Friday, August 1, 2008

Joe Romm gets hysterical over nuclear safety

Joe Romm went unbelievably over the top on nuclear power and nuclear safety. in his blog Climate Progress, and the equall;y rabbid anti-nuclear, Gristmill today. On Gristmill: BILL HANNAHAN, nedruod, Rod Adams, and vakibs all gave effective responses, and I responded to Romm on Climate Progress, so mainly recorder the Climate Progress exchange on Gristmill. Romm responded to my assessment of the danger posed my the trace level exposure of the French nuclear workers by stating:
JR: I just love people who are so willing to dismiss irradiation of other people. If your family were "contaminated with a low dose of radiation last week" somehow I don't think you would be mollified to learn that China's pro-nuclear news service asserted "their health was unaffected." And I seriously Doubt you would be delighted to send them back to the same place to work day after day for years.
Low doses of radiation typically take a long time to have an impact -- and, of course, cumulative exposures have cumulative and even nonlinear impacts. I reported what was in the news. If that makes me hysterical, I guess that means the facts are hysterical world.

CB: If your family were "contaminated with a low dose of radiation last week" somehow I don't think you would be mollified to learn that China's pro-nuclear news service asserted "their health was unaffected." - Joe Romm

Joe, I will not repeat the words that passed through my mind when I read that comment. You have absolutely no idea what you are saying. My father was a nuclear chemist who did up close and personal research with some very nasty radioactive materials in the 1950's. He use to order Plutonium from Los Alamos by the Kilo, for his research. Although my father was careful, he did receive much higher doses of radiation than any of the Fench workers. My father also went on to become an expert on nuclear and radiation safety safety. Despite his radiation exposures, he is still very much alive and active at the age of 96.

Joe if you are so concerned about people being exposed to radiation how come you never mention radiation from coal? According to a story in Scientific American, cola "fly ash--a by-product from burning coal for power--contains up to 100 times more radiation than nuclear waste." article.cfm?id=coal-ash-is-more-radioactive-than-nuclear-waste
Why do you never mention radiation from burning coal?

Another common energy related source of radiation is Radon in natural gas. My farther who studied the transport of radon by natural gas, concluded that radon is transported into consumer homes by natural gas, but at concentrations so low, that it posed no danger to residents. 2008/ 01/ cj-barton-sr-at-ornl-radon-in-home.html Never-the-less, with your even the slightest does is dangerous approach, your failure to notice the danger of natural gas born radon in the home as a source or radiation danger seems strangely remiss.

Joe, Your low doses over time assertion has been repeatedly falsified by empirical studies. You should know that all of the morbidity and Epidemiological studies show that nuclear workers live significantly longer than members of the general population. People are exposed to high levels or radiation by living at high altitudes, living over granite or shale, or by flying, yet research has not identified any radiation related health problems with any of these groups.

[JR: I don't waste time mentioning radiation from burning coal because I'm trying to get us off of coal. My "low doses" assertion has not been repeatedly falsified by empirical studies. I am aware that nuclear workers have fewer health problems than the general population -- that is the so-called healthy worker effect, which I'm sure you are aware of because you seem familiar with the literature. Everyone else can google it. My uncle was a nuclear physicist at MIT and then my family started a Radon gas testing company, which they later sold. I am quite familiar with the literature -- and yes, everybody should get their home tested for radon.]

CB: Joe then it is inexcusable that you never mention radiation dangers from natural and other human sources, or or offer comparisons between them and radiation exposure from reactors. Joe you simply ignore evidence that low level radiation exposers from nuclear plants do not cause significant increases in radiation related illnesses like leukemia, or increases health problems in the neighborhood of American reactors. Your argument is simply an appeal to irrational fears, and by your own admission you should possess enough knowledge to understand the irrationality of those fears.

Update August 2nd, 2008 at 7:15 am:
CB: Joe you have failed to bring specificity to your argument. For example you assume that reactor workers work under radiation conditions involving continuous exposure to reactor related low level ionizing radiation. But the original discussion was triggered by French incidents involving very low level exposure incidents. This would seem to suggest that low level radiation exposures were the exception rather than the rule. Even given the linear hypothesis, a single very low level radiation exposure would only cause small biological damage.

I personally regard any environmental release of radioactive materials as highly undesirable. I also believe that unintended radiation exposures of nuclear workers as undesirable as well. But unlike you I would see radiation exposure as problems to be solved. I have noted in my blog that there is a history of nuclear safety, and that history includes significant safety advances. There are still certainly safety challenges, but these can be resolved by further research, and a public demand for the highest possible level of nuclear safety.

I have noted elsewhere that a new reactor design, the ESBWR, is calculated to be likely to experience a core melt down once every 29,000,000 years. In contrast the Yellowstone super-volcano erupts once every 600,000 to 800,000 years. The Yellowstone super-volcano last erupted 640,000 years ago. Such an eruption could kill millions of people and do major damage to the American economy. The most likely number of casualties for the once every 29,000,000 year ESBW core melt down is zero.

Core melt down was many times more likely with early reactor designs than with the ESBWR, thus advances in nuclear safety are possible.

Joe you have in effect opposed nuclear safety research by discounting new technology that would improve nuclear safety. It is possible to greatly diminish the already small risk of reactor sourced radiation exposures, by continuously fission products from nuclear fuel, but you have on numerous occasions derided me, Kirk Sorensen, and others who have suggested that very promising technology to you. You simply discounted the suggestions that safer nuclear technology can and should be developed.

You cannot have it both ways Joe. If you are concerned about nuclear safety, it is rational for you to support nuclear safety research, and the development of the safest possible reactors. It is not rational for you to ignore solutions to the problems of nuclear safety and then hysterically complain about the dangers of radiation exposure as an excuse for your irrational opposition to nuclear power. (I would not be surprised if Joe censors this comment, as he censored ny last comment of yesterday.)

Update II: August 2nd, 2008 at 8:00 am
Joe censored my August 1st, 2008 at 5:57 pm comment, except for a couple of short passages which you found offensive. Of course by censoring 90% of my post you removed my remaining statements from their context. Did you learn this propaganda technique from Rush Limbaugh who also practices it?

Update August 3
In a previous post Joe responded to one of my comments: "If your family were “contaminated with a low dose of radiation last week” somehow I don’t think you would be mollified to learn that China’s pro-nuclear news service asserted “their health was unaffected.” And I seriously doubt you would be delighted to send them back to the same place to work day after day for years."

I am deeply offended by this comment, first because my father who is alive and well at the age of 96, was a nuclear researcher, who despite his came into contact with radioactive substances from time to time. Aside from that, and this is what makes Joe’s argument hysterical in my book, I myself have been contaminated by radioactive substances on a number of occasions been “contaminated” by radioactive substances in the course of medical tests. Of course the contamination was by “trace” amounts of substances which quickly left the body. But the French nuclear worker exposures also involved “trace amounts” or radioactive materials .

Joe makes a mountain out of a mole hill, by using these insignificant exposures to justify his opposition to nuclear power. This is a fundamentally irrational argument. And Joe is completely inconsistent, because he is not concerned about low level radiation from non-nuclear sources. He has claimed that low level radiation from non-nuclear sources is some how different from radiation from reactors without specifying the differences. He ignores the fact that radioactive tracer isotopes, used in medical tests are nuclear fission products produced in reactors, even though it is reasonable to assume that he knows this.

One is thus left with the following options when evaluating Joe’s arguments. Either he is being deliberately manipulative if forming his argument, or he suffers from some mental aberration which overrides his capacity for rational thought about the information at hand.

Joe says he worries about the health of nuclear workers despite their longer than average life span. The Connecticut Labor Commissioner lists dozens of occupations deemed to be at high risk or safety sensitive.
Nuclear workers are not found on the Labor Commissioners list. British researcher Mark Little, of the Imperial College in London, has found that even among nuclear workers with the highest exposure to radioactive materials that the risk opf adverse health consequences are still low. news/ Health/ news_1807_Nuclear-reactor-workers-at-dramatically-higher-risk-of-cancer.html

There is very strong empirical evidence that the health advantages of being a nuclear worker far out weigh what ever disadvantages radiation exposures impose.

I believe that Joe to be both a highly intelligent man and a well informed man, who is capable of logical thinking. Thus when he makes such irrational statements, and maintains them, even though he is aware of strong evidence to the contrary, I can only conclude that this is evidence of a thought pathology.


Anonymous said...

Awesome Charles! Please cross-post to EfT!

Warren Heath said...

Good job, Charles. You obviously blew away Joe Romm, with your impeccable arguments. His actions, lashing out angrily, censoring yourself, myself and I imagine others with contrary views to his own, are tantamount to an admission of defeat. He lost the argument, plain and simple, and struck out childishly, the only way he knew how – censorship.

Clearly Joe Romm is from the Armory Lovins school of the Environment. Profit by attacking realistic technologies like Nuclear, push fantasy technologies like Hydrogen, Biofuels and Mega-Solar / Mega-Wind and therefore allow the Fossil Fuel Gang to happily continue spewing GHG’s and Toxic Waste into the environment by the billions of tons, until the last drop of Oil has been sucked from the ground, and the last train load of Coal has been ripped from the Earth. And, as I’ve claimed before, the Coal & Oil boys ensure that these guys are quietly rewarded for their efforts.

That brings to mind one Gerhard Schroeder, the German Chancellor, who decided to shut down German Nuclear Power plants, then went on to join the Supervisory Board of the Russian Gas Giant, Gazprom. A few comments on that obvious patronage position:

Schroeder Renounces German Green Nuclear Power, substitute = Fossil Fuels

Gerhard Schroeder rewards Gazprom while in office

Gazprom rewards Gerhard Schroeder after out of office

Bait and Switch: German Nuclear Phase Out, Renewables, Coal and Carbon Dioxide.

Germany to Build 26 Huge, Dirty Brown Coal Burning Power Plants instead of expanding Nuclear Power, after the Failure of their Wind & Solar Energy Effort

A Directory of Posts that Link Anti-Nuclear Interests with Fossil Fuel Interests

And for those who think it is “PARANOID” and delusional conspiracy theories to believe that Fossil Fuel Interests would funnel cash and other tributes to their Major Benefactors in the Anti-Nuclear Movement – Joe and Armory come to mind – here’s an interesting story that just came up in the news lately:

A Paid Mole, worked for the NRA and U.S. Surgical Corporation, infiltrated Gun Control and Animal Rights groups

Mary Lou Sapone, one of many examples of how Companies & Organizations use devious means to Advance their Self-Interest

Now tell me, how can anyone be so NIAVE AND GULLIBLE to believe that a mickey mouse organization like the NRA, with a budget that Chevron and Peabody Coal would consider pocket change, can afford to hire a Mole to advance their puny interests, whereas the Fossil Fuel Gang, with TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS at stake, can’t afford to surreptitiously funnel money to, next to politicians, their most effective Lobbyists: the Pseudo-Environmentalists and the Environmentalist Dupes.

Charles Barton said...

Romm's thinking about nuclear power is not rational. When I made that charged against him, he responded with an appeal to my emotion, assuming that I found the idea of even a slight exposure to radiation to be frightening. That argument is so bad as to be silly. My assumption is the Romm is extremely frightened by radiation so much so that he cannot think rationally about it. Hence Joe gets hysterical over nuclear power.

Sovietologist said...

Maybe I haven't read enough of Romm's writings, but what I have seen of his work suggests to me that he has adopted a lot of Lovins' rhetorical style--in particular, an inclination to change the subject when the going gets rough and an utter inability to admit that he was wrong about anything. In some ways he's much more reasonable than Lovins (in particular, he isn't hung up on "micropower" and admits that nuclear in necessary in some circumstances), but in some ways that just makes him all the more frustrating. The recent hullabaloo over low-level radiation has been rather odd, in my view. I've always associated low-level radiation paranoia not with LNT, but rather the non-linear dose-response models championed by Alice Stewart, John Gofman, and Joseph Mangano. The NAS piece Romm has been going on about shows that the hypothesis championed by these individuals has been utterly demolished, and that even if LNT is true, the dangers of radiation exposure within current occupational limits is, statistically speaking, infinitesimally small. The circumstances in France that inspired the whole exchange were, therefore, non-events according to any tenable scientific understanding of health physics. Yet Romm insisted on harping on these events as if there had been a criticality accident or something. The defensibility of civilian nuclear power does not depend on any kind of rejection of LNT. Even within the very conservative LNT framework, the science shows that nuclear power poses negligible threat to the public in relation to the attendant benefits. Why Romm doesn't comprehend this, I have no idea.

Charles Barton said...

Romm worked at RMI earlier in his career. He coauthored a paper with Lovins. Timing suggests that Romm, David Roberts, and Lovins launched a coordinated attack on nuclear power this spring. I decided to concentrate on Lovins because I assumed that he was the master and Romm and Roberts were the servant. Lovins chickened out on defending his arguments on Gristmill, so Romm is carrying the water for Lovins now.

Finrod said...

I made a comment on that thread earlier in response to someone who claimed that nuclear power was the most expensive form of power around. I pointed out that in the US at the moment, a fully amortised nuclear plant can generate power at a cost of 1.78 cents/kW.h. When I went back to check later, only the quote which I'd copied to indicate what I was responding to remained. I've put another post there to reiterate my point. I wonder how long it will last.

Charles Barton said...

finrod, I caught a huge error in a Gristmill post a couple of months ago. The error was the claim that the united States could be powered by 100 square miles of solar arrays. This is, of course, absurd. I wrote a comment criticizing the author for altering facts to support his beliefs. The author emailed me, thanking me for pointing out the error. He added that that the post he had submitted did not contain the error, but that it had been altered after it had arrived at Gristmill.


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