Nuclear Power – Yes Please! (why we need nuclear energy to beat climate change)

Here is my side of the ABC Environment ‘debate’ I’ve had with Ian Lowe, based around my book ‘Why vs Why: Nuclear Power“.

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The arguments against nuclear power are hackneyed and wrong

In part two of a two-part debate on the prospect of nuclear power in Australia, Barry Brook argues that the arguments against nuclear are hackneyed and wrong. Part 1, “Nuclear Power – No Thanks!” by Ian Lowe can be read here.

The world is caught between dwindling energy resources and increasing climate change.

As China and India expand their economies, with the very human aim of improving the prosperity and quality of life enjoyed by their citizens, the global demand for cheap, convenient energy grows rapidly. If this demand is met by fossil fuels, we are headed for both an energy supply bottleneck and, due to the massive carbon emissions from fossil fuels, a climate disaster.

Ironically, if climate change is the “inconvenient truth” facing our fossil fuel-dependent society, then the inconvenient solution staring right back is advanced nuclear power. Not, as many suppose, renewable energy sources such as solar and wind (although they will play some role).

There is a shopping list of ‘standard objections’ mounted by those who challenge the viability or desirability of nuclear power. None of these arguments stands up to scrutiny.

Opponents claim that if the world ran on nuclear energy, uranium supplies would run out in at most a few decades and nuclear power plants would then have to shut down. This is false. The nuclear fuels, uranium and thorium, are both more abundant than tin, and with the new generation of fast spectrum breeders and thorium reactors, we would have abundant nuclear energy for millions of years. Yet even if it lasted a mere 1000 years, we would have ample time to develop exotic new future energy sources.

Critics argue that past nuclear accidents mean the technology is inherently dangerous. However, this simply ignores the fact that it is already hundreds of times safer than the coal, gas and oil we currently rely upon. Moreover, passive safety features do not rely on engineered intervention and remove the chance of human error, making it impossible to have a repeat of serious accidents such as Chernobyl.

Some contend that expanding commercial nuclear power would increase the risk of spreading nuclear weapons. Firstly, this has not been true historically. Furthermore, the products of modern ‘dry’ fuel recycling in fast reactors cannot be used for bombs. Indeed, burning plutonium in fast reactors takes this material permanently out of circulation, and is the most practical disposal mechanism imaginable.

Is the sun enough? No way!

Those opposed to nuclear energy claim it would leave a legacy of nuclear waste which would have to be managed for tens of thousands of years. This is true only if we do not recycle the uranium and other heavy metals in the waste (called “transuranics”) to extract all their useful energy.

Right now, mined uranium is cheap. However, in the longer term, a once-through-and-throw-away use of nuclear fuel – which extracts less than 1 per cent of the energy – will make no economic sense. Feeding ‘nuclear waste’ into fast reactors will use all the energy in uranium, and liquid fluoride thorium reactors will access the energy stored in thorium.

After repeated recycling, the tiny quantity of fission products (shattered uranium atoms) that remain will become less radioactive than natural granites and monazite sands within 300 years.

To claim that large amounts of energy (generating greenhouse gases) would be required to mine, process and enrich uranium, and to construct and later decommission nuclear power stations simply ignores a wealth of real-world data. Authoritative and independently verified whole-of-life-cycle analyses have repeatedly shown that energy inputs to nuclear power are as low as, or lower than, wind, hydro and solar thermal, and less than half those of solar photovoltaic panels.

That is today’s reality. In a future all-electric society – which includes electric or synthetic-fuelled vehicles supplied by nuclear power plants – greenhouse gas emissions from the nuclear cycle would be zero.

Finally, when all other arguments have been refuted, critics fall back on the claim that nuclear power takes too long to build or is too expensive compared to renewable energy. These arguments are perhaps the most regularly and transparently false arguments thrown up by those trying to block nuclear power from competing on a fair and level playing field with other energy sources.

Is nuclear power enough? Sure is!

Indeed, the evidence on energy replacement I present in the ‘yes’ case of the new book ‘Why vs Why: Nuclear Power’ (Pantera Press, 2010) demonstrates that large-scale nuclear power actually offers the fastest, cheapest and the only complete solution to ending our dependence on coal, oil and gas.

Many environmentalists believe the best low-carbon solution is for governments to guide us back to simpler, less energy-consuming lives, a vastly less consumer-oriented world. Notions like that are unrealistic. The world will continue to need energy, and lots of it. But fossil fuels are not a viable future option. Nor are renewables the main answer. There is no single solution, or “silver bullet”, for solving the energy and climate crises, but there are bullets, and they’re made of uranium and thorium, the fuels needed for nuclear plants.

It is time we embrace nuclear energy as a cornerstone of the carbon-free revolution the world needs to address climate change and long-term energy security in a world beyond fossil fuels. Advanced nuclear power that provides the technological key to unlocking awesome potential of these energy metals for the benefit humankind and for the ultimate sustainability of our global society.

Professor Barry Brook is the Sir Hubert Wilkins Chair of Climate Change at the University of Adelaide’s Environment Institute. He runs a popular climate change and energy options blog at http://bravenewclimate.com

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111 Comments

  1. Im absolutely agree with you and support plenty the use of nuclear fission to mitigate climate change, as the most friendly, economically feasible and technically efficient source of energy the world needs right now. In Mexico were starting the same debate and in Australia and peoples mind change in favour when are well informed. Go Nuclear power for the next thousand years!

  2. Even if we didn’t use breeder or fast reactor technologies, there’s still enough uranium in sea water to provide all of our energy requirements (electricity, synfuels, and industrial chemicals) for three to five thousand years.

    But commercial breeder and fast reactors will probably be online before the middle of the century which will mean that humans will be able to power our society forever with clean nuclear energy.

  3. You have to put this information out there where the average worker can see,read,hear & talk about it.. A large portion of the world still has not forgotten Chernobyl.. And until you can convince them that this is a safe technology; you are always going to have an insane resisstance to nuclear energy

  4. The push by Vietnam for nuclear power obviously needs to be seen in the context of Asian economic growth. The Asian Development Bank forecasts growth across the whole of central and east Asia at 7.5% for 2010 and 7.3% for 2011. Big numbers.

    Asian Development Outlook 2010

    This really does make a mockery of suggestions that energy efficiency (no matter how desirable) and changes of culture and lifestyle in western countries can seriously address the climate problem.

  5. Takes too long to build nuke power plants?
    3 years from first concrete pour to loading fuel rods.
    China AD 2010.
    Look, I´ve said it before and I´ll say it again, allow the market mechanism to determine which powerplant to be built, and fission wins hands down. Cost/Kw-No Co2 emissions -24/7 Availability etc.
    The only thing the government has to do is not regulate the bejesus out of the nuclear industry, and/or price CO2 emissions for what they are , ie a climate altering substance. But I suppose I am preaching to the choir here on this site .

  6. Scott,
    Thanks for a very interesting link.

    The study has a built in bias against coal fired plants so I wanted to figure out how to convert “$30/tonne of CO2″ into $/MWh. Am I right to assume that coal plants emit ~1 tonne of Co2 per MWh?

    If I am right, the bias against coal works out at about $30/MWh, which makes a huge difference to the economic comparisons.

    While I believe that nuclear power will be cheaper in the long run, you need to tinker with the market through carbon trading to make nuclear look dramatically less expensive than coal at today’s prices.

  7. Whether ‘climate change’ is impending, imminent and catastrophic or a yet-future event and manageable, nuclear power for electricity, desalination and industrial applications is the most logical and defensible source. It is intellectually dishonest to say otherwise. Good job, Dr. Brook, on your concise post – a hallmark of yours.

    As to resource depletion, I’d appreciate anyone’s response to this take on ‘Peak Oil’:
    http://rayharvey.org/index.php/2010/01/peak-oil/

  8. Thanks Barry and DocForesight. We’ve just got to get out there and tell the masses the truth about nuclear power. It’s our turn to shout down the irrational anti-nukes, Lowe, Henry, Green, Diesendorf, Brown etc. They’ve had their say. It’s time we had ours.Let’s do it. Could I suggest that we each pen a letter to the Australian to reach them on the same day. How about for Wed August 3? If they get twenty plus letters from us, they might print two or three. Send it to: letters@theaustralian.com.au. I’ve had two printed in the last month. How about it guys??

  9. DocForesight,
    Thanks for the interesting piece on “Peak Oil”. Ray Harvey is surely right when he suggests that there is much more oil out there than even the most optimistic estimates predict.

    That said, it is still a poor use of fossil fuels to burn them to heat our houses, generate electricity or power our motor cars given that there are viable alternatives.

    The “Easy Oil” IS running out so we drill deeper and develop new resources such as tar shales. This means increased production costs that are driving gas prices higher but this effect is small compared to the impact of increasing demand caused by the rapid industrialisation of countries such as China and India.

    The rising prices for fossil fuels are good news for all other energy sources and for nuclear power most of all.

    Ray Harvey points out that “Environmentalism” is a tool of Neo-Marxism that aims to replace free markets and individual liberty with government coercion.

    While I support the aims of this blog when they are pushing nuclear power, I part company from them when they recommend “Big Government” or even more repugnant “World Government” solutions. The best way to change the behaviour of billions of people is by persuasion rather than coercion. For example, given a choice, most consumers would buy electricity from whoever offered them the best deal. The big problem for Australia is that there are no NPPs at all so how can there be market competition between coal and nuclear?

  10. I think it is possible that Peak Oil could cause a global economic slowdown that takes coal with it, not so much natural gas or tar sands. For example less point in shipping goods from China if the shipping fuel cost is too high. In turn China burns less coal. For some reason the world oil price is just half what it was in 2008 despite lower production now. That suggests the jitters could return any time. Combine that with an El Nino year when food production is difficult and there could be a major panic attack. Conservatives who think economic numbers must always be bigger and better will take it the hardest.

    When though? This bloke reckons 2012. I’m sure there will tough times ahead certainly within the next decade due to the PO/GW conjunction. That is, I don’t think we will all be better off in a material sense.

  11. DocForesight and Camel,

    If you want to discuss peak oil (or coal or gas) why don’t you make the minimal effort to find at least one authoritative source regarding known reserves, rate of consumption and rate of discovery of new reserves rather than relying on a kook who thinks that “Environmentalism is Neo-Marxism”. Plain logical suggests that might be a decent starting point.

    Methinks you are more interested in spreading so called “libertarian” ideology than anything else.

  12. Gallopingcamel

    I disagree we should be advocating putting a price on carbon for electricity generation. I agree with regulating emissions for power plants. That is the correct way, IMO, to internalise the cost of CO2 emissions.

    The reason I oppose putting a price on carbon for electricity generation is here: http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/01/31/alternative-to-cprs/#comment-81570 and how to achieve is in the following post.

    If we add a price on carbon, through tax or other method, many of the regulatory distortions that make it impossible for nuclear to compete on level playing field will remain in place. They may be removed slowly and some may never be removed. Putting a price on carbon is covering up the real problem. The real problem was really well put by Uncle Pete in this much of what he said:

    Look, I´ve said it before and I´ll say it again, allow the market mechanism to determine which powerplant to be built, and fission wins hands down. Cost/Kw-No Co2 emissions -24/7 Availability etc.
    The only thing the government has to do is not regulate the bejesus out of the nuclear industry, …

    The sort of impediments and regulatory distortions to the market that are blocking nuclear in Australia are:

    1. ban on nuclear power
    2. high investor risk premium because of the politics
    3. Renewable Energy Targets
    4. Renewable Energy Certificates
    5. Feed in Tariffs for renewables
    6. Subsidies and tax advantages for renewable energy
    7. Subsidies and tax advantages for fossil fuel electricity generators
    8. subsidies for transmission and grid enhancements to support renewable energy
    9. massive funding for research into renewable energy
    10. massive subsidies for research into carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)
    11. Guarantees that the government will carry the risk for any leakage from CCS
    12. No equivalent guarantee for management of once used nuclear fuel
    13. Massive subsidies and government facilitation for the gas industry, coal seam gas and coal to gas industries (despite the latter putting toxic chemicals into the ground water and the Great Artesian Basin water)
    14. Fast tracking of the approvals process for wind power, solar power, gas industry, coal industry while nuclear industry remains band from even fair comparative studies by Treasury, Productivity Commission, ABARE, Department of Climate change and more. We can just imagine what the approvals process would be like for a nuclear power plant!!

  13. Peter – I find this argument for the removal of a whole range of regulations extremely persuasive. It is entirely consistent with the sort of situation I see in all manner of public policy areas where the stock standard solutions entail new regulation but the problem in fact persists or exists due to excess regulations.

    In terms of whether fossil fuel emissions should be taxed or regulated I think both represent a cost to business and neither makes much real difference if you don’t remove the regulations that impede nuclear. It is far better in my view to to withdraw the props of industry assistance than to add new regulations.

  14. Peter Lang, 29 July 2010 at 17.15

    Interesting list you have there, but I think you can really just narrow it down to the first two points. Get rid of the ban and risk premium on nuclear power in Australia, and the other points will surely disappear pretty quickly.

    Perhaps introducing a carbon price after removing regulations on nuclear would be good for the nuclear industry. Might give it the competitive advantage over the coal industry that it deserves after decades of being disadvantaged (i.e. banned). It would also slow/stop Australia’s native forests from being knocked down.

  15. Peter Lang,
    You are all too well aware of the mountain you have to climb to get even one NPP on line in Australia. I support your efforts from afar and plan to send information from my home state in the hope that it will help.

    During August I will visit several large scale electricity generating facilities and plan to send my findings to Barry for review (off-line).

    Here in Florida we have thermal solar, photo-voltaic, fossil fuel and nuclear power generation. Having such a broad mix of generating technologies means that the professionals at Florida Power & Light have experience that few other operating companies can claim. IMHO these opinions should have great weight compared to the barrage of conflicting academic studies we are subjected to.

    quokka,
    I understand that you, Fran Barlow and others on this blog hold opposite views to mine when it comes to politics; even so we may be able to work together on energy policy if we don’t let ideology get in the way of doing what makes sense.

  16. If Julia Gillard really wants a consensus on climate action why doesn’t she take up shadow minister Greg Hunt’s offer of a consensus on nuclear power.

    You can’t get much more politically consensual than having a bipartisan agreement on including nuclear power in the current MRET renewables scheme.

    The barriers to consensus on climate action at the moment are assumed to be the AGW sceptics. But climate sceptics are usually pro-nuclear, which is to say they are renewable sceptics too. If the folly of relying on large scale renewables as the major response to energy reform was removed from the equation, by means of introducing the bipartisan nuclear alternative, much of the sceptical opposition to action on climate would disappear.

    And, on the other side, amongst those who favour climate action, the believers in global warming theory, there are many who are, nonetheless, pro-nuclear, as this site itself attests. People like James Hanson, the NASA arch-warmist, and James Lovelock, inventor of the Gaia hypothesis, come to mind, as well as Bob Carr, and even Ziggy Switowski.

    This leaves the diehard-greenie anti-nuclear rump out on its own. As near as a national consensus as we will ever get, I would say.

    There will never be a consensus on action over climate change while nuclear power is out of the mix. Simple as that.

    Julia Gillard should therefore grab the nuclear consensus on offer, severely split the greens, and laugh all the way to election day.

    Julia, surprise us all, and change the game!

  17. I just wonder if it will be within 1 year, 5 or 10. How far down the path of failure (to replace coal/gas) do they have to go before the penny drops?

    I fear that under a re-elected labour government, not for at least the next term, with the Greens holding the balance of power. The same probably goes for the coalition as well.

  18. Talking about dropping the penny I caught the tail end of the interview with Penny Wong on ABC 7.30 report last night. Unbelievably she rabbits on about geothermal, solar and no doubt CCS got a mention somewhere. There is no sense of urgency or technical realism. This is what happens putting a lawyer in charge of climate mitigation. It’s as if the low carbon transition is waiting in the cupboard and will be speedily brought out when the time is right.

    If Ms Wong actually believes any of that stuff in my opinion she has to go. The worry is that in a month’s time she could get her old job back or her replacement could be even more off the planet. Lawd help us.

  19. Dead right Fisho,
    Bipartisanship on nuclear is essential. I suggested Rudd offer it to Howard when he mentioned it a few years ago. I’ve also just written toJulia suggesting it as well. Let’s ALL contact Julia with the idea now, in time for the election. Take five minutes from this blogging exercise guys and do it.

  20. Are the ALP more likely to change their position on nuclear power whilst in government or whilst in opposition?

    Much more likely to do so when in government. Raising such a controversial wedge issue when in opposition and when the Liberals would then run with it at their expense would make no political sense.

  21. On the contrary, were the ALP to raise the issue in such circumstances, the Libs would be forced to side with them against the Greens. The ALP could show that while it would block with The Greens on some issues it could block with the Coalition on others.

    The Greens are not going to find many issues to block with the Coalition on so the ALP can have its choice of legislative partner.

  22. The penny that has to drop really is the Wong one. Although an ALP supporter, I’m sorely tempted to support the coalition on the strength of Greg Hunt’s stand. But his mob are pretty half-hearted about it if Abbott’s response to my letter is any indication. Aaarrrggghhh! When are the hopeless buggers all going to wake up??

  23. I have been writing to both major parties and the Greens about bipartisan agreement on Climate Change and nuclear power since 2006. From the few replies I have received my perception is that while all support action on climate change in principle, none support changing the status quo too much. The problem is not immediate and therefore can be solved in 2020 or 2050 by somebody else. The Greens are just against nuclear power, full stop and will not consider it while they have breath in their bodies. Labour will not consider nuclear power as it is a fear weapon of last resort against the Liberals. Vote Liberal to get a Nuclear Power Station near you! The letter I received from Rudd on this subject in 2007 was almost rabid about nuclear power and I knew instantly his interest in climate change only extended to getting elected. The only thing that will change this situation is over whelming public support for nuclear power. As more and more funds are wasted on renewable energy with corresponding rises in electricity charges the chances of this occurring will get better, but will still take many years.

  24. As I’ve said a number of times, Terry, if there is going to be nuclear power in this country, it has to come from the ALP with Green neutrality. The Libs will never do it alone.

    It’s the same as other reforms like floating the dollar, reducing protectionism, independent RBA and so forth …

  25. The argument that Nuclear power could not be build in time to make any serious contribution against Climate Change is out of date and downright false. The AP1000 could be built in around 3 years, and the Advanced CANDU (could use Uranium striaght out of the ground – Good for Australia) could be built in 3.5 years.

    Nuclear power is perfectly suited to demand in Australia. I was looking at a daily fluctuation graph for Victoria, and around 80% is baseload demand. The capacity could be built to meet the higher end of demand, but during off peak times, desalination could be preformed (Nuke plants in Russia are already doing this). Although I am from the UK, I have read that aridity is becoming a major problem over there, so this situation works out great. I assume some of the higher end of peak demand is for Air Conditioning. I don’t see why this small extra demand cant be met with some PV on a few houses/unused land. Nuclear and Renewables working together in perfect harmony!

  26. Huw Jones,
    You are so right. Even a 1 GWe NPP can be built in less than 4 years. Imagine how many small (~75 MWe), factory built nukes could be built in the same interval.

    During WW2, 2750 “Liberty Ships” each weighing ~10,000 tonnes were built in 4 years.

    It is amazing what can be achieved when the public understands the need for it. Can we persuade enough people to get even one NPP built in Australia?

  27. Huw I think you’ve touched on a couple of sensitive topics in summer peak demand and desalination. With urban shade temperatures now getting to 48C such as the time of the Melbourne bush fires we need air conditioning for survival. However PV at $6/w to run a 2.5 kw AC unit would cost $15,000 per house so passive cooling methods may be cheaper long run. Some power companies such as Adelaide’s ETSA want to regulate air conditioning by remote control.

    With desal the current fad is to nominate a wind farm as the ‘offset’ for the use of grid electricity in the reverse osmosis process which uses 2-4 kwh per thousand litres of water. Again heatwaves are the very time we need most desal and wind output is weakest. The reality of course is that we shovel more coal into the boilers to get us through heatwaves, a kind of self reinforcing cycle. Instead of more fossil fuel burning to maintain Arctic blasts in cavernous shopping malls we should have NP and greater efficiency. The politicians don’t see it though.

  28. I just cant make up my mind on the Nuclear debate, both sides seem to make such good arguments.

    I’ve read David Mackay’s ‘Sustainable Energy’ which suggests we cant get all our energy from Renewables (economically at least), but then I read an article by Amory Lovins which suggests we can.

    Who the hell do I believe?

    I’ve been a lurker on this website for a while now, and you all seem to know your stuff. I can see no reason why you would be making it up.

    I need to make up my mind which side I’m on in the next few months, as I have to decide what to study at college (I’m trying to decide between a degree in Nuclear Technology or Renewable energy – I want to do whatever will help the battle against global warming the best).

    Thanks for any and all help.

  29. @ Tom Williams:

    I need to make up my mind which side I’m on in the next few months, as I have to decide what to study at college (I’m trying to decide between a degree in Nuclear Technology or Renewable energy – I want to do whatever will help the battle against global warming the best).

    When considering which energy source is better for the bulk of civilisation’s needs, just check out current examples of individual nations which get the majority of power from these competing sources. France would be the obvious poster-boy for nuclear power. Just compare the French experience to that of some modern industrial nation which obtains the majority of its kWe.hours from wind and solar.

  30. Tom, feel free to post any specific questions that will help you make your choice.

    You might look to review posts here by Barry under the Sustainable Nuclear tab and the Renewable Limits tab.

    Whatever you do, stay focussed on two things: a rational decision making process, and the end outcome you want to achieve. Be ruthlessly objective, and ruthlessly pragmatic.

    Good luck with your decision.

  31. Go for nuclear power Tom. There will be lots of future opportunities in university schools of nuclear science and engineering here in Australia. But to help you choose Tom, note the following.
    1. 20 additional countries are building reactors at present adding to the 33 already generating nuclear power. Australia will get there eventually.
    2. Denmark has stopped building wind farms because they’ve done nothing to reduce emissions and have given the Danes the dearest power in the EU.
    3. The new environment minister in the British government has been slammed for wanting to build thousands of extra windfarms both on and off shore. He’s ultra Green and obviously knows little about the inadequacy, part time nature and low capacity factor of wind.
    4 The Americans really gave up on wind, and sun for that matter back in the 1980′s. A poll of 280 science and energy experts signed off on both never making any significant contribution to their total energy needs. With 0.6 % of their total energy at present from these two they have been proven right.
    5. I could go on and on and on Tom but suffice to say, the world is going increasingly nuclear [54 reactors under construction as I write]. I think your best chance for an energy career lies with nuclear power. Get yourself into a course in Sydney that attaches itself to Lucas Heights [I've been there]. You’re the sort of young person we old fellows need in the nuclear game, especially as Australia gradually comes to an acceptance of nuclear power. Final point. there is a majority of Aussies who are in favour of it. It’s only the lack of some real leadership from our pollies who have stymied it so far. The problem of course is that politicians don’t lead. They follow. Get in there Tom and try to drag them into the 21st century. It’ll be tough, but don’t give up. If you want to talk more, contact me on [08]86821571 or patez1@yahoo.com. Keep an open mind Tom and best of luck.
    Cheers
    Terry [pro-nuke since 1981 when in Canada where I learned the truth about nuclear power]

  32. Tom Williams,
    Many years ago I was at the cross roads similar to the one you describe. My physics tutor advised me to go into the nuclear power industry because he predicted that it would overwhelm all competing technologies. Nuclear power would be “too cheap to meter”.

    I decided he was crazy and opted for a career in telecommunications. I sometimes wonder what would have happened if he had recommended a career in telecommunications because inter-continental video communications would be “too cheap to meter”. Probably, I would have reacted by training as a nuclear power scientist.

    Contrary to my expectations, I make video calls to my Australian friends free of charge but I am still paying $0.10/kWAh for electricity.

  33. Tom Williams,
    When I was graduating it was obvious that next to a workable anti-gravity system, the world needed a storage battery with a price/weight/performance at least 10 times greater than lead/acid technology. That need remains today but how credible is it?

    For many years I developed instrumentation for monitoring inertial confinement fusion. Then it became clear that the “Pot of Gold” at the end of the fusion rainbow was receding. Will we have a full scale fusion power plant (1 GWe) during this century? I seriously doubt it.

    Nuclear fission technology on the other hand has huge potential for improvement without assuming any weird science or quantum leaps. Starting over I would go for really neat mass produced NPPs such as the LFTR operating at one atmosphere pressure, without inflammable materials such as graphite moderators (Chernobyl) or liquid sodium (IFRs).

    Imagine small Thorium reactors built in a factory and delivered to site on a truck. Forget about building elaborate electrical distribution networks as most of the power would be local. You are probably familiar with LFTR but if not check out:


    http://energyfromthorium.com/joomla/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=64&Itemid=63

  34. @quokka — The purpose of linking to the Ray Harvey “Peak Oil” piece was not to spread ‘libertarian ideology’ but to cause people to reflect on the history of inaccurate predictions of the imminent demise of the resource or increase in famine and mass starvation.

    Why don’t you address that history rather than attack the source of the information? Do you dispute the contention of the inaccurate predictions?

    You will note that I fully support the expansion of all sizes of nuclear power plants and both uranium and thorium fuel cycles. Finally, my ire is directed at the neo-Malthusians who seem quite content with relegating the 2+ billion who don’t have electricity to remain in energy poverty.

  35. Since we do not have an actual nuclear industry here yet, the best thing to do would be to equip yourself with the right skills for when it arrives. I would suggest there would be a large overlap with any large power station, chemical plant, or manufacturing environment. I would imagine that pretty much every engineering discipline would play a role: civil, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers would all be involved in various aspects of the project, and at various stages. Also construction, project management, financing, hr, etc. etc. I suspect the nuclear physics aspect would be quite small. Think of it as a large multidisciplinary engineering project. I would further suggest that experience in any engineering environment that adheres to rigorous production and operation processes would be good background.

    On that basis I would suggest you (i) do what you like best, (ii) do what you are good at, (iii) aim to work in a large project context with rigorous engineering design, development, deployment and operation processes, and (iv) stay aware and keep you’re eyes open for early developments in the industry.

    Alternatively, do (i) an (ii) and move os to work directly in the industry, say for Westinghouse, with the intention of returning at the right point in history.

    When the nuclear industry starts up here, we’ll be importing the specific nuclear expertise and designs, and using local engineering contractors. They’ll be desperate for labour in the form of well credentialled engineers and project managers of all stripes, with experience in good process. If you have that, there should be plenty of opportunities.

  36. Tom:

    attend to Finrod’s joke: there are no industrial nations obtaining the majority of its kwe from wind and solar.

    I’m guessing there won’t be, unless the nation is small (and so can manage a fluctuating grid more easily), with spectacular hydro storage.

    I say go nuclear, though learn as much as possible about renewables. I’m curious. Can you share with us what you take to be convincing in Amory Lovins’ analysis?

  37. The lack of a nuclear power infra structure in Australia may prove to be a blessing rather than a curse. When you start your NPP program (and that may come quite soon with people like Barry Brook providing leadership) you will have to build your expertise from a very small base. You will not be bound by the gray beards who control nuclear technology in France, Britain and the USA.

    My hope is that you will show that admirable Australian trait of independent thought and come up with something truly innovative.

  38. Barry Brook 27 July 2010 (Nuclear Power – Yes Please) Five Main Objections
    The included five main objections:
    “Opponents claim that if the world ran on nuclear energy, uranium supplies would run out in at most a few decades and nuclear power plants would then have to shut down. This is false…… Yet even if it lasted a mere 1,000 years, we would have ample time to develop exotic new future energy sources.”
    When critics claim uranium supplies are limited, they are referring to the more likely situation where standard LWR’s are still being used (or variants), while no reprocessing is being done or fast breeder reactors are yet in widespread use. Recall the US Ford Foundation study (1977) recommended reprocessing not to be used for reasons of safety & expense. It doesn’t seem likely that the minimum 1,500 – 2,000 reactors required around the world (to counter GW) will be IFR’s as that technology will need fine tuning before being widely implemented. One of the best off-the-shelf models offered now is supposed to be the AP 1000, to get the ‘renaissance’ underway. Therefore the concern about uranium shortage isn’t entirely false as Prof Brook claims. Furthermore, 1,000 years will definitely NOT be needed to devise a superior energy source, as there have already been many dedicated minds working on this for the last 80 yrs with breakthrough concepts identified. Just because James Lovelock or Prof Brook cannot see other possibilities doesn’t mean that other researchers cannot. Thorium may not be adequate as an alternative.
    http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=115×235481

    “Critics argue that past nuclear accidents mean the technology is inherently dangerous. However, this simply ignores the fact that it is already hundreds of times safer than the coal, gas and oil we currently rely upon.”
    Unfortunately, the nuclear industry continues to use immediate & obvious death statistics only, to defend their own industry & ignore or dispute any delayed deaths, while simultaneously pointing to both immediate & delayed deaths from coal plants. B. L. Cohen wrote that about 25 deaths each year can be expected from each 1,000 MW coal plant (1987). Yet any mention of cancer clusters near nuclear plants immediately attracts derision from pro-nukes. Prof Brook is ignoring such delayed effects from nuclear plants during normal operation & after major accidents.
    http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/07/12/28744.htm
    http://www.pottsmerc.com/articles/2010/01/08/opinion/srv0000007264703.txt
    http://www.radiation.org/spotlight/090804_Huffingtonpost.html
    http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/apr2010/2010-04-26-01.html

    “Some contend that expanding commercial nuclear power would increase the risk of spreading nuclear weapons. Firstly, this has not been true historically.”
    Prof Lowe has already given the example from Al Gore while he was in the White House, saying: “every nuclear weapons proliferation issue we dealt with was connected to a nuclear reactor program.”
    Why doesn’t Prof Brook accept that view from someone in a position to know?
    http://www.nuclearpowerdaily.com/reports/UN_atomic_chief_warns_of_nuclear_power_dangers_999.html

    “Those opposed to nuclear energy claim it would leave a legacy of nuclear waste which would have to be managed for tens of thousands of years. This is true only if we do not recycle the uranium and other heavy metals in the waste (called “transuranics”) to extract all their useful energy.”

    Again, the success of the IFR program is essential for Prof Brook to successfully counter this objection. The history of nuclear power is littered with failures; Ford nucleon car, nuclear rocket & plane, X-ray laser, ploughshare program & of course the never-ending sinkhole for fusion energy. Will the IFR program really live up to its promise?

    “Finally, when all other arguments have been refuted, critics fall back on the claim that nuclear power takes too long to build or is too expensive compared to renewable energy. These arguments are perhaps the most regularly and transparently false arguments thrown up by those trying to block nuclear power from competing on a fair and level playing field with other energy sources.
    Indeed, the evidence on energy replacement I present in the ‘yes’ case of the new book I’ve co-authored with Ian Lowe demonstrates that large-scale nuclear power actually offers the fastest, cheapest and the only complete solution to ending our dependence on coal, oil and gas.”

    Unfortunately, conditions in some Asian countries with non-democratic political systems, cannot be directly compared with the western world. New reactors could readily cost much more in western countries. Already, some bloggers on this site have actually suggested implementing similar authoritive restrictions on citizen’s rights to prevent them from interfering with the nuclear ‘renaissance’ while refusing to acknowledge there is anything wrong about nuclear power to concern those same citizens. They are trying to shove nuclear plants upon us undemocratically, while using any convenient evasive description (propaganda) to allay our concerns. When you look more closely at their explanations, they are the ones that fail to stack up.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/16/business/global/16chinanuke.html
    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=nuclear-power-could-cost-trillions-2009-06-19
    http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/05/04/dv82xl-2/#comment-62863

  39. @Machiavelli

    Furthermore, 1,000 years will definitely NOT be needed to devise a superior energy source, as there have already been many dedicated minds working on this for the last 80 yrs with breakthrough concepts identified.

    And just what might these be? What we desperately need is solution to the CO2 problem over a 20-50 year time frame. Technological cargo cults need not apply.

  40. Machiavelli:

    you accuse barry of ignoring indirect radiation effects and then you cite “evidence.” but that evidence is not accepted by barry cause the studies upon which it is based are bogus (Mangano/baby teeth).

    when you can show the seriously elevated levels of radiation pouring from a nuclear power plant and manifesting itself in fencepost man as millirem, then you have real evidence of radiation release.

    then of course you need good studies connecting very low levels of radiation release with higher cancer rates. but once you start down this road, you have to explain the inconvenient data on the lack of correlation and sometimes inverse correlation between rising cancer incidence and higher natural background radiation.

    DV: We Miss You!!

  41. As Terry Krieg suggested I sent the following letter to the Australian and the West Australian newspapers on Tuesday night.

    Protests against Coal Burning Power Stations

    Green groups are currently campaigning against the proposals by the NSW and WA State Governments to construct new coal burning power stations, instead of using more renewable energy. Real world data shows these state governments do not have a choice, as nuclear power is banned in Australia and renewable energy has not replaced fossil fuel power generation anywhere in the world.

    For 20 years Germany, Denmark and Spain’s have invested or committed, almost 100 billion euros, subsidising renewable energy. The result is little net energy return, high electricity costs and not one fossil fuel power station replaced. Germany is now planning a fleet of coal burning power stations, plus an extension to the service life of their existing nuclear reactors to meet their future energy needs.

    By stark contrast during the 1970s and 1980s, in just 10 years, France constructed 35 nuclear power stations and replaced almost all their coal burning power stations. France now has 58 nuclear reactors and exports non carbon nuclear energy to Germany, Britain and Italy. France has the lowest carbon emissions of the large, developed global economies and low electricity costs.

    The world’s current fleet of 439 operating nuclear reactors in 40 countries, some almost 50 years old, saves 2.7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide per year with a documented safety record vastly superior to any fossil fuel generator. So called, nuclear waste still contain 90% of nuclear energy and can potentially power global energy needs for hundreds of years using Generation 4 fast breeder nuclear reactors. Russia, China and India have developed breeder prototypes after President Clinton cancelled the USA program in 1994 for political reasons.

    Until there is bipartisan support for nuclear power, State Governments will continue to promote renewable energy and duplicate fossil fuel power stations to provide energy for the 70% of time when the wind does not blow and the sun does not shine. Real world data shows that this will be a very expensive policy, resulting in high electricity costs, with little or no impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

    Today I had a call from the West Australian to say my letter has been shortlisted to be published. I have had no response from the Australian except to say they have received it. I hope they received plenty of letters on this subject.

  42. Machiavelli,
    I read your long post carefully and then decided to examine the sources you quoted.

    The first link was “Thorium Fuel: No Panacea for Nuclear Power”
    By Arjun Makhijani and Michele Boyd

    Every major point made in that paper is flat out false. I wondered how anyone would publish such nonsense so I checked Arjun’s qualifications and it turns out he is less qualified than I am to discuss fission reactors (we both worked on fusion processes). Arjun’s real problem is that he works for an outfit pushing a “No Coal, No Nuke” energy policy.

    For example Arjun says that Thorium does not solve the proliferation issue because Thorium is converted into U233 which is an excellent material for making bombs. Through ignorance or deliberate deception he fails to mention that the U232 is also produced. U232 is a powerful gamma emitter that would destroy nearby electronics while advertising its location. In other words the Uranium produced in Thorium reactors not usable in weapons.

    While I could debunk this paper point by point, would you listen if I did?

    Oak Ridge National Laboratories is a reliable source of information on thorium reactors:


    http://energyfromthorium.com/

  43. The evidence that there are elevated cancer rates around Nuclear plants is very weak, and even if there is a causal link, I don’t honestly care. There’s a proven link between driving and increased likely hood of death, but no-one is calling for that to be banned. Why does Nuclear have to have 0% public risk when nothing else we do does? The increased likely hood quoted by anti nukes is very low and not statistically viable – 37 over a 30 year period, for example in the KIKK report. I very much doubt there is a cancer link, why would there be? People who are exposed to higher rates of radiation on a regular basis – air traffic workers for example, are exposed to a much higher rate of radiation than Nuke workers. France, producing 3/4ths of its electricity from Nuclear, and using Reprocessing (which is perhaps the most radiological of all nuclear processes) you would expect to have a high cancer rate right?

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_dea_fro_can-health-death-from-cancer

    The ‘Uranium is going to run out really fast if we speed up Nuclear’ thing is also a load of crap. The anti nuclear people tend to take the current assured ‘economic’ resources and divide it by 10 (we probably need about a 10 fold increase) and get 5 years (we have around 50 years supply based on current know reserves). However, this ignores 3 points 1) there has been little Uranium Prospecting sine the early 80′s 2) a doubling of price is likely to increase supply 10 fold – enough to accommodate a 10 fold increase is consumption, for 50 years. This would increase energy prices by around 10% and allow ample time for the fast breeder to get here – which is highly likely to, as there have already been demonstration plants of this type all over the world.

  44. Something else I was thinking about on the train today – a large part of the assumed Life Cycle Emissions (and uncertainly) associated with Nuclear Plants is the cost of decommissioning. Now most of the reactors under consideration have life spans around 60 years (its worth mentioning that many reactors which have had their lifespans increased to 60 years – AGR for example – had projected lives of 25 years, so its probably longer than 60 years).

    Now, we can assume that the bulk of the ‘next gen’ will be built in the 2020′s, based on the 60 year life span, therefore, they will be decommissioned in the 2080′s. Lets face it, if we haven’t ‘decardonized’ our economy by 2080, then we never will. Therefore we can assume the decommissioning costs (and a lot of the waste treatment costs) in terms of C02, to be zero, is near that.

  45. Something else I was thinking about on the train today – a large part of the assumed Life Cycle Emissions (and uncertainly) associated with Nuclear Plants is the cost of decommissioning.

    I wonder if that’s true. I understand that the decommissioning costs for LWRs aren’t all that onerous. I suspect it might be the British experience with decommissioning their gas-cooled graphite core reactors (a much more expensive proposition as it turns out) which has contributed to an urban myth of expensive reactor decommissioning.

  46. Huw Jones,
    All living things evolved in a radioactive environment. Even so, large doses of ionising radiation are harmful. There is a Dilbert (Scott Adams) joke about this. Question: Why is stupidity like nuclear radiation? Answer: Both can be used for good or evil but you don’t want to get any on you.

    About 50 % of humans exposed to acute doses of ~600 REM (Roentgen Equivalent in Man) will die within 6 weeks but the mortality drops sharply if the dose is lower. For example, the short term mortality among people who received 50 REM or less following the Chernobyl accident was zero.

    While deliberately exposing humans to ionising radiation is unethical, there is plenty of evidence from Japan (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and many nuclear accidents around the world to demonstrate that even quite large amounts of radiation can increase one’s life expectancy. This effect is known as radiation hormesis; an interesting field of study in its own right.

    In the USA, the doctrine of ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) is the basis of all state and federal nuclear safety regulations. While people like me who are trained in radiation safety know that this doctrine is unmitigated bullshit, we follow it meticulously because we can. It does not affect our operating costs significantly.

    In contrast, applying the ALARA philosophy to power plants based on fossil fuels, solar power or wind would bring them all to a shuddering halt.

    DV8 I am doing my best but we really need you.

  47. Tom Bond,
    That link you sent explains the situation pretty well. I was nodding my head up to the penultimate paragraph:

    “Changing the limits would bring practical benefits. Radiation safety is a major contributor to the cost of nuclear power, so any relaxation should lead to big cost reductions. ”

    Radiation safety concerns do cause considerable “over-engineering” and therefore increased capital costs. For example the AREVA “Kerena” NPP has four separate safety systems. However, while I lack the exact figures, it seems unlikely that these features add more than 10% to the total construction cost.

    When it comes to plant operations the savings from cutting back on safety regulations are tiny. My state’s “Yellow Book” regulations mandate:

    1. High radiation areas. Special door interlocks. Various types of monitoring systems including radiation hard (e.g. Vidicon) cameras. Visible and audible alarms prior to system start up. “Kill” switches every 100 feet. Active search procedures.
    2. Area monitors for the entire secure area of the facility including those that are not radiation areas.
    3. Monitoring of air vents and underground water. Disposal of all process materials must be documented.
    4. Training for all radiation workers.
    5. Dosimeters for all radiation workers.
    6. Regular inspections and audits.

    It sounds like a lot but the costs amount to $5 million per year, much less than 1% of our annual sales. OK, I will admit that the paper work is a royal pain!. I have 12 years of direct responsibility for radiation safety and five years membership of our corporate radiation safety oversight committee.

    In the USA there are regulations that do have a major effect on the cost of NPPs but in my view they are related to imaginary safety issues rather than the real ones I am familiar with. For example, the insurance bond that must be posted under the Price-Anderson regulations and the unpredictable licensing process that forced the destruction of the Shoreham plant (Long Island).

    Another example of crazy licensing regulations is the likely shut down of Vermont Yankee in 2011 owing to a Tritium leak. This has more to do with hysteria than radiation safety.

  48. @quokka –

    You seem particularly concerned about CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Do you think the 3+ billion people who can’t imagine the quality of life you currently enjoy give a flying flip about CO2 or its possible climate effects?

    The vast majority of them just hope to find enough calories to consume to keep them alive for another day. And we in the west navel-gaze and hand-wring over possible events 30-50-100 years hence. Is this the best use of our time?

  49. You seem particularly concerned about CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Do you think the 3+ billion people who can’t imagine the quality of life you currently enjoy give a flying flip about CO2 or its possible climate effects?

    The vast majority of them just hope to find enough calories to consume to keep them alive for another day. And we in the west navel-gaze and hand-wring over possible events 30-50-100 years hence. Is this the best use of our time?

    Never let a bad bit of ideology get polluted by a little thing like facts eh?

    A 2010 World Bank public opinion survey finds that belief in the seriousness of climate change and the necessity for action for mitigation is strongest in the developing world and of all the countries surveyed strongest in Bangladesh. Not to be flippant about it, but it seems to me that the population of Bangladesh is not overly prone to obsessing about allegedly “middle class” causes from the comfort of their SUVs.

    Public attitudes toward
    climate change

    There is some sort of moral lesson here too, that people with far less seem to care far more about the conditions that their children and grandchildren may have to live under.

    Aside from what people think, one could reasonably ask in what way is spewing ever increasing volumes of GHGs into the atmosphere going to help the poorest people on the planet. On the contrary, there is every indication that they will cop the worst of it.

  50. quokka,
    “Aside from what people think, one could reasonably ask in what way is spewing ever increasing volumes of GHGs into the atmosphere going to help the poorest people on the planet. On the contrary, there is every indication that they will cop the worst of it.”

    What the “poorest people” need is electricity but we in the developed world are trying to restrict them to “renewables”. In many cases this amounts to denying them electric power.

    Fortunately we are not in a position to impose such cruel restrictions on nations such as China and India who will embrace prosperity whether we like it or not.

  51. gallopincamel (5 Aug 2010)

    “While I could debunk this paper point by point, would you listen if I did?”

    Feel free to raise as many points as you like about the Thorium reference. We will all be interested. But remember, based on previous behavior from the nuclear establishment, we would be surprised if any material from Oak Ridge NL is free from pro-nuclear bias. They will present their views in the most positive light & avoid mentioning ‘difficult’ issues as they usually do.

  52. quokka (4 Aug 2010)

    “And just what might these be? What we desperately need is solution to the CO2 problem over a 20-50 year time frame. Technological cargo cults need not apply.”

    I have provided a very basic preview of a newly identified source of renewable energy by a private Australian researcher that seems to have been missed by many (a). Although other mavericks have found varying forms of new energy generation principles throughout the 20th century, I am not aware of anyone else claiming potentially large industrial size outputs. No practical model has yet been made due to lack of finances & adequate working area. Yes, I know, you would prefer to have more details but proprietary reasons & security concerns prevent this. Keep in mind however the very early confidence of the atomic bomb theorists. Despite their totally new, hard-to-believe concept at that time, they were eventually vindicated.
    (a) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-92286

  53. “You accuse Barry of ignoring indirect radiation effects and then you cite “evidence.” but that evidence is not accepted by barry cause the studies upon which it is based are bogus.”

    Can you be more specific please? Which entry are you referring to? Can you include any links to support your criticism?

  54. gallopingcamel (7 Aug 2010)

    Tom Bond

    “That link you sent explains the situation pretty well”

    An experienced independent UK radiation expert does not agree however. Wade Allison is only making a crude attempt to lobby for the nuclear industry, & isn’t considered to be adequately qualified to discuss such important health issues as safe radiation doses. Dr Ian Fairly has had wide experience investigating the effects of low-level radiation & has responded to a previous article from Wade Allison having similar points to the one from Tom Bond (a). Some other points & links have been included elsewhere on BNC for a case not to raise the limits since even background radiation is implicated in some ill-effects (b), so a safe level above background seems unlikely.
    Be reminded that released radionuclides from NPP’s do NOT deliver radiation like externally applied gamma rays, x-rays, or cosmic rays. Instead they are more able to enter the body via inhalation & the food chain. Once inside, the radioactive carrier nuclides can have an affinity for sensitive organs & radiate adjacent cells for a long time at very close range, regardless of whether they are only weakly radioactive. The body isn’t getting much relief from the internal emitters for healing to occur. So under these conditions, ill-effects are more likely. The petkau effect particularly explains how cell membranes can be weakened. The problems at Vermont Yankee are more than just a bit of harmless leaking tritium (c – g) causing hysteria, that’s why the vote to close the plant was so predominant.
    The extracts from the ‘Yellow Book’ regulations are a significant burden on the modern worker. There are already enough examples known in the nuclear industry showing they cannot effectively maintain strict rules of employee safety & benefit from supposedly better training. Several plant operators at TMI II in 1979, were supposed to be from the elite Admiral Rickover’s navy submarine service. It didn’t seem to make much difference when they were suddenly required to ‘think on their feet’. Wouldn’t it be better to be in an industry free of those restrictions? Abandon nuclear power & you can. It is an engineering disaster anyway. The once-through system only gives an overall efficiency of 1% or less after all the tens of billions of dollars spent on it. Is that supposed to be the best the nuclear barons can do? The 1712 Newcomen steam engine had a thermal efficiency of about the same amount. After approximately 300 years, nuclear power hasn’t come very far in the power generation industry efficiency stakes. There are a lot more people on the planet now, so we must come up with something better & safer.
    (a) http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/jan/20/evidence-nuclear-risks-not-overrated
    (b) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-92008

    Assorted Tritium Links
    (c) http://news.softpedia.com/news/Tritium-Poisoning-Risk-Doubles-72460.shtml
    (d) http://healthvermont.gov/enviro/rad/yankee/documents/VYTritiumData_080410.pdf
    (e) http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/tritiumbasicinfo.pdf
    (f) http://www.clarku.edu/mtafund/prodlib/miamisburg/radioactive_tritium.pdf
    (g) http://www.beyondnuclear.org/storage/documents/Tritiumbasicinfofinal.pdf

  55. @Macchiavelli: you write that we must come up with something better and safer? This is prattle. Have you heard of Arrhenius? do you know that C02 is at 382 ppm? .

    So what is your opinion of the clash on BNC between Brooks and Jacobsen over the latter’s pro-renewable energy calculations in Scientific American late last year?

    As I see it, these are the options: 1. reduce the ca 6 bn people on earth to ca 1 bn by murder/war/virus, as suggested by the captain of Sea Shepherd, the whale-saving NGO. 2. do nothing and stick with coal and natgas and take the AGW consequences. 3. adopt wind and solar and tide and wave and hydro and accept eg blackouts and brownouts and scarce food and water rationed in favour of the Haves and Capital by all-party Governments of National Emergency backed by the military applying martial law. 4. go nuclear.

  56. Peter Lalor (21 Aug 2010)

    “You write that we must come up with something better and safer? This is prattle. Have you heard of Arrhenius? do you know that C02 is at 382 ppm?”

    Yes, I am quite aware of the CO2 problem & accept it as very likely, that’s why I prefer a solution that has an even lower CO2 contribution than nuclear does & without the additional problems. There has been two independent assessments saying nuclear has approximately 1/3 of a gas plant’s CO2 emissions – even higher amounts when lower grade ores are used (a). How can nuclear power have a carbon footprint similar to solar & wind turbines, when the renewables do not require any energy intensive mining & processing for fuel?

    Approximately ¾’s of European nuclear plants will be expected to be retired by 2030 (a). How can so many new plants be built safely to replace these as well as extra ones to stay ahead in lowering CO2 emissions, when already the Finland plant is experiencing multiple safety issues delaying completion (b)? This is supposed to be being built by experts.

    It may seem like “prattle” to you at the moment, because you appear to be depressed with the apparent options you have provided recently to counter global warming. But there is better news – there certainly have been many free-thinking researchers during the 20th century having discovered subtle principles to generate small amounts of energy using just classical physics, while not releasing any CO2. This is enough to show there is more to be discovered in how to get the best from standard engineering without having to resort to any extreme sources that still have a reasonable carbon footprint. Why can’ you recognise all the difficulties with nuclear power? I have provided several additional references in my posts on BNC to highlight those defects. Many of the early nuclear advocates completely lost track of the practicalities of nuclear power by assuming its problems were going to be solved later on.

    “Energy efficiency must therefore remain the absolute lynchpin of any future energy strategy” (p3 – c)

    Already, conventional nuclear power reactors are looking like a very poor choice while they have an overall efficiency of 1% or less. The new IFR design cannot be made ready overnight to improve that low fuel efficiency.

    I am not concerned with the (incomplete) Scientific American example you mentioned as I am satisfied that renewable energy options will be expanded soon rendering that discussion of lesser importance. I have already responded to your several points on 15 July 2010, answering your concern with another possibility for a large scale clean energy source that will have a much lower carbon footprint than nuclear power because it will not depend on any mining, refining or enrichment industry & has no ionising radiation (d).

    “As I see it, these are the options:” Peter Lalor

    I definitely see more positive options than your four points. I do appreciate however people may be sceptical about any new energy source claiming more advantages than anything now known, so we will all look forward to a working demonstration of any new breakthrough discovery ASAP.

    (a) http://www.newint.org/issue382/facts.htm
    (b) http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/green-living/safety-threat-to-planned-nuclear-power-stations-1682293.html
    (c) http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/IsNuclearTheAnswer.pdf
    (d) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-92286

  57. machiavelli: please read the material science on this blog.

    especially the stuff on material inputs of wind and solar compared to nuclear. Finrod has some good material on his site on the mining question.

    see also the post on double standards or anti nuclear hypocrisy.

    why is france’s overall cancer rate less than most other european countries? quokka or someone posted a nice link on these rates.

    even if tritium were causing all the french cancer (preposterous of course), france’s electrical system is still the cleanest in europe, along with sweden (46 percent nuclear/46 % hydro). and it’s efficient enough that electricity via nuclear is their main export.

    DV and Luke: I’d be interested in hearing your response to M’s tritium business.

    Greenpeace recently noted that France was experiencing shutdowns with their nuclear plants to the point where they had to import electricity from elsewhere. but when you compare the imports, it’s a fraction of their electricity exports.

  58. Here is the cancer thing:

    http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/hea_dea_fro_can-health-death-from-cancer

    Even if there were a slightly elevated cancer rate near plants in France, this would be massively offset by the lack of people dying from breathing in coal fumes.

    Also, this article by Mark Lynas on the KiKK report:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/the-staggers/2010/04/lynas-nuclear-leukaemia

    I suggest you read it.

    That’s really ironic that Greenpeace are talking about France having to import electricity recently. My gosh, I had no idea France was such a huge importer of electricity! They should shut down their entire programme at once, as its such an obvious waste of money.

  59. Huw Jones, on 5 August 2010

    “The evidence that there are elevated cancer rates around Nuclear plants is very weak, and even if there is a causal link, I don’t honestly care.” H. Jones

    It looks like the “don’t honestly care” attitude is shared by many nuclear supporters. Perhaps they would change their mind if they were raising a family of their own near a nuclear plant. The KiKK study was independently confirmed to having showed a clear dose-distance relationship (a). Unfortunately, it looks like the nuclear industry around the world doesn’t care either about accepting the results, preferring to adopt the same denial attitude as the employers of the radium-painters & the early tobacco industry, even after the evidence of toxicity became overwhelming. The nuclear industry seems to justify their indifference below:

    “It is also interesting, how the limits of 0.3 mSv per year due to airborne releases and wastewater from nuclear plants were set, valid in Germany for the public. In the justification for these limits, the ICRP (1958) explains that these limits represent a considerable burden for the public by genetic damage. “However, they can be regarded as sustainable and justified regarding the advantages that can be expected by the application of nuclear energy.” (b)

    Of course if a much safer form of power generation having additional advantages, were to be discovered, then the above nuclear risks can no longer be considered “sustainable & justified”.

    “There’s a proven link between driving and increased likelyhood of death, but no-one is calling for that to be banned. “ H. Jones

    If there was an economical effective way to improve the risk-benefit ratio with automobiles even further, then it probably would’ve been done.

    “Why does Nuclear have to have 0% public risk when nothing else we do does?” H. Jones

    Simply because the public is entitled to expect this, since we are supposed to be living in the most powerful knowledge based & creative era in all history. With countless scientists & engineers having graduated from universities all around the world, to help improve our lot, why is the power generation industry been stagnant for so long after hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on nuclear research & particle accelerators? Where is the value for money? The electronics industry is streaking ahead with innovative & functional products, while we’re still stuck with dirty coal & expensive, radioactive nuclear power. At least gas power has advanced a bit.

    Furthermore, if nothing else has a 0% risk – then it’s about time our ‘expert’ scientists & engineers started reducing as many pubic risks as possible, because there are far too many now & the cancer rate is too high in most western countries, not to mention other health issues. Reasons for this inaction seems to be economics & a lack of suitable solutions yet. Look at all the 1,000’s of new chemicals & drugs being released amongst the public, many having ingredients that are later shown to have ill-effects. Even the more well known toxic products took far too long to be banned. Lead was identified in about 1912 to have ill-effects on children, yet look how vigorously the industry fought off a ban from including it in petrol & paint products – about 55 years. A similar story with asbestos & mercury. It had been established there is no safe internal dose for mercury, yet small amounts were still deliberately added to some vaccines. There was a recent US study confirming organophosphate pesticides as a likely cause of ADHD in young children after their mother was exposed during pregnancy (c). There are many examples of products having a poor risk-benefit ratio if you look (d, e). Some scientists & politicians are letting the public down badly. If they cannot manage these simpler public health issues adequately, then how can they possibly deal with the more involved nuclear radiation hazards? Existing NPP countries have already got a poor track record in hazard management judging by the known falsehoods & cover-ups. In the case of nuclear power, it is the whole spectrum of disadvantages that makes that technology unacceptable, not just one or two problems (f). A much safer energy base would relieve governments of many headaches.

    “The increased likelyhood quoted by anti-nukes is very low and not statistically viable – 37 over a 30 year period, for example in the KIKK report. I very much doubt there is a cancer link, why would there be?” H. Jones

    In Germany, just natural background radiation is considered to cause about 20,000 – 40,000 cancers a year (2002) (b). There is absolutely no question that nuclear power plants release both gaseous & liquid radioactive emissions, being effectively another form of waste. At every stage of the industry, there is some form of waste being generated. We have enough ordinary garbage to deal with without having another expensive & prolific waste producing industry send more into the air, water & landfill. Nuclear engineering cannot contain all the internal radiation inventory indefinitely, due to corroding parts, wearing seals, accidents, undisciplined operators & maintenance practices. The global industry releases “mega-curies” of tritium annually (g). So much for the unbelievable ‘safe’ banana comparison (h).

    “People who are exposed to higher rates of radiation on a regular basis – air traffic workers for example, are exposed to a much higher rate of radiation than Nuke workers.” H. Jones

    Not necessarily. Even though ref (i) seems to support H. Jones, it does so only if nuclear workers are not subjected to any mishaps & accidents. But there are already accounts published including examples of mistakes involving larger doses of radiation (j). Additionally, there is the interesting twist where the yearly dose could readily reach 4 mSv or more for a regular high-flyer. Prof Brook suggests there is a “consensus” for 5x background levels being safe or beneficial (k). There are alternative studies however indicating the opposite in pilots (l).

    The main difference between NPP radioactive effects & those of general background radiation have already been pointed out (h). Airline staff are NOT exposed to NPP radionuclides that are capable of being ingested internally, but rather to external cosmic radiation that is more readily controlled, therefore being less dangerous in a one sense. NPP workers definitely are subjected to radionuclides of varying levels due to mishaps, failures & accidents. That is why they are allowed a higher limit than the public. But that limit cannot cover more extreme exposures as occurred at TMI in 1979. One or two plant workers received a brief exposure from a 1,000 rad/hr source when they were taking a cooling water sample. Nuclear industry workers definitely get cancer attributed to their employment (m). This is the whole point about NPP’s – they do NOT work under practical guidelines as excepted by the general public. There are technical failures allowing occasionally larger than expected radiation releases. This is why the technology is still not acceptable, having a poor risk-benefit ratio that isn’t compensated well enough by its alleged low carbon footprint.

    “France, producing 3/4ths of its electricity from Nuclear, and using Reprocessing (which is perhaps the most radiological of all nuclear processes) you would expect to have a high cancer rate right?” H. Jones

    The cancer figures shown in your link seem to be at odds with other data. Taking the US for example, only about 322 deaths per 100,000 is shown in your link. If you then go to another link (n), giving US state figures it can be seen the minimum is about 389 deaths per 100,000. In any case, this isn’t the best indicator of pollution-related deaths. A localised study done for 1978-98 showed a leukaemia increase of about 6x in the 5-9 age group near the La Hague plant (o). The cancer rate doesn’t have to be high to be noticeable.
    The French government is having similar problems with nuclear power as other countries (p, q).
    (a) http://kn.theiet.org/magazine/issues/1006/nuclear-safety-1006.cfm
    (b) http://www.currentconcerns.ch/index.php?id=706
    (c) http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/wellbeing/pesticide-link-to-adhd-20100518-vaqm.html
    (d) http://www.smh.com.au/national/chemicals-banned-in-eu-found-in-shampoo-pet-products-20090511-b0kt.html
    (e) http://smh.domain.com.au/the-killers-within-how-our-homes-are-making-us-sick-20100429-tv9k.html
    (f) http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications/downloads/IsNuclearTheAnswer.pdf
    (g) http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/tritiumbasicinfo.pdf
    (h) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-92008
    (i) http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2005/0907-flying_and_radiation_risk.htm
    (j) Such as the book ‘Nuclear Witnesses’ Chap 1 L. J. Freeman 1981
    (k) ‘Yes’ case for nuclear Power (Why vs Why p29)
    (l) http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/123/8/1102.pdf
    (m) http://www.jsi.com/Managed/Docs/Publications/EnviroHealth/Leukemia_FactSheet.pdf
    (n) http://www.statemaster.com/graph/hea_can_inc_per_100-cancer-incidence-per-100-000
    (o) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1731936/pdf/v055p00469.pdf
    (p) http://www.alternet.org/environment/132852/the_french_nuclear_industry_is_bad_enough_in_france%3B_let's_not_expand_it_to_the_u.s./?page=entire
    (q) http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/utilities/article6626811.ece

  60. @Machiavelli

    Skimming through your post, I noted that you used the Sustainable Development report as a reference. Now I read through all the parts of this series of papers by that organisation, during the time I was ‘on the fence’ about Nuclear, and was trying to make my mind up. The ‘position paper’ you posted the link to says that Nuclear is not the answer, however, the data contained in the bulk of the rest of the report contributed largely to my ‘conversion’.

    Take a look at this paper from them, for example:
    http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/publications.php?id=341

    I was quite shocked reading this, considering the SDCs stance on Nuclear power, but after reading it, I’d happily live next to a NPP. Read all of it, but especially chapter 6 – Health Effects ‘ leukaemia’ and adjoining sections.

    BTW, if anyone has got a link to the *actual* Kikk report, I’d very much like to read it.

    ‘Perhaps they would change their mind if they were raising a family of their own near a nuclear plant.’

    I’d rather live next to a NPP than a coal plant, Iron or chemical works or even a busy freeway. The insignificant chance of my child or I getting a cancer concerns me far less than the very real risk of asthma or other respiratory disease, or a car accident.

    We also need fewer appeals to emotion, such as this one, and more pragmatism i.e. coal is worse than nuclear, but if we have to choose one, its Nuclear.

  61. greg meyerson, on 4 August 2010 at 21.55

    “You accuse Barry of ignoring indirect radiation effects and then you cite “evidence.” but that evidence is not accepted by barry cause the studies upon which it is based are bogus (Mangano/baby teeth).” G. Meyerson

    I haven’t used any direct evidence from Mangano baby teeth studies yet. Despite no indication of which evidence you’re really referring to above, I will continue with the baby-teeth issue anyway.
    I am aware of the rejection of strontium 90 baby-teeth studies by the nuclear industry (a, b, c). This isn’t unusual, as they have rejected virtually all evidence implicating nuclear power of affecting people’s health.
    The Sellafield (UK) Director of Health & Safety however, (Dr Roger Berry) DID accept the Gardner Report (1990) recommendations to lower occupational radiation exposure levels due to child leukaemia risks while management attempted to resist it. The industry is following the same procedure pioneered by ‘Big Tobacco’ of looking for any way to ridicule the study or its authors. The independently verified German KiKK child leukaemia study has also been rejected by the same industry, even though it was found to have been adequately done. Meanwhile, ill-effects will continue until more conclusive evidence is found to convince the hard-headed industry. Here is a big chance for ‘Big Nuke’ to locate alternative explanations for the observed ill-effects, but they haven’t come up with anything convincing yet, & still continue to claim it couldn’t be caused by nuclear plant emissions. Many closely involved in the technicalities of that industry know very well that radioactive gas & liquid emissions are hard to contain, yet nuclear power is still falsely portrayed as being benign. The onus should be on the nuclear industry to show why their technology is safe & won’t cause any harm, like the US EPA requiring manufacturers to do likewise before they introduce a new chemical onto the market. The US govt also assured their public that atom bomb tests were safe too, but they were later shown to be wrong. The Mangano teeth studies are still good enough to illustrate a disturbing trend. When combined with alternative methods of fission product fallout assessment, as done by Dr E. Sternglass with the 1st Shippingport reactor showing similar results, then the significance becomes even stronger. Pay particular attention to Dr C. Busby’s comments in ‘Discussion’ paragraphs 5 & 6 about Strontium 90 activity & background radiation differences (i). Strontium 90 activity is surprisingly high (d, p2).
    As for “bogus” studies the nuclear industry definitely hasn’t got much to crow about in view of the known examples of fraud, suppression, understatement & misleading claims (Peter Bradford at – (e) & the flawed banana comparison (f) along with the so-called “fair and level playing field” claim (g).

    (a) http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2004-01-02-babyteeth_x.htm
    (b) http://www.elements.nb.ca/theme/nuclear_energy/sharon/flatt.htm
    (c) http://www.unplugsalem.org/radioactive_strontium.htm
    (d) http://www.soest.hawaii.edu/krubin/GG425/Lect44.pdf
    (e) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-92269
    (f) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/
    (g) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/07/28/nuclear-power-yes-please-for-cc/

    “When you can show the seriously elevated levels of radiation pouring from a nuclear power plant and manifesting itself in fencepost man as millirem, then you have real evidence of radiation release.” G. Meyerson

    I am not saying radiation is continually pouring from nuclear plants today, even though it could’ve been 30 years ago due to weaker standards. There is already adequate circumstantial evidence for intermittent radioactive gaseous & liquid releases to account for the observed ill-effects in local residents (h, i). The TMI II accident (1979) certainly appears to have released much higher doses than officially acknowledged due to the known measurements taken at the time with hand-held portable monitors & a more detailed analysis of the accident much later (j).

    “Then of course you need good studies connecting very low levels of radiation release with higher cancer rates.” G. Meyerson

    There are adequate studies showing low-level radiation causes measurable harm. I have already included two recently on BNC (k, l). There are more available if you look.

    “But once you start down this road, you have to explain the inconvenient data on the lack of correlation and sometimes inverse correlation between rising cancer incidence and higher natural background radiation.” G. Meyerson

    Again, there are no supportive links with your claim. If you are referring to the hormesis issue, my views on that have already been posted on BNC (m, n, o). There are many examples covering decades showing how humans have considerable trouble deciphering some difficult phenomena. It was still generally held amongst scientists up to about 1903-6 that heavier-than-air flight wasn’t possible – a monumental failure of scientific reasoning. The other problem is the ethical & competency issue. We need genuine independent researchers that are not funded by obvious vested interests or compromised by a conflict of interests (see last two ‘Discussion’ paragraphs at – (i).

    “I will always find a scientist with the ‹correct› results, if I pay enough.” (p)

    “We cannot deny that in science – more frequent than the scientists prefer – there are lies and deception, not only negligent sloppiness, but really intentional fraud.” (p)

    “We can completely prove that with asbestos, passive smoking, Chernobyl consequences and other examples (that) influential circles in politics and economics make use of “suitable” scientists…” (p)

    (h) http://www.ehjournal.net/content/8/1/43
    (i) http://www.greenaudit.org/childhood_leukaemia_and_radiation_near_newbury.htm
    (j) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-92269
    (k) http://www.alfred-koerblein.de/background/downloads/AEOH2006.pdf
    (l) http://archopht.ama-assn.org/cgi/reprint/123/8/1102.pdf
    (m) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-76703
    (n) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-81280
    (o) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-92008
    (p) http://www.currentconcerns.ch/index.php?id=706

  62. Tom Williams, on 24 August 2010 at 5.21

    “Skimming through your post, I noted that you used the Sustainable Development report as a reference. Now I read through all the parts of this series of papers by that organisation, during the time I was ‘on the fence’ about Nuclear, and was trying to make my mind up. The ‘position paper’ you posted the link to says that Nuclear is not the answer, however, the data contained in the bulk of the rest of the report contributed largely to my ‘conversion’.” T. Williams

    “I was quite shocked reading this, considering the SDCs stance on Nuclear power, but after reading it, I’d happily live next to a NPP. Read all of it, but especially chapter 6 – Health Effects ‘ leukaemia’ and adjoining sections.” T. Williams

    The SDC link was included in my previous entry (despite their delicate balancing act between the two extreme views on nuclear power) to illustrate they were still effectively not in favour of it:

    “There’s little point in denying that nuclear power has benefits, but in our view, these are outweighed by serious disadvantages.” (a)

    I would consider nuclear power to have only two real advantages – very large amounts of heat certainly can be obtained for steam turbines with a minimal CO2 release. But it happens to be at the expense of a whole new range of different disadvantages when compared with coal-fired plants. While all the nuke plants are working, there’s a very active simultaneous mining, enrichment & processing program occurring to keep the plants operating, that DOES cause reasonable CO2 releases. Unfortunately, even the large heat advantage can very readily turn into a very serious disadvantage under the right accident conditions. The Emergency Core Cooling System has not been shown to be totally reliable. The ‘Why vs Why’ book is too small & doesn’t adequately cover this very large subject. There are certainly more than five main objections to nuclear power. Hence this BNC site assists with new material.
    T. Williams is therefore missing out on useful supplementary material that fills in the blanks. His apparent conversion by some SDC material & the reference to chap 6 of the SDC link about ‘Health Impacts’, is premature as there is much more detailed material available to show why the SDC papers are very generalised & lacking important details readily misleading people new to the subject or who haven’t got the time to delve deeper into it. Likewise with the ‘Yes’ case presented by Prof Brook in the ‘Why vs Why’ book – it is readily countered. I have already included some additional links on some points of safety concerns from key figures in the industry, in previous BNC comments (b, c). Perhaps T. Williams can include more specific points that have persuaded him, for us to see.

    “I’d rather live next to a NPP than a coal plant, Iron or chemical works or even a busy freeway. The insignificant chance of my child or I getting a cancer concerns me far less than the very real risk of asthma or other respiratory disease, or a car accident.” T. Williams

    I am certainly NOT advocating for anyone to go & live near a coal plant instead. Both types of power plant’s are dangerous. We are supposed to be getting advanced enough to work out how to generate all the energy we need without any obvious ill-effects to the public & be at the same time efficient, safe, reliable, require minimum cooling water & to be cheap. Nuclear & clean coal will not achieve all those requirements. Some people haven’t appreciated the fact, that all NPP’s release radioactive fission products into the environment & are not readily visible, & are being continuously researched by independent investigators wherever possible. So T.W. is prepared to trade large amounts of CO2 for lesser, but more subtly dangerous radionuclide poisons. Well there are many others who do NOT want to make that trade-off, or put up with the incompetent handling of other nuclear engineering drawbacks by governments & industry (d). Already in Sydney Australia, the one small reactor having releases is being handled in the same bumbling manner as other governments in denial (e, f). Notice how the public find out about the releases – by a leaked memo or external monitoring & not by voluntary government announcements. Renewables do not release such waste products while operating & the cancer rate in the western world is too high anyway. There are adequate examples of government cancer registry results in both the USA & UK having been either refused to independent researchers, denied to exist or having been altered. Now for this to occur, there must be a powerful reason to keep the results hidden from the public. Recall what Peter Bradford & Laurie Garret said (c). The US govt A.E.C. went to great lengths to ignore, then conceal the warnings of Dr E. Teller (with the Reactor Safeguards Committee) about major reactor releases during accidents & later, the weakness of the Emergency Core Cooling System during the early US nuclear program. Some US govt staff even resigned over the AEC continuing to ignore ECCS test results (g). Where are these sorts of points covered in the SDC papers? How can anyone have any confidence in that industry? It is in any government’s interest to promote the safest, cheapest & most efficient form of energy reliance possible – it would save them additional expenses in dealing with the multiple disadvantages of the poorer alternatives.
    There have been several studies done of German nuclear reactor effects on the population. The links given at (h) may be useful. Perhaps Geoff Russell could confirm if these German study links are similar to the one he requested by post.

    (a) http://www.sd-commission.org.uk/presslist.php?id=51
    (b) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-82301
    (c) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-92269
    (d) http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/37260/gaddis-smith/the-cult-of-the-atom-the-secret-papers-of-the-atomic-energy-comm
    (e) http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/poison-gas-leak-cover-up/story-e6freuy9-1225911290955
    (f) http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/national/fourth-accident-at-lucas-heights/story-e6frfku9-1111112121856#ixzz0xxxdswWu
    (g) http://users.owt.com/smsrpm/nksafe/AEClet.html
    (h) http://www.robedwards.com/2008/05/new-evidence-of.html Not all the links are freely accessible

  63. @Macchiavelli: you have adverted several times to German studies. You do not read German.

    There is high controversy over the meaning of the Mainz KiK (Kinderkrebs= child cancer) study. Anybody can see this even from Wikpedia.

    It is true that the doctor on the nuclear power desk at IPPNW in Germany would agree with you on trend; IPPNW alleges some sort of malfeasance by the German BfS (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) in regard of the KiK-study which it had itself commissioned. However, BfS has a website which I advise you read.

    On another topic, some EU countries eg France. Germany have set up a notification system for NPPs such that any and all irregularities are reported by the operator so as to build public confidence post-Chernobyl. It thus happens that small mishaps of any sort at all get into the newspapers whereas to my knowledge there is no such statute governing coal-fired plants.

  64. Finrod, on 8 October 2010 at 13.22 Said:

    “You’ve claimed that there are easily contestable examples of misleading propaganda in Gwyneth Craven’s book. What are they? Show us just one. Put up or shut up.” Finrod

    http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-103211

    I have responded in this column as it is more general material.

    The easiest example would be the introductory statements on the cover flaps that are seen first by the reader (copied below). Check them first to see if they are accurately copied. If so, I will return soon to respond.

    Extracts from ‘Power to Save the World’ G. Cravens

    She refutes the arguments against nuclear power one by one, making clear for example
    1 that a stroll through Grand Central Terminal exposes a person to more radiation than a walk of equal length through a uranium mine;
    2 that average background radiation around Chernobyl & in Hiroshima is lower than in Denver;
    3 that there are no cancer clusters near nuclear facilities;
    4 that terrorists could neither penetrate the security at an American nuclear plant, nor make an atom bomb from its fuel;
    5 that nuclear waste can be – & already is – safely stored;
    6 that wind power & solar power, while important, can meet only a fraction of the demand for electricity;
    7 that a coal-fired plant releases more radiation & emits deadly toxic waste that kills thousands of Americans a month;
    8 that in its fifty-year history American nuclear power has not caused a single death.

    And she demonstrates how, time & again that political fearmongering & misperceptions about risk have trumped science in the dialogue about the feasibility of nuclear energy. In the end we see how nuclear power has been successfully & economically harnessed here & around the globe to become the single largest displacer of greenhouse gases, & how its overall risks & benefits compare with those of other energy sources.

  65. WTF?? You’re going ro base your criticism on the text of the cover flaps?

    And you’ll only do it if you have successfully transcribed said text?

    Quit your squirming and defend your claim.

  66. Finrod 10 Oct 2010

    What seems to be the problem? The above points on the cover flaps are still supposed to be valid & I’ll tackle all eight of them as well as the paragraph below them. If anyone is squirming it is you. No pre-conditions were included in your ‘put-up or shut-up’ challenge. If those eight points do not accurately represent your case then the publisher shouldn’t have included them. Since you haven’t commented on the wording, I’ll assume you agree it is correctly copied.

    While I’m here I’ll add that for someone using the put-up or shut-up war-cry, you guys are certainly not following that requirement very well. But don’t worry, I will include other examples even though you have asked for just one.

  67. Comments on book cover-flap claims ‘The Power to Save the World’

    1) That a stroll through Grand Central Terminal exposes a person to more radiation than a walk of equal length through a uranium mine;

    “External exposure is mainly due to gamma emitting nuclides in the uranium decay series. The risk of internal exposure comes partly from radon, which can migrate through rock, be inhaled & deposit its daughter elements, partly from radionuclides in dust that can settle in the lungs. G.M. Ritcey 1996

    In terms of just ionising radiation, it doesn’t seem appropriate to directly compare an area above ground that is likely to be well covered in concrete (or similar), with an area that is specifically opened up below ground (or even open-cut) for mining. Greater access to radon & ore-bearing radioactivity would therefore be expected in the mine, even though mines are supposed to be ventilated. If the author is trying to make the point that uranium bearing ore is only weakly radioactive, then she would’ve been better off using a different comparison.

    2) That average background radiation around Chernobyl & in Hiroshima is lower than in Denver;

    Averaging is another method often used to mask the existence of areas having more dangerous levels of radioactivity, such as mentioned in New Scientist (a). No mention is made of those areas in this statement.

    After 65 yrs, I’ll accept Hiroshima is likely very low in surface radiation, but I have no useful data yet on this.

    (a) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-95378

    3) That there are no cancer clusters near nuclear facilities;

    “By 1987, leukaemia clusters had been identified near 15 UK nuclear installations & was considered ‘overwhelming’ evidence. Sir Douglas Black even changed his mind, saying that there was a ‘high likelihood’ that in small areas near Windscale there was an increased risk of leukaemia in young children. He described the evidence around other installations handling radioactive materials as ‘disquieting’. There was now, ‘quite a likelihood that there is a genuine link’ between nuclear power plants & childhood leukaemias.” J. Cutler & Rob Edwards (b)

    See also Dr Ian Farlie’s views (c).

    (b) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-103595
    (c) http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmenergy/memo/nps/uc8202.htm

    4) That terrorists could neither penetrate the security at an American nuclear plant, nor make an atom bomb from its fuel;

    Terrorists have regularly shown determination & resourcefulness. They may not need to actually try to steal any plutonium or fuel rods from a US nuclear power plant, but rather to take over the control room in order to help destroy it. It would probably be more likely for terrorists to crash a fuel-laden plane into it or align themselves with a ‘rogue country’ & convert their existing nuclear processing facilities to get their bomb material.

    “……..I have been persistent in calling for the prompt global abolition of all nuclear weapons and the key nuclear materials needed for their production. Since all of the more than 400 nuclear power plants now operating in 32 countries produce large quantities of plutonium that, when chemically separated from spent fuel, can be used to make reliable, efficient nuclear weapons of all types, I have also found it necessary to call for phasing out all nuclear power worldwide.” Ted Taylor 1996 (d)

    “Inadequately controlled plutonium or highly enriched uranium, combined with secret design and testing of non-nuclear components of nuclear warheads, can allow a nation or terrorist group to have deliverable nuclear weapons within days, or even hours, after acquiring a few kilograms or more of the key nuclear weapon materials.” Ted Taylor 1996

    “……..there have been major developments of nuclear weapons technology that make it possible to design all types of nuclear weapons to use reactor grade plutonium without major degradation of the weapons’ performance and reliability, compared with those that use weapon grade plutonium.” Ted Taylor 1996

    (d) http://www.wagingpeace.org/articles/1996/07/00_taylor_nuclear-power.htm

    5) That nuclear waste can be – & already is – safely stored;

    Unfortunately, the industry seems to be using a weaker definition for ‘safe’ than the general public is. The public want the waste to be truly isolated indefinitely. Yucca Mountain repository has had its funding cancelled. Pond storage, dry cask & vault storage are interim solutions only.

    6) That wind power & solar power, while important, can meet only a fraction of the demand for electricity;

    There are some that will not agree with this (e), at least for Australian circumstances. Granted – the US has a much larger population. But I am satisfied that inventors & researchers have already identified new renewable ideas during the same period that nuclear power was developing.

    (e) http://www.smh.com.au/environment/energy-smart/solar-wind-power-may-meet-2020-energy-use-20100621-ysdt.html

    7) That a coal-fired plant releases more radiation & emits deadly toxic waste that kills thousands of Americans a month;

    No argument about the toxic elements being released, but the radioactivity is only due to small amounts of mainly uranium or thorium in the ash. Now we have just seen attempts above to show a uranium mine is apparently safe to walk through, so the much smaller content in fly ash must be even less dangerous.

    “……the average population dose attributed to coal burning is included under the consumer products category and is much less than 1 percent of the total dose.” (f)
    “Radioactive elements in coal and fly ash should not be sources of alarm. The vast majority of coal and the majority of fly ash are not significantly enriched in radioactive elements, or in associated radioactivity, compared to common soils or rocks. This observation provides a useful geologic perspective for addressing societal concerns regarding possible radiation and radon hazard.” (f)

    It doesn’t seem likely that a coal plant releases more radiation than a nuclear plant, particularly when there are radioactive liquids or gases being released intermittently. Nuclear plants are known to each release up to hundreds of curies (even thousands) annually in gas purges along with large amounts in radioactive liquids (g). As pointed out earlier, coal ash will also not have any fission products that can be readily ingested, targeting specific organs (h). This counter statement is NOT being used to justify the use of coal power, but merely comparing radioactivity.

    Furthermore, researchers like Dr Sternglass feel that many people have already died prematurely from the effects of nuclear plant radiation releases either normal or accidental – mainly as child mortality. A case has even been made for about one million deaths so far, resulting from Chernobyl fallout (i).
    (f) http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/1997/fs163-97/FS-163-97.html
    (g) http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/tritiumbasicinfo.pdf
    (h) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-92008
    (i) http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/apr2010/2010-04-26-01.html

    8) That in its fifty-year history American nuclear power has not caused a single death.

    Well there were definitely 3 early deaths resulting from the 3MW boiling-water SL-1 experimental reactor in 1961, while the date is within the 50-yr claim limit if we use the publishing date of the book in which the claim is made, to go back 50 yrs (j).

    Delayed deaths are still contested by the nuclear industry despite the long assessment by people such as Dr Sternglass (above). Double standards are apparent, where delayed deaths from coal plant operation are readily used by the nuke supporters, yet they refuse to acknowledge any likelihood of delayed low-radiation effects that have been studied or analysed by some independent researchers for at least 20 yrs (c).

    Here is an effective general acknowledgement of nuclear plant & reprocessing releases:

    “While most of the radioactive materials generated by the civil nuclear industry are confined & shielded to minimise external exposure, some do escape or are released into the environment.”

    “Intentional discharges with significant radioactive content are from stacks to ensure dispersion before the discharged plume touches the ground.”

    But this simple principle isn’t foolproof in preventing radioactive fallout from chimney stacks.

    “In the absence of evidence for other detriment, the chief concern about environmental radioactivity relates to health. The ideal way to determine its impact might be to establish unequivocally:

    a) How the components of a radioactive discharge became distributed….
    b) The radiation doses delivered to the exposed population….
    c) The effect of these doses.

    “Like all ideals, it is not realised in practice, as witness the widely divergent estimates of consequences due to any particular event.” Dr Peter Wilson BNFL Sellafield 1996

    Dr Rosalie Bertell has provided an estimate using a general cancer relationship in the Nov 1999 Ecologist, claiming about 1m deaths have occurred due to the nuclear power industry up to that time (1942-1999), without including the new Chernobyl figures (another possible 1m).

    So the claim in (8) is NOT believable.

    (j) http://www.cddc.vt.edu/host/atomic/accident/critical.html

    “And she demonstrates how, time & again that political fearmongering & misperceptions about risk have trumped science in the dialogue about the feasibility of nuclear energy.” Cover Flap

    More likely, people are genuinely concerned about the regular denial & assurances from the industry that are no longer convincing in view of the known accidents.

    “In the end we see how nuclear power has been successfully & economically harnessed here & around the globe to become the single largest displacer of greenhouse gases, & how its overall risks & benefits compare with those of other energy sources.” Cover Flap

    This depends on how “successfully & economically” is defined. The industry has in an overall sense, consumed huge amounts of money, clearly contributing to governments being in the red with significant debts; US, UK, Canada & France. If these debts have not been cleared up yet, then how can we say it is economical? The whole industry is built on a ‘house of cards’. Just a few more blunders & it will collapse for good. Apparently, pro-nukes want to sell even more reactors. Radiation roulette (k).

    As far as being technically successful is concerned, this is suspect as well, due to the many engineering demands of this extreme form of power where the high radioactivity causes many new problems in the materials used. Some of them are not lasting & are expensive to replace. A small number of US plants have already been closed due mainly to technical failures that were not economically repairable.

    (k) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/harvey-wasserman/who-will-pay-for-americas_b_191455.html

  68. Prescription for the Planet (Chap 2)

    “The energy content of the nuclear materials released into the environment in the course of coal combustion, is greater than the energy of the coal being consumed.” Tom Blees

    Can anyone clarify this claim if T.B. is unable to?

    Is he referring to the apparently large amounts of radioactive materials being released that could otherwise be theoretically used instead to produce heat in a reactor?

    Can any figures or references be produced to support that claim, as the amount of energy released from the coal would be significant?

  69. Full fissioning in (iso-)breeder reactors of thorium or uranium yields roughly 3 million times as much energy as burning the same weight of coal. See

    http://www.energyfromthorium.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=2592&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&start=39

    for the calculation written out in full with references. So the claim is true for coal more than about 0.33 parts per million (U + Th), with the ‘about’ required because of the variable heat content of coal.

    Actual trace element levels in coal vary widely. This article from Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA

    http://www.ornl.gov/info/ornlreview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html

    discusses radiation emissions from coal plants, and gives the average U and Th contents of US coals as 1.3 and 3.2 ppm, respectively, but with over a factor of ten variability from low to high samples. On that basis, there’s more than ten times the nuclear energy available from the coal ash than there is chemical energy available from the coal. For the most U-rich coals, it might even be economic to mine the ash for U today, given that the mining costs have already been paid.

  70. @Luke_UK: Interesting point you make above concerning fissionable energy value of U and Th in coal vs chemical energy of same coal.

    However, you would still have to extract the U & Th out of the coal and, short of compustion, that would not be easy or cheap.

  71. I wonder how much of the fissile elements in coal exit the smokestack into the atmosphere as opposed to filtered/precipitated out or left in the boiler ash. Non-fissile U238 would be inhaled or settled in waterways with similar chemical hazards to other heavy metals. Case in point I’ve been wondering whether to eat some salmon this weekend grown in water rich in copper and lead. Fissiles like U235 are hopefully minor in coal flue gas.

    At one time there was a proposal to make coal-to-liquids in SA’s Arckaringa Basin north of Olympic Dam
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/business/mining/bn-arckaringa-coal-deal-sealed/story-e6fredi3-1225800074360
    The coal originated in peat swamps seeped in uranium bearing waters from the basement rocks. Think of CTL fuelled cars spewing radio-isotopes from the tailpipe.

  72. Luke_UK, on 4 November 2010 at 4:17 AM

    Yes, I am aware of the A. Gabbard ORNL link which seems to be the one used by Tom Blees. What I was earlier after was a direct value of the energy equivalence figure being used for Tom’s claims. As he seems to be relying heavily on the ORNL link only, I will extract that equivalence ratio from the figures given in that article shortly.

  73. Prescription for the Planet Chap 2 Tom Blees (also Alex Gabbard reference)

    (1) “Consequently, the energy content of nuclear fuel released in coal combustion is more than that of the coal consumed!” A.G.

    This claim sounds exaggerated, when viewed with alternative practical reactor operation basics.

    (2) “For the year 1982, assuming coal contains uranium and thorium concentrations of 1.3 ppm and 3.2 ppm, respectively, each typical plant released 5.2 tons of uranium (containing 74 pounds of uranium-235) and 12.8 tons of thorium that year.” A.G.

    By using just one power plant, we should still be able to assess the above claim (1), if the plants are similar. So if a 1 GW coal plant had a genuine 1 GW rated electrical output for 1 year, then about 8,760,000,000 kWh (electrical) would have been generated for consumers over that period.

    If also about 5.2 tons of natural uranium were released as waste from the same coal plant during the year, then this is supposed to contain more (theoretical) energy than that delivered by the coal plant over the same 12 months.

    Unfortunately, this theme is used too often to mislead people about energy outputs. To be consistent, we should also be reminded that theoretically, ALL matter is supposed to have varying but significant potential for energy release (E=MC2), so in a similar sense used by A. Gabbard, there is a huge amount of energy being ‘wasted’ with countless simple everyday items being instead used for mundane tasks because no-one has found a way to power their car on such items. Why just limit criticism to idealised figures from coal plant emissions? Because it suits A. Gabbard’s purpose in deflecting attention away from nuclear faults. In the real world, practical considerations should have priority & usually do, as no-one has yet managed to power a Jumbo jet on the theoretical energy in apples for example. I do not know either of any demolition experts using chocolate chip cookies to destroy any derelict buildings, so they use more practical explosive energies (a) page 1-3).
    In order for 5.2 tons of natural uranium to be of best use in a practical 1 GW – LWR, it would have to be enriched to at least 3%, leaving only about ½ – ¾ ton available after enrichment. Now in reality, about 20 – 30 tons of enriched fuel is needed each year to allow the nuclear plant to continue over the 12 month period. With current LWR engineering practice, (in view of claim (1) above) it is NOT expected to be possible to get ¾ ton of 3-4% enriched uranium to deliver anything near 8.76 billion kWh’s of electrical energy, since about 50-60 tons of enriched uranium dioxide pellets are needed for consistent 12 months of power. Also especially when less than 1% of the uranium fuel’s alleged potential is used before the rods have to be replaced due to fission poisoning.

    Then there are additional efficiency losses:

    “This means that a typical nuclear power station producing 1000 MW of electric power would burn about 3.5 kg of U-235 each day. For each unit of electrical power produced, we have to produce 3.5 units of thermal energy, with the remaining 2.5 units being dissipated by the cooling water.” (b)

    Alex Gabbard talks about wastage in coal plants, but hasn’t mentioned the above 2 – 2.5 Gigawatts of thermal wastage into the environment from nuclear plants (together with the large water vapour losses) that must assist global warming forces.

    The 12.8 tons of thorium would be expected to be in a similar position of having an alleged theoretical potential while no really practical, safe, reliable & successful power reactor has yet been devised for continuous civilian use despite India having pursued that research for many years.
    (a) http://muller.lbl.gov/teaching/physics10/PffP_textbook_F08/PffP-01-energy-F08.pdf
    (b) Introduction to Nuclear Power 2nd Edition by G.F. Hewitt & J.G. Collier Chap 2

  74. Prescription for the Planet Chap 2 Fusion Power Tom Blees

    “Politics is a big part of ITER. Opposition to the ITER project has been generated most vociferously from the same environmental groups that oppose nuclear fission power. “Pursuing nuclear fusion & the ITER project is madness,” said Bridget Woodman of Greenpeace. “Nuclear fusion has all the problems of nuclear power, including producing nuclear waste & the risks of a nuclear accident.” T.B.

    It seems reasonable to assume that B. Woodman is familiar with enough of the fusion basics to be able to justify her response.

    Tom Blees responds to B. Woodman

    “Whoa lady! Take a chill pill. I’m sorry, but I have little patience for hysteria when it comes to discussing the serious problems that face us today. While I call myself a serious environmentalist, off-the-wall statements like that are simply out of bounds. This is a typical knee-jerk reaction to anything with the word ‘nuclear’ in it, & is either based on the rankest ignorance or an appalling disingenuousness. “ T.B.

    This is just another attempt at unjustified ridicule when no valid counter-claims are made.

    “ridicule is not a legitimate tool of honest skeptics” Joel M. Kauffman

    There is no need to call B. Woodman hysterical when she is more likely concerned about the known extremes fusion power requires. (see below)

    “But for fusion to occur, exceptionally high temperatures are required – greater than 100 million degrees Kelvin.”

    “Heating the plasma requires massive amounts of electricity – typically about 5 million amperes.

    Although vast amounts of power are required to generate the heat & the magnetic fields, the fusion process generates far more.”

    “The latest machine being tested is ITER in France, run by an international collaboration. It should be able to produce about 500 MW, nearly 10x the power needed to heat the plasma to the required temperature for fusion.” (a) R.W.

    A temperature of 100 million degrees & 5 million ampere current are adequate examples of extreme engineering being stretched to the limits if not beyond them. All practical, realistic projects have a very clearly defined safety margin included, such as the fail-safe concept. What happens to the hot plasma if the power fails for the magnetic field? If nearly10x the power required for the plasma heating, is achieved as an output – is that supposed to be a big deal? I wouldn’t think so. What about the power required for the magnetic field? No mention is made of that by R.W. Even though we are not given the magnet system voltage, we can see what would be required in a non-superconducting system, where 5 million amperes @ 200v requires the complete output from a 1 GW plant, just to supply the magnetic field. Superconducting equipment will reduce that requirement, but it has to be powered as well. Easier to see now why it can be called madness, when tens of billions of dollars has been spent on fusion research covering 50 years, with no sign of any practical rector yet. With those extreme temperatures & currents, accidents are still more likely, & that example has only a 500 MW output. It doesn’t even make any good engineering or economical sense. The technology required to safely handle 5 million amperes in such a confined area would be very expensive – resembling the same problem of economics with nuclear fission plants all through their history, even today (b).

    “Fusion reactors, should they be proven viable as they almost surely will be – eventually, would produce a pittance of nuclear waste with so short a half-life that it would be harmless within 10 – 100 years. The accident risk is likewise overblown, since it would be impossible for a fusion reactor to undergo a runaway chain reaction. It’s not the safety that’s the problem; it’s the time it will take to make the concept commercially viable.” T.B.

    All T.B. has managed to do here is offer reassuring overstatement without directly addressing any of the really hard fusion issues head-on.

    See what others think about the engineering hurdles & accident risks being ‘overblown.’

    “In the physics area there are numerous problems to be solved in the areas of ignition, burn, impurity and disruption control.” (c)

    “In the engineering area significant development is required in plasma heating, blanket design, magnet design, tritium handling and control, materials development, shielding, and maintenance.” (c)

    “there are also a variety of problems to be solved in the safety area.” (c)

    “Lithium reacts strongly in air, liberating about 3.7 times more energy by weight than liquid sodium.” (c)

    “Calculations based on conceptual designs have shown that in excess of 1 GCi of activity can be produced. Activation products are built up rapidly in the structural material of a fusion reactor and a significant fraction of the equilibrium inventory is present in the reactor after only a few days of operation. (c)

    Standard 1 GW fission power plants can accumulate 10 – 20 billion curies of radioactive inventory.
    There is no guarantee that the very significant 1 Gigacurie-plus amount of radioactivity can be contained under all circumstances.

    “There are only around 20 kilograms of tritium in the world.” (d)

    “Jan Beranek of Greenpeace claims that, “to sustain a reaction for a year for just one reactor it would need to burn 50 kgs of tritium… at the moment we are able to get one kg for about $30 million (£20 million)”. (d)

    “Dr Michael Dittmar, a physicist at CERN working for the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology thinks this is a comforting folly, a process fraught with problems in physics, mathematics and engineering.” (d)

    He says the vast expenditure on experimental reactors should be halted until that basic problem is resolved. (d)

    “If this doesn’t work we can forget the entire rest of the project,” he says. (d)

    Is this an indication of how well these problems have been solved over 50 years of trying?
    Just the above challenges appear too difficult & probably failed to inspire any confidence in B. Woodman with that technology. So why is she being called hysterical when an insider such as Dr Dittmar also has significant doubts about fast breeders & fusion research (e)?

    Any half-life is unacceptable for humanity considering how many of these reactors are required & the likely increasing population. At those extreme temperatures, safety certainly WOULD be a problem. How much more time, money & excuses do the researchers need before they concede it is impractical technology?

    We are not interested in the hyped-up claims of pro-nukes when their key previous claims have failed to materialise. They will probably claim they are close to success & lobby politicians even harder for continued funding, despite the bottomless sink-hole they have already created. They are performing the same role as a car salesman trying to sell the public a clunker, with nuclear power being the worst clunker ever devised, but the industry cannot bring itself to admit that even though some key staff have recognised the many faults of nuclear power.

    (a) Bad Ideas? Chap 9 Is Nuclear Energy an Option? Robert Winston 2010
    (b) http://climateprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/nuclear-costs-2009.pdf
    (c) http://www.osti.gov/bridge/purl.cover.jsp;jsessionid=A6B97E6187631E1853C20510651D3572?purl=/6876244-lyoVCT/
    (d) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8547273.stm
    (e) http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0911/0911.2628v1.pdf
    (see Fusion Illusions Section 5, p 17-24)

  75. Fusion Solution ‘Prescription for the Planet’ by Tom Blees

    “The dream of tapping the enormous power released when hydrogen isotopes fuse together never seems to get any closer. Ever since research into nuclear fusion began fifty years ago, the promise of endless energy has always been “decades away”. Now physicists say the very earliest a power-producing reactor could be built is 2050.” 2000 (a)

    Speaking of previous fusion experiments, Rob Edwards adds:

    “No other tokamak has yet produced surplus power” 2000 (b)

    “In fact, fusion shares some of the worst characteristics of fission. Both technologies, but especially fusion, are very expensive with highly complex engineering requirements. If built as proposed in Clarington, Ontario, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) would create large amounts of radioactive waste that would be harmful for at least 100 years. ITER would also routinely and accidentally release tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen that may cause cancer and birth defects when ingested.” 2000 (c)

    If B. Woodman has formed her opinion on similar basic material above, then she has a right to be treated better than to be branded as ‘hysterical’.
    I wonder why Tom Blees hasn’t commented on the above tritium risk, & also gives a downplayed 100 year estimate, in chap 2 of his book.

    “No one knows what will happen to the reactor’s structure when it is blasted for years by hundreds of megawatts’ worth of neutrons travelling at a fifth of the speed of light.” 2005 (d)

    “However, the plasma does slowly leak out of the magnetic field, at a rate that depends on extremely complex turbulent motions in the plasma. Conventional turbulence is hard enough to study – Einstein described it as the toughest problem in classical physics. Things are even worse in plasmas because they are made of charged particles that generate their own magnetic fields as they move. It’s the feedback problem from hell.” 2005 (d)

    “Previous deuterium-tritium experiments used only minor quantities of tritium and yet lengthy interruptions between successive experiments were required because the radiation from the tritium decay was so excessively high.” 2009 (e)

    “ITER proponents know that even their self-defined goal (a 400 second long deuterium-tritium fusion operation within the relatively small volume of 840 m3) presents a great challenge. One might wonder what they think about the difficulties involved in reaching steady state operation for a full scale fusion power plant.” 2009 (e)

    (a) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16822600.200-fusion-jam-tomorrow.html
    (b) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16822600.300-the-heat-is-on.html?
    (c) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg16822625.500-fusion-confusion.html?
    (d) http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg18825250.500-the-great-fusion-experiment.html?full=true
    (e) http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/arxiv/pdf/0911/0911.2628v1.pdf (Section 5.1, p 18-19)

  76. Nuclear is still a limited resource. We can get all our energy needs through simpler, less expensive forms of green energy like wind, wave, solar and geothermal. I would far rather rely on these, which are so much less trouble to build and really are green – because you’d never run out of wind!

    Even if it worked, it’s not necessary and I don’t think we should give governments the wrong idea. Essentially nuclear is NOT OK and that’s something we need to remember. Before we get carried away.

  77. “This claim sounds exaggerated, when viewed with alternative practical reactor operation basics.

    By using just one power plant, we should still be able to assess the above claim (1), if the plants are similar. So if a 1 GW coal plant had a genuine 1 GW rated electrical output for 1 year, then about 8,760,000,000 kWh (electrical) would have been generated for consumers over that period.

    If also about 5.2 tons of natural uranium were released as waste from the same coal plant during the year, then this is supposed to contain more (theoretical) energy than that delivered by the coal plant over the same 12 months.

    Unfortunately, this theme is used too often to mislead people about energy outputs. To be consistent, we should also be reminded that theoretically, ALL matter is supposed to have varying but significant potential for energy release (E=MC2), so in a similar sense used by A. Gabbard, there is a huge amount of energy being ‘wasted’ with countless simple everyday items being instead used for mundane tasks because no-one has found a way to power their car on such items. Why just limit criticism to idealised figures from coal plant emissions?”

    Such statements regarding the actinide content of coal waste containing more available nuclear energy than the coal originally released when burned do assume that the coal ash’s uranium-238 and thorium content is all harnessed for energy, using a fast reactor like the IFR and/or a reactor such as a LFTR capable of efficiently burning the thorium. Such technologies already exist. It’s true that there’s no way you could equal the coal’s chemical energy content if you were inefficiently using only the U-235 content of the uranium in a LWR.

    Your comparison to the ridiculous goal of harnessing all the mass-energy content from any matter is plainly ridiculous.

    “What happens to the hot plasma if the power fails for the magnetic field?”

    Then the plasma rapidly cools, dissipates energy into its surroundings, and it is no longer fusing.

    I’m not going to waste my time arguing with you – or something copied and pasted from some representative of Greenpeace – when it seems that you, and certainly Greenpeace as well, don’t have even the most basic understanding of how these systems behave.

    The physics of fusion in a tokamak is well understood; what is going on today is mainly just engineering… developing the technology for industrial manufacturing of very large superconducting magnets, which is getting better all the time, driven by medicine, research, and of course things like the LHC.

    I think those links you posted went some way towards answering your own questions – assuming, of course, that you really want answers and not just to spread FUD. The ITER magnets will consume about 35 MW of power, which is mainly needed to run the cryoplant that keeps them cold. Superconductors don’t dissipate any power, they just need power for the cryogenics plant. ITER will generate 10 MW out for every 1 MW put into the overall system – including plasma heating energy, energy needed for magnet cryogenics, all of it.

    angelofthewest:

    What’s wrong with nuclear energy? It sounds to me like you just have a bit of a dogma against nuclear energy, with nothing of substance to reasonably back up such a position.

    The hydrogen in the sun represents a finite energy resource… the potential energy of the earth-moon tidal system is a finite energy resource.

    There are no “infinite” energy resources.

    There is enough uranium on Earth to support the energy needs of an advanced civilization on Earth for billions of years, as long as the Sun will support life on Earth – and then there’s plenty of thorium and deuterium too.

  78. Luke Weston, on 17 November 2010 at 6:05 AM

    Your comparison to the ridiculous goal of harnessing all the mass-energy content from any matter is plainly ridiculous. L.W.

    In one particular sense, that WAS my point – the continued use of idealised theoretical estimates still being used for uranium potential (when obtained from coal plant waste) could be regarded as ridiculous, & was probably done by A. Gabbard (& others) to impress the public.

    Then the plasma rapidly cools, dissipates energy into its surroundings, and it is no longer fusing. L.W.

    Yes, I am aware it would cool down, but just that general statement you have given isn’t enough to answer my concerns. I was thinking more of the DURATION of decay heat, & what is being done to minimise it. No doubt, the likely interlocking of all plasma heat generating systems with the magnetic field failure, means that all the heating power for the plasma, will probably be shut down quickly. But as in fission reactor-core decay heat, it would be interesting to know how long it takes for a 100 million degree temperature to decay away, & what effect it has on the surrounding enclosure. The usual operating temperature of a fission reactor is about 600 deg K – a lot lower than the fusion plasma example.

    The comparison case of Lower Temperature Fission (decay heat)

    “For example, a reactor generating 3,400 MW of thermal energy (about 1,100 MWe) will still be producing 215 MW at 1 second after shutdown, 47.5 MW after 1 hr, & about 0.8 MW 1 year after shutdown.” (a)

    Similar figures for fusion reactors are probably not publically available yet since they are still experimental & not established in engineering training courses.

    Response to ‘angelofthewest’

    “What’s wrong with nuclear energy? It sounds to me like you just have a bit of a dogma against nuclear energy, with nothing of substance to reasonably back up such a position.” L.W.

    That’s a bit rich. If anyone has a “dogma” in accepting anything, it would surely be some of the pro-nuke contributors. Just for a start, there have been some key industry insiders publically confirm the dangers of nuclear power, along with other defects (b-e).

    “There are no “infinite” energy resources” L.W.

    “There is enough uranium on Earth to support the energy needs of an advanced civilization on Earth for billions of years, as long as the Sun will support life on Earth – and then there’s plenty of thorium and deuterium too.” L.W.

    Both the above comments appear to contradict each other. The highly touted Fast Breeder Reactors were supposed to provide power indefinitely. Billions of years is close to “infinite”. It is very unlikely humans will be on Earth after that length of time anyway, for other reasons. We are already confronted with several major challenges while not even 7 billion people are present yet.

    David B. Benson, on 17 November 2010 at 8:20 AM

    Maybe ‘angelofthewest’ is thinking of similar plans put forward for renewable energy (f), where the disadvantages of those ideas are more preferable that the MANY disadvantages of nuclear power.

    (a) Introduction to Nuclear Power 2nd Edition by G.F. Hewitt & J.G. Collier
    (b) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-92269
    (c) http://bravenewclimate.com/2009/09/19/radiation-facts-fallacies-and-phobias/#comment-95378
    (d) http://bravenewclimate.com/2010/06/18/21c-nuclear-renaissance/#comment-98112
    (e) http://www.technologyreview.com/blog/arxiv/24414/ (Chapters 1-4 at bottom)
    (f) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=a-path-to-sustainable-energy-by-2030

  79. Machiavelli, on 20 November 2010 at 3:08 PM — All sources of electricity generation have advantages and disadvantages. So each region needs to discover the blend which works best for those in that region. There are a few which are quite satisfied to have electricity only when the wind blows (since it does almost always).

  80. Is There a Nuclear Industry Misinformation Conspiracy?

    “So, we’ve got to know that there is a conspiracy out there & the conspiracy is against the people,” rants Dr Helen Caldicott in 1999. Let’s examine this allegation with a bit of logic. (a)

    Author Tom Blees responds:

    “There are many thousands of nuclear physicists & engineers who are more than willing, nay eager, to support the use of nuclear power. Few would argue that these people are Strangelovian monsters who care nothing for their children as they push an agenda for poisoning the world for their descendents. Nor would any substantial number of those very smart people have made financial decisions to invest in the nuclear power industry, since it’s been on the skids now for at least a few decades. Conspiracies of this magnitude, involving tens of thousands of scientists, engineers, accountants, technicians & politicians are all the more ludicrous when you consider that all these people would knowingly & maliciously be dooming their own progeny to lives of misery & ultimately death. Yet such absurd charges are tossed about repeatedly, despite the complete lack of rationale for anyone to so clearly work against their own well-being & that of their families.” (a)

    (a) ‘Prescription for the Planet’ Chapter 2

    Although originally referring to a chemical industry, the following response could also apply to nuclear industry behaviour.

    Author M. Robin, asks K. Cook from the Environmental Working Group:

    Indeed, there is something I still have trouble understanding: how could people knowingly run the risk of poisoning their customers & the environment & not stop to think that they themselves or their children might be the victims of their negligence? I am not speaking of ethics or morality, abstract concepts foreign to the logic of capitalism, but merely of the survival instinct: was it lacking in the managers of ………..?
    “A company like ………… is a world of its own, (where) the pursuit of profit at any price anesthetizes people devoted to a single purpose: making money.”

    Prof K. Stanovich has a comment about ‘smart’ people:

    “There is a narrow set of cognitive skills that we track and that we call intelligence. But that’s not the same as intelligent behaviour in the real world,” What the professor argues is that intelligence by itself can’t (always) guarantee rational behaviour. In other words, you can be intelligent without being rational, and you can be a rational thinker without being especially intelligent. Kurt Kleiner 2009

    Tom Blees seems to be ignoring the possibility with his ‘logic’ argument, that there is such a condition in a collective culture, where many like-minded people, possibly originally & genuinely believing in a common goal, can still develop tunnel vision & ignore any evidence against their common interest, with some more fanatical types even becoming very defensive & even hostile to such people with counter evidence that threatens their livelihood. They can be in such a state of denial that they are really ‘dysrational’, making the issue far more serious. They don’t have to be all consciously plotting together to destroy humankind, but they can still be on the wrong path ‘unintentionally’, with the aid of other human failures such as ignorance, prejudice & hostility. There have already been several earlier examples (DDT, CFC’s, HFC’s, PCB’s, PVC, Lead, Mercury, tobacco etc) that were originally defended vigorously, only to be eventually shown to be dangerous enough to be banned or heavily restricted. Meanwhile, during the decades it can take for a complete ban to occur, still more people suffer ill-effects from the suspect substance, due to the persuasiveness of the lobby groups defending those items.

    Examples of Unsatisfactory Industry Behaviour

    http://www.independent.co.uk/…/uk/…/ios-investigation-officials-plotted-sellafield-coverup-1224473.html

    Psychological Persuasion & Manipulative Techniques

    Marketing Concepts & Strategy can Reduce Resistance to Nuclear Power Plant Installation
    http://etd.lib.ttu.edu/theses/available/etd-07242009-31295002141744/unrestricted/31295002141744.pdf.

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/now-sellafield-admits-to-22-faked-nuclear-safety-checks-1120931.html

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/civil-servants-lived-the-high-life-courtesy-of-nuclear-lobby-789185.html

    Why would scientists dedicated to uncovering the truth about the natural world deliberately misrepresent the work of their own colleagues? Why would they spread accusations with no basis? Why would they refuse to correct their arguments once they had been shown to be incorrect? And why did the press continue to quote them, even as their claims were shown to be false? N. Oreskes & E. M. Conway 2010

    Scientific Ideal Aaron Wildavsky 1995

    “We might add unanimity to the list of missing items; after all, if it is science, it is supposed to be objective, & doesn’t that mean everyone reaches the same right conclusion?”

  81. Ideal Mission Statement

    “The minimum standard for a government to enjoy the goodwill of its people is honesty. No government can consider that it serves its people if it blatantly lies to those people.” Paul Chambers 2010

    Reminder Examples of Unacceptable Concealment

    It is clear from public records that are now available that the AEC knew all along that any use of nuclear weapons would create a public health catastrophe. Nevertheless, in the name of national security the Eisenhower Administration veiled all radiation research in secrecy and disinformation. And, in 1955, with the creation of the first nuclear power plant, it extended that veil to cover the civilian sector. For nearly four more decades all information regarding the public health impacts of radiation would be rife with critical flaws. The Atomic Energy Commission and its descendant, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, would hide—literally—mountains of data and obfuscate or distort the information that was released. Employees of both government and civilian industries would be compelled to sign secrecy agreements, violations of which would constitute grounds for prosecution on charges of treason or espionage. Scientists who independently studied the human health impacts of low-level radiation would be vilified, their reputations smeared. Laurie Garrett 2000

    A former US secretary of the Interior during the 1960’s, describes how he learned that AEC officials lied about the cancers induced by the Nevada tests in the course of his unsuccessful legal representation of some of the ‘downwinder’ victims.

    As Chairperson of the Australian Atomic Weapons Test Safety Commission, Sir Ernest Titterton regularly assured the Australian people that they were in no danger from the British nuclear tests on their land. As in other countries, the significance of the fallout was never communicated to the public. Dr Hedley Marston (CSIRO) undertook to collect thyroid glands from grazing animals for analysis to determine the extent of radioactive contamination from the British 1956 Operation Buffalo tests in SA. He found heavily contaminated areas 1,500 – 2,000 miles away from the Maralinga test site, even reaching areas of Queensland. When Sir Ernest Titterton was asked to comment on Dr Marston’s findings, he simply reasserted the tests were carried out safely. R. Bertell

    In late 1945 the US army stated that all deaths due to radiation effects from the H/N atomic bombs had already occurred. They maintained this absurdity for 5 years & no official investigation of the survivors’ health was made, despite press stories of large increases in cancer in the exposed population. In 1950, after countless deaths from exposure had already occurred, the US government set up the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission to study the remaining survivors.
    A large excess of cancer among the heavily radiated was reported by the Hiroshima Cancer Registry but not by the ABCC. The HCR showed a 400% increase in non-leukaemia cancer for the highly exposed group, while the ABCC found only 30% increase. The ABCC figures were used for risk assessment. There was a great deal of messing about with choices of control groups in the A-bomb studies in order to make the results tidy & to show there was very little problem with radiation. The US certainly did not want to believe their weapon had caused such long term effects in innocent people. In addition, such effects would make it clearer that no one could really win an atomic war. The problem of the inadequacy of the controls became evident in the 1963 UNSCEAR report, where a higher leukaemia level was visible in that group. C. Busby UK

    Henry Myers, (chief scientific advisor to the US House Committee on Interior & Insular Affairs 1980, with a Ph.D. in nuclear physics) in his role of highlighting nuclear safety issues, readily found people lied about what they had done to make plants safer, let problems fester until it was too late, & used psychological forms of avoidance to convince themselves & the public, that nuclear reactors were safe. Myers encountered human weaknesses far beyond what he had thought likely, or what his education & experience had prepared him for. Based on the subcommittee’s investigations, Myers estimated that as many as 75% of all the reactors in operation or under construction (at least 100) had “serious problems” that should’ve required costly repairs or closure. Myers often found cracks, leaks, faulty welds, false records & human vice in his investigations. S. Cook 2009

    The European Parliament’s Green Party launched a study into nuclear accidents, released in 2007. Countless incidents had been insufficiently documented or not noted at all. Operators at the Shika-1 boiling water reactor lost control of it for about 15 minutes in 1999 but disclosed only a month before the Green Party report was released. S. Cook 2009

    Before he resigned from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Peter Bradford said, “The first casualty of nuclear power was the truth”. He said, “the history of nuclear power is a history of silenced concerns, rigged studies, and suppressed scientists”.

    A former Chief Scientist for the UK Ministry of Power, Sir Kelvin Spencer, has said:

    “We must remember that government scientists are in chains. Speaking as a one-time government scientist I well know that ‘reasonably achievable’ has to be interpreted, (so long as one is in government service) as whatever level of contamination is compatible with the economic well-being of the industry responsible for the pollution under scrutiny.”

    This government attitude clearly shows how public health is of secondary concern.

    Dr S.G. Goss, a senior former member of the research staff at the National Radiological Protection Board, wrote of the culture of that organisation in the ‘New Scientist’ (1977):

    “The Royal Commission on Environmental Protection criticizes the NRPB for bias towards understating risks & for not being seen to be independent of the UKAEA. These faults in the management were known to exist when the NRPB was set up, & if they were not obvious to outsiders interested in radiation protection, it was not for want of trying to make them understand…
    My post on the NRPB was concerned with risk estimation &, as expected, it soon became obvious that the management were biased toward underestimating radiation risks. It was also soon clear that the ways of controlling staff used by the UKAEA’s own Health & Safety Branch would be applied in the NRPB.”

    “Were we to reduce the maximum permissible exposure by a factor of ten, I seriously doubt that many of our present nuclear power plants would find it feasible to continue in operation.” stated Dr. Morgan. Furthermore, to admit that standards had been too lax would open a floodgate to compensation claims being made not only by radiation workers but by hundreds of thousands of veterans and downwinders. There were powerful incentives to keep the researchers away from the data. Karl Morgan, as chairman of the International Commission on Radiation Protection, wrote in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists in 1987 that he thought the current radiation risk had been underestimated by a factor of ten. Morgan had previously supported rapid expansion of the nuclear industry and his assertion caused a great alarm throughout the industry.

    Dr Mancuso’s funding was cut off and he was ordered not to publish his findings. He was denied further access to the workers’ data. After twelve years and $5.2 million, the Energy Research and Development Administration (formerly the Atomic Energy Commission) removed Mancuso from the study. In 1977 he was ordered to give up his files or have them seized. When he refused to yield the data, ERDA asked the University of Pittsburgh vice chancellor to intervene. Fortunately the university refused. Practically everyone who sided with Mancuso and Stewart were subjected to character assassination or lost their funding.

    Dr. John Gofman, director of radiobiological studies at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories was a brilliant nuclear chemist who had discovered a way of separating plutonium from uranium that had provided the Manhattan Project with plutonium for its bombs. In 1969 his findings corroborated with Stewarts’. He concluded that there was no basis for the AEC’s claim that there was a so-called safe threshold of radiation and that the cancer risk from radiation was roughly twenty times worse than previously thought. This meant that the hazard to future generations in the form of genetic damage had been underestimated even more seriously. His staff and budget were slashed, his work censored and he became known as the enemy within. Gofman resigned from Livermore in 1972, calling Livermore a “scientific whorehouse”.

    So it comes to this: we must trust our scientific experts on matters of science, because there isn’t a workable alternative. Because scientists are not (in most cases) licensed, we need to pay attention to who the experts actually are – by asking questions about their credentials, their past & current research, the venues in which they are subjecting their claims to scrutiny, & the sources of financial support they are receiving. N. Oreskes & E. M. Conway 2010

    Simple Lesson from the US Love Canal Tragedy

    What went wrong? What might the residents have done to come closer to the truth, to worry less about extremely unlikely harms, to concentrate more on mitigating whatever hazards there might be, & to avoid the vast disruption & consequent harm of being forced to move?

    Their first error was to rely too much & too soon on scientific experts to inform them, which is to say that they first needed to know something about the subject themselves before making use of experts. Aaron Wildavsky 1995

  82. Dr Jim Falk has already answered Prof Brook’s point

    ‘Professor Lowe demands impossible proof, which cannot come until after the fact. This is not science, nor risk management. He also ignores the fact that we know perfectly well how to recycle nuclear waste – we just need to start doing it on a massive scale.’ Prof B. Brook 2010

    Dr Jim Falk writes in Global Fission

    Sometimes advocates of nuclear-based programs will argue that the opponents are demanding the impossible: that nuclear power should be proved absolutely safe before it can be acceptable. Such proof is of course impossible. But the charge is not an accurate explanation for people’s opposition to nuclear power. Nuclear technology is distrusted because it is based on critically toxic materials which cannot be rendered safe chemically & which are capable of being transformed into the most devastating weapons; because these must be contained to a degree of precision which seems impractical to any person familiar with the errors, mechanical failures & even corruption, that are a feature of the workplace everywhere. Above all, the technology has been moved from the experimental to the commercial scale in less than 20 years. During this time many new hazards have been identified, & old ones have been found to be much more serious than early confidence suggested. Energy systems seem to be based on critically dangerous materials, still in many ways experimental but incorporated into programs as if they were adequately understood, & not compatible with trust by the community. Dr Jim Falk 1982

  83. Has the Early Nuclear Industry been guided by Excessive Pressures & Bias?

    Have Unacceptable Failures of Attitudes Resulted?

    After the war, the US was left with a tremendous industrial complex devoted to building atomic bombs. But the knowledge & the physical infrastructure developed for the bomb could easily be turned to generating nuclear electricity. So this new technology of nuclear power (which, strictly speaking, did not yet exist) had a tremendous amount of momentum as it headed into the post-war years.

    Although after the war many scientists returned to the research they had pursued earlier, plenty of others were hooked on the power of the atom. Given all this, Chauncey Starr says, the attitude among many scientists was, “what do we do now?” The obvious answer was to put the war machine to work developing nuclear power. “I don’t think we thought very deeply about it. Just let’s try it.”
    Once it was clear that a chain reaction in uranium was possible, scientists didn’t have to stop & think what this might mean. Decades of speculation & prediction had already created an image of a world with nuclear power. For Leo Szilard & others, it was taken for granted that atomic energy would be the source of unbounded power. Unfortunately, this compelling image had been created from little more than the basic fact that the atomic nucleus held a great deal of power. It did not take into account (because no one knew) what sorts of things might have to be done to release that power. There was no place in the vision for the problems of nuclear waste or the dangers of radioactivity, & so at first, they were not taken as seriously as they deserved.

    The early government control of nuclear power created a culture of secrecy that permeated the industry, even after commercial business had taken over all but the military aspects. Too often, the first instinct of both government officials & corporate managers was to hide information, to mislead, or even lie. The result was predictable – eventually a portion of the public assumed that nuclear officials were hiding something or lying, even when they weren’t. The Manhattan Project left nuclear power with a complex & contradictory psychological legacy.

    Looking back on the early days, Alvin Weinberg recalls that even before the end of the war, Enrico Fermi was warning his colleagues that the costs of nuclear power might be higher than people wanted to pay. Fermi said, “it was not clear that the public would accept an energy source that produced this much radioactivity, & that could be subject to diversion of material for bombs.” But few paid any attention.

    Years later, David Lillienthal, the first chairman of the AEC, reflected on the motivations of the scientists. They shared a conviction, he said, “that somehow or other the discovery that produced a terrible weapon simply HAD to have an important peaceful use. Everyone, our leaders, laymen, scientists & military men wanted to establish a beneficial use of this great discovery. We were grimly determined to prove that this discovery was not just a weapon.”

    Most scientists at the time were generally unconcerned with the relatively minor risks that might be caused by fallout from weapons tests. Willard Libby in a 1955 congressional hearing said: “people have got to learn to live with the facts of life, & part of the facts of life are fallout”.

    The Plowshare & nuclear plane programs went on so long as they did because there were essentially no brakes to slow their momentum. The true believers at the AEC & on the Joint Committee had nearly complete discretion in developing atomic energy, & they tended to dismiss negative results as due to lack of effort or insufficient vision. It was not impossible, merely extremely difficult, to build a nuclear-powered aircraft or find a practical peaceful use for atomic bombs, & so the supporters of these projects argued that the proper response to problems was to try harder & spend more money.
    Throughout the 1950’s, the AEC, the Joint Committee & the President all pushed for nuclear power. In 1954 Congress passed a revised atomic Energy Act that changed the ground rules for developing nuclear power, & was designed to encourage business to get involved. The AEC would still however own the fuel & simply lease it out to companies operating reactors. This gave the commission great influence over the economics of nuclear power. For many years the AEC would subsidise the nuclear industry with fuel charges that represented only a fraction of the real fuel cost.

    There was steady government pressure on utilities to adopt nuclear power. But companies were having trouble getting sufficient liability insurance. Insurance companies would provide no more than about $65 million for a single plant, but the potential liability was much greater. According to a 1957 AEC safety study, a serious accident at a large reactor could conceivably kill thousands of people & cause billions of dollars of property damage. Even if the chances of such an accident were extremely small, no utility would be willing to risk bankruptcy by building a nuclear plant without enough insurance. In response, Congress passed the Price-Anderson Act of 1957. It required a plant operating company to buy as much liability insurance as was available, with the government committed to pay for damages above $65m, up to a limit of $560 million only. If a major accident ever did cause billions of dollars in damage, then some victims would be uncompensated.

    At the beginning of the 1960’s, even the most optimistic cost estimates had nuclear electricity being significantly more expensive than electricity from coal. The combination of technological enthusiasm & government pressure was enough to convince some utilities to invest in nuclear power even when they knew they would lose money. GE’s vice president of planning, John McKitterick said in 1970, “If we couldn’t get orders out of the utility industry, with every tick of the clock it became progressively more likely that some competing technology would be developed that would supersede the economic viability of our own. Our people understood this was a game of massive stakes, & that if we didn’t force the utility industry to put those stations on line, we’d end up with nothing”.

    Only years later would it become evident how badly the reactor manufacturers had misjudged, or misrepresented the real costs of building nuclear power plants. On average, nuclear plants ordered in the mid to late 1960’s cost twice as much to build as estimated. GE & Westinghouse quickly realised what was happening & stopped offering the turnkey contracts in 1966. But by then they had already agreed to build a dozen nuclear plants for a fixed price. Later unofficial estimates indicate those twelve plants cost both companies about $1 billion in losses.

    If nothing else, the nuclear industry’s lessons in the importance of learning have dispelled the technological hubris with which it began the nuclear era. No one in the nuclear industry realised just how much learning this new & complex technology demanded. Blinded by such technological hubris, the industry didn’t think it had much to learn. Time after time, the industry believed that it understood the technology very well, only to be surprised again. One of those surprises had arisen in the steam generator of a PWR.
    With the exception of a few nuclear enthusiasts, no one in the utility industry was in a hurry to build atomic power plants. Without the push from the AEC & the Joint Committee, LWR’s would not have been locked in so quickly, & there might have been a real competition from the CANDU heavy-water technology & the gas-cooled reactors from the UK & France.

    That shouldn’t be surprising. In the ideal world of economics, the central authority may be an objective body, making its decisions on the basis of calculations & expert opinions in an effort to settle on the best technology. But in reality, government bodies are subject to all sorts of pressures, both internal & external, that urge them to push a technology in one direction or another.
    It starts with the prejudices & motives of the people involved. Just as individual economic players in a market are not totally rational, neither are individuals in government bodies.

    Institutional inertia also often influences decision-making bodies. Once people have resolved to go in a certain direction or have spent a great deal of time & effort on one option, they tend to resist the alternatives. Changes threaten their way of thinking, perhaps even their jobs.

    All excerpts are from Robert Pool (1997), who had his manuscript viewed by Richard Rhodes amongst other experts.

  84. Is There A Conspiracy to Mislead the Public?

    Altogether about $4m went into the Rasmussen study. Professor Norman Rasmussen, dean of engineering at MIT, along with a staff of fifty, spent 3 years on a study funded by the US AEC. The report came up with exactly what the AEC wanted to know: that a nuclear accident was just about the least likely accident that could possibly happen.

    One of the lesser known & less publicised aims of the report was to help gain renewal of the Price-Anderson Act, legislation limiting the liability of companies operating nuclear power stations in the event of a terrible accident. The AEC also needed an optimistic survey to bolster up its flagging image. Most commentators & media helped by taking the summary at its face value, & not examining the 12 detailed volumes from which the summary was made. This was crucial. The summary spoke of the likely number of ‘prompt’ deaths in the event of an accident & left it at that. It said that, say 10 prompt deaths would be about the same number as would occur if a meteor shower fell on a heavily populated area. However, buried in the more detailed data was the forecast that in addition to these 10 ‘prompt’ deaths there would eventually be 7,000 cancer deaths, 4,000 genetic defects & 16,000 thyroid abnormalities. Radioactive contamination of about 3,000 square miles would also occur.

    Among the scientists who disagreed fundamentally with Rasmussen was one who said that the figures for death & injuries were 16x too low, while another said Rasmussen had underestimated the cancer & genetic effects by as much as 50 times. The Rasmussen team refused to adopt the views on the radioactive health hazards put forward by accepted health experts, & instead produced from nowhere figures lower by about half than those widely accepted. They gave optimistic forecasts of evacuation & decontamination measures & ignored the fact that components deteriorate over time. The full report was published in 1975. By early 1979, informed criticism had reached such a level that the NRC was forced to disown it. In an unusually frank & stringent criticism, the NRC spoke of the politically motivated promotional aspects of the report. The NRC said: ’the Commission does not regard as reliable the reactor safety studies of numerical estimates of the overall risk of reactor accident…..the conclusions should not be used uncritically for public purposes’. Judith Cook 1986

    What a ‘surprise’. An AEC funded study that conveniently downplays the risks with a sanitised summary, to neutralise the 1964 WASH-740 report on reactor safety.

  85. Is There A Conspiracy to Mislead the Public? II
    Idaho Falls SL-1

    It appeared that contrary to reports at the time, there was some release of radioactivity into the atmosphere. About 791 people involved in the cleanup & rescue attempt received significant doses of radioactivity even at a time when safety thresholds were higher than at present. Some of these have now developed cancers of different kinds but the US AEC were so far refusing to follow up & find all those involved.

    The body impaled on the ceiling was very difficult to remove. When rescuers got it outside it was giving off 1,500 roentgens per hour. In the process of bringing out the bodies not only did the rescuers become contaminated but so did every vehicle & piece of equipment they touched. The ground around the plant & even the public highway outside it were made radioactive. Those trying to clean it up became frustrated as the more they tried, the more the radiation seemed to spread.

    It took about 18 months to clean up the reactor building & initially the men had to work wearing protective suits for four hours at a time, during which period they actually went into the radioactive zone for only 8 minutes. It took several relays of men just to loosen a simple nut & bolt. It also transpired that some of those in charge had falsified the records of radiation doses to make them appear lower than they really were.

    Finally, in discussing how the accident occurred, the theory put forward was that it was known that one of the men involved was suffering from severe emotional problems & might well have removed the control rod as a bizarre suicide act. Judith Cook 1986

    Falsifying radiation records is deliberate deception, as is downplaying uncomfortable doses.

  86. Is There A Conspiracy to Mislead the Public? III

    Among those not happy with the Black Report was James Cutler who made the YTV documentary. He later received confidential copies of the detailed evidence given to the inquiry which revealed a different picture from the reassuring one made public.

    The evidence showed without doubt, that more than half the cases of childhood cancer that occurred in Seascale & surrounding villages had been quite simply, left out. The result was obviously an under-estimate of the numbers involved. Worse still, says J. Cutler, other polluted areas on the Cumbrian coast were found to have alarming childhood cancer rates but were never mentioned in the report as they were not within the area that was the inquiry’s remit.

    All the statistics used by Sir Douglas Black show omissions & distortions. Also the inquiry only concentrated on one limited period, from 1968 – 82. If the study period had been extended by just one year (1983), there were two further leukaemia cases diagnosed in Seascale which would’ve put Seascale at the top of the northern region for that disease. When all the missing Seascale cases are included & when the ‘top -10’ wards in the area are correctly listed by statistical significance, Seascale heads the ‘top-10’ wards in the tables for all cancers & leukaemias, with a rate of 24x the regional average. The odds of this occurring by chance are one million to one, & are unmatched by any village so far found in Britain.

    The more detailed data shows a definite geographical pattern. Missing out cancer cases resulted in Bootle ward being shown as having only one cancer case instead of four. Four of the wards in the ‘top-10’ for childhood cancer in the northern region are found on the Cumbrian coast: Seascale, Ravenglass & Wampool, both the later being on river estuaries & Barrow Island, a known plutonium hotspot, according to the government’s own environmental radioactivity monitoring experts.
    On 16 February 1986, the Sunday Times revealed that discharges around the Sellafield site were at one time, 40x higher than those stated in the Black Report, & that doses of radiation received by the local population for a period of 3 years during the 1960’s were 5x officially recorded. This only came to light because of physicist Derek Jakeman who was employed at Windscale in the 1950’s. In 1955, he & a colleague from the Research & Development Department took Geiger counters back to their homes in Seascale. The readings were very high, so high that both men immediately asked for more information on discharges from the site. Not only was this refused, but both were told that if they pressed the matter any further, they would be sacked.

    A report produced by D. Jakeman’s own department in 1955 had recorded that the amount of radioactivity in grass, lettuce & milk was approaching the maximum permissible level. Milk was a particular concern in view of the possible effects on babies & young children. The figure given to the Black inquiry for the amount of uranium discharged into the atmosphere between 1952 -55 was 400 grams. In actual fact it was 20 kilograms. In a statement to the Sunday Times, BNFL admitted that the figure was wrong.

    In August 1945 a lengthy paper appeared in the British Medical Journal revealing the results of the largest study of employees’ health records ever undertaken by the Atomic Energy Authority. Researchers found that the risk of genital cancer among workers exposed to low-level radiation appeared to be 15x greater than the recognised safe guidelines. It was also found that the death rate from prostate cancer in one group was 8x the national average. Men exposed to multiple sources of radiation, particularly tritium at the Winfrith plant, were up to 9x more likely to develop prostate cancer.

    Probably the single most worrying aspect of this whole subject is that reliable information is so hard to come by in Britain. The point was made very well by the Guardian’s science editor, Anthony Tucker, in March 1986 when he stated that official censorship is gagging those involved in crucial civil research into radiation in the environment, & he described various statements from nuclear industry spokesmen – that fears of radiation ‘are born of ignorance’ – as ‘insulting cynical hypocrisy’. Information generated by research projects, carried out in areas of public health or safety, may never reach the scientific journals & then the public. There is, he said, a highly effective ‘insidious & concealed form of systematic censorship operated by government departments in conjunction with industry’, & this has corrupted British science to an unprecedented level. Nowhere is this more true than in the field of radiation. Government departments exercise complete control over the information resulting from contract research, possibly leading to interference, delay or the blocking of publication. The government gag is most stringently applied to research into the effects of radio-nuclides discharged into the environment. Civil research appears to show that radioactive material is not distributed evenly but accumulates as ‘hot particles’ throughout the inshore marine sediments & generally in the environment over a wide area around nuclear plants. Judith Cook 1986

  87. Reflections on Nuclear Power from pioneer Dr Alvin Weinberg

    Possible failure of nuclear energy was far from our minds at Geneva in 1955. Here was this gathering of the world’s nuclear scientists, including Bohr, Wigner, Cockcroft, Teller, Heisenberg, Perrin & the political functionaries. It would’ve been the height of bad manners to suggest that nuclear energy would not necessarily succeed. Nor did anyone even consider this possibility, since nuclear power was being generated already in some places & we were all caught up in the promise of the ‘miraculous’ new source of energy. As one goes through the 15 volume proceedings there is hardly a suspicion that the problems mentioned by Enrico Fermi in 1944 (immense radioactivity & plutonium diversion) might prove intractable. (James Conant felt in 1951 that the waste issue was also intractable).

    The nuclear reality was turning out to be far less utopian than the visions I had promoted in the 1960’s. The underlying issues were the same two that Enrico Fermi had warned us about at the New Piles Committee in 1944, where reactors created radioactivity on an enormous, unprecedented scale, & breeders were potential bomb factories. If a reactor failed catastrophically, radioactivity would be widely spread.

    Because radioactivity was hazardous, government regulation of nuclear power became onerous & intrusive. As a result, a component like a valve in a nuclear plant might cost 5x more than a similar part in a fossil-fuel plant. Maintenance of radioactive pumps, heat exchangers etc, was far more expensive than we had predicted.

    I think the nuclear establishment made a serious mistake when it first established ‘acceptable’ levels of public exposure. When I started to work on the Manhattan project in 1941, the allowable dose to workers was set at 100 mrems per day (or 36 rems per year). This was derived from experience with X-ray workers & was about 10x lower than the doses that produced manifest harm like radiation burns. This was later reduced to about 5 rems per year for workers, with the allowable public exposure about 10x less than occupational limits. Relating public exposure to occupational exposure was in retrospect a blunder, since the occupational standards had been set to avoid acute radiation effects (skin-burn) not long-term effects like cancer. Unfortunately, little was known in the early days about radiation-induced cancer.

    What WAS known was that background radiation subjected all of us to about 100-200 mrems per year. We could have set radiation standards, even in the earliest days, in relation to the NBR. In the very first report by the National Academy of Sciences on the setting of radiation standards, this approach was discussed, but it was not adopted by the NCRP. This was a blunder the whole nuclear enterprise fell into.

    As I reflect on my own involvement in the waste problem, I have some regrets. Most importantly, during my years at ORNL I paid too little attention to the waste problem. Designing & building reactors was what interested me, not nuclear waste. I did not aggressively push the work on waste disposal at ORNL.

    Nuclear energy will always be a demanding technology, one that requires a level of technical sophistication that American utilities generally do not posses.

    One of my first jobs at the Metallurgical Laboratory in 1942 was to help Dr Edward Teller estimate how much radioactivity would be released from an air-cooled graphite reactor due to the graphite oxidation. Thus even in the earliest days we were aware that our marvellous new energy source had a profound deficiency. Along with the energy came radioactivity on an unprecedented scale. Safety was not dominant in our thinking (during wartime) but was more secondary.

    But now we realised that a failure of the safety features could in extreme cases, lead to the failure of pressure vessel & containment. The containment & safety features in such cases became effectively in parallel, & NOT in series as the AEC had previously argued. So there were in these extreme cases only TWO barriers instead of three between the radioactive fuel & the public. We could no longer argue that the widespread damage described in the Brookhaven WASH-740 was impossible.

    An admission of using another way to claim safety, which misleads the public

    We then had to change the basis of our claim that reactors were ‘safe’. Instead of claiming that because reactors were contained, no accident would cause off-site consequences, we had to argue that, yes, a severe accident was possible, but the probability of its occurrence was so small that reactors must be still regarded as ‘safe’. Reactor safety then became ‘probabilistic’ & not ‘deterministic’. Does the public regard risk a probability x consequences? Or does the public only consider consequences without understanding probabilities?

    Well the Rasmussen Report 1974-75 claimed an unbelievable risk of 1 major accident in 1 million reactor years. TMI 1979 & Chernobyl 1986, proved that wrong, even with the lower number of reactors operating then. With so many people in the modern world making major mistakes, probabilistic assessments are grossly misleading if they do not allow for such human failures, & are therefore of no practical value. Even the NRC repudiated the Rasmussen Report before the TMI accident.

    By 1972, reactor safety had become a primary source of contention between the nuclear industry & the intervenors. I found myself increasingly at odds with the AEC reactor division. After all, we were pushing molten salt reactors & not LMFBR’s. We were also being troublesome over the question of reactor safety. One day Floyd Culler & I was talking to Chet Holifield about our work on reactor safety. Chet was clearly showing signs of exasperation & blurted out, “Alvin, if you are concerned about the safety of reactors, then I think it may be time for you to leave nuclear energy.”

    Is that the way to treat an experienced pioneer when he is advocating safety issues? Shortly after the above conversation, Dr Weinberg lost his job.

  88. from Dr Alvin Weinberg again

    A nuclear-powered aircraft would have unlimited range. On the face of it however, nuclear reactors are entirely unsuitable for powering manned aircraft. Though the reactor might be made small enough to fit into a large bomber, the radiation shield might weigh as much as 100 tons. The reactor would have to operate at 1,500 deg F or higher to drive a jet engine. Were a nuclear airplane to crash, the radioactive core would contaminate many square miles.

    What caused otherwise sober, even brilliant engineers to conclude that nuclear flight wasn’t crazy? In part, it was fear of the Soviet Union & the difficulties in developing ICBM’s. Also partly due to autocatalytic optimism. 1994

    This phrase really covers why the WHOLE nuclear power program has been irrationally pursued when there were so many obviously difficult engineering & safety problems needing to be solved, & continue to be REALLY unsolved.

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