Saturday, September 6, 2008

Energy issues considered as melodrama

Renewsble energy advocates tell a dramatic story. Society, like the beautiful young woman in the traditional melodrama is in peril. To its rescue comes two would be saviors. On is a villain, who intends harm. The other is a true and pure hearted savior. In the renewable energy story, tha villain is nuclear power. The hero is of course renewables energy sources and efficiency.

No one melodramatizes its issues better than Greenpeace. Greenpeace has never allowed truth to stand in the way of a good story. In 2005 the German Greenpeace Magazine ran a 2 page picture of a single scots pine tree standing alone in a snowy landscape devoid of trees. The caption explained that the tree was the sole surviver of a clear cut forrest. The picture was of course melodramatic, and the underlying message was that only heroic Greenpeace could save the forrest from its despoilers. There was only one little problem with the picture. The area where the actual tree stood had never been a forest. It was in fact an unforested bog. The picture of the tree was chosen, not for its truth, but for its dramatic impact.

In the spring of 2006, President George W, Bush visited Pennsylvania, to promote his nuclear power policy. In an effort to counter Bush, Greenpeace issued a press release. In the release, Greenpeace stated that nuclear power is a "volatile and dangerous source of energy." What came next revealed a singular lapse in the Greenpeace propaganda machine. The release stated: "In the twenty years since the Chernobyl tragedy, the world's worst nuclear accident, there have been nearly [FILL IN ALARMIST AND ARMAGEDDONIST FACTOID HERE]."

Thus the Greenpeace narritive is all about melodrama, and not about truth. It does not matter how far fetched the Alarmist and armageddonist factoid is. Dramatic impact far out weighs truth. This point is illustrated again by the Greenpeace attack on Apple, Inc. Greenpeace thinks that Apple is not green enough, even though Apple products do well by EPA standards.

Greenpeace uses its dishonest melodramasa as part of a deliberate business plan.

There is nothing objective or rational about the way Greenpeace does business.
John Timmer of Ars Technica notes
“Greenpeace reserves the right to arbitrarily change a company's score if they decide the company did something disagreeable.

Timmer points to a report statement, "Penalty points are deducted from overall scores if Greenpeace finds a company lying, practicing double standards or other corporate misconduct."

Of course Greenpeace itself lies, has double standards, and is guilty of misconduct.

Greenpeace itself decides if the penalty should be assessed Timmer remarks, “The research in general appears lazy,” and “lack of research undercuts the report's credibility.”

“Clearly, Greenpeace did not perform an exhaustive evaluation of chemical use through the manufacturing pipeline,” Timmer adds.

In effect, Greenpeace is blackmailing businesses with the threat of bad reports, or even worse boycotts, if the businesses do not play ball with Greenpeace. Greenpeace simply assumes that if the business does not play ball, it can publish unsubstantiated report findings accusing the company of some enormous environmental crime.

Greenpeace has its nuclear melodrama too. John Coequy of Greenpeace, responded to William Tucker's question, “What’s wrong with nuclear?”

“If we approached it from the angle of nuclear weapons, does that help? If we suggested that a big part of the reason we don’t like nuclear power is because we don’t want nuclear weapons in India and Pakistan, does that help you understand?” Thus Greenpeace turns nuclear power into the ultimate energy villain, by equating nuclear power with nuclear weapons. Thus the Greenpeace narrative is thst just as it is rescuing society from the environmental degregation imposed on it by Apple products, it is also rescuing society from the scourge of nuclear weapons by fighting nuclear power. Does Greenpeace believe its own BS? Perhaps, but the anti-nuclear business is very profitable, because Greenpeace uses the method of getting people worked up, getting them frightened and angry over nuclear issues. The fear and lothing method, coupled with dramatic demonstrations, keeps the money flowing into Greenpeace coffers. Greenpeace is in the anti-nuclear business, and for Greenpeace truth takes second place to making money.

Is Greenpeace different from other anti-nuclear organizations and leaders. The writings of nuclear critics Helen Caldicott contain numerous thinking errors. Several months ago I focused on a few in a statement Caldicott made on the sale of nuclear technology to China. In a single paragraph she committed numerous thinking errors:

"First Caldicott asserts a dichotomy between the profit-making agenda of Westinghouse, GE and the other nuclear reactor companies, and the medical, biological and genetic ramifications of selling nuclear power to China. Caldicott then goes on to describe various radioactive byproducts of nuclear fission and tell us what sort of nasty things these isotopes do to the human body. Yet she fails to establish a causal link between the existance of nasty stuff in reactors, and any medical, biological and genetic ramifications. Caldicott offers us not the slighest hint of what the connection between plutonium in a reactor and its transmission to Chinese testicles, lungs, and livers, which she alleges it will enter. More over she alleges that this will happen sequentially. Professor Otto G. Raabe, the then President of the Health Physics Society notes that Dr. Caldicott is particularly confused about plutonium which she describes as if it were a living infectious agent. He further points to a monumental medical flaw in Caldicott's thinking, there is no vector between plutonium trapped inside reactors and reactor fuel pellets, and Chinese bodies. "The people of China or the world will not be subjected to dangerous relases of plutonium," Professor Raabe concludes.

Caldicott responded to Raabe's criticism with an attack on the professionalism of Health Physicists. Caldicott asks, "Should I defend myself against attack by the current President of the Health Physics Society . . .", a clear argument against the source of argument rather than its substance. Caldicott later acknowledges the truth of "a fact that was well-researched by health physicists, and states "much of the this material." from her book Nuclear Madness. "I gleaned from the Journal of Health Physics." Thus for Coldicott Health Physics is authoritative when she agrees with information for health physicist, but not when she disagrees with them.

Above all else Caldicott melodramatizes the nuclear safety issue, with human bodies, and especially the bodies of children in danger from nuclear materials. Here argument is in effect, that it is inevitable that this will happen to large numbers of people if you don't listen to me. When distinguish scientist criticize her reasoning, she has repeatedly asserted in effect, hay I am the hero of this story, and you are one of the villains, I don't have to answer your criticisms.

Ralph Nader Prepetually melodramatizes is issues. He is the white night, the little guy, who takes on the villians. This is very much Nader's business plan, and Nader has made millions from his supposibly non-prophet businesses. ader had absolute and secret control of the finances of each of his growing organizations. What was he doing with the money? In 1970 some unusual financial transactions by one of Nader's organizations, the Public Safety Research Institute, got some equally unusual attention. Nader's Public Safety Research Institute was audited by the IRS and fined. The IRS discovered that the PSRI was wheeling and deeling on the stock market. With $150,000 in assets PSRI had engaged in 67 trades involving $750,000. Many of these traids were highly risky. Some lost money. The IRS determined that Nader had been churning PSRI money. That is making such frequent trades that brokerage fees were diminishing the organizations resources. Nader was playing the stock market with money donated for the improvement of consumer safety. In 2000 Nader admitted he owned more than $3 million worth of stocks and mutual fund shares, and that he held more than $2 million in two money market funds. In addition Nader, is believed to have purched a Washington Home, now worth $1.5 million. The dead to the house has been passed betweeb vareious Nader siblings. This is doing very well indeed for a man who never acknowledged making more that $25,000 a year.

How melodramatic is Nader over nuclear issues? A few years ago Frontline interviewed Nader on his opposition to nuclear power.

Nader in effect alleged that everyone involved with nuclear power, guilders, utilities, government regulators snd scientists, were all part of a single monilithic conspiracy to screw the public.

When a Frontline interviewer said to Nader, "Radiation biologists would rank exposure from radar, medical X-rays, geological rocks very much larger than anything likely to come from a power station".

To which Nader responded, "Well, the largest exposure are medical and dental X-rays. That's for sure. We can't do much about background radiation. The radon seems to have been exaggerated, given recent studies.

But the real problem of nuclear power is an accident".

This would seem to suggest that Nader believed that radiation from reactors was not a big issue, but if that were true, there would be no melodrama, no need for white knight Nader to rescue society. So the interviewer asked, "This is an industry that whatever they've done, they haven't really killed anyone yet. Is that really fair that they should be shut down before they've done that?"

Nader responded, "You keep repeating that statement, that they haven't killed anybody yet. And we know that an increase in radioactive exposure increases the likelihood of human cancers and genetic damage.

We know there are a number of hot pockets around the United States, like Maxi Flat, which has migrated way beyond its predicted boundaries, that are exposing people to higher levels of radioactive activity.

We know that thousands of the workers called jumpers have been exposed. But the definition of fear is multiple. What these hard boiled market types should fear is the economic costs of nuclear power. What do you say about a technology that wants to persist on the public dole, because it can't meet a market test? Because it can't meet a market test by raising capital. It cannot meet a market test by insuring itself to the limit of its exposure. And it cannot meet a market test in comparison with other new forms of energy, including the conservation of energy and renewables."

Nader's thus contradicts himself by talking about a situation that existed in the 1980's when non union workers were engaged to do maintance work on some reactors. Being non union, the workers lacked the safety protection afforded by union contracts. The Jumpers were temporary employees who would move from reactor to reactor as work became available. Because of their work situation they were in danger of receiving more than the maximum allowable radiation dangers.

The issue that Nader points too, is a systematic failure to protect some temporary workers from nuclear exposure. This is an issue of industrial safety, and should be addressed as such. Thus Nader fails to demonstrate that anyone has ever been killed in the United States by Civilian Nuclear Power, and finally diverts the interviewer by talking about alleged subsidies for the nuclear industry.

Finally we ought to look at Nader's vast nuclear conspiracy throry. The Interviewer ask Nader, "Now, the nuclear industry, the DOE, the NRC, what kind of a job did they do in trying to reassure the public? What were they like as adversaries?

A: Well, the Atomic Energy Commission, which regulated the nuclear industry, was secretive. It was as if they were engaged in a national defense subject.

The utilities were relying on this government research that was given to them free about nuclear plants, the kind of research that was done at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. They didn't have to worry about unlimited liability. So that let their guard down even more.

And the vendors, the sellers of the nuclear plants, were very, very reassuring: Westinghouse, General Electric. And it was only when the Union of Concerned Scientists, a new scientific group, formed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, began to really dig into this that we started to get more information".

Nader describes a situation that existed only in the late 1960's and early 1970's, and his account of Oak Ridge research extremely self-serving. In fact there was no secrecy about uclear safety at Oak Ridge, and Ralph Nader was privy to research that went on there, because his sister Clair was an ORNL employee and a friend and confident of ORNL Director Alvin Weinberg. Nader visited ORNL and records talking to scientists about nuclear safety issues. He appears to to have not understood much of what he was told, but Nader was aware of conflict between nuclear scientist at ORNL and other National Labs, about nuclear safety. In fact Weinberg records unburdening himself to Nader over dinner after a Washington showdown over nuclear safety. Nader did not support the scientist who fought the AEC and members of Congress over nuclear safety, and he did not say a public word when Clair Nader's friend, ORNL Director Alvin Weingerg was fired over the safety issue.

The Frontline interviewer ask Nader, "Why didn't they do a better job? You think they were caught sort of on the hook.... explaining their case and sort of putting their point of view forward?

Nader answered, "Well, it's really very simple. You had three players here. You had the government regulatory agency, whose job was to promote nuclear power and get more nuclear plants, using the taxpayers' money.

You had the electric utilities, who were originally reluctant, but they were given limited liability and free government research for their plants.

And then you had the vendors, General Electric and Westinghouse, who were selling. And there was no one else. The press wasn't critical. The Congress bought into the Atomic Energy Commission party line. There was a huge tax payer funded propaganda for how good nuclear power was, going right into the high schools and elementary schools in our country, with traveling road shows".

Then Nader adds a self-serving lie, "The scientific community was part of the industry itself. And there was no outside critique, there was no government critique, and there was secrecy above it all. So it was a tailor-made precondition for technological suppression of the truth". Thus Nader writes the struggle of Alvin Weinberg, and other scientists for improved nuclear safety, out of history.

We have already seen that not only was Nader's account of the scientific community untrue, but Nader had good sources of information about ORMNL attitudes and safety research. Nader was aware of Alvin Weinberg's struggle for greater nuclear safety, and that Weinberg was fired for his trouble. For Nader to have honestly recounted what he knew would have spoiled the melodrama in which by his own telling, Ralph Nader always appears as the hero. It would not have helped Ralph Nader's business, it would not have helped him make money, if Alvin Weinberg, rather than Ralph Nader, were to emerge as a hero in Nader's story.

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