are also pro-nuclear power. The only way to stop oneself from making such flawed political connections is to be reminded that this is not a political issue. Objections to and support for nuclear power should go beyond political partisanship. The merit of nuclear power lies in the science and thus bows to no political or partisan mongering, and especially not to dedicated deniers like Inhofe. It’s important for liberals to separate the scientific pros and cons of nuclear energy from the political credentials of those who support or oppose it.

5. Fear of the unknown: This is again related to the first point. Fear of the unknown has unfortunately driven negative liberal reactions to many other promising technologies, including vaccines and GMOs. I was at a climate change discussion dinner recently and happened to have an amiable journalist covering the event sitting at my table. We got into discussing the merits and problems with nuclear power and what she said almost perfectly captures the sentiments of many reasonable and intelligent but anti-nuclear people; she said, “I am just afraid of something I cannot see”. Well, if there’s one thing that distinguishes man from other species, it is his ability to uncover nature’s secrets and appraise and harness them, especially the ones that cannot be seen. Man’s great capacity to face unknown challenges, understand them and use them to his benefits underpins much of our technological prowess. We cannot see x-rays, yet have no problem having x-ray scans (ironically something that delivers a greater dose of radiation than nuclear power plants). Only increased and better dissemination of knowledge about nuclear energy can dispel such doubts of the unknown, something which we have proudly done in the past for other technologies like MRI.

The simple fact that a piece of uranium about the size of the tip of your finger can deliver as much energy as almost 2000 pounds of coal should be evidence of humanity’s astounding achievement in wresting nature’s essential source of energy from her. In the discovery of nuclear power we have done the unimaginable. We have brought the sun and the stars to our world. Extinguishing their flames will be conduct unbecoming of our vast and unique place in the universe, and a very great tragedy for our future generations.

This is a revised an updated version of a post first written on The Curious Wavefunction blog.

Ashutosh Jogalekar About the Author: Ashutosh (Ash) Jogalekar is a chemist interested in the history and philosophy of science. He considers science to be a seamless and all-encompassing part of the human experience. Follow on Twitter @curiouswavefn.

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

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  1. 1. LeeKottner 3:51 pm 02/6/2013

    I think you’re doing some cherry picking yourself, here. Case in point: “Solar and wind energy could provide a small percentage of our energy needs over time, but Lovelock realizes that nuclear technology is already here and it’s the only form of energy that can be deployed quickly on a large scale to prevent the grim consequences of climate change.” And yet, German solar power is already producing a large proportion of their energy needs, because they’ve actually invested in it.

    Waste is also a non-trivial consideration. Anything with a half-life that may outlast human language, let alone humanity, and poison us for centuries to come is non-trivial, no matter how good the disposal techniques are. Planning for geological contingencies isn’t easy, for one thing, and we’ve already seen what failure to do so results in at Fukushima. We also fail to plan for the basic human desire to save costs and cut corner. And it’s impossible to plan for good old human error.

    It’s not as if we have no experience of nuclear power failures and danger. That’s not a fear of the unknown. That’s terror of what we’ve already experienced. Nuclear energy is not clean energy. No matter how polluting the production of solar panels is, it will never match how dirty and dangerous nuclear energy is.

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  2. 2. labby5 4:08 pm 02/6/2013

    @LeeKottner more people have died in america from installing solar panels than from nuclear waste.

    This is particularly easy, since the deaths from nuclear waste is zero.

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  3. 3. GRLCowan 4:13 pm 02/6/2013

    The flak is densest over the target.

    Anything that helps slow the rapid rise of atmospheric CO2 by preventing fossil fuels from being burned is, in the bargain, going to reduce Western governments’ income, because royalties and excise taxes on these fuels greatly exceed the subsidies given to their producers. So governments are tempted to block fossil fuel substitutes. A recent example is Japan’s government’s refusal to allow nuclear plants to restart; as a result, between February 2011 and February 2012, its income increased 4.8 percent, even while other sectors of Japanese society were suffering losses of income.

    There is therefore the widespread suspicion that the Fukushima mishaps were not as serious as the Japanese government pretends.

    How does solar electricity production fit into this government-greed framework? Well, no country gets a large fraction of its electricity this way. In Germany, nuclear energy still provides a greater fraction than windpower and solar power put together. And there is a strong limiting factor: if the cost, to government, of subsidizing these very high-cost producers begins to be a painfully large fraction of the revenues it gets from natural gas, it will just deny the subsidies to any new installations. Perhaps to old ones too.

    Solving climate means depriving Big Fossil Fuel — including government — of trillions of dollars. This is asking for trouble; exactly the trouble nuclear energy has been in for many years.

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  4. 4. Carlyle 4:35 pm 02/6/2013

    Thank you Ashutosh Jogalekar. What the west urgently needs is RATIONAL warts & all debate on nuclear energy, comparing all aspects with other technologies. Particularly health issues & conservation of non renewable resources. I believe nuclear is a lay down mazaire & regard the wasteful consumption of fossil fuels for things nuclear could do, to be the greatest crime our generation is committing against future generations.

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  5. 5. Geologon 4:46 pm 02/6/2013

    Cher-no-byl, Har-ris-burg, Sell-a-field, Hi-ro-shi-ma, Fuk-U-shima…

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  6. 6. KaiGeologist 4:48 pm 02/6/2013

    A humble outsider’s view about PV-panels and windmill renewables- decades and billions are gone, results almost zero?

    Which countries have succeeded best in fighting GHGs, ultra small smoke particles, etc pollution?

    Good guys, which are emitting very little GHG s and fine particles:
    - Norway, Island make almost all of their electricity with hydropower,
    - Sweden makes 90% with hydro and nuclear.
    - France makes 80% electricity with nuclear, and soon biodiesel from forest biomass
    - Finland uses increasingly the clean and cheap nuclear power to replace coal – and renewable forest and peat biomass to replace fossil oil with biodiesel.

    Bad guys:
    Denmark, Germany, Spain, California,…. still make about 80-90% energy by burning fossil coal, oil, gas,
    This despite of heavily supporting windmills and PV-panels since 80′s?
    Now, Germany supports those windmills and PV-panels with 30-40 billion dollars a year- and still get only about 4 % of their electricity, according to Vattenfall. Generating capacity can be large, but due to the intermittent nature of wind blowing and sun shining, spikes must be pushed to neighbouring countries… neighbours usually don’t like huge spikes in grid, because it destroys electric machines, computers etc. connected to grid….

    Google: Der Spiegel German energy revolution

    And Spain?

    … In the 2000s, Spain copied the German clean-power aid model, as did from Portugal to Israel and Japan, increasing subsidies to a in 2007. That’s when a law granted 444 euros ($556) a -hour for home rooftop solar panels feeding the power grid, with an average 39 euros paid to competing coal- or gas-fired plants.
    By 2009, the consumer bill for clean-energy aid had risen to 6 billion a year, ahead of the 5.6 billion euros in Germany, whose economy almost four times bigger, according to the Council of European
    Energy Regulators.
    After four successive reductions in subsidies since then, the government on Jan. 27 this year announced the moratorium on aid for new projects. The next month Spain saw itself drop out of the 10 most attractive markets for renewable-energy investors for the first time,
    due to reduced aid, on an Ernst & Young ranking. Spain led the list from October 2003 through July 2006.

    Excellent books about energy policies, emissions and lobbying:

    Tom Blees: Prescription for the Planet,

    William Tucker: Terrestrial energy

    According to Tom, John Kerry works against effective GHG-minimizing methods ….maybe he even gets support from the rich BigOil/Coal/gas lobby ?
    Read and think if…

    In the year 1994 John Kerry killed a really brilliant technology, IFR, Integrated Fast Reactor, developed for many years since 1940′s at Argonne National Labs.
    IFR was already then ready to use- it could have saved our planet, including US economy and exports?

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  7. 7. krohleder 4:52 pm 02/6/2013

    Reasons an intelligent citizen, that does not subscribe to the, liberal vs conservative dichotomy, is wary of Nuclear power: 1. Nuclear proliferation and weaponization. 2. Waste, even if reused, is an environmental plus logistical problem that cuts into the true cost, and the eroi (energy return on investment). 3. Increased security risks in a changing world which also cuts into the true landed costs. 4. Worker increased cancer risks. 5. Uranium mining and waste disposal is often done in the third world at the expense of the indigenous population. 6. True landed costs of Nuclear power, without the subsidies, make it one of the most expensive sources of energy. 7. Coastal nuclear reactors have been shown to kill sea life. 8. With alternatives like solar wind and wave power, plus the recent breakthroughs in electrical storage technology will simply make renewables a safer, cleaner, and more economical solution. 9. With climate change, over population, catastrophes, and terrorism, the ability of our government to maintain the absolute control required to manage nuclear power safely in the 21st century is unlikely at best.

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  8. 8. KaiGeologist 4:55 pm 02/6/2013

    About risks related to nuclear plants?
    TMI 1979 – no one killed or gaught even sick there
    Chernobyl – 31 died in radiation syndrome after getting huge amount of radiation
    Fukushima – 30 000 died because of earthquake and tsunami- but nobody has died because of radiation there

    Google: Dose Response 2010 Chernobyl Jaworowski

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  9. 9. jctyler 5:01 pm 02/6/2013

    “Over the years I have had several conservations with these friends about nuclear power…”

    If that is your point of view from the start… ggg

    OTOH shoudn’t a good conservationist be for sustainability? Unless you imply that nuke is?

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  10. 10. diacad 5:01 pm 02/6/2013

    When discussing nuclear energy, I think the advantages of the thorium cycle should be mentioned. This alternative avoids most of the negatives of the uranium cycle – originally adopted because of cold-war impetus to produce weapon-making material. With the thorium cycle, it is very difficult or impossible to do this. Also, waste products and accidental meltdowns are much less of a problem. A working thorium reactor was set up under Dr. Alvin Weinberg at Oak Ridge and ran many years until shut down during the Nixon administration for political reasons. Now other countries have picked up this technology (China, India, Norway, and others). If we reestablished a serious thorium development program, much of the opposition to nuclear energy would go away, not only among liberals, but among everyone else. Google “thorium reactor” for more.

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  11. 11. bjnicholls 5:07 pm 02/6/2013

    What this liberal has a problem with is that safer, more manageable technologies like liquid-fluoride thorium reactors appear to stand little chance of floating to the top where most of the nuclear development capital is backing old technologies.

    I shouldn’t have to point out that political problems are harder to solve than technical ones, but that doesn’t mean they’re unimportant.

    And the unknown I fear isn’t careful and reasoned use of new technologies, it’s the time-proven reality that greed inevitably drives deadly shortcuts and blinds many of us to rational long-term responsibilities that go with every technology.

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  12. 12. M Tucker 5:11 pm 02/6/2013

    Reasons why I don’t like the nuclear option:

    1 Massive cost. Requires very large government loan guarantees. They take a very long time to build and the cost overruns are so common that is has really become a joke.

    2 Massive demand for water. With water resources increasingly coming under pressure from all the usual sources like agriculture, industry and cities we have added the enormous demand from corn-ethanol and the demand from the burgeoning fracking enterprise for gas and oil. Because of this enormous demand these nukes must be located along rivers, well within the flood plain, or along the coasts of large lakes or oceans. We have already seen existing plants have to shut down due either to high water temperature from the ever more common heat waves or low water levels from the ever more common droughts or floods from ever more common catastrophic rain events. I don’t need to bring up the hazards of locating along coast lines.

    3 The waste problem is not trivial. Just saying it is a political problem does not mean it will ever get solved and some of the hazards caused by the waste occur before it is put in a cask. It was spent rods in cooling ponds that created a lot of the problems at Fukushima.

    Sure some of the engineering issues could get solved but massive cost and massive water demand always go with the nuclear territory.

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  13. 13. KaiGeologist 5:12 pm 02/6/2013

    Burning coal, oil, gas, ..
    - is a serious threat to climate- potentially killing all the biosphere, greenhouse effect.

    - to health killing millions of people globally every year – because of those sub -micrometer sized smoke particles

    - lack of cheap and clean energy makes it impossible to produce low cost food in arid and cold areas – desalination of seawater with cheap nuclear power was envisioned by Alvin Weinberg already in the 50-60′s

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  14. 14. lauriewiegler 5:16 pm 02/6/2013

    Ash, first you need to fix a couple of minor housekeeping details with this article:
    1) There’s several objective books that presents a balanced view of the topic. (Should read: “There are several objective books that present a balanced view of the topic.”) I won’t list the others.
    2) I’ve written extensively on nuclear power. I applaud your intelligence and ability to bring this subject to readers’ attention. However, it’s a little patronizing to dismiss “liberals” as if no “liberal” had ever read a book. (How many times do you advise people to just “read a book!”)

    As a journalist I don’t talk about my own views, but let me say this: it’s never a good idea to talk down to readers. Many so-called “liberals” have sophisticated enough minds to assimilate the vast amount of information on this topic and make educated decisions. The argument that anyone who supports nuclear power is somehow Republican and liberals oppose it because we oppose them is just odd.

    Any educated person understands that nuclear power is a form of clean energy. Any educated person understands what’s happening with climate change.

    It’s up to the individual to decide how much risk he or she wants to have in her/his own backyard, and we take this mindset into the voting booth.

    Further, years ago for a college journalism class I wrote about survivors of Hiroshima. I also know people in Japan who had to go through the more recent horror there. And yes, I’m fully aware that body scanners and microwaves are riskier for most.

    Even still, just because nuclear accidents are rare does not mean one has a right to dismiss the intelligence of someone who does not feel as you do.

    Here’s my story:

    And PS, I do support nuclear power as a rule.

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  15. 15. sjn 5:30 pm 02/6/2013

    Issues ignored here
    1) Not a single nuclear power plant has been successfully de-commissioned. No one has the slightest idea how to accomplish this & the default seems to be just abandon them

    2) THe deep dark secret of any university nuclear engineering department- can the hardware of a nuclear power plant really survive > 40 years irradiation? From working in a univ nuclear engineering dept. I know a major concern is radiation damage to steel over time. Most of the engineers designing the currently operating generation of nuclear power plants say they never evaluated lifetimes over 40 years, though we are currently granting operating extensions past this time with minimal evaluation. Just look at all the random reports of “piping leaks”, “corrosion” etc at various plants. This is all an effect of radiation damage to steel (such as emergency cooling lines) over extended operation. Much of this is inaccessible for replacement / repair.

    3) Studies by the American PHysical Society in the 1970′s indicated that if we take the route preferred by many nuclear advocates & move to breeder reactors which use more highly enriched fuels, that Chernobyl or Fukashima scale melt downs can actually result in scenarios where fuel is concentrated to a critical mass required for a nuclear explosion.

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  16. 16. kugelis1 5:39 pm 02/6/2013

    One does not have to be under the impression that nuclear power plants can explode like nuclear bombs or that there are other risks from sources like air pollution, that are more harmful than the “normal” operation of a nuclear plant, to have serious reservations to the building of thousands more .The article was a little condescending in that he said if only we read certain books, and I have read Rhodes, that one would certainly agree with the author, perhaps he has much to learn also and needs some reading. Eisenhower, in his ” Atoms for Peace” was worried that the if the Soviets were able to have nuclear energy first it would be a cold war propaganda nightmare for the U.S. after we had used nuclear weapons in Japan . So we pushed ahead despite many in the scientific and political arena that worried about proliferation and we can see specifically how countries like India used it Candu nuclear energy reactor to facilitate its nuclear weapon program. Those not worried about nuclear proliferation say ” you cannot put the Genie back in the bottle” but it should not be a Walmart either as corporations and countries all try to make an extra buck at times and will try and circumvent proliferation safeguards.It is this rush to say nuclear is the only way that worries us , a moderate amount of plants may not tip the proliferation scales but to demean and try and derail alternate energy sources and put all the eggs in the nuclear basket will put us way over the tipping point in proliferation control. The quickest, most economical means for energy are efficiency and conservation, lets do more on that angle by being pragmatically cautious than on expanding nuclear power a thousand percent. Yes, Thorium would be a non-proliferation boon but many countries like the U.S resisted using it instead of Uranium as it would limit their weapon making capability. The author repeatedly states that these are political rather than scientific issues, saying that if we all looked at his ” scientific facts” we would have no reservations about nuclear power. Maybe the author should have an understanding that political issues, such as how nations behave, are crucial to this and understand that ” science” does not exist in a vacuum but in a complex interplay of nation states and people and one must also have a well reasoned, and as much as possible, ”scientific” understanding as nuclear energy is as much about atomic power as it is about political and economic power.

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  17. 17. larkalt 5:52 pm 02/6/2013

    I read the book “Sustainable Energy without the Hot Air”, available free at which doesn’t push any given solution, but nuclear comes out looking like the smart choice.

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  18. 18. ronwagn 6:03 pm 02/6/2013

    How about because it cannot compete with natural gas plants. Here are some other reasons:

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  19. 19. gesimsek 6:33 pm 02/6/2013

    How about depositing nuclear waste into a place on the moon or send it to outer space

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  20. 20. Geologon 7:19 pm 02/6/2013

    France is today invading Mali by military ways, in order to control the access to the Uranium ressources of the african country.
    France is the most nuclearized country in the world, and therefore the most dependent on this hyperexpensive and hyperdangerous technology.
    One of the major risks of the nuclear industry is the fact that it mixes the interests of the public military domain with those of private sectors, which leads to secret policies, corruption, poor management, lack of transparency during accidents, dirty wars, and international corruption, besides economical and humanitarian disasters of unprecedented magnitude.
    Nuclear power plants cannot be dismanteled. Once built, the land surrounding them will be irreversably contaminated for hundreds of thousands of years.
    Nuclear waste can´t be safely stored, and the storages are a security risk in front of terrorist attacks for millions of years.
    Politically, economically, socially and scientifically-advanced countries, like Germany and Japan, are abandoning nuclear energy. This is not only due to the fact that nuclear power is the most expensive, nor due to accidents like Fukushima Daiichi, where it was clear that both the electrical companies and the states involved, systematically hide data to the public during accidents, and also systematically lie. Also it is a fact that the future cost of storage cannot be evaluated. Finally, Solar, Wind, Tidal, Geothermal, Hydric and Biomass energies are virtually infinite and free options that have proven their functionality, safety and economy. That is why the nuclear fission technology is the worst option possible.
    The debate is not between liberal and authoritarians, nor between intelligent and foolish, but between good and evil, truth and lie, health and illness, wealth and poverty.
    -In any case it is more than interesting to read recent psychiatric studies on authoritarians (free book “The authoritarians” here, which are described as mentally ill people…-

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  21. 21. mittendrin 7:25 pm 02/6/2013

    How about distrust of corporations who run most of our power sources in the US, including nuclear plants?

    Look at power companies like PG&E who have not kept up with proper maintenance on gas lines, causing explosions like the one in San Bruno, California in 2010. If they can’t handle that sort of basic infrastructure maintenance on simple pipes, how do we know if they’re doing any on their nuclear facilities?

    (Hello, Three Mile Island.)

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  22. 22. GRLCowan 8:22 pm 02/6/2013

    mittendrin: NRC resident inspectors are on-site at nuclear power stations. If there were a gas regulatory commission that assigned inspectors to walk along pipeline routes every day, they would insist the pipes be safer, but they could never be as safe as simple, compact reactor cores.

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  23. 23. Geologon 8:30 pm 02/6/2013

    Many ignore that Madrid, Spain´s capital, had its own nuclear accident: Coral-1. The presidential residency, the palace of La Moncloa, falls inside the contaminated area. The Complutense University of Madrid, the biggest in Spain, is right in the center of this area.
    The accident was published when radioactivity was measured in the waters of the river Tajo in Lisbon (Portugal), where the river that crosses Madrid ends. The accident happened on November the 7th 1970. Despite this, the reactor was active until at least 1987 (many of us think that it was active until at least the year 2001). The accident was kept secret in Spain by the military authorities, and still today over 99.99% of the spaniards ignore its existence…

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  24. 24. dwbd 8:42 pm 02/6/2013

    @ M Tucker:

    1) “…Requires very large government loan guarantee…”

    Wrong. They haven’t accepted even $1 of loan guarantees in the five yrs of the program, because unlike Solar & Wind there are onerous up-front fees for the nuclear “loan guarantee”. The few NPPs being built are using expensive private financing instead.

    2) “..Massive demand for water…”

    Wrong. A ridiculous statement. Nuclear water withdrawals are trivial compared to agriculture – in particular agrofuels. Nuclear cooling water withdrawal is similar to other thermal plants: Solar thermal, Geothermal, Coal & Natural Gas. Air Cooling can be used but it adds about 1/2 cent per kwh to cost. Corn ethanol uses upwards of a 1000 gals of water to produce one gal of ethanol. Focus on that.

    3) “…The waste problem is not trivial…”

    Wrong. It is trivial. Dry Cask storage is simple-minded, cheap and safe for on-site storage or at a basic, inexpensive storage facility. The spent fuel needs to be processed as fuel for GenIV reactors at some point in the future. It contains $65 Trillion of clean energy. ONLY nuclear contains its wastes, which amount to a coke can full for one American’s lifetime electricity supply.

    “…It was spent rods in cooling ponds that created a lot of the problems at Fukushima…

    Wrong. That was all conjecture and hype. It was later discovered that the spent fuel pools NEVER were low enough in water to cause release of volatiles.

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  25. 25. dwbd 8:52 pm 02/6/2013

    ronwagn, the NG industry lobbyist back posting his drivel, that he dumps on every news site or energy blog he can find. As usual he can’t justify a single claim he makes, but just posts links to his NG industry propaganda sheets.

    Deaths per TWh of energy:

    Coal: 161
    Oil: 36
    Biomass: 12
    NG: 4
    Hydro: 1.4
    Wind: 0.15
    Nuclear: 0.04

    NG CANNOT supply our electricity generation without massive super-expensive LNG imports from largely the Middle East:

    David Hughes on the coming shortage of NG in Canada:

    Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth:

    Deborah Rogers explains the myth about abundant domestic Natural Gas, a must-see video:

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  26. 26. dwbd 8:57 pm 02/6/2013

    mittendrin, you have sunk to the depths of absurdity, trying to discredit Nuclear Power, by telling us about the very real dangers of its main competitor, Natural Gas. Duh, if NG is so dangerous than anyone with an ounce of brains would recognize Nuclear Power is the only good alternative. And 100X safer than Natural Gas.

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  27. 27. RSchmidt 9:39 pm 02/6/2013

    @diacad, thanks for adding that. I agree that Thorium Floride reactors (Molten Salt Reactor, LFTR) hold a great deal of promise and could be used to electrify Americas railways, desalinate marine water, and provide hydrogen for fuel cells. The US needs to invest in this technology or risk having to buy it from India or China.

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  28. 28. Matthewt69 9:39 pm 02/6/2013

    I agree with most of this article, but have some other reasons that make me unsure about nuclear power. 1. The tremendous cost – wouldn’t all that money be better spent on other technologies and research? 2. The feasibility of nuclear power for the multitude of small and/or underdeveloped countries.

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  29. 29. outsidethebox 10:36 pm 02/6/2013

    Who will ultimately decide the place of nuclear in the world’s future? It sure won’t be the US. It will be those who need the most cheap energy. China for example. A society that really doesn’t care too much about what American liberals think at all.

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  30. 30. schoolboss 11:12 pm 02/6/2013

    Thank you for pointing out the books, articles, and links to find out more information. I haven’t yet read them, but I want to ask about storing spent nuclear fuel. Would there have to be humans monitoring and working in a facility to store waste at all times? Does it require a working government and tax base to support that work?

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  31. 31. sault 12:39 am 02/7/2013

    Wow, no mention of the Price Anderson Act that FORCES the federal government to pick up the liability insurance bills for the nuclear industry and pay out claims should an unthinkable nuclear disaster actually occur.

    Or no mention of the FACT that many of the core technologies developed for LWRs were developed for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Do you really think India or Pakistan, or now Iran could have used their civilian nuclear power program as a cover for their nuclear weapons programs if the two were as separate as you claim?

    And most importantly, there was NO mention of the nuclear industry’s implosion in the 70′s and 80′s due to spiraling costs that left ratepayers and taxpayers with billion$$$ in bills and bailout debt.

    You don’t have to be liberal or conservative to see that repeating this mistake is a bad idea. As we’re seeing at Vogtle, costs and construction schedules are starting to slip past their already unimaginably high initial levels. Personally, I don’t like seeing a well-connected industry benefiting from over 50 YEARS of government largess sucking up more and more of the finite capital that could be going towards more effective pollution reduction measures. Given the tight time constraints imposed by climate change, the decade or more it takes to build these reactors just doesn’t cut it!

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  32. 32. benf2 1:15 am 02/7/2013

    Not a scientist but….

    I sympathize with the first responders to the meltdowns, they’re only statistics, not people.

    You disclose the “small number” of deaths but fail to mention the destruction that’s also taken place, as if it’s a footnote. The environmental disasters have been severe and ongoing. Medical science has not really been up to the task of monitoring the effects of genetic mutations and chronic radiation syndrome over extended time. It’s that fear of the unknown that scares people (not only liberals).

    The Chernobyl Red Forest for example…

    What’s maddening to me is that this whole conversation could be completely moot with the advent of aneutronic fusion. It has no radioactive waste issues, no ability to melt down or have a runaway reaction because radioactive fuel isn’t used. But we put our billions into thorium, tokamaks or laser based ICF’s which aren’t being developed to be aneutronic and likely won’t be energy generators for decades. Funding for alternative fusion technologies has been effectively shut down allowing for the fission debate to go on at the expense of our health and safety, not to mention the dubious economics of steam generated electricity.

    Focus Fusion is a technology that could soon circumvent the down side of fission nuclear power and it needs to be funded. It would be vastly more efficient, and produce much cheaper power, safely.

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  33. 33. Bob_CA 1:20 am 02/7/2013

    I find it interesting that the author sings the praises of the nuclear industry, but uses a graphic showing a reactor type that has never been put into commercial service as exemplifying “the promise for the future of nuclear energy.” If we can’t use existing technology to make such a claim, why should we be celebrating today’s nuclear? Why do we need to change if it’s so good? I’m old enough to remember when the promise was, “electricity will be so cheap they’ll give it away.” We all know how that promise worked out, so forgive me if I’m skeptical about promises. Personally, I really dislike nuclear power as it currently exists, simply because so many corners have been cut so many times. That and the incredibly short-sighted thinking about the very long-term problem of waste disposal. While a thorium reactor might be much safer, don’t worry, some enterprising corporation will find a way to make it unsafe by deciding it wants a higher profit margin and cutting corners to get it. Then they’ll lie about it. As always. And despite what the author might think, political problems are as real as engineering problems and often more difficult to solve. You can’t simply wave your hand and dismiss huge issues as insignificant just because they’re based on human biases instead of physics.

    All that said, with the available “green” technologies, for the foreseeable future the mix will have to include nuclear. Without it the arithmetic just doesn’t work. That doesn’t make me happy, but IMO that’s the reality of our situation.

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  34. 34. phalaris 2:42 am 02/7/2013

    The pro- and contra nuclear arguments, while highly important, are a bit OT in this thread, which should be about the psychology of the people who assume the the oxymoronic label “intelligent liberal”. These have, in my experience, strong propensities towards know-all-ism, busybodying and follow-the-herd.

    It’s unfortunate (for the environment) that at the moment they can most easily appease these urges by being anti-nuclear.

    It’s why this should be so which needs investigating, as well as the mental state of these people.

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  35. 35. Carlyle 2:58 am 02/7/2013

    Sault you persist in giving misleading information. Recently you posted: “As a result, power exports from Germany to France reached 4 to 5 gigawatts – the equivalent of around four nuclear power plants – last Friday morning according to German journalist Bernward Janzing. It was not exactly a time of low consumption in Germany either at 70 gigawatts around noon on Friday, but Janzing nonetheless reports that the grid operators said everything was under control, and the country’s emergency reserves were not being tapped. On the contrary, he reports that a spokesperson for transit grid operator Amprion told him that ‘photovoltaics in southern Germany is currently helping us a lot.’”
    But it seems this was false.  No solar or wind power was involved.  According to a post from saults link: Jean-Marc Desperrier•10 months ago−

    The German Solar has not such a good value for exportation to France, because the peak demand in France is at 19h, when there is 0 production from solar in Germany. The imports in the recent cold weather, needed because France stopped building new nuclear plants 10 years ago but the increase in consumption didn’t stop, were mostly coming from fossil power.

    Even on the 8/2/2012, 19h, at top demand level of 102GW, 72GW of it were coming from local CO2 free nuclear & hydro. Still cleaner than many other countries. Probably some of the import from Switzerland was also CO2 free hydro. Almost none of the import from Germany was CO2 free, since there was no solar, and almost no wind on that day (low temp coming from Siberia also means very dry weather and about no wind).

    Given the number of fossil plants in Germany, including a large number of coal plants, this is probably still less than the average percentage of fossil fuel in electric energy production in Germany.

    Also meanwhile Germans were also having a cold weather and using a lot of gas to heat their homes with 100% of the energy producing CO2, that why the electricity consumption wasn’t that high. Given how expensive electricity is for home consumers, no way they’d use electric heating instead of gas, and electricity is getting more expensive, pushing them even more toward gas.

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  36. 36. Dr. Strangelove 4:11 am 02/7/2013

    “In the half century during which almost 500 nuclear power plants have been steadily humming and providing energy to millions, there have been only two serious accidents – Chernobyl and Fukushima”

    How many died in Fukushima? Zero. Not due to nuclear radiation. How many died in Chernobyl? About 280 directly attributed to nuclear radiation. Though tens of thousands deaths were projected. More people got struck by lightning since 1986. But nobody bothers to get insurance against lightning strike bec. the risk is so low. If nuclear radiation risk is high, there should be a booming insurance business against it.

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  37. 37. phalaris 5:43 am 02/7/2013

    Dr Strangelove #36:
    The number who died of the direct effect of radiation is less than 100.

    More controversial is deaths due to radiation induced cancer. Official WHO figures estimate 4000 who may die sooner than they would have done otherwise.

    There are much higher estimates, not surprisingly, from left-wing and green lobby organisations, like the people who call themselves the union of concerned scientists.

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  38. 38. phalaris 5:48 am 02/7/2013

    ..sorry: my data is from wikipedia. I know some scorn it, but the entries on stuff like this are under constant attack from lefties and greenies, trying to slant it their way, and if this data couldn’t stand up, it wouldn’t be there.

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  39. 39. Carlyle 7:01 am 02/7/2013

    This is the most authorative report. By the way, the surrounds have become an animal sanctuary.
    Joint News Release WHO/IAEA/UNDP

    5 September 2005 | Geneva -A total of up to 4000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident nearly 20 years ago, an international team of more than 100 scientists has concluded.

    As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.

    The new numbers are presented in a landmark digest report, “Chernobyl’s Legacy: Health, Environmental and Socio-Economic Impacts,” just released by the Chernobyl Forum. The digest, based on a three-volume, 600-page report and incorporating the work of hundreds of scientists, economists and health experts, assesses the 20-year impact of the largest nuclear accident in history. The Forum is made up of 8 UN specialized agencies, including the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR), and the World Bank, as well as the governments of Belarus, the Russian Federation and Ukraine.

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  40. 40. robert.hargraves 9:06 am 02/7/2013

    All the bantering in the comments should not detract from the well-written article by Ashutosh Jogalekar; thank you.

    There is much more information about energy sources and the pictured liquid fluoride thorium reactor in a new book, THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal, described at

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  41. 41. rb 9:52 am 02/7/2013

    In Europe, solar, wind and wave are running pretty good. They are kept that way by heavy state subsidies. The by-products of mfgr the parts is worse than recent nuclear disasters.
    The US Navy has been using the technology for decades. The power-plants in Aircraft Carriers, and Submarines have been functioning in some of the harshest environments and worse possible conditions for any man-made systems to operate in. No leaks. No explosions. Thousands of people, spend years living around reactors, and no cancers, no mutant children. I think that reactors are 25 years between overhauls. I’ve been to Nuke plants. The worse output is steam and a faint hum.
    The Navy works because they spared no expense to make it work! If only private companies would take the same approach. It is probably easier to do the construction on dry land that doesn’t move, let alone dive to xxxx feet.

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  42. 42. curiouswavefunction 9:53 am 02/7/2013

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. This is exactly the kind of vigorous debate we need to evaluate the pros and cons of all energy sources. Hopefully it will lead to a more reasoned and realistic evaluation of nuclear power. I think the two most important points that emerge from this discussion concern the outstanding safety record of the nuclear industry and the promise of new thorium-based technologies.

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  43. 43. RichardHSerlin 2:28 pm 02/7/2013

    “Solar and wind energy could provide a small percentage of our energy needs over time”

    I like nuclear, as it WILL displace coal and oil, and is safer than both especially considering deaths from air pollution, but you’re wrong on solar and this hurts your credibility. You need to read up and fix your ignorance on this. You’ll see the huge potential advances and how likely it is that in coming decades solar can provide most of our power cheaper than coal. In the meantime we do need far more nuclear.

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  44. 44. dwbd 2:41 pm 02/7/2013

    RichardHSerlin claims: “ likely it is that in coming decades solar can provide most of our power cheaper than coal…”

    You’re kidding right? Please explain how you would do that? Start with something easy, say Arizona. And then expand that to something much harder, like Britain or Canada.

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  45. 45. RichardHSerlin 4:21 pm 02/7/2013

    Here’s some references:

    A cover article from this magazine:

    And a post from a top economics blogger with lots of links:

    Link to this
  46. 46. RichardHSerlin 4:23 pm 02/7/2013

    Sorry, here’s the second link:

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  47. 47. RichardHSerlin 4:27 pm 02/7/2013


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  48. 48. dubina 4:40 pm 02/7/2013

    @ curiouswavefunction

    Thanks for the seed.

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  49. 49. LFP2000 5:06 pm 02/7/2013

    Lots of silly straw men here. The only relevant item in your list is #3, the waste “problem,” which you blithely dismiss. I’m glad you’re such a technological optimist (contrary to the evidence) but the fact is that there is NO current cost-effective solution to the nuclear waste issue.

    As a reminder, here’s what we’re talking about:

    Technetium-99: half-life 220,000 years
    Iodine-129: half-life 15.7 million years
    Neptunium-237: half-life two million years
    Plutonium-239: half-life 24,000 years

    Surely, our current technology will ensure the safe burial of these wastes for 24,000 years (6x longer than the pyramids), right? And reprocessing is extremely expensive and still results in waste, just less. Not to mention the by-products being handy for building bombs.

    Try again, apologist.

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  50. 50. RobLL 6:06 pm 02/7/2013

    I think the article will go down in annuls as one of the poorest every to be published by SA. It does not mention any of the truly serious objections to nuclear power. Huge subsidies, almost all of the risk goes to rate payers and government, decommissioning is a seemingly eternal unsolved problem. Like fusion reactors, really good economic fission reactors seem always to be in the future. Incidently, SA a few decades ago twitted the public for wanting fail-safe reactors, your previously worst article. Rob

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  51. 51. sethdayal 6:16 pm 02/7/2013

    All the world’s nuke waste would fit on a football field ,perfectly contained, waiting disposal in the new in service this year Gen IV nukes. Whats left wouldn’t fill a players footlocker By contrast , end of life wind/solar waste will soon now filling landfills with cubic miles of deadly toxic forever chemical waste leaching into the water supply.

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  52. 52. KaiGeologist 6:20 pm 02/7/2013

    Linear No- Threshold hypothesis ( of radiation damage) is outdated- and a hugely expensive hypothesis!
    LNT should be replaced with a J- formed dose-response function.
    Like Aspirin, vitamins, red wine,.. 1-2 pills makes you healthy, but 100 pills kills..
    Actually, cells tolerate big doses (hundred time the natural average background dose 3 milliSv/year) of radiation- every cell has effective DNA repair mechanisms – they had to have, so as to survive 3 billion years in harshly radiating environment…

    See more:

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  53. 53. llmystic 6:22 pm 02/7/2013

    There are significant errors and omissions in this story. The biggest error is to dismiss objections to nuclear energy because the problems are “only” human or political! In reality, it is humans who build and operate these power plants, so ignoring the human factor is absurd! Likewise, politics is a real if unfortunate part of how things get done. When we are discussing such large projects, ignoring politics is also absurd. Human and political considerations are just as important as technological considerations.

    Humans make mistakes — to err is human! Worse, because of our economic systems, we allow greed motivated institutions to build and operate nuclear power plants (and other energy facilities, which can be dangerous also). Greed motivated institutions tend to ignore or work around expensive or difficult safety issues, and they tend to employ cheap workers, not qualified workers, especially as operators.

    Waste disposal may be solvable, technologically. Indeed I can think of a couple of fairly safe and practical methods myself. (Undersea disposal, near subduction zones, would transport the waste deep under the adjacent plate and sequester it for millions of years. Or the waste could be put in sealed containers and buried in tunnels supplying water to a geothermal well. Modern geothermal plants use closed loops so no water from the primary cycle ever enters the environment. As an additional benefit, heat given off by the decaying waste would help heat the water, increasing the efficiency of the geothermal plant, and solving one of the serious obstacles associated with burying waste, which is dealing with the heat given off. This method would also be relatively inexpensive, but impermanent. Deep sea disposal would be very expensive, but permanent.) However, human and political considerations may prevent either of these sane and safe solutions from ever being used.

    The biggest omission in the story is to totally ignore the devastating effects of uranium mining. Generally it is poor communities, or Native Americans, who are stuck with the toxic and radioactive waste from the mining operations. Neither the government nor private mining companies have actually cleaned up the mess from previous mining operations. Miners are exposed to radiation as well as other toxic materials, and this is a known risk. But with the toxic tailings left around the mines, and contaminating groundwater, the whole community is also poisoned. Yes this problem is not a technology issue. Clean up can be done. But it has not been done. Human and political factors can not rationally be dismissed.

    Reactor safety is also a human and political problem. It may be true that flawed technology is not responsible for most of the nuclear leaks, or either of the biggest disasters. Yet the leaks and disasters occurred. The fact that it is “only” human or political error does not change the risk.

    Finally, transport of nuclear materials and nuclear waste is also risky. Accidents happen. Trains and trucks crash, sometimes spectacularly. Nuclear waste could easily be spilled in a populated area. (It is almost impossible to route nuclear material around population centers, because the transportation system runs to and through populated areas. Transport by ship might be a bit safer (for humans), but the material must still be moved to and from, and through, the nearest port.)

    The charge that the nuclear industry and the weapons industry are tied together can not be easily dismissed. Yes, this is also not a technological necessity. But it seems to be a human and political necessity! (Why else would we not have thorium reactors? Which I would certainly favor. Why are we not building hydrogen-boron fusion reactors? Which have been demonstrated to work? Neither of these designs can be weaponized. Sadly, I think that is the primary reason they are not being developed.)

    The fact is, that nuclear energy is expensive, and so economically risky that developers and venture capitalists will not even consider doing it unless they get full guarantees from the government (the public) in case their project fails. Whether the cost is due to technological factors or “merely” human and political factors is irrelevant. These factors also apply to other forms of energy development. But venture capitalists will finance coal, oil, gas, hydro, wind, solar and geothermal projects without requiring government guarantees. Only nuclear is so risky that full government guarantees are essential.

    It is an error, if not an outright lie, to state that solar, wind, and geothermal power could not meet all of our needs. Each alone could supply more than current global energy usage if fully developed. Together, these technologies could supply at least ten times current global energy usage. (We will need more energy in the future. Eventually, we are going to need fusion.)

    As long as advocates for nuclear power continue to ignore our real concerns, those of us who are environmentalists and scientists will continue to oppose nuclear energy, as it currently exists.

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  54. 54. sethdayal 6:31 pm 02/7/2013

    ” Huge subsidies, almost all of the risk goes to rate payers and government, decommissioning is a seemingly eternal unsolved problem. ”

    There are no subsidies or risk to taxpayers and government and since a nuke site will always be a nuke site no need for decommissioning.

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  55. 55. Carlyle 7:52 pm 02/7/2013

    Plutonium-239: half-life 24,000 years
    47. LFP2000 5:06 pm 02/7/2013

    Did you know that you could carry a lump of plutonium in your pocket all your life, bequeath it to your decendants who in turn could carry it for their lifetimes with no deleterious effects to any of them? You have to powder it up & breath the dust before you will come to any harm.
    In other words, more BS.

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  56. 56. Carlyle 8:28 pm 02/7/2013

    Who pray tell, builds the solar, wind, wave & pixie power installations? Not greedy government funded companies surely? Certainly not greenies. Who operates these lucrative subsidised white elephants? Who ultimately pays?

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  57. 57. RichardHSerlin 10:47 pm 02/7/2013

    Somehow my links disappeared (It’s hard to think intentional; these were respected sources including your own magazine) giving evidence for the potential of solar to provide most of our power in coming decades, not some minor amount. I still think we badly need far more nuclear now, because it will, the way the world and governments work, displace huge amounts of fossil fuels, which kill far more and jeopardize the planet. But let’s be honest about the amazing potential of solar in coming decades:

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  58. 58. b k bhaumik 12:43 am 02/8/2013

    It’s fear, an accident anywhere is an accident everywhere. People, in general, fear that something related to devastating atomic bomb has a relation to nuclear power, even thogh it is clean. While handling Mayapuri radiation incident in 2010, we had seen that people want to know about it, people are eager to know.

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  59. 59. Dr. Strangelove 12:54 am 02/8/2013

    That 4,000 estimated deaths by WHO must be taken in the right context. It is a “projection” not an actual body count of dead people. It’s a hypothesis of how many should die not a fact. 4,000 is not meaningful unless you compare it with how many people got exposed to Chernobyl radiation. That’s in the hundreds of thousands. So if you compute the mortality rate, you will the find ave. mortality rate in the US is higher! The ave. American is more likely to die of any cause than the Chernobyl “victims.”

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  60. 60. Dr. Strangelove 1:17 am 02/8/2013

    All the nuclear waste in the US will fit in one shipload and dumped in the Mariana trench. 35,000 ft under the sea is safer than 30 ft under the cooling pools of nuclear plants.

    Venture capitalists will not fund a nuclear plant because it is a mature technology. VCs focus on new emerging technologies like nano solar cells, switchgrass biofuel, fusion reactor, etc. VCs don’t fund coal, gas and oil plants. These are funded by banks. Banks are more risk averse than VCs. If banks fund a nuclear plant, it is low economic risk.

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  61. 61. Carlyle 2:35 am 02/8/2013

    The 4000 projected deaths were made many years ago. There is no indication that those mortality figures have any relation to reality. Yet another unjustified scare. By the way, the two Japanese cities that took direct hits from atomic weapons were not abandoned. In fact their populations have burgeoned. The present population is not at risk & has not been for at least half a centaury.

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  62. 62. engineer238 2:42 am 02/8/2013


    You put a lot of good thought into your arguments and some of your concerns are common and well founded; however, there is some misinformation and invalid assumptions in your thought process. I will go through it paragraph by paragraph.

    1. Your insinuation that because humans design nuclear power plants they are somehow riskier than anything else we use all of which is human designed. The nuclear industry record in the US speaks for itself.

    2. Greed does not just motivate institutions to ignore important safety issues. In industries like nuclear it actually does the opposite. If the nuclear industry were to just ignore safety concerns then there would be an accident and the whole industry would be shutdown. The nuclear industry, in order to make money must ensure that they plants operate without putting the safety of civilians at risk. Many costs associated with safety through regulation are artificial due to requirements that are too specific and do not allow industries to come up with creative, cheaper, solutions to keep the plant, personal, and civilians safe. I can guaranteed you that if regulation were gone tomorrow the nuclear industry would not hire unqualified operators. Your assertion is false and has no factual basis. I don’t mean that offensively, that is just the truth of the matter.

    3. These ideas for disposal are interesting but not all good. You would not want to use water for a coolant in geological storage due to aquifer contamination. Typically “permanent” storage of nuclear fuel should be some sort of dry-cask, or water-free environment. It is not really a good idea to have nuclear fuel stored in water due to criticality safety. This is when the spent fuel in storage obtains some sort of arrangement and environmental conditions that it becomes active temporarily or even for a prolonged period. This becomes a concern for spent fuel failure where rods break and contaminants can leak out of the fuel rods. The idea to use spent fuel as pre-heaters for geothermal plants would be good if it were not for the economics and realities of spent fuel. Fuel may only be removed from the spent fuel pool when it has decayed enough that the heat generated from decay will not cause the fuel rods to catch fire spontaneously in air. When spent fuel leaves the reactor it never leaves the water going straight to the spent fuel pool. Once the fuel has decayed it goes into dry-cask storage where it can decay further. At this point the fuel would generate orders of magnitude less energy than it did in the core. As a frame of reference, ~7sec after the core is shut down the fuel generates from radioactive decay less than 10% of its original power level. After a day it is at 1%, and after a month it is at about 0.1%. This may seem like a lot but you must remember that this is for all the fuel not each individual assembly. When you take the assemblies into account you are looking at about 0.0001% for assembly; i.e. 1kW after a month. Now you have to consider the economics and safety issues associated with moving nuclear fuel into and out of the system, including shipping the fuel to the geothermal plant. Such a procedure would require the geothermal plant to shut down roughly every few months to about a year for refueling. This refueling would last at least a week, a period during which the plant would take an economic loss because it is not producing electricity.

    4. I actually agree there are historic problems with uranium mining that have not been addressed; however, you are incorrect to assert that the same practices are still used today. Regulatory bodies are actively involved in the mining process, including the NRC. There are limits on the dose to workers. The exposure to workers is acceptably small today. This exposure is kept low by the nuclear standards of ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) and time, distance, shielding. Specifically the ALARA principle of exposure in mining can be kept low by limiting the time workers are allowed to work in the mine. To keep workers safe from inhaling the radon emitted by uranium the mines are ventilated. Much of US mining is done by In Situ Leaching, where the uranium is chemically leached from the soil and then pumped to the surface. This process is not allowed near potable water sources, and is regulated from cradle to grave by the NRC. Cradle to grave is a phrase used in the nuclear industry to describe the industrial pathway of uranium from the when it leaves the ground to when it is stored as spent fuel. (Your concerns are suspiciously similar to the wikipedia page, you may want to do more research. BTW even the wiki page comments on the improvement in working conditions) I will also note that technically the NRC does not consider convential uranium mining to be under its jurisdication and is thus regulated by other regulatory bodies.

    5. You can always blame someone or something for leak, but at the end of the day accidents happen no matter what the industry is. In most industries people get severely hurt or die, but the US nuclear industry has a near perfect record on containment. There are leaks but they are by design contained to the site. Due to strict regulation on radiation safety deaths in nuclear are not from radiation exposure but from accidents that would occur in nearly any other profession, e.g. falling off a ladder, falling objects, equipment failures. You cannot attribute these as a problem with nuclear technology but technology in general. Even when you get in your car there is a risk that your brakes may fail but you don’t necessarily blame the engineer. Some people might blame the manufacturer but at the end of the day all technology has risk that we must accept to use it. Even if you take the wiki approach to nuclear accidents there have only been 99 significant nuclear accidents in the world. Only one severe accident in the US has killed any one (though other less severe accidents have resulted in deaths, these were mostly electricution or falls during routine maintenance). This accident was in 1961 and occured at a national lab during research operations killing operators. Very few other accidents resulted in loss of life to personel only. Criticality accidents (nuclear reaction related) have only killed 7 people in the US since 1946. No person in the public has ever been killed by commercial nuclear power accidents. This is a difficult record to beat, so few industries can make the same claim. The US nuclear power is actually amongst the safest industries for both workers and the public.

    There has only been one meltdown in the US and that is three mile island. The disaster that happened there could be classified as what is known as a small break loss of coolant accident. Specifically a valve in pressurizer failed and got stuck open. This cause the pressure to drop in the system, and the operators responded to raise the pressure not realizing that it was a stuck valve causing the pressure change. The accident followed from there. The consequences of that event were extremely minimal to civilians. Not one person died and a temporary iodine release occurred which was mitigated by having people stay inside for the few hours it took to decay. This was the consequence of a full blown meltdown. That is incredibly impressive. If an accident like that happens in a coal plants the plant explodes and workers die. This record is because there is an insanely strong safety culture in the nuclear industry. Safety is what nuclear engineers think about when they wake up and go to bed. Everything is about safety. I doubt there are many other industry that can say that the worst accident that has ever happened in their industry did not kill a soul. After three-mile island a sensor was added to the valve and plants now shut down automatically if the pressure drops too low (i.e. loss of coolant accident). The industry does not just wait for accident either, most work today is done in support of the operations of existing plants. So much work is put into defining safe operating modes for plants ahead of time as well as supporting the plants when they experience problems such as leaks. They do not fool around. If a leak is serious enough the plant is shut down. In the nuclear industry everything is design to be safe for a lifetime basis because replacement and accidents are expensive. This is different than any other power industry where components do not necessarily have to last 40-80 years like reactor pressure vessels.

    6. Again nuclear engineers always have safety on the forefront of their minds. A nuclear engineer understands that trains are not perfect so they design the shipping caskets for fuel to be able to withstand a potential accident. Your assertion that nuclear wast could easily be spilled in a populated area is false and has no factual basis. You should seriously take a look at a nuclear fuel shipping cask. They are like cylindrical tanks. They are specially designed to survive any type of impact or environment they will encounter including high heat and submersion. You really have not done your research on this one. You mention that fuel should be transported by ship. It already is. This is done in situations where it makes sense to have a railroad pass through a port but not to the nuclear power plant, which means coastal plants. While it may not be possible to route nuclear fuel around all populations it is possible to route it away from high density population centers. Spent fuel ends up in locations where it is far away from people for either temporary or even long term storage. Certain plants in the US act as storage centers for other facilities and these plants have dedicated rail entering the grounds of the nuclear power plant.

    7. Through the national laboratories the nuclear weapons and power industries are tied through research into fundamental science; for example, radiation shielding, radiation transport modeling, nuclear materials storage, ect. Past his small link there is absolutely no link between the nuclear power industry and nuclear weapons industry. This link also only exists at the specific national labs dedicated to the maintenance of the nuclear arsenal. An link between weapons and power can be dismissed, as non-exist outside of governmental sponsored research. We are not building hydrogen-boron fusion reactors because of the support system requirements to maintain a reaction. Fusion reactors are not even a proven concept. The H-B concept has only be shown by theory and by proof of principal experiments. This is idea is no where close to engineering and implementation. With the speed of development in the nuclear industry it will be decades before the first proto-type could even be constructed and fully tested. The nuclear industry is not building any new type of reactor not because of weapons but because the industry and NRC are incredibly cautious. A PWR or BWR cannot be weaponized directly but we still build them. Again there is absolutely no connection to the commercial power industry and weapons. Most nuclear engineering programs do not even teach weapons, they teach power generation, radiation physics, or health physics. This may be hard for you to accept but it is absolutely true, and if you are going to move forward in your understanding of nuclear technology you must make the distinction between weapons and electric power generation. The two have very little in common when it comes to engineering practices and principles.

    8. This economic truth is true in the current market; however, this is only true because of the idea of economy of scale ingrained in the industry. With the emergence of small modular reactors the economic paradigm of nuclear power may soon change. The idea behind SMR is that the loss in power from a less powerful reactor can be regained from lower marginal construction and assembly costs (i.e. capital investment). These SMR will require less capital investment cost as well as a smaller marginal construction costs due to the modular design. Current plants are designed for and contructed at the site where as SMR will be a single design with pre-constructed modules constructed at the site. This push toward SMR, as you might guess is based on economics. The loan guarantees, as is usually misconstrued, is just a function of the risk but of the cost. Remember that expected loss is risk times investment. The risk in building a nuclear plant is not absurdly high it is the $4billion dollar capital investment. Even if the risk were only 1% the investor would estimate a loss of $40million; a large sum. Most of the risk comes form delays in construction which pushes back the date any investor could expect to receive a return on investment. There is also a consideration for the bath-tub risk model where the riskiest time for severe plant problems is at the beginning and end of life. This model affects the expected return on investment and sunk costs estimates an investor must make on the nuclear plant. With the exception of only a couple of plants, nuclear power has done well. The most notable exception is TVA’s Watts bar which has been repeatedly delayed.

    9. It is not a lie to say that as of right now we can not meet our energy demands with solar, wind, and geothermal. To replace coal with solar we would need to cover every square inch of all of Texas with solar plants plus some. To replace nuclear with solar would cost in excess of $8trillion more than ten times the construction costs of the nuclear plants. The problem with solar and wind especially is that they are not energy dense. They are only environmentally friendly systems on a small scale. Once you try to power a significant portion of the US power grid with solar or wind you have to replace massive amounts of wilderness with power facilities displacing the environment. This is an unavoidable fact that is very much ignored by the environmentalist movement. Solar and wind are important and have their place in a broad energy solution, but this part should really not exceed anymore than about 15% until a method for stabilizing the power can be found. The problem with these form of energy is that they are highly oscillator and if not used properly could put a huge strain on the electric grid. This only becomes a problem if solar and wind are a large portion of the electric grid. The strain on the electric grid would come from having to ramp coal, gas, and nuclear up and down to compensated for solar. In an electric grid you want to create a stable predictable power level that is consistent with demand. Sudden and rapid changes that come from solar voltaic especially violate this principle. The smart grid may help with this by turning on and off panels immediately in response to changes in power output. The consequence of this however for PV is that more panels must be created than are need for peak power. Enough must be created in order to provide the correct power levels at high demand periods at low output, as well as compensating for transmission losses if the power has to come from a location far away. Such requirements would increase the estimate for how much it would cost to make solar 20% of our power.

    10. The problem with advocates for nuclear power is not dismissal of concerns, but actively engaging the public to explain the misconceptions surrounding people’s concerns. This article is a good step toward doing that however, the rhetoric may need some work. Environmentalist, in my experience will not listen to the rational arguments of nuclear advocates no matter how understanding and patient they are. The problem in this comes from an ideology amongst many, but not all, environmentalist that is not based on facts. Many environmentalist are not scientist and simply take the word of a scientist who says something they like as doctrine. Often any attempt to dispel their pre-conceived notions is construed as a verbal assault. It really is difficult to persuade a group of people to buy into your arguments when they have already designated you as an enemy. As an example consider Green Peace. Green Peace is an anti-nuclear environmental protection group. However, nuclear power is the closests power source to having a net positive environmental impact. Nuclear power plants take up a small portion of the large amounts of land they own/protect. As a result these areas are safe havens for any type of wildlife on the land. Turkey point in Florida, for instance, acts as a haven for an endangered species of crocodile. Because there is no human presence outside for border patrol far away from the nuclear facilities wildlife may truly be free from human interference on a nuclear plant. Often times people do not want to live any where nuclear plants increasing the buffer zone for environment. Even solar plants cannot say they are net positive as they must displace the environment, and even the photo-voltaic panels result in significant amount of arsenic bi-products during manufacture. The reason environmentalist in the US don’t care or don’t know is that most PV manufacturing is done in China. Your implication that scientist oppose nuclear is not well founded either. Only certain circles of scientist oppose nuclear. Often these circles include environmental sciences where there is little background and understanding of how nuclear technology works. Even those who are in physics related backgrounds and oppose nuclear often do not understand the nuclear industry and the level of safety to which it holds itself. Many scientist, many of whom I have worked with, also do not understand engineering principles. This provides a tremendous barrier when it comes to understanding the safety of nuclear power. In fact scientist may actually be at a disadvantage to non-scientist (everyday people) to accepting and appreciating the safety record of nuclear. This stems from the psychological pre-disposition of scientist to find and analyze problems. I have actually had an easier time explaining the ins and outs of the nuclear technology industry to non-science majors than some scientist. What is usually the most difficult with science oriented people is they that firmly believe their concerns are supported by science and in some cases that an engineer or businessman cannot possible be as thoughtful or insightful as they are. As for the future the nuclear advocates must be more vocal to the community and more patient with their audience. They must also be more understanding and sympathetic of people’s concerns when addressing them. If any progress is to be made with the environmental movement in particular, the there must be some sort of push for environmentalist as a whole must have a better grasp of the science behind their own arguments and must be more open-minded to the idea that some or even much of what they believe about nuclear may be incorrect, distorted, or likely just misunderstood.

    -BTW I am a nuclear engineer. I welcome any concerns or questions anyone may have on nuclear power. If anyone would like to challenges the comments I have made above, I only request that you use legitimate references for your arguments. An example of a non-legitimate source is Green Peace. If you use wikipedia try to follow it up with some research from other sources. I apologize for the length.

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  63. 63. engineer238 2:58 am 02/8/2013

    “Technetium-99: half-life 220,000 years
    Iodine-129: half-life 15.7 million years
    Neptunium-237: half-life two million years
    Plutonium-239: half-life 24,000 years”

    The last two may be used as fuel or material for fuel breeding. The other two are actually produced in much smaller quantities than the actinides. Long term geological storage is a bit tricky from a safety standpoint. The other two are incredibly easy to shield; approximately a quarter inch of steel would be more than adequate to stop both the beta and gamma rays.

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  64. 64. GreenMind 3:03 am 02/8/2013

    The article says “there have been only two serious accidents – Chernobyl and Fukushima – one of which was a truly rare event and the other was entirely preventable.”

    In the first, the operators deliberately deactivated all the safety features that were there to prevent accidents. In the second, perhaps it was entirely preventable, and yet it was not prevented. Neither of these sound good for the safety of nuclear power. You go on to say, in summary, that all the dangers of nuclear power are preventable. And yet somehow I can be sure that they will not be prevented.

    You say, “The fundamental fact to be understood is that every power source carries some risks, and the danger from nuclear proliferation mainly exists because of human fallibility, not because of some inherent problem with nuclear energy.”

    Actually I think liberals understand that very will. It is you who does not understand it. We could eliminate all the inherent dangers with nuclear energy and the human fallibility will remain. You seem to believe that the nuclear power industry:

    – Will not attempt to silence whistleblowers (See Silkwood)
    – Will not constantly lobby for less regulation (See the financial meltdown)
    – Will not let the beancounters override the decisions of the engineers (See -every- corporation.)
    – Will not fake quality control records (every failure found in “The China Syndrome” including faked welding X-Rays was based in real life)
    – Will not fire the older, experienced, senior, cautious, EXPENSIVE engineers, in order to hire young, inexperienced, brash, CHEAP
    – Completely understands everything that could go wrong in a nuclear power plant, even with the best engineers and management.
    – Never underestimates natural dangers (Fukushima was placed where earthquakes and tsunamis have a long history of being larger than the ones it was designed for)

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  65. 65. GreenMind 3:14 am 02/8/2013

    I hit Submit before I was quite ready, an example of human error. Good thing I’m not running a nuclear power plant.

    Fixing a couple of typos:
    “Actually I think liberals understand that very *well*.”
    “– Will not fire the older, experienced, senior, cautious, EXPENSIVE engineers, in order to hire young, inexperienced, brash, CHEAP *engineers.*”

    And an addition:
    – Will always be a step ahead of the terrorists, hackers, disgruntled workers, corporate spies, and foreign governments who want to sabotage the nuclear power plants.

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  66. 66. GreenMind 3:33 am 02/8/2013

    engineer238, I respect your expertise, but not your optimism. There is something called “depressive realism” which is a name for the fact that pessimists are more realistic than optimism. Here’s a quote from Psychology Today:

    “Positive illusions may confer certain advantages such as an ability to take risks, see through major undertakings, and cope with traumatic events. In the longer term, however, the loss of perspective and poor judgment that come from undue self-regard and false hope are likely to lead to disappointment, failure, and even tragedy, not to mention the emotional and behavioral problems (such as anger, anxiety, and so on) that can be associated with a defended position. In sum, positive illusions are a bit like a pair of crutches: useful to those with a handicap, but those without are much better off for not needing them.”

    “While people with depression can suffer from cognitive distortions, the scientific literature suggests that those with only mild-to-moderate depression can also have more accurate judgment about the outcome of so-called contingent events (events which may or may not occur), and a more realistic perception of their role, abilities, and limitations. This so-called ‘depressive realism’ may enable a person with depression to shed the Pollyanna optimism and rose-tinted spectacles that shield us from reality, to see life more accurately, and to judge it accordingly.”

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  67. 67. Carlyle 5:18 am 02/8/2013

    59. engineer238 2:42 am 02/8/2013
    Thanks for your expert input. My experience with nuclear is not at the same level as yours, however I worked in a uranium mine In the 1960s. Safety was not a high priority & the mine was in a semi desert region where water was precious, so even things like dust suppression was a low priority.  So was security.  One of the workers was discovered to have a stash of 20 kilos of yellowcake in the 1980s when he tried to sell it.  I also spent time milling & in the leaching plant where the ore was concentrated into yellowcake.  Approx 80% uranium oxide,  No particular precautions were taken. Now in my seventies & in excellent health, there has been no difference in cancer rates amongst my workmates to the general population,
    My experience there sparked a life long interest in & an advocate for nuclear power with lifelong frustration that the obvious benefits to humanity have been frustrated for so long. Thankfully a debate has at last begun.  The industry desperately needs sensible & knowledgeable advocates such as yourself. It is a great shame that so many of the most vociferate opponents actually know so little about nuclear energy & resist any attempt at educating themselves.  There is an excellent list of books listed by Ash tosh Jogalekar in this article. I doubt any of them have been read or ever will be read by the opponents expressing their opposition here. Is that intellectual honesty? I find it hard to resist being more scathing but am sure the active involvement of people such as yourself & Ashutosh Jogalekar is the best course.

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  68. 68. Carlyle 5:28 am 02/8/2013

    Fascinating. I had never seen a green herring so eloquently expressed before.

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  69. 69. GreenMind 11:30 am 02/8/2013

    engineer238, you say: “Many scientist, many of whom I have worked with, also do not understand engineering principles. This provides a tremendous barrier when it comes to understanding the safety of nuclear power.”

    What you are missing is that the engineering principles are not in charge. Not even the engineers are in charge. The people in charge are the politicians, CEOs, accountants, contractors, subcontractors, suppliers, historians, manual writers, inspectors, security guards, middle managers, janitors, and, yes, engineers, plus everyone who makes any of them have a bad day.

    Even if they all work perfectly, the nuclear power plants are really operated by computer hardware and software. That means that the people with the power to really screw up are the software engineers and the software tools that they use for their programming. Even if the software was perfect, hardware gets glitches and needs to be rebooted to get back on track. If the computers do screw up, it is up to the engineers to figure that out and prevent accidents.

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  70. 70. GreenMind 11:32 am 02/8/2013

    Carlyle, I’m not sure who you are responding to, but a sure sign that you don’t have an answer is to resort to insult.

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  71. 71. GreenMind 11:52 am 02/8/2013

    Carlyle, you describe a disregard for safety that proves one of my points, yet you are optimistic about the safety of nuclear reactors, which proves another.
    First, the fact that ignoring health concerns did not result in a disaster does not mean that every time health concerns are disregarded there will not be a disaster.
    Second, I can’t speak for your colleagues survivorship, but radon gas in uranium mines causes higher rates of lung cancer. You can find that in Wikipedia.
    Third, why should anyone believe your claim that there is no difference in cancer rates between your colleagues and the rest of the population? I wonder where you get your information. PG&E claimed that there its hexavalent chromium contamination had no effect on the people who drank the water.

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  72. 72. GreenMind 12:10 pm 02/8/2013

    engineer238 says, “What is usually the most difficult with science oriented people is they that firmly believe their concerns are supported by science and in some cases that an engineer or businessman cannot possible be as thoughtful or insightful as they are.”

    And yet somehow I get the feeling that you firmly believe that your optimism is supported by science, and that anyone who objects to nuclear energy cannot possibly be as thoughtful or insightful as you.

    “As for the future the nuclear advocates must be more vocal to the community and more patient with their audience.”

    Yes, better PR must be the answer.

    “there must be some sort of push for environmentalist as a whole must have a better grasp of the science behind their own arguments and must be more open-minded to the idea that some or even much of what they believe about nuclear may be incorrect, distorted, or likely just misunderstood.”

    Perhaps nuclear power advocates should consider that what they believe about nuclear power may be incorrect, distorted, or misunderstood. Try taking off the rose-colored glasses and actually listen to the arguments against it. I don’t believe every argument against nuclear power, and I agree that there is a lot of fear based on irrational and unscientific beliefs, but I don’t really hear you addressing the rational and scientific concerns.

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  73. 73. dwbd 12:19 pm 02/8/2013

    Incredible how Greenies claim to be so-oooo concerned about public safety & health, while they are quite happy to sentence > 5 billion people to a horrible death due to energy starvation. And Greenies didn’t care one hoot about the 20,000 Japanese who died due to the terrible tsunami preperation by Japan authorities, their total focus was on the zero death nuclear incident.

    And why do you greenies not care about the 100-4000X greater deaths/twh generated from Natural Gas & Coal? Why is your focus almost entirely on the ZERO CO2 Nuclear Energy?

    Everything humans do creates risk. We accept the risks that come with modern civilization, good example, auto deaths, certainly > million more risk than Nuclear Power to the avg citizen. What makes you think that ONLY energy production should be 100% safe – with Nuclear probably has the safest record of any industry.

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  74. 74. dwbd 12:28 pm 02/8/2013

    The INEVITABLE consequence of Green Mind’s twisted reasoning is ALL aircraft should be immediately grounded, and never fly again without 100% – no human error possibility of accident. Ever hear of 9/11 dude?

    Green Mind’s logic requires all shipping to me stopped immediately, don’t want anymore of those Titanic incidents.

    All natural gas delivery must be stopped immediately, don’t want any more of those 1000′s of NG explosions that happen annually. Some of which have killed hundreds and levelled entire neighbourhoods.

    And all Hydro dams must be immediately destroyed. Don’t want any more of those 270,000 deaths Banquio dam disasters.

    And Oil rigs, Oil refineries, Electricity Transmission and Chemical Factories – don’t want any more 10,000 dead Bhopal disasters do we.

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  75. 75. phalaris 2:25 pm 02/8/2013

    51. llmystic
    “It is an error, if not an outright lie, to state that solar, wind, and geothermal power could not meet all of our needs. Each alone could supply more than current global energy usage if fully developed.”

    This is of course the great misconception. And whether it’s a freudian slip that he didn’t say “—affordably— meet all of our needs..” And affordably must be added, because it is also essential that it meets our needs with less CO2 and environmental impact.
    Those with a little knowledge hear about the amount of solar radiation we get or the energy in the wind, but don’t appreciate that the laws of thermodynamics make harnessing that diffuse energy very capital intensive. And capital intensive means high environmental impact.

    llmystic : if you’re sincere, a good introduction is MacKay, one of the most highly qualified people in the field:

    For further study, check out the storage problem.
    As MacKay famously said, it’s not that he’s pro-nuclear, but he is pro-arithmetic. And the arithmetic has to be done. It seems to be a weakness of intelligent liberals.

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  76. 76. RobLL 2:40 pm 02/8/2013

    Investors will not invest in nuclear power at present without ratepayers guaranteeing payment whether or not the power is delivered. Insurance companies will not insure, so the government must. The cost of nuclear power plants has a negative learning curve, ever more expensive.

    It is possible, and to be desired, that a nuclear plant could be designed that would attract investors – when that day comes nuclear power will become an option. Not until.

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  77. 77. GreenMind 3:08 pm 02/8/2013

    dwbd: Take a deep breath. You are getting hysterical. If you want to call me a Greenie, I can take it. Proudly, in fact. But it does not make me the kind of Green Boogieman you are imagining. And by the way, I notice that you are attacking me personally, also known as an ad hominem attack, and that you have not actually answered a single one of my many objections.

    “Incredible how Greenies claim to be so-oooo concerned about public safety & health, while they are quite happy to sentence > 5 billion people to a horrible death due to energy starvation.”

    What do you know about what I care about? And sentencing 5 billion people to a horrible death due to “energy starvation”? Do you mean that if we insulate houses better the people inside will die of not being able to burn more fuel? If remote villagers use solar cooking stoves they will die of not having to go out into the forest where they may be assaulted or killed, and they will die of not getting lung cancer from the wood fires they don’t have to build anymore?

    “And Greenies didn’t care one hoot about the 20,000 Japanese who died due to the terrible tsunami preperation by Japan authorities, their total focus was on the zero death nuclear incident.”

    Again, stop and breathe. You are demonizing the people who care about the only planet that we have to live on. In my experience environmentalists care a great deal about the people who died in the tsunami. There was a report on the Huffington Post about the topic of tsunami preparedness in Japan.

    “And why do you greenies not care about the 100-4000X greater deaths/twh generated from Natural Gas & Coal? Why is your focus almost entirely on the ZERO CO2 Nuclear Energy?”

    How do you get the idea I am only focused on Nuclear energy? If you have seen my comments elsewhere you know I focus on CO2 emissions, mercury emissions, etc., too. I think we need to act fast to reduce the effects of AGW, but I don’t happen to believe that nuclear power will be available soon enough or is safe enough to do it.

    “What makes you think that ONLY energy production should be 100% safe – with Nuclear probably has the safest record of any industry.”

    No, I don’t think that energy production has to be 100% safe, only that it should not run the risk of making thousands of square miles uninhabitable. Perhaps you are not aware of Lake Karachai in Russia, the most contaminated site in the world, or the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the most contaminated site in the US.

    And the rest of your post about grounding all airlines, stopping all shipping, stopping natural gas delivery, total nonsense. Nothing but childish black-and-white thinking. Get a grip.

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  78. 78. Carlyle 3:57 pm 02/8/2013

    73. RobLL 2:40 pm 02/8/2013
    Being able to demonstrate new technology, like the great bio fuel fiasco,is easy for everything except nuclear. Massive destruction of rainforest, conversion of food grain to fuel, no problem. Try & build a nuclear plant & you run into rabid objectors, demonstrations & scare campaigns. It is just as irrational as the conspiracy theories that have led to the gunning down of nine women conducting an imunisation campaigne to wipe out polio. Interesting to track where that scare campaigne started too.
    How rational people can condem nuclear with the obvious default being fossil fuel, is beyond logical comprehension. Is it genetic perhaps?
    Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News > Post and Comments
    Latest News
    Germany Continues to Expand Brown Coal Mines Despite Its Commitment Clean Energy
    Country’s decision to phase out nuclear power means it continues to rely on coal to close the energy gap
    Florian “Floh” Hurtig wades through waist-high, thorny weeds and pungent wildflowers with sure-footed agility, dashing up a steep levy in Hembach Forest to take in the shocking view on the other side. That would be the sprawling open pit Tagebau Hambach mine in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany where the company RWE Power is extracting soft brown lignite coal, or “braunkohle,” for its equally massive coal-fired power plant that is visible on the horizon

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  79. 79. Carlyle 4:15 pm 02/8/2013

    74. GreenMind
    3:08 pm 02/8/2013
    Thousands of square miles are being made uninhabitable by vast coal mines that could be supplanted by nuclear. Where are the thousands of square mile made uninhabitable by nuclear. even where nuclear bombs were dropped is inhabited by millions of people. An exclusion policy that imposes a lower radiation limit than you find in beach sand or granite inflates the regions currently being excluded. The limits have no basis in science. By the way, bananas are naturally more radioactive than the soil they are grown in. Let’s ban them.
    My earlier post was to show that lax safety processes fifty years ago could not be compared to today, yet even back then, no harm could be detected to workers.
    By the way, coal fired power stations emit many times the radioactivity of any nuclear power facility. You & your fellow travellers need to take responsibility for the negative impacts of your ill informed policies.

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  80. 80. teeks99 5:36 pm 02/8/2013

    I wouldn’t say I’m a liberal, but I try to be scientifically minded. The biggest reason I’m not optimistic about nuclear energy is the economics of it. We’ve had almost 70 years to bring the cost of nuclear down, but never been able to do it.

    The irrational fears that most of the public have only make the economic situation worse.

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  81. 81. chivo 7:15 pm 02/8/2013

    Well, I would say you have only very inexperienced liberal firnds if that are all their reasons. First of all, almost all conserned cientist agree about the risk of nuclear energy. Second, there is enought evidence of it’s danger. Of course we could debate all night long here but I would ercommend you to come to our congress in the UNAM -the largest and most important spanish speaking university- that we organice two or three time per year to listen the real arguments with real facts, even from people that work in nuclear reactors.

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  82. 82. Carlyle 7:29 pm 02/8/2013

    78. chivo 7:15 pm 02/8/2013
    You seem to have very firm anti nuclear views. That can only mean you do not know what you are talking about. Tell us, which of the books listed in this article have you read or intend to read? What other publications have you read that you did not find in a Green or anti nuclear library? So how come you feel qualified to give nuclear the thumbs down?
    Here are a couple of sites that would give you a more balanced view.
    Nuclear power stations record best output for seven years.

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  83. 83. Carlyle 8:00 pm 02/8/2013

    Low carbon electricity produced in 2012 is enough to power half of the UK’s homes.
    PRESS RELEASE 14.01.13
    EDF Energy has reported that its eight UK nuclear power stations produced their highest output for seven years in 2012.
    The 60 Terawatt hours of low carbon electricity produced was almost 50% higher than the last year before the stations were acquired by EDF Group in 2009 and is enough to power half of the UK’s homes…
    The stations’ output avoided the emission of almost 41 million tonnes of CO2 which would have been produced if the same amount of electricity had been generated by fossil fuels. This is equivalent to removing 60% of all the UK passenger cars off the roads.
    How can benefits like this be held up by ideological clap trap?

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  84. 84. GreenMind 8:22 pm 02/8/2013

    Carlyle, as I said, I am not in favor of coal or oil. I agree that coal fired plants emit a lot of radioactivity and mercury as well. But an accident at a coal-fired plant does not have the danger that a danger at a nuclear plant has.

    For the thousands of square miles of uninhabitable land, Chernobyl spread contamination over large parts of Europe and Russia, and large areas could not grow their own food. To this day it still has an uninhabitable zone of 19 miles radius, which is just over 1,100 square miles.

    Then there is the 500 some square miles at the Hanford site, and there is Lake Karachai in Russia. How do you measure the extent of the leaks at Fukushima, considering that it washes into the ocean? Contamination in ocean fish there has been detected.

    I think we can meet our energy needs with conservation and renewable energy. Insulating houses is cheap compared with solar panels, and there are now ways to help both homeowners and landlords finance energy improvements, including insulation, solar panels, and passive solar. Look at Sacramento as an example.

    Driving slower can help enormously, and save on gas bills, but that will not be enough. More efficient cars are coming, but that will not be enough.

    Solar panels are being installed on school roofs, home roofs, business roofs, over parking lots, in backyards, and in massive arrays in open spaces. Wind is being installed in massive quantities in Texas and Oklahoma. China has a massive solar program going, far more aggressive than ours.

    The most promising solution I have seen is power plants fueled by algae growing from the CO2 emitted by a power plant. If you really want an interesting solution, that would be it. See this link:

    We don’t need nuclear. It will take too long and require sustained levels of quality, control, maintenance and storage that the human race is not yet capable of.

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  85. 85. Carlyle 9:10 pm 02/8/2013

    The vast majority of the areas quarantined because of radiation fears have counts lower than mineralised beach sands or granite areas. the area around Chernobyl has become a wild life refuge with the animals (& people who have defied the bans & returned) living normal healthy lives.
    Life after Chernobyl: Sergei Gaschak’s photography from inside ‘the zone’
    Images from hidden camera reveal how wildlife is thriving in zone closed off to humans for 26 years
    You are well meaning but do not understand the physics. All the alternative energy schemes try to convert low energy density to high energy density. Vast areas have to be covered for minimal return. The areas covered & the materials consumed, maintenance costs & lack of base load capability make them a pipe dream & they do not come environmental impact free. Things like solar cells for example use extremly toxic processes in their manufacture. There is plenty of information arguing the pro side of these schemes but try getting actual data from systems that have been built. Algae to oil is not a new concept & is hopelessly flawed. The energy return after all the pumping, filtering, temperature maintenance, disease & wild algae strain invasion, nutrient provision & regulation are all things that are glossed over. Things that work in a test tube or bath tub have no guarantee of commercial scale success. You need to go searching for what they do not tell you in their glossy research funding support brochures.

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  86. 86. Carlyle 9:21 pm 02/8/2013

    Alternative energy is much like extracting gold from sea water. There is an abundance of it. About 25 tons per cubic mile, but what would be the environmental impact & cost to recover it even though unlike energy, it would be easily stored once you did capture it.

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  87. 87. Dr. Strangelove 4:14 am 02/10/2013

    “Chernobyl spread contamination over large parts of Europe and Russia, and large areas could not grow their own food. To this day it still has an uninhabitable zone of 19 miles radius, which is just over 1,100 square miles.”

    Finland has higher natural radiation level but seems habitable and able to grow their own food.

    “How do you measure the extent of the leaks at Fukushima, considering that it washes into the ocean? Contamination in ocean fish there has been detected.”

    If you can’t measure Fukushima’s radiation in the ocean, it’s too small to be measurable hence harmless. We regularly detect radiation in the food that we eat. That’s why we know they are within safe limits.

    “We don’t need nuclear. It will take too long and require sustained levels of quality, control, maintenance and storage that the human race is not yet capable of.”

    So how come it still accounts for 13% of world electric power while renewables (excluding hydro) is just 3%? And who’s running all those 500 plus nuclear reactors worldwide? Alien race with advanced nuclear technology?

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  88. 88. Carlyle 8:06 am 02/10/2013

    It would be interesting to calculate how much extra CO2 would be released if those 500 nuclear plants were closed yet that is what the anti nuclear people advocate. I am not worried about CO2, the plants love it, nor about global warming, the combination is contributing to burgeoning food production. I do worry about the incredible waste. When you see huge coal trains regularly going by just to feed one power station & know what a theft of resources that is from future generations, it is beyond my comprehension how those who claim to be green & against fossil fuel use, can live with their consciences. Having fairytale solutions does not absolve them from guilt. How long are they prepared to wait before they are prepared to admit their mistake & for once campaign for the only solution?

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  89. 89. Carlyle 8:52 am 02/10/2013

    Spain & Germany are often held up as shining examples of alternative energy. You can use this link to check the 5 or 7 day forecasts for any country or city in the world. This also gives you the ability to check precisely on the location of any solar or wind farm. If you check now you will see that there will be very little energy from either of these localities this week. You can of course look up solar farms in the US as well. You will soon see why so many of us are sceptical.

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  90. 90. Dr. Strangelove 8:23 pm 02/10/2013

    Ash, the 5 reasons here are not intelligent. Another reason why some people don’t like nuclear is because coal and shale gas are cheaper. But that’s a reason for greedy capitalists not for (un)intelligent liberals.

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  91. 91. engineer238 12:54 am 02/11/2013


    The ideas I put forth are supported by science. As a nuclear engineer I spent four years dedicated to learning the science, engineering, and engineering economics behind nuclear power. This does not mean that I know everything, and I am certainly willing to listen to arguments supported by science. My comment about scientist was meant simply to express that there is a significant portion of the scientific community who is trained in a particular aspect of science but thinks that they understand other people’s fields better than they do by extension. This is again is not all scientist. I am not a geologist and as such if I had a geology question I would ask a geologist. I would not presume to think that because I have been trained in physics that I instantly know how tectonic movements works. I am also not a particle physicist. Though through nuclear I have a great deal of training in radiation physics I would not presume to tell a particle physicist how to build a particle accelerator or collider. Yes I have many opinions on nuclear power, but that is because I have been trained, and understand the science. If you want to challenge the claim that my opinions are not based on science feel free. I welcome any questions or dissenting opinions.

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  92. 92. engineer238 1:22 am 02/11/2013


    You have some good points but some need to be corrected.

    1) Multiple sites have been completed decommissioned by the NRC standard. Including Shippingport Atomic Power Station (1988) and Maine Yankee Nuclear Power Plant (2005). The only remaining question with the later is what to do with the nuclear waste since the closure of Yucca Mountain.

    2) This is indeed a problem, and results in what I referred to earlier as the bathtub risk model. As the current generation of plants close due to being inoperable new power plants will be needed to replace them. Fortunately the original designers of the plants were clever enough to design in methods to measure radiation damage to things such as the pressure vessel. One thought currently out there is to replace pressure vessels in plants that can be re-licensed; however, such an operation would be costly leading to the question of whether it might just be better to close the plant and build an new facility. Definitely some problems to be solve here

    3) I agree fast breeder reactors may not be the way to go in the near term; however, a great deal of work and research has been done since the 1970′s. One of the challenges to building a safe fast reactor, related to criticality safety, is better nuclear data in the unresolved resonance region for fission and absorption cross-section. In this region resonances in the probability for neutrons to undergo nuclear reactions are so close together that they cannot be well defined with current models. Currently this region is to simply “smeared” or averaged in across resonances. Unfortunately outside of EBR-I at INL there has not been too much physical research on breeders. EBR-II be the next stage of EBR-I but the project was scrapped before completion. In the future with better material science and the use of GFR instead of SFR maybe we will see breeders in the future (probably no earlier than 40years), but we will have to wait and see.

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  93. 93. engineer238 2:14 am 02/11/2013

    You actually have a lot of good thoughts. I liked your comments on psychology. There is actually a lot of the depressive realism in my industry, which in part has resulted in the tremendous safety record of nuclear. I would contend that there is a such thing as overly safe. This is a situation where additional levels of safety have no added benefit other than to quell irrational fears or paranoia. That optimism thought is interesting I agree. Being overly optimistic that any power technology is superior, whether it be solar, wind, nuclear, coal, gas could lead to bad designs, bad science, or oversights of critical engineering flaws. I only meant to portray the facts in a positive light. When dealing with safety in nuclear engineering we are often pessimistic, but you could understand that pessimism is not a good way to convey science to the public. This is why I try to keep a positive tone about the technology when speaking to groups or writing on forums. The goal is to help explain the positives of nuclear power, this would seem to require and optimistic tone.

    One thing I would point out is that there really aren’t a lot of conventional computers running nuclear power plants. Do to safety all nuclear plants I know of still run on analog, not digital systems. This provides a more stable environment for operating the reactor without a lot of software and other computer functions between the operator and the equipment; only simple electrical signals. I know there has been a push to update the systems to digital, but a lot of higher ups in the industry are against it for the very reason you pointed out. They do not want to risk the money upgrading to a digital system is if could compromise plant safety. If the plant fails it has to be shut down and fixed. The company would then lose money, and not just a little up to millions in revenue a day. As far as glitches go, the plants are designed against those as well. Anything that could put the plant in serious jeopardy triggers a plant shutdown. This way the operator has some time to take any necessary actions. The operators main job during an accident is to keep the plant cool and stable. The latter specifically refers to preventing the plant from spontaneously powering up during the accident. This can happen from improperly cooling or shutting down the reactor. The automatic trips do not cover everything however, and there may be situations where the operator is required to manually shutdown the plant. As I understanding most if not all plants also have a nuclear engineering on staff in the control room at all times to be able to diagnose plant engineering problems that the operators cannot. This adds an extra layer of security for responding quickly and correctly during an accident. Although he is not the operator in charge the reactor operators defer to his analysis during an event. Honestly the riskiest time for a plant is re-fueling. During re-fueling procedures the plant is inspected and tested.

    The industry does not move very quickly. Ironically the only people who act quickly are the politicians but thats only cause the get rotated out on 2,4, and 6 year cycles.

    I definitely understand that there are definite scientific concerns with nuclear as there are with all technologies. I know one of the most prominent concerns out there right now is whether the plants can last another 40years. This is actually one that concerns me as well. There is some evidence to support extending the licenses to 80 years; however, the concerns about some equipment failing is legitimate. A lot of the equipment can be replace, e.g. pipes, turbines, control rods, pumps, ect.; however there are some systems in the plants that cannot be. The most important fixture is the pressure vessel. A pressure vessel failure would be catastrophic. As I mentioned earlier, there are ideas on how to replace them but it is incredibly expensive and would likely result the plant being shutdown for an extended period, possibly for even a year or more.

    Personally I am a fan of replacing the current fleet with new reactors such as the AP1000. These plants are designed to be passively safe. What this means is that when an accident happens the plant shuts down, then natural keeps itself stable and cool. This allows operators days if not weeks to figure out what the problem is and how to fix it. Four units of AP1000 are being constructed. Two each at the Summer and Vogtle sites. Tentatively they should be completed in 2016, but delays may still happen. Bids for more plants are currently working there way through the NRC. Plants like this are based on years of experience with nuclear systems and safety and operate almost identically to the current generation. The only difference is increased safety, something I think everyone can agree is worth while.

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  94. 94. Dr. Strangelove 2:51 am 02/11/2013

    The nuclear industry has good safety record. Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents were due to human error and bad design respectively. The Chernobyl operator removed all but six moderator rods defying the protocol of 26 rods minimum. That caused the worst nuclear disaster of all time.

    Fukushima meltdown happened because the backup diesel generators were inoperable as they got flooded by the tsunami because they were located at the basement below sea level. It’s a bad design. They should be placed at high elevation above sea level. The reactors should be placed below sea level so in case of power outage you just drain the sea to submerge the reactors. The sea is an unlimited supply of cooling water that flows by gravity, no need for power and pumps.

    These accidents could have easily been avoided with common sense, which is sadly uncommon.

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  95. 95. GreenMind 4:06 pm 02/12/2013

    Engineer, thanks for your thoughtful response. You said some things that I didn’t know. I have some questions.

    You said, “There is actually a lot of the depressive realism in my industry, which in part has resulted in the tremendous safety record of nuclear. I would contend that there is a such thing as overly safe. This is a situation where additional levels of safety have no added benefit other than to quell irrational fears or paranoia.”

    It’s good to hear there is depressive realism in the industry. Does it apply to the quality of workmanship? That is, do engineers take into account the possibility that contractors and subcontractors may provide shoddy materials and workmanship? Does it account for the idea that if a design is considered unsinkable, then quality standards may be relaxed? For example, I read that the Titanic was made with cheaper high-manganese steel that was more brittle than the industry standard for shipbuilding, and more likely to shatter.

    I wonder about what you said about the additional levels of security. There may be excess protection against one thing, and no protection at all against something else that nobody thought of, or underestimated. There can be blind spots. For example, it seems like the engineers who designed Fukushima did a good job of protecting against earthquakes, and against tsunamis, but not against earthquakes and tsunamis together. Also, they looked at records of earthquakes in the region, but not very far back. The Japanese had court records that showed that earthquakes and tsunamis this severe did occur in this region centuries ago.

    “I only meant to portray the facts in a positive light. When dealing with safety in nuclear engineering we are often pessimistic, but you could understand that pessimism is not a good way to convey science to the public. This is why I try to keep a positive tone about the technology when speaking to groups or writing on forums. The goal is to help explain the positives of nuclear power, this would seem to require and optimistic tone.”

    OK, that makes sense. That explains why I get the feeling of irrational exuberance from people who are in favor of nuclear energy. The sense that they ignore all objections makes me distrust their judgment.

    “One thing I would point out is that there really aren’t a lot of conventional computers running nuclear power plants. Do to safety all nuclear plants I know of still run on analog, not digital systems. This provides a more stable environment for operating the reactor without a lot of software and other computer functions between the operator and the equipment; only simple electrical signals.”

    That helps. Sounds like a good cautious concern for safety. Does this mean that computer hackers cannot break in to control systems and cause damage? Safe designs are one thing, but sabotage is something else. There is no shortage of people and countries who would do this if they could. For that matter, what if a team of terrorists, not hackers but commandos, were to try to take over a nuclear power plant. Could they cause a meltdown and widespread contamination?

    “As I mentioned earlier, there are ideas on how to replace them but it is incredibly expensive and would likely result the plant being shutdown for an extended period, possibly for even a year or more.”

    Seems like that would still be a lot faster than building a new plant.

    “Personally I am a fan of replacing the current fleet with new reactors such as the AP1000. These plants are designed to be passively safe.”

    I have read a little bit about passively safe designs, and I like the concept, but will leave the safety debates to the experts. However, some experts don’t like some of the cost-cutting measures, because they believe that they make the plants vulnerable to a direct hit by a plane. From Wikipedia: “In 2012, Ellen Vancko, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that “the Westinghouse AP1000 has a weaker containment, less redundancy in safety systems, and fewer safety features than current reactors.”

    All this is interesting, but it does not address my biggest concern, that even the best engineering design is only as good as the quality of the people who build them, and the ethics of the corporations that hire those people. Employees surrender their ethical judgment to the corporation, which is governed only by the bottom line.

    There was an AP news story from last Friday saying that a confidential report obtained by Senator Boxer says that Southern California Edison and Mitsubishi were aware of design problems before the faulty equipment was installed at the San Onofre plant. The faulty equipment caused damage to hundreds of steam was found only because of an investigation of a tiny radiation leak. Before this the supposition was that a massive design change caused the damage, but that Mitsubishi and Edison rejected safety features because that would have meant lengthy design review and a change to the license.

    Humans are fallible enough, but corporations are not ethical beings at all. They may be founded by people who are dedicated to treating their employees, neighbors, customers, and the environment well. Then they get taken over by others who have none of these things. See the book and movie “The Corporation” to see numerous examples of this. It documents that if you were to compare the behavior of corporations with the behavior of people, the corporations tend to act like sociopaths, with no regard for anyone else, no compassion, no loyalty, no regard for anything except its own benefit.

    Just for another recent example, there was a massive explosion at a refinery in California, causing a huge plume of smoke to drift into populated areas. Chevron, the owner, said that their air quality monitors installed over the refinery showed that there was no safety hazard. Turned out the monitors had been disconnected years before. If this is what a corporation will say when there it is obvious they will be caught, when the risks to the population nearby are very high, and when saying this actually increases the danger to the population, then what will they say when there is little risk of being caught.

    Engineer238, if you want me to trust you, sure, I can trust you. You’re an engineer, you do good work, you know your stuff, you have high standards. But if you ask me to trust the corporation who hires you, I say no way. Somehow, it seems that loyalty to the corporation trumps safety, maybe not every time, but too often. When corporate law is changed to promote the responsibility of every employee, contractor, and subcontractor to do their best job, instead of always putting the bottom line first, then maybe we can look at corporate ethics again. For the moment, I think it is safe to say that every corporation has the capability of acting like Big Tobacco, willing to kill its customers in plain sight as long as they can get away with it, with every employee going along with it.

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  96. 96. GreenMind 4:10 pm 02/12/2013

    Oops, correction:

    The faulty design caused damage to hundreds of steam pipes, which was found only because of an investigation of a tiny radiation leak. Before this the supposition was that a massive design change caused the damage, and could not be anticipated. The report says that Mitsubishi and Edison rejected safety features of the new design because that would have meant lengthy design review and a change to the license.

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  97. 97. Dr. Strangelove 9:22 pm 02/12/2013


    The Titanic sank because its water compartments were connected at the top. When filled with water, it flows to the other compartments. Another bad engineering design. The claim that Titanic was unsinkable is just hubris. All ships made of steel are sinkable. The primitive raft made of balsa wood is unsinkable because balsa wood is lighter than water.

    Should we reject nuclear technology because of potential human errors? On ave. 2,700 people die everyday in car accidents. Why do you still use car?

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  98. 98. jctyler 7:41 am 02/13/2013

    Don’t blame it on the author, it’s simply another one of SciAm’s increasingly annoying blunders. How can somebody be giving space in SciAm for an article of this level? What does that say about today’s SciAm?

    The first thing that happens, it encourages the nutters. Like the brain-dead muppet who for the 500th time repeats an inance link trying to make believe that Chernobyl forest has become an animal sanctuary when the contrary is true. Animals grow smaller, nearly all have multiple tumors, birds brains have shrunk, trees grow in all kinds of weird and sick shapes because their DNA is unrepairable damaged, and here comes this dummy with his eternal garbage.

    And the human fall-out from Chernobyl is already and increasingly rather substantial if doctors and scientists are to be believed and definitely FAR higher than the small numbers given here dishonestly by some. But no, SciAm’s staff finds this kind of article necessary.

    The author has disqualified himself on so many levels for his junk-food for thought he should really consider a job in a more appropriate industry. But that is not the problem. The problem is that SciAm’s blogspace is managed so poorly these days the number of worthless blogs has equalled the number of good ones and one has to ask to have heads rolling from blog management to certain blogging staffers to nincompoopery such as above.

    It’s SciAm that needs to get its head(s) examined, not the oviparous blogging shillers who are giving the run of the place.

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  99. 99. curiouswavefunction 11:33 am 02/13/2013

    #98: I am going to let your comment stay as a good example of hollow invective and ad hominem without substance. Either you come up with references and respectful criticism or you refrain from commenting. My commenting policy is extremely liberal; please don’t test it.

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  100. 100. jctyler 3:10 pm 02/13/2013


    Something is not hollow simply because someone gets lost in it. It may simply be a matter of scale.

    To call someone who lies a liar is not ad hominem. Let’s suppose that in the context of nuclear accidents I had posted links to the Red Forest reality already a number of times and some sanctuary shiller had seen them a number of times but he would then keep posting the Red Forest sanctuary lie nevertheless and I would then call him a bad-faithed liar. That is not a personal attack, that is simply calling a liar a liar. Not that I would recommend anyone being too blunt here seen your commenting policy . Or another example. What for example would pass for liberal policy on the Balkan may very well be considered something completely else in Scandinavia.

    Or have I misunderstood you? Those things happen you know. I once posted a pro-female comment and it was removed for being mysogynistic. There is a psychological term for this subconscious camera obscura effect in a reader which escapes me right now. But you know what I mean. So do correct me if and when I am wrong. Not that I would do the same for you of course, I wouldn’t dare.

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  101. 101. Carlyle 3:20 pm 02/13/2013

    99. curiouswavefunction
    11:33 am 02/13/2013
    Good policy.

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  102. 102. jctyler 4:31 pm 02/13/2013

    carlyle “like button” curiouswave.

    that should settle that. >G<

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  103. 103. dburress 7:30 pm 02/13/2013

    The most annoying thing about this post is its sheer ignorance: it doesn’t even mention the leading concerns of many “intelligent liberals.” The second is its ad hominem and overbearing tone. The third is the autistic dismissal of “political” factors as if they were not of the essence of the problem, and to which this post contributes nothing. (Were I to be as snarky as this post, I’d suggest it had something to do with the author’s disciplinary background.)
    As to substance: No mention of the fat tail or “black swan” distribution problem (nuclear accidents are skewed in unmeasurable ways towards large catastrophes). No mention of plutonium generation and the problem terroristic device proliferation. No mention of the skewed playing field due to the Price-Anderson subsidy (fully insured nukes quite simply are not economically viable under level playing field conditions, even with a carbon tax.) No mention of the 1000 year problem: what institutions are that reliable? And the absurd dismissal of an actual accident as “avoidable,” based I suppose on the usual bad engineer’s assumption that human error and stupidity are somehow not part of the actual systems we have to deal with.
    Oh, and I neglected to mention that actual nuclear accidents have nearly always involved conditions that the designers never even thought to simulate.
    I would take these pro-nuke diatribes more seriously if had ever heard even one single nuclear engineer try to grapple seriously with these real world problems. The fact that they don’t convinces me they are simply not trustworthy authorities.
    David Burress
    Lawrence KS

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  104. 104. Dr. Strangelove 8:54 pm 02/13/2013

    jctyler should visit Chernobyl and see the wildlife there. It’s open to tourists. Bring a Geiger counter to prove the radiation level is lower than in the beaches of Southern France.

    David ignores the fact that nuclear has better safety record than fossil fuels and believes that bad engineers are found only in nuclear industry.

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  105. 105. curiouswavefunction 10:35 pm 02/13/2013

    jctyler: Almost everything that I have read about the topic indicates that the area around Chernobyl is thriving. For instance consider the following article which says that mutant animals are not found in the area.

    “Those studies found mammal diversity and abundance equal to that of a protected nature reserve, with rare species including bears, lynx, river otter, and badger as well as introduced herds of European bison and Przewalski’s horses. Bird diversity is even richer and includes 61 rare species. Whooper swans—never before reported in the region—now appear regularly.”

    You may also want to take a look at Mary Mycio’s book “Wormwood Forest” which talks about both defiant (and healthy) villagers living in the area and about the explosion of biodiversity there. These animals have high concentrations of radioactivity in their bones and muscles and are yet healthy and reproducing. And no, their offspring are not generally born with extra digits or crooked ears.

    That scenario is not remotely close to being a hot radioactive wasteland.

    dburress: I would encourage you to read some of the literature cited above. There’s several studies in there which talk about how reprocessing can prevent terrorism (and how it would be virtually impossible for a terrorist to steal Pu from a reactor without killing himself), about how Chernobyl was avoidable in the sense that it was an obviously faulty design which you don’t find elsewhere (it didn’t even have a containment zone), about how the waste problems is greatly reduced by reprocessing and dry cask storage. Obviously this post is not a book-length treatise so I can only give pointers.

    And let me urge commenters again to stick to the details and debate them respectfully rather than engage in condescending attacks against Sci Am (whose opinions are totally separate from its bloggers’) or individual bloggers.

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  106. 106. tombaxter 1:15 am 02/14/2013

    The problem of waste is very simple. Just few more centuries of research and few hundreds of trillions of dollars and the problems reprocessing nuclear waste will be solved. The problem is the French, Japanese, British and US governments devote only few billions towards the solutions and expect solutions in decades instead of centuries and trillions needed.

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  107. 107. Asteroid Miner 1:47 am 02/14/2013

    We don’t recycle nuclear fuel because it is valuable and people steal it. The place it went that it wasn’t supposed to go to is Israel. This happened in a small town near Pittsburgh, PA circa 1970. A company called Numec was in the business of reprocessing nuclear fuel.

    [I almost took a job there in 1968, designing a nuclear battery for a heart pacemaker. [A nuclear battery would have the advantage of lasting many times as long as any other battery, eliminating many surgeries to replace batteries.]]
    Spent fuel should be recycled, not stored.
    Numec did not have a reactor. Numec “lost” some nuclear fuel. It wound up in Israel. The Israelis fueled their nuclear short cycle plutonium239 plant to make their nuclear weapons by stealing nuclear “waste.”

    Israel is one of the few countries that does not have its own uranium mine, but they could get uranium out of sea water.

    Numec is no longer in business. The reprocessing of nuclear fuel in the US stopped. That was the only politically possible solution at that time, given that private corporations did the reprocessing.

    My solution would be to reprocess the fuel at a Government Owned Government Operated [GOGO] facility. At a GOGO plant, bureaucracy and the multiplicity of ethnicity and religion would disable the transportation of uranium to Israel or to any unauthorized place. Nothing heavier than a secret would get out.

    The problem is political: The Republicans think GOGO plants are socialist/communist, which is nonsense. If a COCO [Contractor Owned Contractor Operated] plant is the low bidder, it is inevitably a front for Israel or some other country. We could send our spent fuel to France, Japan or Russia to be recycled.

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  108. 108. Asteroid Miner 1:50 am 02/14/2013

    Coal contains: URANIUM and all of the decay products of uranium, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine, Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium, THORIUM, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc. There is so much of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually valuable ores. We should be able to get ALL THE URANIUM AND THORIUM WE NEED TO FUEL NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS FOR CENTURIES BY USING COAL CINDERS AND SMOKE AS ORE. Unburned Coal and crude oil also contain
    BENZENE, THE CANCER CAUSER. We could get all of our uranium and thorium from coal ashes and cinders. The carbon content of coal ranges from 96% down to 25%, the remainder being rock of various kinds.
    If you are an underground coal miner, you may be in violation of the rules for radiation workers. The uranium decay chain includes the radioactive gas RADON, which you are breathing. Radon decays in about a day into polonium, the super-poison.

    Chinese industrial grade coal is sometimes stolen by peasants for cooking. The result is that the whole family dies of arsenic poisoning in days, not years because Chinese industrial grade coal contains large amounts of arsenic.

    Yes, that ARSENIC is getting into the air you breathe, the water you drink and the soil your food grows in. So are all of those other heavy metal poisons. Your health would be a lot better without coal. Benzene is also found in petroleum. If you have cancer, check for benzene in your past.
    in case the ORNL site does not work.

    Make coal fired power plants meet the same requirements on radiation release that nuclear power plants have to meet.

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  109. 109. Carlyle 1:58 am 02/14/2013

    105. curiouswavefunction 10:35 pm 02/13/2013
    Do not be discouraged. Rationality is winning at last. I have been countering miss information on the subject to the best of my ability for over fifty years.  During the last few years there has been a remarkable turn around.  People are becoming better educated & are seeing the holes in the anti nuclear arguments.  Just have to persevere by putting the facts up.  There is no convincing some people though, no matter how powerful your evidence, such as the Chernobyl situation.
    The argument becomes circular but while ever additional factual information can be presented it is worthwhile. There are usually many more people on the sidelines that are learning & forming opinions than the number of active participants.  I have confidence that the majority are more interested in facts than abusive rhetoric.

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  110. 110. jctyler 12:57 pm 02/14/2013

    curiouswave 105:

    I know I’m reading a US publication, I know US scholars tend to rely on US publications but they are simply not good enough/too influenced by special-interest groups.

    You could look for “chernobyl red forest wiki” for example if you wanted to see how US PR pros neuter a Wikipedia article. Or you can try “chernobyl disaster effect wiki” to see a page that has been kept objective by non-US contributors.

    More non-US results

    which is an English version of the work of on-site Ukrainian researchers.

    Want some strange, frigthening secondary aspects?

    The legend of a thriving Chernobyl forest is a fable that suits only one group. But it’s a powerful group with an enormous PR budget.

    What US channel would have broadcast this:

    (I quote the BBC on purpose to avoid as much as possible accusations of left-wing-liberal-communist-tree-hugging government-parasited intox.)

    Some of the comments here I believe to be honest inasmuch as these commenters trust their sources; except that their sources are no good. I don’t have a problem with that per se if it’s done in all honesty.

    Whereas I do mind the ones whom I’ve learned not to trust.
    The completely unfounded myth of a bustling Chernobyl forest was based on early impressions which were rather quickly abandoned by scientists but kept alive no wonder by the industry. This now well established urban myth is not only wrong, it is very dangerous. And the industry makes sure its points of interested view as posted here.

    My biggest problem then is then that some people here know EXACTLY that the Red Forest is a disaster area. And yet they keep posting the same lies about it. It is PR cynicism taken to a criminal level.

    It’s like reading those commenters who claim that radioactive waste is not a problem. Why then will it cost over 80 BILLION dollars to only industrially clean up the UK’s Sellafield site ALONE to a state of “controlled” threat for the next 5000 years?

    Regardless of how many times one posts the links to the scientific facts of the Chernobyl disaster or even general-public compilations of the facts, the same shills will come back and post the same “chernobyl tourist area” comments again with the next pro-nuclear power article… It’s insulting, it’s opinion terrorism, it’s anything but scientific… and I should take it sitting down everytime the lie is posted? The shills have a simple strategy, to keep posting the same PR stuff all the time until our side dies trying to reply with reason. They simply want to wear us down. It’s the same strategy as the NRA’s.

    The shills must celebrate everytime a honest commenter falls for their myth-spreading. But I find it’s too serious a subject to let these nuclear PR cynics get away with it.

    Link to this
  111. 111. jctyler 1:03 pm 02/14/2013

    asteroidminer 107:

    wasn’t NUMEC set up by Israeli agents precisely to get access to US weapons-grade uranium?

    and how far were certain US agencies favorably implicated/?

    Link to this
  112. 112. GreenMind 2:09 pm 02/14/2013

    Dr. Strangelove, you say, “David ignores the fact that nuclear has better safety record than fossil fuels and believes that bad engineers are found only in nuclear industry.”

    Of course, he said nothing of the kind. But you seem to believe that the nuclear industry is the only industry that does not have bad corporations, in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary.

    Link to this
  113. 113. GreenMind 2:18 pm 02/14/2013

    Carlyle, you say, “Just have to persevere by putting the facts up.”

    You are not putting “the facts” up. You are putting up a selected set of engineering facts, and never respond to to the true dangers which revolve around human error and corporate greed. Are you saying that calamities can never happen again, because now, finally, humans and corporations are not fallible anymore?

    Link to this
  114. 114. dwbd 2:55 pm 02/14/2013

    GreenMind it is you who is declaring himself infallible. You actually believe some nutty scams like Agro-fuels, Algae whatever, can power civilization, when in fact they can’t, not even close. You have no idea how serious and desperate the coming energy precipice is. You have no solution and yet you complain about possible calamities due to human error. Your human error is putting six billion lives at risk.

    And show us a link as to where you have ever critiqued the risks of Fossil Fuels, which are vastly greater than Nuclear Energy. You still have not justified your hypocritical focus on Nuclear power. As such, you ARE a sycophant of Big Corporate Carbon. They love guys like you, and even finance them. All you are doing is ensuring that the Corporatocracy can maintain Energy Hegemony, and hold all nations hostage to their strangle-hold on World Energy supply.

    Link to this
  115. 115. GreenMind 3:35 pm 02/14/2013

    Dr Strangelove, you say, “The Titanic sank because its water compartments were connected at the top. When filled with water, it flows to the other compartments. Another bad engineering design. The claim that Titanic was unsinkable is just hubris. All ships made of steel are sinkable. The primitive raft made of balsa wood is unsinkable because balsa wood is lighter than water.”

    Yes, the Titanic sank because its water compartments allowed water to flow over the top of the bulkheads. And because they did not give binoculars to the lookouts. And because the captain wanted to go fast. And because the designer did not anticipate that a glancing collision could buckle three compartments. And of course most people died because of the hubris of not having enough life boats for all. Yes, I agree, it was human error and hubris.

    These are examples of the black swan that David Burgess brought up: “the fat tail or “black swan” distribution problem (nuclear accidents are skewed in unmeasurable ways towards large catastrophes).”

    What is it that nuclear engineers are missing? I can cite some from this discussion. curiouswavefunction says “it would be virtually impossible for a terrorist to steal Pu from a reactor without killing himself”. In case he missed this over the past twelve years, it is impossible for a terrorist to fly a plane into a building without killing himself. It is impossible for a terrorist to detonate a suicide vest without killing himself. So if it is possible for a nuclear engineer to miss this bit of HUMAN reality, what else is he missing?

    BTW, I actually had the manganese thing backwards. Low manganese steel, which was used in the Titanic, made the steel brittle at low temperatures. I also have found that the steel may not have been sub-standard for the time it was made. I apologize for not researching further before commenting.

    Link to this
  116. 116. GreenMind 3:56 pm 02/14/2013

    Dr. Strangelove, you also ask, “Should we reject nuclear technology because of potential human errors? On ave. 2,700 people die everyday in car accidents. Why do you still use car?”

    Of course, that’s a silly argument, comparing the risks that everyday people take every day with the risks that educated people decide that an entire country (or continent or or planet) will take.

    But also it all depends on the degree of calamity that human error can cause in cars vs. in nuclear power plants. Can you give an estimate of how likely it is that a dedicated team of commandos can cause a meltdown of a nuclear power plant? My guess is that it is an example of a black swan, impossible to estimate, and skewed toward a REALLY bad scenario.

    There are also other unlikely scenarios that, if you add them all up, approach likelihood or even certainty. Undersea landslides have caused enormous tsunamis.

    From “On the night of July 9, 1958 an earthquake along the Fairweather Fault in the Alaska Panhandle loosened about 40 million cubic yards (30.6 million cubic meters) of rock high above the northeastern shore of Lituya Bay. . . . The force of the wave removed all trees and vegetation from elevations as high as 1720 feet (524 meters) above sea level. Millions of trees were uprooted and swept away by the wave. This is the highest wave that has ever been known.”

    In prehistoric times, a 70 foot tsunami hit wide stretches of Scotland, generated by the Storegga Slide. From Wikipedia: “This collapse involved an estimated 290 km (180 mi) length of coastal shelf, with a total volume of 3,500 km3 (840 cu mi) of debris.”

    Just to emphasize that, a volume of 840 cubic miles of sea floor collapsed in a landslide that caused a 70 foot tsunami hundreds of miles away.

    The Canary Islands and Hawaii have truly enormous masses of rock that will fall into the ocean some day (probably not soon. Probably.), and will cause enormous tsunamis that will hit Africa, Europe, North America, and South America.

    The near miss by the asteroid tomorrow reminds us that a Tunguska event can happen anywhere. There was one in the South Pacific a few years ago. One could hit a nuke, or just hit in the ocean near a coastline and cause a tsunami.

    I admit I’m risk averse. But if there is anything worse than a huge natural disaster that kills thousands or millions of people, it is a natural disaster that kills thousands or millions of people and also contains ground up nuclear power plants.

    Do any nuclear power proponents have an answer to the question of natural (and man-made) disasters, or are you simply optimistic about them?

    Link to this
  117. 117. jctyler 7:13 pm 02/14/2013

    follow English (or Russian or Ukrainian) link = info from and by the locals

    Link to this
  118. 118. dwbd 8:37 pm 02/14/2013

    What a stupid link, doesn’t show anything, do you even bother to check your links for one lousy second.

    Reputable analysis of the Chernobyl incident by ACTUAL Radiation Health Scientists:

    In the most accurate report on the Chernobyl incident, 31 died. 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…”

    “… Chernobyl of about 0.14 mSv, or 0.08 percent of the natural lifetime dose of 170 mSv. People living in the most contaminated areas of the former Soviet Union are now exposed to an average Chernobyl dose of about 1 mSv per year. But all these doses are dwarfed in comparison with natural radiation doses in some parts of the world. For example, in Brazil and southwestern France, natural radiation reaches up to more than 700 mSv per year (UNSCEAR 2000). No harmful health effects have ever been detected in areas with such high natural background radiation…”
    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.

    The World Health Organization most Rigorous Report ever done on the Chernobyl Health effects:

    “…The Expert Group concluded that there may be up to 4 000 additional cancer deaths among the three highest exposed groups over their lifetime (240 000 liquidators; 116 000 evacuees and the 270 000 residents of the SCZs). Since more than 120 000 people in these three groups may eventually die of cancer, the additional cancer deaths from radiation exposure correspond to 3-4% above the normal incidence of cancers from all causes…”

    That’s using the proven false LNT theory of radiation health effects. Deaths are certain to be less than that using proven research showing a minimal threshold for Radiation health effects:

    Link to this
  119. 119. Dr. Strangelove 11:44 pm 02/14/2013

    “Of course, he said nothing of the kind. But you seem to believe that the nuclear industry is the only industry that does not have bad corporations, in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary.”

    Sure, he just forgot to mention bad engineers in other industries and safety record of nuclear. Duh… Can you quote where I said that? Are you hearing voices in your head?

    “Of course, that’s a silly argument, comparing the risks that everyday people take every day with the risks that educated people decide that an entire country (or continent or or planet) will take.”

    It’s silly that you think it’s silly. You are an integral part of the risk decision making because the car industry exists to satisfy car buyers and users like you.

    “But also it all depends on the degree of calamity that human error can cause in cars vs. in nuclear power plants.”

    They answer is very clear. Car is worse by four orders of magnitude. Car death toll = a million every year.

    “Can you give an estimate of how likely it is that a dedicated team of commandos can cause a meltdown of a nuclear power plant?”

    Easy. Lower than an airline hitting a skyscraper. Lower than you getting hit by car while crossing a street.

    “Do any nuclear power proponents have an answer to the question of natural (and man-made) disasters, or are you simply optimistic about them?”

    Simple answer. Accidents happen in all industries. Nuclear has better safety record than fossil fuels. We are not optimistic. You are simply pessimistic of nuclear.

    Link to this
  120. 120. jctyler 7:44 am 02/15/2013

    dr strangelove: it’s far too expensive, it’s far too risky, it’s far too wasteful, the army’s priorities has blocked progress for decades, it’s drying up water ressources, it’s uncontrollable, its “hidden” effects are underrated and underplayed, nuclear power as we know it presently is a hype, people not only die from car accidents, there are even more people dying from obesity, that is not an excuse to consider present nuclear technology safer, its waste needs to be controlled for thousands of years, destructive nuclear is only kept alive from special interests which are not concerned with social comfort but only with power and money. If it was not so heavily subsidized because of the weapons’ industry it would have long ago been shelved and research could have gone in more promising and especially safer directions.

    Are we going to rehash the same old worn arguments forever and block real progress in the matter?

    Nuclear as it is is a failure.

    Time to move on or be left behind.

    Link to this
  121. 121. curiouswavefunction 11:10 am 02/15/2013

    I just want to note that comments with several links in them automatically go into the moderation queue and will take longer to appear. Keep up the great discussion.

    Link to this
  122. 122. jctyler 12:09 pm 02/15/2013

    dwbd 118: if you mean the link posted in comment 117, the one you characterize as “a stupid link, doesn’t show anything, do you even bother to check your links for one lousy second”

    the link posted leads to a page where you are normally given the choice of three languages to choose from; if you are not reading Russian or Ukrainian you select the English language button, marked by a British flag.

    Internet services being what they are in the Ukraine you may rather often first come to a page telling you that the link you were looking for does not exist; simply try five minutes later.

    Regarding the rest of your comment: all your links point to reports and sources from 2006.

    2006 was more or less the last year that a remaining minority of scientists believed the Red Forest to be miraculously healthy. But researchers became intrigued by butterflies with substantial mutations increasing from generation to generation and rodents which didn’t seem affected at all. In 2012 the butterfly problem has gone worse, I believe there was a good article about it in the printed SciAm, and the rodents don’t look so cuddly anymore either.

    The INT did not exactly cover itself in glory with its report anyway. Which might have a few valid reasons but was in part also the result of using outdated data, wishful-thinking glasses and a somewhat carefree approach to biological assessment.

    Better to find post-2006 material. Read through this for example
    and search for whatever you find in there prefixed by “Chernobyl”.

    The 2000 death due to thyroïd cancer alone as a direct result from the incident are already quite a few more than the “as of mid-2005… fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster” as posted. (You will note in passing that this commenter’s 2013 comment keeps quoting pre-2006 sources. Because those were more nuke-friendly as the post-2006? Why not quote more recent sources, let’s say from between 2006 and 2012? Which the period where even the late sleepers woke up to the strange stuff going on surreptitiously in Chornobyl.) Quoting a pre-2006 report on Chornobyl radioactive biodegradation is like quoting a 1950s report on the risk of cigarettes.

    Chernobyl is a disaster and we haven’t seen the worst of it yet. It’s a bit like climate change. Funny though that some of the most vocal pro-nukers here I also remember as climate change deniers. There’s a cognitive link somewhere in there…

    Link to this
  123. 123. curiouswavefunction 12:55 pm 02/15/2013

    jctyler: “Funny though that some of the most vocal pro-nukers here I also remember as climate change deniers.”

    You just proved my point (#4). It’s pretty rare for a commenter to validate a point made in a post almost perfectly, so thank you.

    By the way you should consider the possibility that your obsession over Chernobyl is reaching a point of diminishing returns. What’s the point of constantly talking about Chernobyl? It’s a worst-case scenario which does not really help us with a debate about averages. You seem to labor under the belief that multiple six-year-old pieces of evidence (gathered over the previous twenty years) are invalid only because they are six years old. You provide no recent evidence that’s radically different from the old evidence. In addition you keep pointing to links that a. either don’t work or b. themselves say that “Fortunately, thyroid cancer is a very treatable disease, so few of the 2,000 who have developed it as a result of Chernobyl have died.”

    No matter how you slice it, it’s clear that the worst case estimate for deaths from the world’s worst nuclear accident does not exceed about 5000. Nobody here is saying that Chernobyl was trivial or that it should be ignored (and the mountains of literature on it make it clear that it has not been ignored), but we are all pointing out that if even the worst nuclear accident in history killed far fewer people than almost every other chemical, industrial or fossil fuel source, why would anyone point to it as emblematic of everything that could go wrong with nuclear power? This is about perspective and context more than anything else.

    Link to this
  124. 124. jctyler 7:03 pm 02/15/2013


    because Chornobyl is the perfect illustration of what can happen. And according to the good doctor, it will of course then happen. And the more reactors the more likely and all of that.

    Or simply add up the financial cost of Sellafield and Chornobyl over only the next 100 years.

    And you don’t think there are better, cheaper, more efficient ways? Especially if one used a fraction of the fission subsidies to fund better and more energy-efficient equipment.

    More nukes for what? More efficient energy production, a more intelligent consumption and revolutionary storage is the way to go IMO. The US produces already far more than it would need if it was using energy resources more efficiently.

    Link to this
  125. 125. jctyler 7:14 pm 02/15/2013


    “You just proved my point (#4). It’s pretty rare for a commenter to validate a point made in a post almost perfectly, so thank you.”

    So you, the blogger, would be the poster of comment nr 4? curiouswavefunction = carlyle? Or that you agree with message 4?

    Anyway, all in all current and foreseeable nuclear energy production is _extremely_ polluting.

    As for coal, if only a part of the tax money that went into fission would have gone into coal research coal would still be a very interesting product for the mid-term.

    Link to this
  126. 126. GreenMind 5:21 pm 02/19/2013

    “GreenMind it is you who is declaring himself infallible.”

    Since I never said anything like that, it must be you who thinks so, and I’m flattered. But I’m far too fallible, I’m afraid.

    “You actually believe some nutty scams like Agro-fuels, Algae whatever, can power civilization, when in fact they can’t, not even close.”

    My first and best strategy is insulating houses, then more efficient electric transportation including public transit and electric or hybrid vehicles, and then lots and lots of solar panels and passive solar heating, and then wind power provided by lots of farmers with extra income from windmills in their fields. In developing countries a great deal of deforestation (and disease, assaults, rapes, and time) can be avoided with solar ovens. A few solar panels can power the needs of an entire village. China is pouring money into converting to solar, even while they are also building coal power plants.

    Solar energy is here now. You could put solar panels on your roof in a month instead of waiting ten years for nuclear power plants to be approved and built.

    I never mentioned agro-fuels. I provided a link to a power plant in Italy that uses the CO2 released by a power plant to grow algae, which is then fed back into the power plant for direct combustion, no conversion to fuel. Venice plans of powering the entire port with that one power plant.

    “You have no idea how serious and desperate the coming energy precipice is. You have no solution and yet you complain about possible calamities due to human error. Your human error is putting six billion lives at risk.”

    Why don’t you provide a link to show how serious the energy precipice is. Do you have anything that is not funded by the nuclear industry? In my opinion the safest option is to have solar panels on every roof and over every parking lot. It is a lot less vulnerable to failure of the grid, to hurricanes, to terrorists, etc., than anything else, because it is a distributed source of energy, and you can just take your house off the grid if there is a power failure, like if a very hot day makes the power lines sag and short out. Hot days are coming.

    “And show us a link as to where you have ever critiqued the risks of Fossil Fuels, which are vastly greater than Nuclear Energy. You still have not justified your hypocritical focus on Nuclear power. As such, you ARE a sycophant of Big Corporate Carbon. They love guys like you, and even finance them.”

    I comment regularly on global warming articles. This may actually be the first time I have commented on nuclear power on SA. I consider CO2-driven warming to be a global calamity in the making. The mercury, strip mining, acid rain, and wars caused by dependence on fossil fuels are also serious problems. It is REALLY funny to me that anyone calls me a sycophant of Big Corporate Carbon. I’m literally laughing out loud at that. Try this one:

    You still don’t believe in natural cataclysms. Do you mind if I ask why?

    Link to this
  127. 127. GreenMind 5:51 pm 02/19/2013

    @Dr Strangelove
    I said “Of course, he said nothing of the kind. But you seem to believe that the nuclear industry is the only industry that does not have bad corporations, in spite of plenty of evidence to the contrary.”

    You said, “Sure, he just forgot to mention bad engineers in other industries and safety record of nuclear. Duh… Can you quote where I said that? Are you hearing voices in your head?”

    When I said “You seem to believe,” that is my interpretation, not a quote. Do I have to explain that?

    “The car industry exists to satisfy car buyers and users like you.”

    Yes, it does not exist to make long term decisions about the kinds of technology that will be good for the planet. Though they make that decision anyway.

    “Car is worse by four orders of magnitude. Car death toll = a million every year.”

    The annual death toll is not the question. I readily agree that that the death toll of many of our activities is higher than nuclear power. But the RISK of a much greater accident is much higher with nuclear. (By the way, where do you get that number? Wikipedia says that in the US there are 40,000 in the US every year.)

    I said, “Can you give an estimate of how likely it is that a dedicated team of commandos can cause a meltdown of a nuclear power plant?”

    You said, “Easy. Lower than an airline hitting a skyscraper.”

    Since it actually happened, the probability of an airplane hitting a skyscraper is now 100%.

    “Lower than you getting hit by car while crossing a street.”

    And people get hit by cars every day. It does not give me confidence that there will not be a meltdown of a nuclear reactor. So are you saying that it is very likely and that we have been very, very, lucky so far?

    “Do any nuclear power proponents have an answer to the question of natural (and man-made) disasters, or are you simply optimistic about them?”

    “Simple answer. Accidents happen in all industries. Nuclear has better safety record than fossil fuels.”

    Nuclear NEEDS a much better safety record than fossil fuels just to function at the same level of safety. In fact, disregarding minor releases, it needs a PERFECT safety record to avoid making entire continents uninhabitable. What we need is no meltdowns at all for any nuclear reactors, for as long as they exist, agreed? Not even if one is taken over by terrorists, or hit by an asteroid, or picked up by a moderate tsunami, or the operators all die of the next Spanish Flu, or a Taliban Jihad kills all educated people including nuclear engineers. It has to have a ZERO rate of meltdowns for at least the next couple of hundred years, or a hundred thousand if there is nuclear waste. There IS going to be nuclear waste, isn’t there?

    Somehow it doesn’t inspire confidence.

    “We are not optimistic. You are simply pessimistic of nuclear.”

    Your blind optimism makes me deeply pessimistic.

    Link to this
  128. 128. jctyler 8:18 am 02/20/2013

    More people die every year from bad eating habits in the US alone than have died in all nuclear power plant accidents worldwide together.

    What does that prove? According to some here this could prove that nuclear power is safer than junk food.

    Naw, seriously, comments sections such as this one are extremely valuable. I’ve learned more about the US public’s view on the subject in the comments section of SciAm than I could ever hope to learn through classical research.

    But I’d like to try a shortcut direct to the heart of the matter, don’t worry, it’s only three questions:

    Can anyone tell me the overall cost of an average US nuclear power plant* from its conception to the end of its waste disposal? (* producing approx 7.5 bn kWh p.a., correct me if I’m wrong.)

    Who is paying for that?

    What does a kilowatt of nuclear energy really cost based on the reply to question 1?

    That’s really all I want to know.

    Link to this
  129. 129. jctyler 12:01 pm 02/21/2013

    All these experts and nobody can tell me the global cost of an average nuclear power plant?

    Link to this
  130. 130. jctyler 8:27 pm 02/22/2013

    Since the commenting pro-nuke experts don’t dare come out with the figures, here goes:

    (re)loading (50 years)
    operating and maintaining (50 years)
    decommissioning (20 years)
    waste disposal (I use 200 years only because I believe/hope we will eventually find a way to accelerate the process)

    insurance not included (too massive; taxpayer will carry)
    interest rates on invested capital not included
    possible environmental damage not included
    possible major accidents not included

    45 to 60 bn

    per average nuclear power plant using present technology

    Link to this
  131. 131. jctyler 8:23 pm 02/23/2013

    update to message 130
    “possible major accidents not included”

    Hanford is now “informally” moved up to a possible disaster/catastrophy that would affect the whole NorthWest of the US if the leaks can’t be found out, sealed off and the tens of thousands of gallons of nuclear waste not be disposed of safely in the shortest time.

    But maybe this is just another example of what Ash Jogalekar calls “Bad psychological connections… in the minds of many liberals… rather unjustified”, meaning that the Hanford incident isn’t really dangerous because it only exists in the psychological connections of liberal minds. IOW, according to Mr J., the Hanford threat doesn’t really exist.

    Sen. Wyden of Oregon, chairman of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, seems to disagree but then of course he is a Democrat and as such should be seen through the point of view detailed in Mr J’s Article 4 above.

    Another completely unjustified scarecrow is the Tri-City Herald, which I didn’t know about until recently, and which claims that “The entire Northwest is watching progress at the vitrification plant as if the region’s future depends on it, because it does”. They probably didn’t get a chance to read this blog first or they would know better. Or they are liberals (because they “believe” there is a nuke-related threat).

    But I grant Mr J. that he picked the right time to publish the results of HIS “psychological connections” (nothing personal, simply quoting his own, see above).

    Isn’t nuclear fun?

    Link to this
  132. 132. jctyler 8:16 am 02/24/2013

    Been told just now that the leak is not for a few tens of thousands of gallons of highly radioactive sludge but that provisional government estimates put the number at up to/around 520 million gallons.

    Making the region effectively a disaster area.

    The only reason why it has not been declared this is that no one dares come out with it.

    Can anyone confirm these numbers?
    Does anyone have public (as opposed to “I’m told”) figures on water and land pollution?
    Anyone have medical figures?

    Bonus question: why does Hanford City council not mention the site and the disaster on its pages? At least some warning/advice? (Where I live that would be considered a political scandal.)

    Liberals’ psychological connections? My a ftershave!

    Link to this
  133. 133. jctyler 8:19 am 02/24/2013

    In the light of these events I suggest re-reading

    and find the funny bits in there.

    Link to this
  134. 134. jctyler 9:58 am 02/25/2013

    to the author:

    strange that the usual nuke fans have not come back at me as usual so I’ll conclude:

    I do not agree with your article but in all fairness you made an effort to transmit your opinion honestly, and yes, with the exuberant conviction of youth. Most importantly though you triggered a collection of comments representing quite a good compilation of the discussion so I shall refer to your article in the future if I want to give somebody a good overview of what drives the public debate. Yours is the type of blogging that I can live with. In that sense, job well done.

    Link to this
  135. 135. jctyler 10:41 pm 03/3/2013

    Just been told to reread my message 132 cc a rather embarrassing mistake which would have been immediately noticed if this was team work. What with billions your side and milliarden our side and the difference between inches and centimetres having been known to mess up space data, I had converted the US number given to me into a European unit, did a quick calculation, reconverted into US, got my spaces mixed up with your commas and the result was litres divided into imperial gallons which is not the same as US gallons, the correct number being 1.9x million litres. A classical iron-in-spinach snafu. If you hadn’t corrected by yourself, sorry for the enormous blunder. Still, it’s a catastrophy for the area.

    Link to this
  136. 136. NicholasBrush 10:05 am 09/19/2014

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  137. 137. ChristyMurray 3:56 pm 10/10/2014

    One “basic fact” is that the accepted standard radiation risk estimates point to an eventual 50,000 fatal cancers from Chernobyl, and 5,000 from Fukushima. See Dr Ian Fairlie’s page at for more detail. Dr. Fairlie is a professional radiobiologist.

    Link to this
  138. 138. ChristyMurray 5:29 pm 10/19/2014

    Curiosity led me to check the first reference given : “There’s several objective books that presents a balanced view of the topic. As a starting point I would recommend Richard Rhodes’s article in Foreign Affairs”

    However, this turned out to be an appallingly credulous, ignorant and garbled account of the the low level radiation situation and LNT, arguing that “Boo! Coal emits more 100 times more radioactivity than nuclear!” – which is actually incorrect by a factor of about fifty, according to the original Oak Ridge study by McBride et al in the 1970′s – while simultaneously claiming that low level radioactivity might be good for you (so why make a big deal about coal radioactivity in the first place?).

    And if one were genuinely concerned about the horrendous health damage from coal – - rather than using it as a convenient pro-nuclear propaganda weapon – then, for a start, retrofitting the latest filters would, according to the EPA, reduce particulate emissions and the resultant health damage by 98%. Such retrofitting would take months rather than the years nuclear construction would necessitate, and would entail a tiny fraction of the cost.

    But in particular the argument by Rhodes that “there is no evidence that low-level radiation exposure increases cancer risk. In fact, there is good evidence that it does not. There is even good evidence that exposure to low doses of radioactivity improves health and lengthens life, probably by stimulating the immune system much as vaccines do ” is an utterly ignorant, unscientific disgrace, and has no place in any reputable journal.

    It is very much an extremist minority scientific position, an ideology almost, which, although continually trumpeted by extreme pro-nuclear propagandists, has been thoroughly dealt with by both the ICRP and by BEIR committees (see extract below), among others. There is very good evidence, widely accepted among the scientific community, that low-level radiation increases cancer risk, from the RERF studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, from nuclear worker studies, from X-ray and CT scan studies, and from natural background radiation studies.

    Although the numbers of nuclear-induced cancers may be “small” compared to the massive numbers of naturally-occurring cancers (and likewise individual risks, even to local residents from a major accident, may be small, or very small, generally of the order of one in hundreds for the most exposed to one in a thousand or one in tens of thousands as the dose decreases further afield), nonetheless LNT points to an eventual overall Chernobyl death toll in the region of 50,000, with a possible further 5,000 from Fukushima. A major accident at any nuclear plant could result in similar levels of casualties, with those closest to the plant worst affected (depending on prevailing winds), even with massive evacuation and countermeasures. Since those confidently preaching minimal risk of a major accident are those who confidently preached decades ago that accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima could only happen once in a million years per reactor, the nuclear industry has a colossal credibility problem, and a majority of people, probably including a majority of educated, perfectly sensible, rational, informed people, in the west do not want a new nuclear power plant in their area.

    It is possible the other arguments advanced by Rhodes and The Curious wavefunction have some merit, but their treatment of the low level radiation issue calls their entire articles into question.

    For a more detailed information on the low level radiation issue, see Dr. Ian Fairlie’s site at . Dr. Fairlie is a professional radiobiologist.

    “some materials provided to the committee suggest that the LNT model exaggerates the health effects of low levels of ionizing radiation.They say that the risks are lower than predicted by the LNT, that they are nonexistent, or that low doses of radiation may even be beneficial. The committee also does not accept this hypothesis.

    Instead, the committee concludes that the
    preponderance of information indicates that there will be
    some risk, even at low doses. As the simple risk calculations
    in this Public Summary show, the risk at low doses will be
    small. Nevertheless, the committee’s principal risk model
    for solid tumors predicts a linear decrease in cancer incidence
    with decreasing dose.

    Before coming to this conclusion, the committee reviewed
    articles arguing that a threshold or decrease in effect does
    exist at low doses. Those reports claimed that at very low
    doses, ionizing radiation does not harm human health or may
    even be beneficial. The reports were found either to be based
    on ecologic studies or to cite findings not representative of
    the overall body of data.

    Ecologic studies assess broad regional associations, and
    in some cases, such studies have suggested that the incidence
    of cancer is much higher or lower than the numbers observed
    with more precise epidemiologic studies. When the complete
    body of research on this question is considered, a consensus
    view emerges. This view says that the health risks of
    ionizing radiation, although small at low doses, are a function
    of dose.

    Both the epidemiologic data and the biological data are
    consistent with a linear model at doses where associations
    can be measured. The main studies establishing the health
    effects of ionizing radiation are those analyzing survivors of
    the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in 1945.
    Sixty-five percent of these survivors received a low dose of
    radiation, that is, low according to the definition used in this
    report (equal to or less than 100 mSv). The arguments for
    thresholds or beneficial health effects are not supported by
    these data. Other work in epidemiology also supports the
    view that the harmfulness of ionizing radiation is a function
    of dose. Further, studies of cancer in children following exposure
    in utero or in early life indicate that radiation-induced
    cancers can occur at low doses. For example, the Oxford
    Survey of Childhood Cancer found a “40 percent increase in
    the cancer rate among children up to [age] 15.”20 This increase
    was detected at radiation doses in the range of 10 to
    20 mSv.

    There is also compelling support for the linearity view of
    how cancers form. Studies in radiation biology show that “a
    single radiation track (resulting in the lowest exposure possible)
    traversing the nucleus of an appropriate target cell has
    a low but finite probability of damaging the cell’s DNA.”21
    Subsets of this damage, such as ionization “spurs” that can
    cause multiple damage in a short length of DNA, may be
    difficult for the cell to repair or may be repaired incorrectly.
    The committee has concluded that there is no compelling
    evidence to indicate a dose threshold below which the risk of
    tumor induction is zero.

    Despite the challenges associated with understanding the
    health effects of low doses of low-LET radiation, current
    knowledge allows several conclusions. The BEIR VII committee
    concludes that current scientific evidence is consistent
    with the hypothesis that there is a linear dose-response
    relationship between exposure to ionizing radiation and the
    development of radiation-induced solid cancers in humans.
    The committee further judges it unlikely that a threshold
    exists for the induction of cancers but notes that the occurrence
    of radiation-induced cancers at low doses will be small………”

    “…….In interpreting these studies, it is inappropriate to select only
    those that are consistent with an excess or deficit of disease.
    Rather, the entire distribution must be examined to assess
    the likely relationship between exposure and disease.
    The studies discussed here illustrate the variability that is
    inherent in all epidemiologic studies and the need to evaluate
    the entire body of relevant literature in order to assess
    possible associations between radiation and disease, be they
    positive or negative. In its evaluation of the literature and in
    its discussions, the committee has found no consistent evidence
    in the epidemiologic literature that low doses of ionizing
    radiation lower the risk of disease or death. Some studies
    show isolated positive associations between radiation exposure
    and disease, and some show isolated negative associations.
    However, the weight of the evidence does not lead to
    the interpretation that low doses of radiation exert what in
    biological terms is called hormesis.


    The committee concludes that the assumption that any
    stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation
    will have a significant health benefit to humans that
    exceeds potential detrimental effects from the radiation exposure
    is unwarranted at this time.”

    The US National Academy of Sciences

    BEIR VII report

    Link to this

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