Helicopters, tall stories and fantasy journalism at Crikey.com.au

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy. His previous post on BNC was: Chernobyl and Fukushima – measuring our monsters in the midday sun.

The biggest problem for people who support nuclear power as a vital part of avoiding dangerous climate events is the general public’s fear of things they don’t understand. This is particularly true when that fear is fanned by journalists who combine fear with ignorance and influence. Long time British anti-nuclear campaigner, journalist and environmentalist George Monbiot has finally worked out that official sources are more reliable than Helen Caldicott. His subsequent devastating hatchet jobs on her in the UK Guardian (also on his website hereherehere and here) should be read by all who have one or more books by Dr Caldicott that need recycling into something useful.

Even less trustworthy than Helen or a hyena is Crikey journalist Guy Rundle. Here he is going ape over Fukushima on 18th of March.

As I write, the Japanese are conducting direct overflies to try and control the continuing damage — most likely a suicide mission for the pilots and crew. The Soviets resorted to this earlier, during the Chernobyl crisis by the simple expedient of ordering airforce crews to do it. No one knows how many died, but they died outside of the glare of publicity. The Japanese crews will slough their skin and muscles, and bleed out internally under the full glare of the world’s media. It may well be the reason why this step in dealing with the crisis was delayed for so long — because it would demonstrate that dealing with nuclear accidents will frequently involve the painful certain death of emergency workers.

Has anybody seen Japanese helicopter crews sloughing skin and muscles? Two workers with burned feet graced every TV channel in the known universe but how did those air crews escape the paparazzi after their suicide mission? Where are the wikileaks tapes?

This is sheer drivel, fantasy, fiction, balderdash, ignorance and sloppy, unprofessional, incompetent journalism.

Rundle’s ignorant ranting is all the more effective because he’s generally reliable. This is a potent and dangerous mix.

First, we need some basic scientific background that will make the truth about the Chernobyl helicopter pilots unremarkable. When you water bomb a forest fire you fly through a haze of carcinogenic and generally toxic compounds but you will have no idea of how much you are breathing in. Likewise when you watch some firefighters at a local house fire or when you sit before a romantic log fire in a Swiss Chalet sipping your favourite poison. You may see some of the smoke but measuring its toxicity is tough.

Radiation is different. You can’t see it, but you do much, much, better … you can measure it! People can measure it and measure it with astonishing accuracy. A banana is radioactive and will generate about 15 particle emissions per second. When people can’t measure radiation because of broken or missing instruments, they can usually calculate it with pretty good accuracy. And when people have been subjected to unknown doses, you can look at cellular effects in their bodies to determine the dose with reasonable accuracy. A piece of Guatemala green marble on a benchtop in that Swiss chalet might pulse at over a thousand radioactive decay emissions per second per kilogram of marble.

As it happens, the international scientific community was heavily involved in the Chernobyl aftermath. US expert Dr Robert Gale coordinated medical relief at the request of the Soviets and was just one of many specialists from around the world who got involved. The stream of United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reports is extensive. UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl … none (see the 2000 report for details). No pilots died, none sloughed their skin. Zip. Zero. The null set.

There were 1,125 helicopter pilots involved in 1,800 flights over the Chernobyl reactor over some months. The first flights hovered over the damaged reactor to drop material on the core, but this was soon discontinued because measured radiation levels were too high. Sound familiar? Subsequent material drops were done in passing rather than while hovering and were consequently less accurate but less risky. Had the evil Soviet empire wanted suicide missions it would have ordered pilots to hover. As it was, much of the material intended to blanket the core missed … precisely because no-one wanted to kill pilots and nobody did. Pilots involved in the early flights received on average 260 milli Sieverts of radiation which definitely elevates their cancer risk, not as much as in the people puffing near fire-escapes on city offices these days, but still a significant increase. Pilots flying later in the cleanup received a dose of about half this and none suffered acute radiation sickness.

[Update: One pilot is known to have died of leukemia 4 years after the accident. The lifetime risk to men of leukemia in Australia is about 1 in 93. So some cases of leukemia would be expected among any group of a thousand men in the decades after helicopter missions. The radiation exposure can be expected to have added a few cases. ]

Over the past 25 years since Chernobyl, about 12 million Russians have been diagnosed with cancer and that doesn’t even include Ukraine and Belarus. As of the 2000 UNSCEAR report, the Chernobyl helicopter pilots were still doing whatever they were doing … there wasn’t any report of “certain painful death” as described by Cold War Warrior Rundle. Gale has published the details (free pdf) on treatment and outcomes of the more seriously affected of the 500 people who were hospitalised, including the 35 with huge radiation doses, 13 of whom had bone marrow transplants and 6 of whom had fetal liver cell transplants. Why would he cover-up what happened to the helicopter pilots? … He didn’t because it didn’t happen.

The contrasts between Rundle and Caldicott and real nuclear radiation experts were shown to good effect when Gale visited to Fukushima. Gale is a real expert with a hand in 800 scientific papers and 20 books. When he visited Fukushima in March, he wandered around the plant with no protective clothing and no radiation dosimeter. This is precisely because he is an expert, a real one who bases actions on a clear understanding of what radiation measurements mean and not on fantasy journalism. Gale’s also a marathon runner with a healthy interest in staying fit. He’s been face to face with the worst that Chernobyl dished up and knows exactly when care is and isn’t needed.

Dr Caldicott has, as far as I can ascertain, not a single scientific research paper to her name. She qualified as a doctor in 1961, practiced medicine and taught pediatrics briefly at Harvard in the late 1970s and then gave it up to write books which have scared the living daylights out of many who have read them.

Chernobyl demonstrated what engineers already knew. That building nuclear reactors without containment buildings was unbelievably stupid. Three Mile Island demonstrated that containment buildings work, even in the face of serious equipment malfunction. Fukushima Daiichi showed that they work pretty well, but not perfectly, even when you hit them with a huge earthquake and massive tsunami. Had Fukushima Daiichi had a modern cooling system, backup power wouldn’t have been necessary and its loss wouldn’t have caused a problem, and there would have been a zero radiation leak to go with the zero death toll.

The latest polls on public approval of nuclear power reflect what the public has been told. I don’t expect everybody to read the UNSCEAR reports, but is it asking too much of a professional journalist that they do their bloody homework? The polls are a reflection of the ignorance and sloppiness that has graced the Australian media on the issue over the past few decades. Rundle has had plenty of company over the years.

Anti-nuclear campaigners are clearly delighted at the latest polls. Public support for nuclear power has indeed taken a hit following the events at Fukushima and I’d put it down to large chunks of fantasy journalism like Rundle’s. In my first article on Fukushima, at the end of March, I pointed out that the death toll due to the problems at the reactor was zero. During the following weeks, this toll hasn’t budged. Similarly, the number of cancers that might result from worker exposure during the next 3 decades is also most likely zero. Fortunately for the surrounding human communities, a significant chunk of the radiation leak has gone into the ocean where it will cause infinitely less pain and suffering than the millions of Japanese who eat octopus, squid, …, eel, salmon or tuna, let alone the tiny minority of Japanese with a penchant for hacking marine mammals to death or sticking them with exploding harpoons. And if your only concern for the oceans is via risks to people who slowly suffocate and eat its wildlife, what is their risk? The radiation dose for people eating fish from these contaminated waters every day for a year is calculated at? … 0.6 milli Sieverts. What the hell is that? About 1/5 of the 3 milli Sieverts received in a screening mammogram.

During the next 3 decades, cancer deaths from the striken reactors at Fukushima Daiichi will be zero or few, nevertheless 18 million Japanese will still get cancer, mostly from things that don’t frighten Guy Rundle or his readers.

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120 Comments

  1. We have to get more people interested in nuclear technology and basic physics, how it works, just the basics. Its a good start. Also people need to know more about basic energy analysis so that they can understand capacity factors, levelised costs and compare different energy sources on a rational basis.

    With Fukushima we now have the opportunity to do this. Strike the iron when it’s hot.

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  2. It never ceases to amaze me how the ‘green left’ howls about the ‘unscientific’ climate change denialism that’s rampant in the media, but mention the word ‘radiation’ and they foam at the mouth with opinions totally formed without facts. In other words, science when it suits our belief system, but hysteria against anything that’s not viewed as ‘kosher’.

    Alas, religious fanaticism is the same everywhere.

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  3. I see a straw man argument, and ad homenems… but I will set them aside.

    >As of the 2000 UNSCEAR report, the Chernobyl helicopter pilots were still doing whatever they were doing … there wasn’t any report of “certain painful death”

    A single counter-example is sufficient to cast skepticism on the ‘facts’ presented in this post:
    Anatoly Grishchenko.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1990/07/04/obituaries/anatoly-grishchenko-pilot-at-chernobyl-53.html

    “Despite lead shielding on the aircraft and other protective gear, Mr. Grishchenko suffered radiation sickness and was found to have radiation-related leukemia [in 1989].”

    I’m not sure this kind of post is doing the nuclear industry any good, even if it is to compensate for the media’s overreaction.

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  4. Pingback: Helicopters, tall stories and fantasy journalism « SeekerBlog

  5. Shamus: Thanks for the link. I’ll be happy to amend the article to say 1 pilot died 4 years later of leukemia. The average dose for the high dose group of pilots was 260 milli sieverts. A full breakdown wasn’t given by UNSCEAR. Certainly a few hundred young pilots with 260 millisieverts average doses would see a few cancers develope later on … particularly if they had other risk factors also. Barry’s out tonight, but I’ll send him some amended text.

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  6. shamus, you could have added the following bit:

    “According to official Soviet accounts, at least 31 deaths resulted from the April 26, 1986, explosion and fire at the plant in the Ukraine. Unofficial reports have said hundreds died, and scientists say many more people may eventually be stricken with diseases.”

    The point is that the Caldicott claims of almost a million deaths due to the Chernobyl accident are certainly ludicrously inflated ie she makes stuff up.

    On this occasion so did Rundle, regardless of the information about one pilot dying years later.

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  7. >The point is that the Caldicott claims of almost a million deaths due to the Chernobyl accident are certainly ludicrously inflated ie she makes stuff up.

    ah, I see you have discovered the ad hominem as well. Author should dispute the target’s factual presentation and arguement rather than the person, as such attacks are fallacious.

    hmm…. pot: “kettle black!”


    the deaths of Mykola Hanzhuk and  Leonid Ivanovych Khrystych

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liquidator_(Chernobyl)
    “A UNSCEAR report places the total confirmed deaths from radiation at 64 as of 2008.”

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  8. So shamus, Caldicott doesn’t just make stuff up? You no doubt can supply the proof for the near million dead, can you?

    If not, then she’s making stuff up. Nothing ‘ad hominem’ about that, just a statement of fact.

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  9. Moderator: may want to remove this post and the post I am responding to

    Chris D: that is precisely what an ad hominem attack is… “she makes stuff up”

    to avoid the ad hominem, one would say something to the effect of “the facts she presented are in error” as I have done for the poster’s facts

    I honestly wish DV82XL and EL, alone together, would debate the validity of this post… as they are both better writers and have deeper understanding than I… but I’m not sure they would completely disagree with each other. I put the author in the same camp as his targets.

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  10. shamus, the interesting thing with cancer is that on a individual basis, its impossible to say with 100% certainty what the cause of the cancer is.

    There are however some cases where it is very probable that the cancer is caused by something specific. For example:
    -The thyroid cancer in children caused by chernobyl (as that type of cancer is very unusual in children).
    -Cancers which has a hereditary genetic cause.

    The thing with leukemia is that it almost only appear in adults and considering that the cleanup and emergency workers at Chernobyl barely had increased risk of receiving leukemia (See page 89 of http://www-pub.iaea.org/MTCD/publications/PDF/Pub1312_web.pdf ), I consider it plain wrong to attribute a particular case of leukemia to the Chernobyl accident.

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  11. Shamus,

    A 1.5 million percent exaggeration can be reasonably assumed to be “making stuff up”.

    An ad hominem is a logical fallacy that involves a personal attack. When the statement “she makes stuff up” can be shown to be true, ie not a logical fallacy, it is then not a personal attack but a fact.

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  12. >When the statement “she makes stuff up” can be shown to be true, ie not a logical fallacy, it is then not a personal attack but a fact.

    Whether or not the statement is true does not speak to its validity. Anything you can say about someone is irrellevent, and amounts to an ad hominem. Talk about what is said, not the characteristics of who said it.

    We’re going about this the wrong way. What we need is a list of names of the pilots, and their current status… that is, documentation. For instance, I can’t validly present that “all 600 pilots died of radiation induced cancer” because the only ‘evidence’ I can find of this is a brief mention in a documentary, and I can’t confirm it. I found 3 confirmed pilot deaths, and one pilot that still smokes and is living life to its fullest. We have a deficit of verifiable information on Chernobyl. I am not a researcher or expert by any definition… I just like a good argument, one that avoids fallacy (which I am admittedly just as susceptible to). Therefore, to avoid being creamed, I must resist commenting. There is more to the original post than Chernobyl. Let’s not get stuck.

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  13. “Whether or not the statement is true does not speak to its validity.”

    What is validity if not truth?

    What you are saying is that if someone tells a lie you are only allowed to say, “that is a lie”, not, “you are a liar”. Yet both statements are true [and valid] so therefore not ad hominem.

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  14. last post… This is getting out of hand.

    >What you are saying is that if someone tells a lie you are only allowed to say, “that is a lie”, not, “you are a liar”

    Yes. If I call you a liar, even if true, it is an ad hominem. Whether or not you are a liar is irrelevant.

    In a proper debate one can only speak to what is said, whether statements are true or false, and whether an argument is valid or invalid, and sound or unsound.

    An argument is valid if its conclusion follows from its premises. An argument is sound if it is both true and valid.

    truth != validity
    These terms have different contexts.
    A statement is true if it is a verified fact.
    An argument is valid if it is logically robust, i.e. justifiable and pertinent.

    Moderator: my condolences on the death of this thread

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  15. bah… to correct that,
    An argument is sound if it is both valid and its premises are true. It is quite possible for an argument to be valid, but its premises false, regardless of whether its conclusion is true or false. If an argument is sound, and its premises true, then its conclusion must be true.

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  16. @ shamus.

    What’s this all about, Shamus? When you have nothing better to say, you repeat something about “ad hominum” and hope that the magic works?

    I went to uni with the lady in question’s daughter in the 1960’s and experienced close up what slippery characters they both were then. That’s not made up. That’s not ad hominum. That’s what I saw and what I am reporting.

    I have followed, on and off, the Caldicott mother’s contibutions to society over more than 4 decades and have a few of her books on my shelves – not because I believe them to be wise or valuable, but because it is essential to know your enemy.

    In this case, the enemy of factual and honest accounting is my enemy also.

    So, you have not even challenged that she “makes stuff up”. Your argument is an appeal of some kind to a belief that (your belief that…) those who challenge the factual basis of that which has been said by this lady is somehow not ble to be said.

    Well, Shamus, it may be said and it must be said.

    There can be no more important debate on this earth than that which is about the right of humans to live in an honest, value-laden world and not to be drawn down pathways of deceit and mistruth by the Caldicotts and Rundles of this world who, through pride, ignorance, arrogance, conflict of interest, lack of knowledge or whatever other cause leasds them to misrepresent the truth.

    Like the author, I have enjoyed and respected many of Guy Rundle’s contributions to Crikey during recent years. I have engaged him on line in debate on occasion.

    What I cannot explain is why this otherwise wise and sensible man chooses to stick, religion-like, to a mistaken and unprovable view of the nuclear power option. He is capable of so much better.

    Guy, if you are reading this, I suggest that you contact George Monbiot and have a heart to heart chat.

    Australia needs it.

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  17. >What’s this all about, Shamus? When you have nothing better to say, you repeat something about “ad hominum” and hope that the magic works?

    after reviewing… it appears I have been trolled.
    Mea culpa,
    but…
    Yes, an ad hominem is a fallacious argument. As is a strawman. Author, in the first half of the post, seems to be making (roughly) an argument of this form:
    P1: Caldicott is a liar (ad hominem)
    P2: Rundell is also a liar (ad hominem)
    C: Therefore, nuclear energy is great (straw man)

    Fallacious premises leading to a fallacious conclusion.

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  18. -> “The Japanese crews will slough their skin and muscles, and bleed out internally under the full glare of the world’s media.”

    Followed undoubtedly by journalistic drivels like : “sorry, no skin sloughing-internals bleeding crew to show because of a conspiracy by nucleocrats.

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  19. shamus was right, and the link to the leukemia case of a pilot above can not be discarded.

    there also are the pictures of the equipment graveyard at chernobyl:

    and helicopters are not abandoned without a reason.

    ————————

    on a related issue, we know that the IAEA is an institution that is promoting the civilian use of nuclear power. Monbiot claimed that it was a conspiracy theory, that the IAEA would hamper the WHO effort on assessing the health effects of chernobyl.

    in the comment section you can find this comment and video link:

    “In the video linked below there is an interview with former WHO director general Hiroshi Nakajima (4:50), asked why the WHO failed to publish the proceedings of a conference it held on Chernobyl, he explains that the IAEA has the authority on nuclear issues”

    http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=8746168177815160826&

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  20. You do need to review your logical fallacies, shamus.

    Personally, I use “ad hominem” when an unrelated aspect of character is used to deride a relevant argument. E.g. “Joffan eats babies therefore his views on climate change are bunk”

    I use “strawman” to mean a false or overstated version of an opponents argument : “Global warming means we will all wake up tomorrow cooked in our beds” – designed for easy refutation.

    I think this is on topic because these (and other) tactics in popular media are part of the main article, but please delete if not.

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  21. It would be good for a radiologist or someone knowledgeable at this site to review the sod linked video.

    I have to watch the whole thing but it does appear to assert a conspiracy. It also asserts that UNSCEAR refuses to examine the effects of Cs 137 internally, something I find very hard to believe.

    At one point, the voice over claims 9 million victims of Chernobyl.

    The idiocy of this should be apparent if you read Geoff’s previous posts, which contain comparative cancer mortality figures.

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  22. Sorry shamus, I meant to add my agreement that Geoff was being a little too enthusiastic about the effects of the Chernobyl plume, in response to a much more significant reverse error on the part of Rundle. I would not compare helicopters at Chernobyl with anything at Fukushima; the risks are completely different magnitudes, even on 18 March. In particular the direct radiation and contamination risks were never similar.

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  23. On conspiracies: Geoff’s comments in his last offering here at BNC is worth a look.

    In case you believe Caldicott’s conspiracy theory, you need to expand the scale of the conspiracy to include not just the WHO people involved in Chernobyl studies, but all of the agencies around the world who contribute data to the world’s cancer registries. Age standardised cancer incidence in bombed and plutonium polluted Japan is about 200 cases per 100,000 people per annum. The rate in the US is 300. So either US medicos exagerated their rates as part of the coverup, or the Japanese understated theirs. Who knows. What about clean green Australia? It’s cancer rate is even higher at 313. And in Ukraine itself? What is the cancer rate in filthy dirty Chernobyl contaminated Ukraine? Have a guess … I’m using the latest publically available data from 2008. Higher or lower than Australia? It’s 191, lower even than Japan. You need to use age standardised figures to compare countries, particularly because the life expectancy in Ukraine is 68, about 10 years less than the US. Whatever is killing Ukrainians, it isn’t radiation induced cancers.

    This, and yet in the video, we hear 9 million victims.

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  24. “Public support for nuclear power has indeed taken a hit following the events at Fukushima and I’d put it down to large chunks of fantasy journalism like Rundle’s. ”

    I disagree.

    I’d suggest that nuclear power has taken a hit because we told the public that it is safe to build nuclear power stations in an earthquake zone, only for the effect of an earthquake to be the imposition of an evacuation zone covering over 100,000 people and buildings housing three nuclear reactors exploding.

    Public disquiet is perfectly reasonable in these circumstances; the fact that it is elevated by irresponsiblre journalism is not the main issue.

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  25. please let us focus on the topics raised by the article at the top of this post. even i do not agree with every thing that is said in that video. but the part mentioned in the quote i gave (starting at 4:50) is important if you look at what Monbiot says.

    ——————

    “Does IAEA run UNSCEAR too?”

    “run” is a little bit a strong word. but look at the biography of the current vice chair:

    http://www.unscear.org/unscear/en/about_us/bio_cm-larsson.html

    “Dr. Larsson coordinated the multinational European Commission-supported research projects FASSET and ERICA (both on environmental assessment and protection) 2000 – 2007 and he is vice-chair of Committee 5 of the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). He is a member of the Commission on Safety Standards (IAEA)”

    there at least seem to be connections… (and that is no so surprise, of course..)

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  26. The author (as quoted above) states that there is no possibility of these international bodies being influenced in anyway or of omitting information, and yet in his own meaty writings he documents that such influence is exactly what happened at the CSIRO!

    “Whatever is killing Ukrainians, it isn’t radiation induced cancers.”
    Just as Caldicott can be accused of false attribution (and inflation) due to the high variability in the data cited, G Russell runs the opposite risk.

    More articles like this are not really helpful or informative – though they may excite the home crowd.

    I agree with Brian above. If you advertise a product as 100% satisfaction guaranteed or your money back, this is not allowed to happen.

    Arguing that these were early model Magnas does not diminish the damage done to the brand.

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  27. “[Update: One pilot is known to have died of leukemia 4 years after the accident. The lifetime risk to men of leukemia in Australia is about 1 in 93. So some cases of leukemia would be expected among any group of a thousand men in the decades after helicopter missions. The radiation exposure can be expected to have added a few cases. ]”

    As much as the anti-nuclear crowd is smeared by association, your science is not up to par either and falls into denial.

    The reason why tabulating the deathtoll of Chernobyl is so low is because science has a very high burden of proof, just one related symptom is not enough and has to be compared to the background rate. However to deny a single death is entering the Ann Coulter level of denial.

    The WHO has a nasty veto weighing over its head by the IAEA, pure science has no veto on it other than peer review. Even then we can at least be assured that under the most stringiest of standards thousands of children did contract thyroid cancer. And and the same WHO says up to 9000 will die (link is on other thread).

    The same problem shows up here, despite the correction. The claim that the Leukemia death can be dismissed as background when the overwhelming evidence of MULTIPLE symptoms such as immune system collapse, infections, 4 years after, and Leukemia makes it perfectly evident that it was as a direct result of the avg 260 mSv exposure.

    “It never ceases to amaze me how the ‘green left’ howls ”

    Comparing us to global warming deniers is incorrect, at best there is absolutely NO consensus regarding low level radiation poisoning, NONE, the best you can find are studies relating to external gamma radiation and even then there is controversy over LNT. At worst the current model stands, radiation is dangerous after a certain dose, most often the legally allowed limit per year.

    Suffice to say there is consensus on anthropomorphic global warming by climatologists.

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  28. As for Crikey,I made the mistake of taking out a 12 months subscription several years ago.I was looking for some sort of sensible alternative view to the usual MSM tunnel vision. Although there were some good articles the overall tone was juvenile,to be charitable.

    While this Geoff Russell article is basically factual (I believe) the evangelical tone needs to be ratcheted back a bit.It really only serves to raise the hackles of the sceptical which I hope is the default setting of all contibutors to this site.

    Something does not have to be untrue to be classed as propaganda – Oxford dictionary definition :- ” Information,especially of a biased or misleading nature,used to promote a political cause or point of view.”

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  29. An ad hominem is not an ad hominem fallacy unless it is irrelevant or untrue.

    If questions of personal conduct, character or motives are relevant to the issue, there is no fallacy.

    It is an ad hominem fallacy to claim that any particular statement of fact uttered by Caldicott is untrue because she sometimes has problems speaking the truth and has a financial interest in continuing to sell her anti-nuclear tirades printed on dead trees.

    It would not be an ad hominem fallacy to suggest that because Caldicott is an habitual liar it would be responsible to put her on the 9-o’clock news without knowing what she’s going to talk about, vetting her sources and calling her on it if she lies.

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  30. Thomas: I’ve dealt with the CSIRO issue before. There has been no CSIRO coverup of the science demonstrating the red meat bowel cancer link. In fact, in Perfidy I use work by CSIRO scientists (including the Total Wellbeing authors themselves) to show that the published diet is contra-indicated by the findings. What I say about the CSIRO is NOT that they influence the published scientific journal findings but that they put out a popular diet which was at odds with those findings despite advice about those findings from their own researchers. No systematic conspiracy just wrong decisions by a few people. There are clear statements in the popular book which are at odds with the findings of CSIRO researchers and the rest of the bowel cancer research community. There are clear statements in the popular diet book which clearly contradict peer reviewed statements by the self same authors … including clear mis-stating the outcomes of their own research. In the diet book they say that in their research people lost more weight on the high protein diet than on the control when both groups lost exactly the same amount of weight … 7.3 kg plus or minus 0.3 kg. Identical.

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  31. UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl … none (see the 2000 report for details). No pilots died, none sloughed their skin. Zip. Zero. The null set.

    I’m finding indications of two more Chernobyl helicopter pilots that perished in addition to the three already mentioned in previous posts, bringing the confirmed total to 5.

     Volodymyr Kostyantynovych Vorobyov (21.03.1956 – 02.10.1986) 
    Oleksandr Yevhenovych Yunhkind (15.04.1958 – 02.10.1986) 

    Yet I can not seem to find the source of this information.

    Apparently, these two died in a separate helicopter crash on the same day as the two that died as shown the YouTube video I linked to above. This seems suspicious to me, not that the crashes didn’t happen, but that perhaps two crashes on the same day point to something diminishing these pilots’ ability to pilot (I speculate massive doses of radiation could cause this… also… maybe it was a bee in the cockpit… there is no way to know).

    It is very frustrating that there seems to be no comprehensive list (at least online and in English) I can find of all or any of the people that were involved with the Chernobyl accident and its aftermath. These people deserve recognition. It is also frustrating that even if we knew that all the helicopter pilots died of cancer, there is no way currently for medical science to prove either way that Chernobyl radiation caused these cancers, or didn’t cause these cancers. The medical experts know the risk of cancer was increased… but that’s all that is known.

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  32. “The point is that the Caldicott claims of almost a million deaths due to the Chernobyl accident are certainly ludicrously inflated ie she makes stuff up.”

    When you say “she makes stuff up”, it turns into an ad hominem, that is it’s about Helen Caldicott personally rather than the nuclear questions.
    Better to say that she is making stuff up in this particular instance.
    But even that would not be true. The thing about a million deaths from Chernobyl comes from a Russian paper http://www.nyas.org/Publications/Annals/Detail.aspx?cid=f3f3bd16-51ba-4d7b-a086-753f44b3bfc1 Widely debunked paper.
    So “she makes stuff up” is going ad hominem via an unjustified assumption.

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  33. Joffan and Soylent are closest here on the correct usage of argumentum ad hominem.

    I would comment on Soylent:

    It is an ad hominem fallacy to claim that any particular statement of fact uttered by Caldicott is untrue because she sometimes has problems speaking the truth and has a financial interest in continuing to sell her anti-nuclear tirades printed on dead trees

    The key questions are salience and locus standi {one’s capacity to declare on a matter}

    If it can be fairly asserted that Caldicott is reckless in her claims, and particularly if one can claim that the recklessness has a pattern — e.g. she’s particularly reckless on the subject of the footprint of nuclear power — then it is not fallaciously ad hominem to discount claims she makes that are counter-intuitive or contrary to apparently better attested claims. Soylent is correct that the mere uttering of a claim by a Caldicott or someone with a predisposition to declare recklessly on matters doesn’t show them to be wrong, but it does put a very large asterisk next to them and invite people to verify before relying on them to act.

    If someone is known to be a witness to a crime, their account of proceedings comes from someone in a better position, ceteris paribus, than someone who was not a witness. They have locus standi to comment. If it turns out that they were not a witness but merely repeating something they heard, then it is not an ad hominem fallacy to say they have no business attesting to things they haven’t personally witnessed, though it would be an example of argumentum ad hominem — and an entirely justified one. If it turned out that the person was not disinterested but rather had a personal or cultural interest in a particular view of events being accepted that was consonant with the apparent claims he or she was supporting then again this would be an example of argumentum ad hominem — and also entirely justified one.

    One of the more annoying developments in cyberspace has been the persistent resort, most commonly by opponents of CO2 mitigation, of ad hominem to mean something like mere incivility so as to get away with recklessly repeating nonsense with impunity. Shamus above’s attempted distinction between liars and lies is in this case a distinction without a difference. While a declaration about the world that is contrary to observable reality need not urge mens rea as an inference — the person may simply have been ignorant and/or careless — a pattern of such utterances sustained over a long time in the face of robust and persistent challenge does go to character and intent, and it seems to me that if one is entirely indifferent to what salient observations the ostensibly well qualified and intellectually rigorous have to say about one’s own contrary claims, then almost any argumentum ad hominem may fairly be raised against one’s claims.

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  34. shamus: What I claimed in the article is that no pilots died of ARS … “sloughing their skin” is Rundles description. If you read the full article of Gales which
    I link and which is publicly available, as well as the section on the pilots in the UNSCEAR 2000 report, you can get a feel for what happened. 500 people hospitalised, which would include people with relatively minor injuries like the burns at Fukushima. Gale was involved with all the worst cases, these were multi Gray (Sievert) serious cases requiring lifesaving emergency acute care, bone marrow and the like. The worst of the pilots was in the 260 milli Sievert range. Some may have been a bit higher and had acute radiation sickness, but they just wouldn’t have been on his radar precisely because he was dealing with the people who really did have serious ARS. I don’t see these people, mostly firemen as being any different from any other front line emergency workers in large industrial accidents … refinery fires … coal mines (or things like 9/11). Heroes indeed, but no more or less heroic than all of the people who do such work. To use these people to oppose nuclear power you need, for starters, to make a case that somehow many more emergency workers are put at risk from a nuclear accident than other kinds of accidents. You actually need much more than that, but if you can’t even get that much, then you’ve got nothing. The alternative approach is to begin your case with the risks to the surrounding population, not the emergency workers.

    If I had read Rundle’s piece about 4 years ago. It would have been totally in accord with my understanding of Chernobyl … picked up by osmosis and a long history of being anti-nuclear without bothering to check my information sources. Why would I check? Everybody knows what happened … just like Rundle knows. The challenge is to make people WANT to check. They have to care about whether their view of history is accurate or not.

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  35. Fran that was beautiful. I see my error: not all ad hominems are fallacious. Perhaps I missed the spirit of the article, regardless, fallacious or not, calling someone a liar is a personal attack and still an ad hominem.

    Geoff: If all but one of the pilots (not counting the other 4 listed) are still alive and cancer free, let’s see you produce a list of these living pilots. Of course this is a trick, but it is the same trick you are pulling by claiming they are alive and cancer free: there is no corroboration.

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  36. Fran Barlow and DV8XL, it is true that ad hominem attacks are not automatically or per se fallacious. But the question I have is whether the application of site commenting rules here is to be fair and even handed. I have had portions of comments deleted because an anonymous Moderator judged that my language was, in Fran’s wording, “merely incivil”, and though I disagreed, I accepted the ruling. Will everyone be held to the same standards?

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  37. regarding ad hominem: If Guy or Helen Bloggs claims X then it is ad hominem for me claim not-X (i.e that X is false) because of something I believe about Guy or Helen.

    e.g., If a study funded by Merck says Vioxx is safe then I can’t argue that Vioxx is unsafe because Merck funded the study. Nor can I claim the study is dodgy because Merck funded it. Both are ad hominem.

    Merck funding the study gives me good reason for reading the study really, really, really carefully and not just relying on the abstract. Merck funding the study gives me good reason for looking for other studies of Vioxx. Two well designed studies can have different findings for all kinds of reasons. But Merck’s association is zero reason for claiming that the study is badly designed and the findings are false.

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  38. MODERATOR
    I have resigned. There is no longer a moderator to abuse. I have devoted a huge amount of my time to this blog recently and now I have a life to live. Petulant abuse and angst towards me is not acceptable. Now get on with it

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  39. @rpl, cease harping on this issue, and stop attacking the moderator. They did a splendid job during a very difficult time, and without their help the website would have closed. It is as simple as that. Now that I am left as the sole moderator, the rules will continue to be applied as I judge appropriate, and if you don’t like my decision, you can exercise your liberated right, which the free internet happily grants you, to go and play elsewhere to some other charmed audience.

    Further, you do not seem to understand the term ‘ad homenim‘ (neither does shamus), and you, in particular, seem to delight in pointing out that you have been ‘unfairly’ moderated, as if this (if true, which it is not), somehow vindicates your position in all matters. It is childish, at best, pathetic at worst. You are now on permanent moderation.

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  40. Shamus: I never claimed that all the pilots were alive and cancer free, only that they didn’t die from acute injury during the Chernobyl flyovers as Rundle claimed. They didn’t fly suicide missions.

    Of course some of the pilots will have cancer now … for every 1000 men over a 25 year period in Belarus, there will be about 67 cancers … 2 of which will be leukemia. Epidemiologists have found a leukemia increase in emergency workers

    http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/1/56.full.pdf

    Different studies of different groups have found different rates of increase, but my judgement is that there should be between 3 and 4 leukemias amongst the pilots by now rather than 2.

    Abattoir workers have an increased risk of cancers also, including leukemia

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15633593

    The increased cancer risk to abattoir workers is for more common cancers and probably outweighs in absolute numbers the Chernobyl pilots cancer risk which is an increase in risk for a less common cancer.

    Have I ever used this increased cancer risk as a reason for the entire population not to eat meat? No … there are much better reasons for that … but, following Rundle’s lead, I just might start using it :)

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  41. Geoff: fair enough, but would it not still be nice to see verifiable information of what happened to all those pilots, and all of the Liquidators for that matter, so that we wouldn’t have to speculate? As it stands, they may as well all be living in luxury in specially made habitats on the far side of the Moon… ok, I know they didn’t all just disappear, but it seems ridiculous to me that no one thought to track them and their health (or maybe some agency did, and we just don’t have access to that information). Maybe its historical rubbernecking, but I’d really prefer to know.

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  42. Shamus: They are being tracked … see the previous article I linked.

    http://epirev.oxfordjournals.org/content/27/1/56.full.pdf

    The breakup of the USSR means the tracking isn’t perfect, but a couple of hundred thousand people are enrolled in various cohorts studies. Read UNSCEAR 2008. The emergency workers are offered free annual medical checkups. But this in itself creates epidemiological problems. Think about it. Take two identical groups of 100,000 people. Give one group annual cancer checkups, leave the other group to do its own thing … self manage. Now, which group will have the highest recorded incidence of
    cancer? The annual observations create a bias that needs to be allowed for. Real epidemiologists know this stuff but plenty of other people either don’t know or choose for whatever reason to take a differential rate at face value.

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  43. Fran that was beautiful. I see my error: not all ad hominems are fallacious. Perhaps I missed the spirit of the article, regardless, fallacious or not, calling someone a liar is a personal attack and still an ad hominem

    Indeed, but here is where the subtlety of the position emerges. The ellipsis from the full phrase argumentum ad hominem to the mere ad hominem strips away something essential to its force. On its own, the latter simply means to/at the man so on its own, it can mean “a personal attack”. Yet an argument that derives its forces from the character or motive of the person is quite another thing — perhaps enlightening or perhaps misleading.

    Interestingly ad hominem need not be abusive. As I pointed out to Spangled Drongo here a while back, an appeal to authority is a variant of argumentum ad hominem. Declaring that some claim should be accepted because its advocate is charming or apparently worthy in some other respect is also an example of (fallacious) argumentum ad hominem. Thus, if we happen, as Geoff does, to value Guy Rundle’s contribution to public discourse, and find him a charming fellow that is not a reason for accepting his claims on Chernobyl.

    PS: Let me add my thanks to the person assisting Barry in moderating. Doubtless, like refereeing sporting contests, it is often a thankless and frustrating task but it is indispensible if sense is to emerge on fora such as this.

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  44. Pingback: Can Rundle Show Us The Flesh That Fell Off His Fukushima Pilots? « PA Pundits – International

  45. Pingback: Geoff Russell on Chernobyl, Crikey « SeekerBlog

  46. Without the assistance of thoughtful, careful moderators during the past month, this site would have struggled.

    Barry, your input has been superhuman.

    If, as it now appears may be the case, you have been assisted by one other moderator, then that person has every right to be proud of that which has been achieved, for without moderation, the ratio of crap to sense would have suffered immensely.

    So, Barry, I hope that your life returns to normal soon, that you are able to continue to provide moderation for this site and that the huge achievements of BNC continue unabated.

    I’ve just used a lot of words to say “thankyou” to you personally and to the anonymous moderator(s), without whom we would have been so much the poorer during this past month.

    Fran, thanks for the Latin lesson. It has been a long time since.

    Here’s to a long and high achieving future for BNC. The world needs special sites such as this.

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  47. Great post Geoff and thanks resigned moderator. Good luck Barry with future moderation. Like John Bennets, I too was in university in Caldicott’s [Broinowski’s] time and she does “make stuff up” She also tells downright lies as was in evidence during the two day conference held at Adelaide when Pangea Resources representatives were trying to assure people nuclear waste can be handled safely and securely. Caldicott is not a radiation scientist, has never written a paper on the subject and is not a member of any society dealing with the subject. She’s made a name for herself by making unsubstantiated, exaggerated claims about nuclear power. Re Guy Rundle- it surprises me that such an intelligent perceptive and excellent writer hasn’t bothered to find out the truth about nuclear power. Very sad, really. It wasn’t radiation that killed the 191 in the Ukraine. It was obviously vodka. Barry, I’m no scientist and way out of league with many of your contributors but I’m a convert to nuclear power for Australia-have been for 30 years following a year in Canada. And have been speaking for it far and wide since 1998. I have prepared a piece for an Ockham’s Razor presented by Robyn Williams. Would you like to post it for your bloggers to consider because, while discussions taking place are very interesting and educational we really do need to get into our leaders and get them to understand that Australia needs to include nuclear in its future energy mix just as much of the rest of the world is doing.

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  48. Thanks John, and also to the others who have thanked the anonymous moderator for a mostly thankless task. That is much appreciated. Yes, it was just one other unpaid soul, and they did a stellar effort, with little reward other than they felt they were doing the right thing. They’ve retired now, and since the site traffic and comment flow has returned to some level of sanity, I’m the only overseer once again.

    I see that some people have objected to my interpretation of the commenting rules and the apparent selective application of them in my own posts/comments and those of my guests (I’ve received some ‘hot’ private correspondence on this matter too). Well, the BNC commenting rules are in place as a means of keeping a focused and appropriate tenor to the blog. But there is one unwritten rule that is absolutely essential, yet, it can only apply to one person — the site owner/moderator/host (which is why the rule is not listed). It is this:

    Barry Brook has discretionary right of veto and final decision on all commenting rules adjudication.

    In short, on BNC (and nowhere else, not even at home!), Barry is God… (lest chaos rule).

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  49. Great article Geoff. It’s a shame many of the comments to follow have been dedicated to stupid arguments about what constitutes an ad hominem argument, and the validity of LNT (talk about missing the point!).

    I’d also like to add my thanks to the moderator for doing a great job over the past several weeks. These threads would have been absolutely indecipherable without it.

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  50. Geoff – really excellent article.

    Thanks heaps to our recent resigned moderator and all the moderators, especially our host Barry Brook. Blog comments are a thorny patch where the signal is typically lost in the noise. I rate the heavy-lifting moderation efforts as a big success.

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  51. Dear Moderator,

    Allow me to also offer my vote of thanks for the generally excellent quality of moderation on this site and even-handed enforcement of the commenting rules.

    And I say this as one who has had comments removed. Some of us are guilty of saying things in haste that we later keenly regret. It’s actually a real service to have such things deleted, rather than stand as a long-term witness.

    This is just one more factor that has made this site a premier go-to for environmental/energy/nuclear issues.

    I hope you have a refreshing, well-deserved break from your labors. Barry will need a plentiful supply of heavy water to take up the slack!

    Regards, Simon

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  52. “Caldicott is not a radiation scientist, has never written a paper on the subject and is not a member of any society dealing with the subject.”

    Can anybody find any example of any paper published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal written by Helen Caldicott? I mean, on any subject of biology, genetics, medicine, pediatrics, cystic fibrosis – absolutely anything? I’ve looked, but have never found anything of the sort on any subject. Of course, books and newspaper op-eds about the evils of nuclear power don’t count, I’m talking peer-reviewed science here.

    However, when I searched I actually found a couple of papers in the academic literature that are in the humanities fields, actually dedicated to analysis of her rhetoric and the rhetoric techniques she uses and how they can be effective, amusingly enough.

    PS: I fully support Barry’s efforts in moderating the comments here, and I think his commenting rules and policies are completely sensible and valuable in keeping away the Gish Gallops, logical fallacies and vapid rhetoric that plagues so much discussion of these issues. He does a fantastic job.

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  53. @quokka

    That is an impressive project. I find it even more impressive that it will cost just under $2 billion, a drop in the bucket compared to the $230 billion or so already spent since 1986 on Chernobyl.

    Just out of curiosity, I looked up the world’s GNP, which is estimated at about $46.3 trillion. not adjusting for inflation, it would take 185 Chernobyl-scale accidents & cleanups to reach that amount. So about 42% of the world’s reactors (currently 442 civilian reactors world wide in operation) would have to have a Chernobyl-scale accident for that figure to be reached. 

    Mildly interesting, at best… but it leads me to wonder:
    Is there any kind of solar or extra-terrestrial event that can negatively or catastrophically effect a nuclear reactor (excluding human-extinction events)? 

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  54. “Shamus: I never claimed that all the pilots were alive and cancer free, only that they didn’t die from acute injury during the Chernobyl flyovers as Rundle claimed. They didn’t fly suicide missions. ”

    Nobody really dies on the spot, even the most acute cases of radiation poisoning from the demon core accidents in the US did not die until a few days later, so either radiation sickness impaired the pilots who then crashed (imagine proving this), or nobody died on the spot, but in a hospital bed a few days later.

    Point being that it is irrelevant the time of death, only the time of injury.

    “Of course some of the pilots will have cancer now … for every 1000 men over a 25 year period in Belarus, there will be about 67 cancers … 2 of which will be leukemia. Epidemiologists have found a leukemia increase in emergency workers

    Different studies of different groups have found different rates of increase, but my judgement is that there should be between 3 and 4 leukemias amongst the pilots by now rather than 2. ”

    This is wrong, the case highlighted by the NYT is direct evidence of radiation caused Leukemia because of the myriad of symptoms exhibited, the reason why the same cannot be said for other cancer cases is because of plausible deniability.

    The reason why people claim hemorrhages and infections killed the first liquidators is because of direct evidence of them being exposed, observed symptoms and death few days later. Only Ann Coulter claims nobody ever dies because of radiation poisoning. According to her they either died in an explosion or they got sick on their own.

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  55. Geoff Russell wrote:

    First, we need some basic scientific background that will make the truth about the Chernobyl helicopter pilots unremarkable … The stream of United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) reports is extensive. UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl … none (see the 2000 report for details). No pilots died, none sloughed their skin … Had the evil Soviet empire wanted suicide missions it would have ordered pilots to hover … Why would he cover-up what happened to the helicopter pilots? … He didn’t because it didn’t happen

    There is so much wrong in this account I don’t know where to begin. We have a fair number of first hand accounts from pilots and commanders involved with the air drops. They report dosemeter readings in excess of 500 roentgens (4.6 sieverts or 466 rem), beyond the sampling range for their units. Pilots were reporting being “sick in the air,” and later placing lead under their seats and using respirators to minimize acute exposure impacts. Hovering was made difficult not by policy guidelines, but primarily by thermals and heat being released from the hollowed out reactor (“This extreme heat created conditions affecting the aerodynamic properties of the helicopters and made it difficult for pilots to control their machines,” p. 1034-1035). UNSCEAR did the best it could do with the available information, but in 2008 report (p. 155) mentions detailed Russian records from Soviet era (“the quality and completeness of those registries remained largely unknown”), changes to national registration criteria (during post soviet period and follow-up), and increases to registries in more recent years (“which raised questions about the completeness and accuracy of registration”). An UNSCEAR Annex J 2000 document (p. 471) is unclear with respect to radiation doses received by these pilots. They look at one source (Ushakov, et. al., “A Man in the Sky of Chernobyl,” 1994) that compares projected estimates for exposure levels using reactor as “a collimated point source of radiation,” and compare this to real dosemeter readings from 200 of the 1,125 pilots (and find discrepancies in 10-57% of cases). I think this flies in the face of your claim that “UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl.” Considering the possible reasons and historical contexts behind these obscurities and uncertainties, the Zhores Medvedev’s account, “The Legacy of Chernobyl,” provides us with some possible insights: “The military personnel who suffered radiation syndrome were treated in special military hospitals and no one knows how many people were taken there. The official casualty figures do not include soldiers. It is very likely that the soldiers who died were not listed as Chernobyl victims, but registered as the victims of an unspecified military operation … the medical section of the Soviet IAEA documents only describes the fate of those who were evacuated from the accident site during the first two days. Later victims of radiation during the emergency period from 27 April to 10 May 1986 who were treated in different hospitals in Kiev, Minsk and Moscow are not included in the known figures of cases of acute radiation sickness.” There is much more in this account, including a compelling first hand account of helicopter operation by Chief Engineer Anatoly Zayat: “The first twenty-seven crews … soon had to be sent to Kiev for treatment … [at] a hight of 100 meters their level of radioactivity reached 1800 roentgens/hour [equal to 16 sv/h, or 1679 rem/h).” NATO Kiev conferences in 2003 and 2005 considered on-going epidemiology and lessons learned from Chernobyl, and reported on health impacts among 237 patients (137 confirmed) with Acute Radiation Syndrome: 28 died in first year, 29 in follow up period from 1987-2004, and many showed elevated incidence for cardiovascular disease (ischemic heart disease, cardiomyopathy, and cerebrovascular disease). If Geoff Russell has some detailed studies on pilot cohort (numbers of soldiers, range of dose levels, long term health follow-up), or even first hand accounts discounting acute radiation syndrome (ARS) among early pilot crews, I’d like to see it!

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  56. @Luke Weston

    However, when I searched I actually found a couple of papers in the academic literature that are in the humanities fields, actually dedicated to analysis of her rhetoric and the rhetoric techniques she uses and how they can be effective, amusingly enough.

    Very interesting, thanks. Do you still have those rhetoric links?

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  57. EL, on 20 April 2011 at 9:16 AM said:

    There is much more in this account, including a compelling first hand account of helicopter operation by Chief Engineer Anatoly Zayat: “The first twenty-seven crews … soon had to be sent to Kiev for treatment … [at] a hight of 100 meters their level of radioactivity reached 1800 roentgens/hour [equal to 16 sv/h, or 1679 rem/h).”[Legacy of Chernobyl, p.169]

    That’s about twice a fatal dose, right? So… 27 crews of 2 = 54 pilots that must have died, very quickly, within 10 days, perhaps even within the first 4 days when no one that wasn’t there to witness the fire, not even the Soviet leaders, had any clear idea what was happening.  Still a long  ways from 600 dead pilots (claimed in the documentary The Battle of Chernobyl, 30 seconds into that segment), but quite a bit more than 1 or 5.

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  58. The radiation dose rate “reached” 16 Sv/h. Does that mean that it was consistently at that level, or that it reached that maximum?

    Even if it was consistently at 16 Sv/h, how long were the pilots working in that radiation field for? One hour would mean 16 Sv, but less time means less dose.

    With shielding in the helicopters, what dose rate – and what actual dose – did the pilots ultimately receive? The really useful information may or may not actually be available – but without it, we can’t make really accurate conclusions.

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  59. Helicopter crew was probably at least 3 per machine but could easily have been more; my guess is 5 for that operation. The only shielding would have been the floor and lower hull. Hovering to drop the load should only take about 30–50 seconds of an entire flight.

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  60. If the UNSCEAR report putting the average exposure at 260 mSv in the most heavily exposed group of pilots is wrong then that’s a serious matter.

    But huge rates per hour don’t necessarily mean high doses as Luke and David have pointed out … e.g., a 60 second hover in 16 Sv/hr would give 266 milliSieverts. Reduced by shielding
    and keeping in mind as Luke said, that a peak rate isn’t the same as an average rate.

    No-one advocating a conspiracy theory has explained why anybody would bother to hide one lot of fatalities while being absolutely open and up front about another?

    I’ve just sent an email query to Robert Gale to see what he knows about the pilots. Depending on his response, I’m happy to contact UNSCEAR also.

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  61. NB This is from UNSCEAR 2000 report 4th page (P.454)

    The radionuclide releases from the damaged reactor
    occurred mainly over a 10-day period, but with varying
    release rates. An initial high release rate on the first day
    was caused by mechanical discharge as a result of the
    explosions in the reactor. There followed a five-day period
    of declining releases associated with the hot air and fumes
    from the burning graphite core material. In the next few
    days, the release rate of radionuclides increased until day
    10, when the releases dropped abruptly, thus ending the
    period of intense release.

    The helicopters didn’t fly on days 7 to 10 because of fears of an explosion.

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  62. No-one advocating a conspiracy theory…

    I don’t see that there’s necessarily conspiracy… more likely incompetence, or ignorance in the importance of taking accurate note of what was occurring in the early days of that disaster, or possibly that there wasn’t anyone left alive from the early days to tell the story. And consider this thing occurred pre-Glasnost: standard operating procedure was not talking about anything. Not even their political leaders knew what was happening for at least a few days after it began.

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  63. GRLC, I didn’t see any pictures of the two water-exposed workers either, but I would not be surprised if their skin were visibly reddened – after all the treatment for beta skin irradiation would include aggressive exfoliation. So if they didn’t have irritated legs before going to hospital, they would afterwards.

    Google Images on “Fukushima workers leg burns” comes up empty (of relevant images). As I recall, the more sober reporting at the time talked about the workers going to hospital on suspicion of radiation burns.

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  64. Across the anti-nuclear crowd, there is no precise number on the number of casualties in the largest nuclear accident ever. Some talk about hundreds of thousands others of millions. I find it shallow of them to assume so deaths in the modern age, without having an accurate count. The wide variance between the victim reports alone shows the fear based tactics used by anti-nuclear activists.

    Regarding the Russian paper, it appeared in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences (NYAS). George Monbiot asked the NYAS about the paper and they replied :

    In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/05/anti-nuclear-lobby-misled-world

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  65. It’s a shame Geoff didn’t grow up watching Sesame Street and the “One of these things” sketch.
    From memory, the things more dangerous than nuclear power are:
    poor people burning cow dung
    poor people burning coal
    bananas
    fishing for prawns
    marble counter tops
    Easter Weekends on the road in Adelaide
    swine flu
    heat waves
    CT scans
    factory farming

    Also: what gives with the Caldicott monomania? The community last heard of her how many decades ago?

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  66. “Also: what gives with the Caldicott monomania? The community last heard of her how many decades ago?”

    Yeah, I know. I thought she was completely discredited and had had her day… and no media outlets were ever taking her seriously any more at all. Until the Fukushima incident.

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  67. I find it shallow of them to assume so deaths in the modern age, without having an accurate count

    Equally specious are pro nuclear activists that pretend that all the problem issues of nuclear energy are solved, the two massive elephants in the room being the economics and the waste. I think perhaps it is activism that is suspect, as there are also reasonable and rational and honest people on both sides.

    Personally I think energy from fission is at best a worthwhile 20-40 year stopgap to global energy crisis and human contribution to global warming, but not even remotely a satisfactory permanent solution. Put some eggs in that basket… but most of them into development of alternative sources that are cleaner, safer, and less complex.

    There will be more nuclear incidents. I suspect the next one will be in China and there will be significant casualties that, due to the closed society, will be difficult to accurately quantify.

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  68. By what metric is the waste a problem? It sits there long term in dry storage casks. Even the Fukushima dry storage casks are still fine. It is very safe and very economical. As for costs, its likely more expensive than coal without considering external costs, but cheaper than wind and solar when considering systemic costs.

    Take a look at coal plants with their ash storage ponds, contaminated with heavy metal, which will remain dangerous until Judgement Day. What about carginogenic waste from photovoltaics production? Phosgene etc. all carginogenic. China is dumping various PV waste in rivers. PV has 10x the materials requirement per average Watt delivered compared to nuclear. That is a major environmental impact and cost criterion.

    Nuclear plants keep waste out of the environment by design. This is a Good Thing. Actually the so called waste consists of excellent Gen4 reactor fissile startup and various precious metals and valuable medical isotopes.

    Nuclear isn’t perfect, its just the best chance we’ve got to solve numerous energy related problems on a worldwide scale.

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  69. Speaking of China, there are significant casualties from coal and other fossil energy that, due to the closed society, will be difficult to accurately quantify. A world bank report estimated that 750,000 Chinese die prematurely due to air pollution each year.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coal_power_in_China

    With solar and wind that are not there most of the time, fossil fuels backup will be the reality for China. Thus more deaths. Not building more nuclear now means continuing to kill a lot of people. Also see:

    http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/lifetime-deaths-per-twh-from-energy.html

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  70. Cyril R. says:

    By what metric is the waste a problem? It sits there long term

    Long term waste storage, itself, is a problem (as well as being a vast unknown of the economic argument). There is already quite a lot of waste. Other than the pyramids and the Great Wall, I know of no engineering project that has lasted more than 200 years and is still in use as designed, ie not a ruin… and arguably, even those projects were only effective for a lifetime or two. The largest coat of nuclear energy may very well be how to clean up an unimaginably large and leaking waste storage facility 300 years from now.

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  71. Francois: I haven’t read the NYAS report but Monbiot has … see the links in my article.

    I have had a reply from Robert Gale. He thinks 260mSv is an underestimate but isn’t aware of ARS in any pilot.

    I’m still waiting on UNSCEAR. Keep in mind that they reported the total deaths and they reported on pilot dose rates. Dead pilots ignored in the total death count would be a level of incompetence difficult to imagine.

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  72. By what metric is the waste a problem? It sits there long term in dry storage casks. Even the Fukushima dry storage casks are still fine. It is very safe and very economical.

    Time makes it worrisome. Geology is one of my favorite sciences, but it is not perfect. Just as you never really know if a volcano is extinct, you never really know if what we believe is a geologically stable location will actually forever be a geologically stable location. When you begin to deal with timescales of a thousand years or more, the unknown doesn’t get any smaller. Other than the pyramids and the Great Wall, I am unaware of any engineering project that has lasted more than 200 years, and arguably, even those projects ceased to be effective within a lifetime or two… technically they are ruins and have been centuries.

    As for costs, its likely more expensive than coal without considering external costs, but cheaper than wind and solar when considering systemic costs.

    The economy of nuclear energy has been subsidized for decades by governments pouring in hundreds of billions of dollars in research, development and deployment. Wind and solar would surely benefit from such investment. Even without massive government investment, these technologies have made strides simply not possible in nuclear energy under the same conditions, in small (smaller than governments) startup energy companies. If you want to make a fair comparison between wind and solar and nuclear, pretend there was no WWII and no burning incentive to have atomic weapons. Start them all off from scratch… and then look at which would be more economical. If started on equal ground and  equal investment had been put in each, it is clear that nuclear power would be vastly more expensive. But as things are as they are, without a doubt in our lifetimes solar and wind will become more economical than nuclear (and I believe this could be achieved with an investment equal to the amount of the cost of building just a handful of new nuclear power plants).  But there are even more energy technologies that are already more economical than nuclear, and have been for some time, even if specialized to geography and geology, and you know I mean geothermal and hydro. 

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  73. shamus and skeptic:

    Other than the pyramids and the Great Wall, I know of no engineering project that has lasted more than 200 years

    – maybe you should take a trip to Europe. There are plenty of working structures that are more than 200 years old. Indeed much that the Romans constructed 2000 years ago is still functional to some degree.

    shamus, perhaps you would honour us with a source for that “hundreds of billions of dollars in research” for nuclear energy. But I suspect you are making up numbers.

    And 2000 years is certainly enough to turn a fuel rod into something that is relatively harmless, no matter what the anti-nuclear crowd claim. The radiation that is so intense in the moments after a rod comes out of the reactor has dwindled away to something comparable to natural rocks. One of the major stupidities of the LNT model is that this harmlessness is not acknowledged.

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  74. I really don’t think there is any accounting for how much the US government, the USSR, and Great Britain poured into nuclear energy. The Manhattan Project alone cost many rather large fortunes… and I presume that ended in the mid-40s… so since then… a few billion here a few billion there, pretty soon that adds up and we’re talking some serious money. And if I’m not mistaken, every operating civilian plant in the US was subsidized by the government.

    I’m sorry I don’t have figures, or citations, and I’ve never seen anything that takes those investments into account when calculating the cost of nuclear power, nor any that take into account the cost of Chernobyl (and I’m not even sure how that would be figured… but its $230+ billion and counting… it should be related and figured in somehow).

    Arguably, we should try to get the return from our investment out of it…. but not at the expense of developing the alternative energies. I wish the government had been agnostic towards which energy development to pour money into, but far and away, nuclear energy took most of it.

    I know that the way the world works is if there was some hypothetical energy source that was 50 times more dangerous and polluting than fossil fuels… but slightly cheaper, somehow allowing for more profit, then THAT would be the defacto energy source, no matter how many died or how loud environmentalists screamed. Unless, in the case of nuclear energy, a government decided it desperately needed fuel for bombs and went overboard producing that fuel (with a side effect of “cheap” power).

    Apologies, it really gets to me and my argument becomes diluted. If only solar or wind energy could be developed into some effective weapons program, that would be all the incentive a government needed to invest in it, and in short order, it would be subsidized massively and appear cheap. But of course this is all in the past… the reactors we have may have been built as bomb fuel factories, but now they really are dedicated to producing energy, and not as a side effect.

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  75. Settle down, Shamus. It is clear that you are a good hearted person. It is also clear that you have much to learn.

    It is very easy and requires no depth of knowledge to be a nay-sayer. Much of what you write boils down to “There is a problem over there. I see a problem! Furthermore, I don’t understand how it is managed, so it must have no solution! It’s huge!”

    What takes real effort and skill and knowledge is finding solutions to real problems. The knowledge builders of our society are often the scientists. Those who use a foundation of scientific knowledge to fashion practical solutions to problems are often called engineers.

    My advice is that you heed the scientists and the engineers on matters technical and use a very strong filter when dealing with journalists, spin doctors, those with something to sell (especially so-called green technologies) and look for explanations. Develop and use a well tuned BS detector.

    First, you blithely state that everything over 200 years old is useless, has ceased to function. That is BS. There are many many buildings and structures still in use worldwide that disprove that statement. It was silly to make it, because it is so obviously an example of over-reach. Your argument fails before it has travelled the distance. Your concern for the long term remains, and I will now attempt to address this, just slightly.

    The two killer points which you keep coming back to are economics and waste storage.

    There are many examples on this site and elsewhere where fission “waste” is discussed technically, its composition, its handling, the reasons for storage, the time required in storage before it is safe to be transferred to a less shielded facility, and so on. Simply stating that waste is a problem adds nothing of interest to the reader and adds nothing to comprehension of the issue or understanding of the solution to the supposed problem. We need to deal with the reasons why waste is now or could become a problem.

    Recapping waste, it falls into three main categories:
    Chemical: Chemicals often last for ever. Not just a million years, but for ever. They can remain dormant until humans or animals again mobilise them within the biosphere, where the poisons do their work. One example is arsenic, either natural or man-made. Once the pH falls within a certain range and the arsenic comes into contact with water, it forms soluble salts that will migrate if given a chance, via water, to the biosphere. Certain former gold processing facilities have to be capped and monitored for ever. I doubt that they can or will be monitored for ever, so there lies a quandary. Should all arsenic waste be vigorously tracked down and reprocessed and stored in stable forms, for ever? Clearly, this is not necessary or even possible. There are better ways to manage this risk. In this case, the alternative is poisoning. Radioactivity does not last for ever, so it is, by this measuring stick, not so bad.

    Short term wastes include highly active radioactive materials and infectious materials – again, just examples. Infectious materials are dealt with in landfill sites across the globe or, less frequently, in high temperature incinerators and the like. Both are engineering solutions to problems which scientists study and understand. Scientific advice guides such decisions as to how the materials can be stored, for how long, and how to handle them. Basic landfill sites, where the muck is covered with soil and eventually capped and left alone for a century or so is a very effective way to ensure that bacteria present in (say) so-called disposable nappies do not infect the elderly, the already sick or the frail in our societies. Less fortunate societies have monsoon drains carrying all kinds of human wastes running through their towns and their inhabitants are exposed daily to diseases which better engineered societies almost always avoid.

    Now, to consider highly active radionuclides. An example of high activity could be most Chlorine radionuclides, which have half-lives of less than one hour. Simply by keeping these materials away from humans for (say) a week, their activity decays by a factor of 2 to the power 168, the number of hours in a week. It will have decayed by a factor of 4 with 50 zeros after it. It will have gone after a week.

    Radionuclides in storage decay back to just about zilch after a period of time. Once that has happened, it isn’t radwaste any more – it is just a resource.

    Aha! you might say. What about the long lived isotopes? Say, the other isotope of Chlorine, Cl-36. It remains active for a huge length of time with a half-life of 300,000 years.

    That is over 100 million days, 9.5 million million seconds.

    So, to get an average of one disintegration per second (1 becquerel), we need 9.5 million million atoms of Cl-36.

    One curie (Ci) = 37 billion Bq. The number of atoms of Cl-36 required for this is 3.5 times 10 to the power 23. 350 thousand million million million atoms.

    This indicates just how inactive a blob of longlived isotopes can be. Very nearly all of it, at any given time, is doing absolutely nothing. By comparison, with these, activities such as eating a banana or flying or just standing next to somebody become comparable, yet we don’t carry on a treat about these activities.

    So, ultra-long term storage is ultimately not necessary, because there are heaps of other much more dangerous activities to which we are exposed daily which deserve our concern before we worry about (almost) nothing.

    Regarding economic cost (actually, commercial cost, but what the heck), there are costs associated with storing power station fly ash, with recycling wind and solar PV structures and so forth. If there weren’t such costs, there would not be over a thousand abandoned wind turbines littering the Californian landscape, but there are. Google “abandoned wind turbines” and find the story.

    The cost of decommissioning and recycling or disposing of any structure or machine is not trivial. This is true for nuclear power, but it is also true for every other form of power generation and almost every human activity involving the use of tools or materials.

    So, Seamus, listen to the science and understand the engineering of man’s impact on the biosphere. Don’t imagine that problems are huge until you understand them. Don’t pretend that the oldest functional human structures on Earth are only 200 years old. Learn to take a long term view.

    These are essential for balanced opinions: Well informed opinions; Valued judgement; Respect for others’ knowledge. Unresearched, unsupported whingeing helps nobody, least of all yourself.

    So, do youself a favour. Read sites such as BNC and be prepared to just lurk. Watch, read and learn before rushing into print.

    I truly do hope that your professed interest in the physical sciences results in knowledge and understanding far beyond that which you have demonstrated thus far on BNC, to the point where your scientific understanding and knowledge and engineering skills can contribute to solutions for some of the real world’s problems.

    Until that day, how about chilling a bit? Please?

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  76. shamus: Here’s an interesting little budget breakdown … http://www.budget.gov.au/2010-11/content/overview/html/overview_37.htm

    Infrastructure+transport+energy is $12 billion
    Health $56 billion, Social Security+welfare $114 billion … etc, etc.

    Energy expenditure isn’t a big ticket item in Australia, and I’d be guessing its similar elsewhere. We may need to stump up some serious money over coming decades to rebuild our energy infrastructure, but it will still be small compared to other expenditures. A significant part of health spending in western countries (not just the budget but total spending) is an indirect subsidy to animal product and other junk food producers. It doesn’t have to be that way. We will be able to find the money when we have the serious will to do so and when that serious will is bi-partisan.

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  77. Against my better judgement I am breaking silence. I want to lend moral support to Shamus who is the only rational voice on this site:

    “shamus, on 21 April 2011 at 3:20 AM said:
    Equally specious are pro nuclear activists that pretend that all the problem issues of nuclear energy are solved, the two massive elephants in the room being the economics and the waste. I think perhaps it is activism that is suspect, as there are also reasonable and rational and honest people on both sides.”

    I think the notion of totally polarized “sides” is not really correct even if almost all BNC bloggers adopt that attitude. I have written a series of articles on nuclear power in which I studiously avoid the contentious issues of safety and waste. Why? Because the issue can be decided on non-contentious issues of economics. At least for Australia–which is another significant point since I think we should focus on solving our problems, not the world’s.

    The cancelling yesterday of two planned Texas reactors and previously of two others whose builders objected to the risk-premium charge the US-OMB was levying on the $8 billion loan guarantee. The Italians have just backed out of their plan for 6 nukes and cancelled their planned referendum. (I predicted this in one of my articles last year.)

    Previously “the Department of Energy projected that ONLY SIX PLANTS WOULD COME ONLINE BY 2035, primarily because of high costs.” Today I am not sure if that means only 2 left or none (and dear BNCers do not talk about those for which construction has nominally begun; there are more abandoned reactors than real ones in the US).

    So, back to the polarization issue. As a technologist (and a PhD in radiation biology) I am not as afraid of radiation as many, but I also respect it. (see my post here last week on why I do not believe in LNT) I am not dead set against nuclear power and admire the French system (and lived in France for a decade). But as Shamus said in another post, the nuclear era is counting down–really it is probably totally over in Europe perhaps except for France (we’ll see) and ditto USA. Why on earth contemplate it for Australia? It is such a fantastic distraction from the real long term solutions–and that ain’t nuclear unless it is fusion and we will never be a player in that super-expensive research.

    If half the people on BNC claim to be informed scientific or technical types you cannot possibly believe economic clean power is impossible, and that huge advances will not be made in just another decade (certainly well before significant new nuclear could get built; incidentally even if China builds all its first-phase nuclear it would still only be 4-5% of their energy requirements by 2030). Sure it will cost more (unless Geothermal…) but then Australia has had the cheapest retail electricity in the developed world, and energy costs are a tiny fraction of most budgets (domestic or business except aluminium smelting).

    Finally I cannot help but comment on the old structures thing: Pont Neuf in the heart of Paris carries huge amounts of traffic 450 years after it was constructed (of course making its name “New Bridge” ironic since it is the oldest bridge in Paris).

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  78. Michael James, you cost arguments are wrong if nuclear are judged on the basis of LCOE or dispatchable power or capacity credit. This is explained in detail in my recent Energy paper: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.energy.2010.10.039

    Your arguments about high capex are are correct under some circumstances, and this includes the US. Hence the need for loan guarantees to offset ‘risk premiums’. I suspect that this is where small modular reactors (SMRs), sized 10 — 300 MWe, will come to the fore. This may well also apply in Australia, Europe etc. — anywhere which purports to have a ‘liberalised energy market’ (which currently can’t seem to decide to build significant energy infrastructure of any shape or form, except for OC gas). The SMRs have higher cost per kW installed (at least currently) and higher LCOE than a monolithic plant of >1GWe, but much lower total capex (allowing for small risk premiums, faster build rates, etc.)

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  79. Regarding the pilots: I have asked Robert Gale if there could have been pilots with ARS which he didn’t know about. I’ve just had his response … short and to the point:

    We would have seen them.

    So short of being there myself, I’m pretty confident
    that no pilots had ARS and that the UNSCEAR report on which I based my article didn’t miss any
    dead pilots, it didn’t mention pilots with ARS because there weren’t any to mention.

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  80. @michael r. james

    If half the people on BNC claim to be informed scientific or technical types you cannot possibly believe economic clean power is impossible, and that huge advances will not be made in just another decade

    I am not a scientist though I do have a BSc in physics, but the amount of physics I can remember is the source of constant frustration and for practical purposes, harmless.

    I have huge respect for science but I also have a lot of respect for the intelligent study of history. In 1970 non-hydro renewables supplied 0.7% of electricity in OECD countries. In 2010 non-hydro renewables supplied 3%. In 2010 nuclear supplied 21%. The nuclear capacity was built over a period of maybe 25-30 years and non-hydro renewables took four decades to achieve 2.4% growth in share of generation. This in itself suggests that there may be some fundamental physical basis underlying the comparative performance difference.

    No doubt the prospects for new nuclear have taken a hit in Europe, but I would also strongly suggest that the performance of non-hydro renewables will come under increased scrutiny. Of course engineering breakthroughs are always possible, but unless non-hydro renewables really start to deliver, and I mean really on large scale, then a race to nuclear is inevitable over a time scale of no longer than a decade at most. Excitable dancing in the streets at every announcement of for instance Google spending $138 million on a new solar power plant will no longer cut it. It will be a case of put up or shut up.

    My view is that the nuclear renaissance will be paused a bit but cannot be stopped.

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  81. Shamus, Skeptic,

    You’ve misunderstood. The dry storage systems are modular and can be replaced easily when the concrete cracks too much after a century or so. The things are really simple, a stainless steel cask that is loaded into a concrete overpack for shielding.

    In 100 years the radioactivity goes down about a factor of 1000 (compared to just after shutdown) so aboveground storage is a good idea even if we go for more permanent solutions such as boreholes or something like that, afterwards. (heat generation and radiotoxicity are much lower in 1 century which are important advantages for geological storage).

    I am not suggesting geological storage and have criticised it strongly before. It is a contamination risk and I agree. We should not do this. In stead, store the stuff for a century or less and develop reprocessing so that we can use the fissile for molten salt and integral fast reactors, and the other valuable fission products should also be recycled. We can set ourselves a deadline if this worries you, for example give ourselves a hundred years or so to develop processing, highly likely to be succesful with a long development time, otherwise we’ll use a more permanent storage solution if you like.

    Take a look at this spent fuel and what elements are in there. Valuable stuff.

    As for economics, the dry storage is paid by a 0.1 cent per kWh surcharge on every kWh sold, put in a fund and the interest is used for upkeep. The dry storage canisters are suprisingly cheap. There is almost no maintenance, the interest is more than enough to pay for this indefinately.

    There is no other industry that can claim this level of waste management. Look at how coal plants store their heavy metal contaminated ash between primitive dikes. Look at how much chemicals are used in production and how much e-waste is left with solar panels. Manufacturers rarily take responsibility for this toxic e-waste (First Solar being an important exception).

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  82. Barry, one can make unrealistic assumptions to make some case seem more plausible (but if you ignore cost of capital then wind and solar-thermal would be suddenly fantastic), but if it could happen in the real world then why isn’t it? There are lots of American capitalists who want to build new nuclear but they are finding it almost impossible to put a convincing financial package together. And of course the risk premiums just got even less manageable.

    Geoff R. Gale gave the obvious answer: he doesn’t know. That was still the days of the USSR. They didn’t even reveal the Chernobyl meltdown until the Swedes detected the radiation floating over their country. Now it may be possible if a serious investigative journalist was funded to investigate, say like the K-19 submarine nuclear accident which was kept secret for decades until revealed that “all seven men in the repair crew died of radiation exposure within a week, and twenty more within the next few years”.
    But until then you simply must avoid the error you made (and which no scientific referee would have allowed): absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
    (I know no more but I would guess that above the burning reactor right in the huge plume of seriously toxic stuff–absolutely nothing like Fukushima–if pilots breathed anything in (as reports of them removing their masks for whatever reason suggests) then that was quite likely to be lethal. The transitory exposure was no longer relevant–you would die from the stuff trapped in your lungs.)

    quokka, on 21 April 2011 at 5:21 PM.
    You are cherrypicking data. Why not discuss those countries who have made a serious effort on renewables, like Germany, Denmark and Spain. I think you’ll find it is closer to 15-20%. As I recall Germany approached 20% above which the storage problem needs to be solved for the grid to cope. And naturally it is nonsense to talk about historic data for a new, changing technology. (Unless you want to commit the same error Thomas Watson ceo of IBM said of computers: maybe 4 in the whole world.)
    Nuclear renaissance you say! The only accurate description of that statement is delusional. In Europe and USA it is on life support, and post-Fukushima Japan is ditto. A UBS study predicted that around 30 nuclear plants may be closed world-wide as a result.
    The developing world may be building some with China leading (20 under construction) but many of the world’s existing reactors are approach their end of life: over 100 in the next 5-10 years; so the industry is not even keeping pace. And exactly what did you not understand by “even if China builds all its first-phase nuclear it would still only be 4-5% of their energy requirements by 2030”?

    And nuclear is very very difficult to scale up quickly like you dream of. Some of the renewables will indeed be rapidly scaleable once certain conditions are met (to pre-empt, I have consistently argued–mostly in Crikey–against domestic solar-PV because it is still much too expensive and it makes no sense with the technology going thru a kind of Moore’s Law process; but once it reaches a certain threshold of cost and efficiency it could be rolled out faster than computers or iPods or mobile phones.).

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  83. @michael r. james

    You are cherrypicking data. Why not discuss those countries who have made a serious effort on renewables, like Germany, Denmark and Spain. I think you’ll find it is closer to 15-20%.

    I am doing no such thing. In the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter which countries emissions are coming from. In the end it is only the world wide figures that matter. But since you want to talk about specific countries. From the IEA Monthly Electricity Statistics report:

    For the year 2010:

    Germany: 6.8% of electricity from non hydro renewables. Percentage of electricity from burning stuff above OECD average.

    Spain: 18.7%

    Denmark: 21.8%

    United States: 2.6%

    OECD Average: 3.2%

    France: 79% of electricity generated by nuclear

    OECD Average: 21.4%

    http://www.iea.org/stats/surveys/mes.PDF

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  84. @quokka, on 21 April 2011 at 7:49 PM

    This is why I do not post on BNC. Your own list shows you cherry picked. What argument are you attempting to show? I would have thought it was about what percentage of a nations electricity can come from non-hydro renewables. If you think average over a large number of countries that have almost zero renewables proves anything other than your inability to think clearly….
    I do not know why Germany would be lower than Denmark (so am immediately suspicious), but to me or anyone examining the question of what can be achieved, I think Spain and Denmark show it nicely. Those are already more than current nuclear in most countries, certainly the US and I suspect Japan post-Fukushima. And China almost certainly has more wind alone than nuclear, and by 2020 or later?

    I would also look at the amount of newly installed wind capacity in the last two years in the USA and see what happens if that were to continue (a) at the same rate for the next 20 years (b) at some reasonable accelerating rate ditto.

    Last year wind+solar+geotherm generated 11TWh compared to nuclear at 80TWh, so one eighth; but wind etc was an increase of 11.2% and nuclear was 0.6% (merely representing variable delivery of old plant); and there is nothing (zip, zilch, no king can stop this tide coming in) that can stop nuclear’s contribution plunging in the next few years (lots are trying to get their license extended–forget it, post-Fukushima). But apply that renewables growth figure into (a) and (b) and see what happens. But that is actually unrealistic because:

    There are many GW wind and solar-thermal ready to move ahead in the US (mostly California, Nevada and Texas) that have been held up by GFC-induced finance issues and unexpected environmental issues (California deserts, being resolved). In 5 years, maybe 3, it will look quite different. Whereas where, seriously, do you think nuclear will be in 5 years in the USA (equal first largest energy consumer on the planet)? Seriously.

    Then there is a little surprise with France: over 1TWh of wind etc, over 40% increase cf 8.8% for nuclear (again just variation in delivery of old plants) and about 2.5% of nuclear. Now why do you suppose France is doing that?

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  85. Barry, one can make unrealistic assumptions to make some case seem more plausible (but if you ignore cost of capital then wind and solar-thermal would be suddenly fantastic), but if it could happen in the real world then why isn’t it? There are lots of American capitalists who want to build new nuclear but they are finding it almost impossible to put a convincing financial package together. And of course the risk premiums just got even less manageable.

    Michael, this statement has no useful content. Please read my Energy paper and then tell me what “unrealistic assumptions” are being made in it. Then we will have something to discuss. I further said nothing whatsoever about ignoring the cost of capital, so your second sentence is a straw man. Your third sentence is answered by the fact that it is cheaper, quicker and less ‘controversial’ right now to build gas-fired power stations in American than nuclear, plain and simple.

    It’s also sensible to build wind if you are given significant subsidies and guaranteed that all of the power you produce will be bought. Why the heck wouldn’t you do it? The final point about risk premiums is not about ‘safety’ as you imply, it’s about the financial risk of committing to a multi-billion dollar project where costs will not be recovered for 5+ years. That was my point about SMRs — if you instead spend a few hundred million, and start getting return on money within 1-2 years, then that is lower risk and might be the way to move forward in America.

    You ask me to look to the real world, and you are quite right in this request. I do. I look to those nations that are currently building large amounts of new nuclear power (China, India, South Korea, Russia) and I see nations with very large and growing power demands. I also look to countries like the UAE which have a high value product to sell and see nuclear as their cheapest baseload electricity option — not solar. I see real lessons in this. I wonder why you do not.

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  86. Geoff Russell wrote:

    So short of being there myself, I’m pretty confident that no pilots had ARS and that the UNSCEAR report on which I based my article didn’t miss any dead pilots, it didn’t mention pilots with ARS because there weren’t any to mention.

    Geoff … if this is the case, I’m still very curious how you explain first hand accounts from those involved with the air drops who provide information to the contrary? I can’t find the report “A Man in the Sky of Chernobyl” (1994) anywhere on the web or in scientific journals. This is the single source used by UNSCEAR for information on the pilots. It is described as an Aviation Medicine Institute five-year study of pilots and crew up to 200 in number (not full 1,250 compliment), and includes 62 pilots exposed to 180 to 260 mGy of radiation. You suggest “UNSCEAR knows exactly how many pilots died dealing with Chernobyl,” but I don’t find any statements to this effect in their reports. In fact, as you later mention, “A full breakdown wasn’t given.” Is it possible that a single study, limited to five years, and involving only 16% of the pilots is insufficient to make broad conclusions about exposure levels, cancer incidence, and mortality among these many pilots? The only other information I can find about these pilots are first hand accounts that contradict claims about low exposure levels (particularly with early military sorties), and sending pilots away to military hospitals in Kiev, Minsk and Moscow to be treated for “radiation illness.”

    Interview with Anatoli Kushnin (Air Force Colonel involved in Chernobyl response, head of Air Force Chemical Service out in Kiev): “By May 4 the pilots had buried the reactor core in sand despite conditions that were difficult and dangerous. The dosimetric devices on these helicopters measured radiation levels of up to 500 roentgens an hour [4.6 sv/h or 466 rem/h]. In the first days after the accident these dosimeters went off scale. The crews were exposed to enormous radiation doses during their flights over the reactor. Pilots had to be substituted all the time; afterwards, crews were sent to a military hospital in Moscow. Not all of them survived. Recently, military test pilot, Anatoly Grishchenko died in the United States. He was the one who tried to lift a huge dome over the exploded reactor with the biggest helicopter in the world, the Mi-26. He didn’t succeed, but he was exposed to many times to huge doses of radiation … Everything to do with radiation levels was top secret.” Kushnin also adds he was taken to hospital and treated for “radiation illness.”

    Associated Press on death of Anatoly Grishchenko (1990): “Despite lead shielding on the aircraft and other protective gear, Grishchenko suffered radiation sickness and was found to have radiation-related leukemia last year.”

    Anatoly Zayat, Chief Engineer (account mentioned above, “Legacy of Chernobyl, by Zhores Medvedev): 400 unprotected flights with crews receiving “20-80 rad [20-80 rem, or 0.2 – 0.8 sv] of radiation during each flight,” dosimeter readings of 500 roentgens per hour, shortage of dosimeters, first 27 crews sent to Kiev for treatment, etc. After May 6, “Stricter radiological control was introduced: 25 rem was now the maximum limit of exposure.” According to Medvedev, “About 50,000 people were later reported to have been exposed to doses higher than 50 rad [50 rem or 0.5 sv].”

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  87. “Germany: 6.8% of electricity from non hydro renewables. Percentage of electricity from burning stuff above OECD average.”

    your numbers are wrong.

    http://de.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Datei:Strommix-D-2010.svg&filetimestamp=20110323124037

    wind alone is 6.2% and solar is another 2%

    ——————————–

    talking about the pilots, it is absolutely clear that if the soviets wanted to hide the death of pilots, we wouldn t know about it. how should we?

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  88. Hm, speaking of helicopters — this is sort of a why-no-helicopter question about Fukushima.

    After being offline a week, I just read the IAEA info
    Fukushima Nuclear Accident Update Log
    Updates of 21 April 2011

    at http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/tsunamiupdate01.html

    and it says:

    > White “smoke” continues to be
    > emitted from Units 2, 3 and 4.

    So I came looking to find out whether anyone had flown a helicopter close enough, or gotten an instrument close enough, to find out what the stuff actually is and whether it’s radioactive or not.

    Can anyone point to an answer? It’ll otherwise likely take me a long time to find it, I tried searching a bit already.

    (IAEA also is still referring to ‘liquid glass’— which I found long ago is a poor translation of the English ‘water glass’ aka ‘sodium silicate’ — which mixes up as a liquid, pours, then sets up as a gel — so I know their translation is rough)

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  89. > helicopters

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704740204576273320191804828.html

    This is an awfully not helpful report on the remotely piloted helicopters used:

    “… the T-Hawks didn’t have any maintenance problems and weren’t affected by high radiation levels. Two of the vehicles flew, with two units as back-up.

    … plans called for all four T-Hawks to remain indefinitely in Japan, largely because of the uncertainties stemming from their exposure to high levels of radiation.

    Honeywell officials said they are contractually barred from talking about exactly which portions of the plant the vehicles surveyed, but Japanese news reports have indicated T-Hawks were used to check the condition of all four of the crippled reactors….”

    Have any details or actual facts appeared anywhere?

    Isn’t that lovely wording? “… weren’t affected by high radiation levels …” (could mean the levels weren’t high, or the devices were able to cope, or nobody is saying if there was a measurement at all)

    and “… uncertainties stemming from their exposure to high levels of radiation….” could mean, well, anything you want it to.

    Sheesh — “smoke” indeed.

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  90. Great blog Barry, and kudos for managing it so well.

    I didn’t expect to set off a storm with my comment about Caldicott, but the entire ‘ad hominem’ offshoot was worthwhile, and particularly Fran Barlow’s excellent contribution.

    As Mark Lynas says on his blog: “I have discovered over the past few weeks that the anti-nuclear end of the environmental movement has no regard for proper scientific process when it comes to the issue which defines it. ”

    Which is the very point I made initially, without even thinking that “she makes stuff up” was anything more than a statement of the obvious. (A conspiracy of the whole world’s epidemiologists would be required to ‘hide’ a million deaths. I don’t think any sane person could conclude anything else about Caldicott’s claims.)

    Sites like this are a very good antidote to the ‘make stuff up’ background noise that pervades this entire issue of nuclear energy.

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  91. Pingback: Nucléaire : Le problème des piscine de combustibles | La Billetterie

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  93. The info digged up by EL seem important, and I hope to find more about the subject.

    However I wish to settle what shamus reported about the dead pilots. All four of them died in the same helicopter crash, during the work to build the sarcophage above unit 4.
    Here is the info about them as can be found at various place :
    http://www.pprune.org/archive/index.php/t-222544.html
    HELICOPTER PILOTS, perished on October 02, 1986, over unit 4 of the Chornobyl NPP:

    VOROBYOV Volodymyr Kostyantynovych (21.03.1956 – 02.10.1986)
    YUNHKIND Oleksandr Yevhenovych (15.04.1958 – 02.10.1986)
    KHRYSTYCH Leonid Ivanovych (28.02.1953 – 02.10.1986)
    HANZHUK Mykola Oleksandrovych (26.06.1960 – 02.10.1986)

    And there is a video of that helicopter crash on youtube :

    See the commemorative plate shown at 40″ in the video, with the name of the 4 crew member in cyrillic characters, confirming the date of death, 2/10/1986.

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  94. I have something to add. I have not finished reading all of the posts.

    The complaint of ad hominem arguments is valid, just as a matter of fact and I am quite prepared to believe Caldicott is a nut. I lost all faith in Lauren Moret as well after I looked into her background – and decided that she’s actually got some kind of psychological disorder that makes her crave attention. She can’t actually string an argument together, it’s painful to watch. But I digress.

    I had a look at the link about the guy going into the exclusion zone with no protective gear. Well for one thing he wasn’t right inside the reactor, which is what I expected to see. And in general any fool can see (who has been following the reports) that the radiation levels in the exclusion zone in general are NOT going to kill someone within a few days or anything like that.

    That and the remark in the post about plutonium in the sea seem to be glossing over the main worry – that of long-term damage to people or other animals exposed to this over a lifetime. What that means for the general wellbeing of the population, and generations of offspring. Plutonium lasts a hell of a long time. It’s the chance of eg ingesting some. And I don’t just mean humans. It’s not really very relevant to compare it to Japanese fishing practices. It would be better to say perhaps that if they stop fishing those waters as a result, that could be a good result overall – as fish populations worldwide are declining. What we don’t want is them to decline even MORE, or for vital micro-organisms to decline MORE. Malformed fish that can’t breed. Fewer baby fish. That sort of thing.

    I’m amazed that so much reporting has concentrated on the fear that OMG THE RADIATION MIGHT BE HERE WERE ALL GONNA DIE. Even people I have spoken to here assumed that was the only reason to be worrying about it and couldn’t understand when I said I was worried about a huge area becoming uninhabitable for 24,000 years.

    And another point – there are rational reasons to doubt those figures about chernobyl deaths and cancers. For one thing there are other things than cancers happening. No I don’t have any bloody figures and so on, but I’ve been digging about on the net for weeks now finding out all sorts of background. Sorry I haven’t kept a dossier as people here obviously would like real hard facts.

    I have found several examples so far of cover-ups of nuclear disasters AND the effects of those disasters. One such is a reactor in russia that basically blew up or something. They covered it up for about 20-30 years. They declared the entire area a national park and forbade anyone to enter. It’s a HUGE area. Yes it is correct to realise that there is more information available on what happens with nuclear reactors misbehaving AND the effects on population afterwards than the general public realise. Sometimes because we just didn’t hear or don’t remember. But there have been actual cover ups and remember, it’s not just cancer that can happen.

    As for the example of skin and muscle sloughing off etc – well to be fair I know exactly where they got that idea from. I don’t know exactly what happened to other radiation victims. (I do however own some books on the topic and have read them!). BUT recently I found out about the workers in Japan in 1999 who died after a prompt criticality in a uranium tank they were filling. I read the book describing how one worker died (A Slow Death: 83 Days of Radiation Sickness). That is essentially what happened to him, but to be honest the book is so spare and factual, and none of the doctors and nurses obviously want to describe things in too much detail either. Your imagination is left to wonder what is left of someone a month or two after all the skin has fallen off and their muscle fibres have disintegrated, they have no mucous membranes in their whole body including their gut and airway, and no chromosomes. Losing 17 litres of lymph a day through their body surfaces. And alpha radiation burns CAN be nasty and CAN kill you, especially at the level they originally thought the workers had who stepped in the puddle. I was very worried. There was at least one person at chernobyl with similar exposure who did die. Quite fast.

    I agree that it’s a bit stupid to get really worried about plutonium coming thousands of miles to get you and kill you. But don’t dismiss all fears as groundless. I’m sure the japanese were horrified, and they have the experience to deal with this the best possible way. I do hope they manage it. But there are now hotspots where plutonium etc has been thrown out of one of the reactors, and workers being drafted in by subcontrators who will NOT be able or willing to keep track of their health later on.

    I think that’s all really.

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  95. oh and before I forget this article is old now – more info has come out about what has been going on at fukushima. Also there’s a whole book of papers recently translated from russian about the effects of radiation at chernobyl, which APPARENTLY puts the lie to the claim that it wasn’t harmful.

    Also do you realise (I think Monbiot doesn’t as I came back after reading his website) that the deformities that a lot of these babies show don’t actually necessarily result from damage to the sperm or eggs. That’s a bit of a red herring. A lot of them could be from exposure to teratogens in utero at different stages of development and in different amounts. Remember there may not only be radioactive pollution involved either. A lot of lead got spread around chernobyl and they now realise this was a mistake. Yes they learned a valuable lesson about milk and thyroid cancer (but the info was already available, sadly). And last, apparently no actual plutonium ever reached the ground in hiroshima. The bomb detonated above ground zero. Yes there was radioactive fallout but not plutonium. So I gather that arguments that they “must” already be exposed to environmental plutonium are spurious.

    This whole thing reminds me of the stunt that a japanese politician once pulled of drinking a glass of water with plutonium in. I think it was plutonium. Anyway the idea was to convince people that the pollution in a bay wasn’t really harmful. Even though there really was terrible pollution. Mercury and stuff. Can’t remember. It was a long time ago I read about this. The idea is plutonium will in theory go straight through the gut. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be inhaled, or get in through a cut, or just be next to you every day gently radiating you. I used to have one of those clocks with the luminous hands, the ones that killed the women who worked painting them. It gave off beta and some gamma radiation. We tested it in our physics lab at school. I remember my teacher went a bit pale and said “I don’t think you should sleep with it right next to your head!”

    Since your article has been published the japanese PM has actually apologised for covering up the real facts of how serious the fukushima disaster really has been so far, to avoid panic. Not everyone who was disbelieving and afraid was a nut with an agenda, just people who could put 2 + 2 and realise that there was a really big problem going on, and that we were not being told everything for our own good. THAT made it MORE scary, at least for me. THAT is why I have been digging about for info on everything from what is a terabequarel to the health effects of three mile island. I’ve been reading the power company’s updates and cross-referencing things as much as I can. Most of the readings on actual radiation are NOT that scary, for short to medium term exposure. It’s the big picture and the potential for things to go even more wrong that’s worrying. Hopefully now the worst is over.

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