Sunday, September 5, 2010

The bankrupt criticism of nuclear power

Pro-Nuclear Bloggers get accused of being shills of the nuclear industry all the time. This is utter nonsense, since my colleagues are a very honest and intelligent bunch of people, who have thought energy issues through on their own. the same, unfortunately cannot be said of most supporters of the so called renewable energy sources and critics of nuclear power. We, the nuclear bloggers, think for ourselves, and what we write reflects our independence. We are nuclear advocates, but we don't all ashare the same point of view. A number of us acknowledge that the current nuclear power situation is less than satisfactory. Like the critics of nuclear power we complain that reactors safety continues to pose issues for the "nuclear industry" to address, that the so called nuclear waste issue needs to be resolved, that the nuclear cost issues need to be addressed, and do problems related nuclear scalability. We believe that clear path to the resolution of these problems are available, and it has been a focus of Nuclear Green to set out those paths.

Our suggestions for the resolution of the problems of nuclear power, involve changes in the way the nuclear power plants are manufactured as well as ultimately the way nuclear power plants are designed. and their fuel processing system. The move to rapid factory production of smaller nuclear plants holds great promise for controlling nuclear costs, and the movement to Generation IV reactors, especially Molten Salt Reactors, has further benefits in lowering nuclear costs, while at the same time making significant improvements in nuclear safety, waste management, and fuel efficiency. Small MSRs will not pose significant added proliferation risks, over current generation nuclear technology, and the current generation of civilian nuclear power technology has not lead to the manufacture of illicite bombs.

In 2007, I attempted a dialogue with anti-nuclear renewable advocates. There were two issues that I thought could and should be addressed by a rational exchange of information. The problem was that critics of nuclear power were not interested in accurate information. Or rather the critics of nuclear power who were interested in accurate information were likely to quickly convert into nuclear supporters. An example of the problem can be illustrated by an exchange between Anti-nuclear spokesperson, Dr. Helen Caldicott, and Professor Otto G. Raabe, the then President of the Health Physics Society. Caldicott, an Australian pediatrician, with no formal traing in in radiation health and safety issues, wrote in a column in the November 30, 1997, Los Angeles Times. The column, "Nuclear Power Won't Fix Our 'Greenhouse' Selling U.S.-made reactors to China is hugely dangerous for all the world, far into the future," stated:
During and since the recent visit to Washington by Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, two myths have been promulgated by the Clinton administration: that the U.S. cares about human rights in China, and that the $60-billion sale of about 50 nuclear reactors to China would help to alleviate global warming. Let us deal with the first myth. If President Clinton and his guests at the dinner given to honor Jiang were in any way concerned about human rights, then Westinghouse, GE and the other nuclear reactor companies would be forced to abstain from their profit-making agenda and address the medical, biological and genetic ramifications of selling nuclear power to China. These are the firms that for months lobbied Congress and the White House for this deal, which was approved and consummated during Jiang's visit. Nuclear power creates massive quantities of radioactive isotopes, which are classified as nuclear waste. Among these materials are strontium 90, which remains radioactive for 600 years and concentrates in the food chain. Like other isotopes, it is tasteless, odorless and invisible. It acts like calcium in the human body, where it enters bone and lactating breast. It is a potent carcinogen, causing bone cancer and/or leukemia and probably breast cancer. Another byproduct of the nuclear energy process is cesium 137. It, too, remains radioactive for 600 years, concentrating in the food chain and in human muscle, where it can induce rare, extremely malignant muscle cancers called sarcomas. Last but not least is the isotope plutonium, which is so carcinogenic that, hypothetically, one pound evenly distributed could cause cancer in every person on Earth. Plutonium has a radioactive life of half a million years. It enters the body through the lung, where it is known to cause cancer. It mimics iron in the body. Hence it migrates to the bone, where it can induce bone cancer or leukemia, or to the liver, causing liver cancer; and it crosses the placenta into the embryo, where, like the drug thalidomide, it can cause gross birth deformities. Finally, it has a predilection for the testicles, thus inducing genetic mutations in humans and other animals that are passed from generation to generation for the rest of time. Meanwhile, the plutonium itself lives on to enter testicle after testicle, lung after lung, liver after liver for the rest of time as well. Children are 10 to 20 times more susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation than are adults. It is estimated that nuclear power by the year 2000 will have generated 1,139 tons of plutonium, whereas weapons will have contributed 250 tons in the same period. Repressive regimes come and go, but nothing matches the extraordinary abuse of the random, compulsory genetic engineering implicit in American business' nuclear deal with China, which will condemn untold generations of humans and animals to cancer and genetic diseases. As for the second myth that nuclear power is the answer to global warming: A Friends of the Earth study showed that a nuclear power plant must operate for 18 years before realizing one net calorie of energy. This is because of the amount of fossil fuel used in the manufacture and construction of the reactor and in the mining of the uranium, the milling and enriching of the uranium and the fabrication of the fuel rods. This calculation does not include transport and storage of radioactive waste or decommissioning the reactor. So nuclear power contributes both to global warning and, massively, to the global burden of manmade radioactivity. Nuclear reactor manufacturers must be forced to desist from their push to export nuclear power. If the American people have decisively decided that no new reactors will be built in this country, the same criteria must be applied to China, Indonesia and the former Eastern Bloc countries that are being persuaded by the U.S. nuclear industry that nuclear power
Raabe wrote the editor of The Los Angelas Times on December 4, 1997,
I was deeply distressed to read the opinion column by Helen Caldicott,Times page M5, Sunday November 30, because it is filled with serious errors and misinformation about imagined risks associated with the operation of modern nuclear power plants. The generation of electricity with nuclear power does NOT involve emissions into the atmosphere of pollutants, "greenhouse" gases, or dangerous levels of radioactive materials. In fact, nuclear power is considerably safer than burning coal. Dr. Caldicott is a pediatrician with no training in radiation safety whose views about radiation risks are inaccurate and misleading. This is an issue of importance to the national Health Physics Society, of which I am President, whose 6,500 members specialize in the field of radiation safety.

Dr. Caldicott's claim of dire consequences from exposure to radioactive isotopes of strontium, cesium, and plutonium are truly ridiculous since these materials are not actually released from modern nuclear power plants.
Rabbe pointed to numerous false allegations among Caldicott's claims,
Dr. Caldicott is particularly confused about the risks of plutonium, which she describes as if it were a living infectious agent. Actually, plutonium is insoluble, inert, and biologically immobile. In order to pose a significant risk to people, plutonium must deposit within the human body by being breathed into the lungs as tiny particles at high concentrations. This is not easy since plutonium is not released from nuclear power plants!

She writes that "hypothetically, one pound evenly distributed could cause cancer in every person on Earth." This statement is false. It is like saying that there is enough water in the Great Lakes to drown everybody on earth if evenly distributed. (It only takes one or two gallons of water delivered to the lungs to drown a person.) It is equally silly to visualize one pound of plutonium being distributed into the lungs of everyone on earth. However, if it were, the resulting radiation exposures would be too small to pose any significant harm to anyone. One pound of plutonium-239 divided by 6,000,000,000 people yields a negligible amount per person.

The people of China or the world will not be subjected to dangerous releases of plutonium, cesium, or strontium resulting from the operation of new nuclear power plants.

The idea that it takes more energy to build a nuclear power plant than it generates in 18 years is nonsense. Since nuclear fuel is reusable and we have excess quantities of plutonium, there is currently an excess of nuclear fuel in the world with immense energy potential without the release of "greenhouse" gases!
When asked to respond to charges by Raabe and others, Caldicott responded,
Do you really want me to reply to the letters on your web page and are you prepared to publish my letter in full? I ask these questions because in the past I have been lied to by members of the nuclear industry . . .

Should I defend myself against attack by the current President of the Health Physics Society when the father and much lauded dean of health physics Karl Z Morgan recently said "It is with much reluctance and regret that I now must recognise that the US profession of health physics has become essentially a labor union for the nuclear industry - not a profession of scientists dedicated to protect the worker and members of the public from radiation injury?"
Thus Caldicott answered Rabbe's charges that she made factual and reasoning errors, by arguing, "I don't have to argue because Raabe is a bad person, and we know that because K.Z. Morgan says so." Caldicott's argument was not an answer to Raabe's criticism, rather it was an excuse for not answering them. Caldicott attempts to undercut the authority of the Health Physics profession by citing the authority of my father's former boss, Karl Z. Morgan, but she fails to demonstrate that Morgan's comments, even if true, undermine Raabe's criticism. Further, Morgan's criticisms of Health Physics, are not sufficient grounds for regarding health Physicics or Health Physicists as discredited. Thus Caldicott defends herself with a weakly reasoned arguement, which is itself a fallacious argument when used to undermine Raabe's criticism of Caldicorr's clames.

Ironically, Caldicott described herself as the Founding President Emeritus Physicians
for Social Responsibility, but it would appear that social responsibility does not extend to a judicious determination of facts, or the use of logically valid arguments.

Unfortunately, Helen Caldicott is not the only anti-nuclear voice who substitutes fact free, poorly reasoned arguments for rational views. Energy and Environment guru, Joe Romm, and Grist writer David Roberts should be included in the crowd irrational anti-nuclear crowd. Recently a Romm Blog post, "Lots of Republican candidates are denying climate science." appeared on Grist, a "green" oriented web site. I did not disagree with Romm's major contention,
GOP candidates for Senate are rushing to pander to their extremist anti-science Tea Party base by denying even our most basic understanding of climate science.
But i also agree with a comment which "Seth" left on the Romm post,
Joe here, while complaining about Repug climate deniers, has has no problem using climate denier tactics to delay and defer the only solution to the quickly approaching civilization ending peak oil/climate precipice - nuclear power. . . .

Joe loves to use first of a kind costs for American nukes built by American attorney's in the US under the stewardship of the most incompetent nuclear regulator in the OECD, the NRC, and some of the most inefficient power companies in the world. Moves in the Senate and Congress are under way to drastically reduce the influence of the odious NRC in the US. Failing that we could just buy the nuke power from Canada's very efficient public power companies for a fraction of new coal and gas plant costs.

Coal kills three million folks 30K of them in the US, every year the coal to nuclear conversion can be delayed.

No so called "renewable" alternative can replace coal today and without some major breakthrough will not be able to for many years. Nuclear can replace coal right now and is doing so in Asia. With a small percentage of our financial and industrial capacity coal and all fossil fuels could be replaced within ten years, with a WW2 type effort.

Its saddening how the "renewable" religious types never seem to acknowledge those folks that die from coal pollution every year they can defer the coal to nuclear conversion. It's like these deaths are a reasonable sacrifice on the road to the perfect future powered by their visions of pink windmills and warm sunbeams gleaming on ebony solar panels

Nuclear has the support of fascists and deniers even Repugs as well as a significant percentage of progressives. Fascists/deniers/repugs work very hard to shut down renewables. Only nuclear is politically possible.

It is the opposition to nuclear of low information greens that leads to the delay in that nuclear conversion.

Greens still stuck in that silly anti nuclear renewable religion need to decide whether the end of civilization and the continuing deaths of three million souls every year the coal to nuclear conversion is delayed are more important than their delicate dreams of power from sunbeams and wispy warm breezes, hold their noses and vote nuclear. « show less

There is no doubt that "Seth's" argument is one which would be difficult for Romm to stomach, but it is also one which point to very serious flaws in Joe's accounts of facts, and in his reasoning. Romm allie, David Roberts, picked up a cudgel on Romm's behalf.

Your nuclear monomania is growing tiresome. At the very least confine it to threads in which it is germane.
It is of course ironic for anti-nuclear monomaniac, Davide Roberts to attempt to tar "Seth" with the monomaniac brush. Further, it is always responsive to an essay to reflexively apply its major concepts to its writers intellectual program. The question is one of consistency. Numerous other critics of Romm in particular, and of anti-nuclear "Greens," in general, including yours truly, have repeatedly raised the same point. Roberts anxiety is palpable because "Seth" is pointing to what ammounts to his own hypocracy, as well as the hypocracy of the Green movement. "Seth" quickly pur Roberts in his place,
@David Roberts

Joe Romm uses the same tactics and pseudoscience in attacking nuclear power and pushing renewables as the climate deniers he is ridiculing here, and causing the same damage, perhaps unintentionally, to the world's ecosphere. He is a public figure unlike you and regular presenters at Grist and he tends to hide behind his celebrity status.

As such, my post is fair comment.

As for monomania if you go through my posts you will find most attempt to inject some reality into wild assumptions on the cost and benefits of so called renewables, conservation and of course distributed power. I usually add a statement or two at the end comparing the scheme to nuclear power.

Other commentators then jump with the usual blarney about waste, fuel supplies, cost, proliferation, CO2 contributions, water use etc. These mistakes need to be addressed as an educational process.

I like you find that very tiresome but the planet cannot be saved if citizens do not have the facts. I believe my posts, here and elsewhere have helped a great deal in the understanding of energy issues.
"Seth" points to a very distressing aspect of Joe Romm's relationship with facts. Blogger "Joe Duck" in a post titled, " bans most reasoned dissent?"
As a long time blogger I’m going to start calling out other blogs for an outrageous practice that is becoming very common and very frustrating to any clear thinker: banning comments simply because they don’t line up with a particular blog’s point of view and biases. Blog authors have a lot of control and it’s increasingly abused in the name of groupthink. At the WordPress conference I was alarmed to hear a prominent blogger say something along the lines of “it’s my house and I can kick out whoever I want to”. Blogs already suffer from inhibiting good two way communication and it pains me to see bloggers make the problem worse by wasting their time censoring comments. I comment far less now than I used to at blogs like because I know that even a calm and reasoned comment may be deleted by the heavy handed and irrational moderation practiced there. This form of censorship distorts the conversation, often misleading the gullible into thinking there is consensus where there is none.
From the Center for Environmental Journalism, Tom Yulsman wrote,
Update 3/29/09: Joe Romm has now decided to censor my comments at his blog: “I am putting you on permanent moderation for repeatedly engaging in such ad hominem attacks,” he wrote, and he excised much of what I said at his blog in response to his Freeman Dyson blog posting. Yes, I have said Joe Romm uses “hyperbole” and “sensationalism,” as well as “invective” and epithets.”I believe these words are accurate descriptions, not ad hominem attacks, of the language Romm routinely employs to lambast anyone who disagrees with him — language like “crackpot,” “loopy,” “slander” and “rant and rave,” which he used liberally in reference to Dyson.

Evidently, when Romm can’t win an argument using reason, logic and evidence, he resorts to censorship.
May people I know who have attempted to comment on Joe's Climate Progress Blog, have given up in frustration after Joe deletted their comments. This has been frequently the cas if the comments defended nuclear power from Joe's criticisms.

I wish I could point to "Greens" whose behavior suggests a minimal regard for facts and logic, but I cannot. Amory Lovins has repeatedly dodged criticisms, even as he promised responses. How many times does a thinker have to avoid defending his alleged mistakes, before we begin
to question the truth of his viewpoint.

I have criticized anti-nuclear wind researcher, Mark Z, Jacobon's research in the past. Other critics, including Barry Brook, Brian Wang and Bill Hannahan have pointed to numerous and serious flaws in Jacobson's research. In addition a series of critical comments on one of Jacobson's papers appeared in the December 2008 in response to a publication by Renewable Energy of a Stanford press release on Mark Z. Jacobson's paper, "Review of solutions to global warming, air pollution, and energy security." Jacobson failed to respond to those comments. Again following the publication of a Jacobson coauthored paper in the January 2009 Scientific American, numerous critical online comments were offered by Scientific American readers. Again Jacobson failed to respond. Further, when Bill Hannahan charges that when he attempted to publish a critical review of a Jacobson paper, Jaconson blocked its publication by failure to cooperate with the vetting process. Jacobson has not responded to any of my critical posts, nor did he responds to Brian Wang. Jacobson offered one response to Barry Brook, but failed to defend his response when critics pointed out numerous flaws in it.

The list goes on. The question then is where are the factually accurate, logically valid criticisms of nuclear power? Can the critics of nuclear power offer us no credible proof of their position? I am beginning to think the answer is no, and for no small reason than because the discredited critics such as Caldicutt, Romm, Lovins and Jacobson get mentioned over and over again as authorities, by the other pedlers of this anti-nuclear crap.

No wonder the critics of nuclear power end up calling nuclear power defenders shills. They have no other cards with which to play the game.


Finrod said...

I'm convinced that the pro-nukes are winning the PR battle. The next step is to build on this foundation and organise a coherent public movement aimed at maximum political influence.

Jason Ribeiro said...

Brilliant Charles! You wield words like a ninja wields a sword.

DocForesight said...

If I could give "Joe Duck" a 'Hear, hear!' I would do so.

Whether you are a 'denier' or a 'believer', a 'skeptic' or 'gullible', let your reasoning and facts support your argument - and do it civilly. Let the chips fall where they may.

Charles Barton said...

Doc, You point to something important. Facts and reasons must be rigorously tested if they are assumed to support our argument. We are dealing with serious issues that effect the lives of hundreds of millions of people. We need to choose our battles carefully, because what we want to accomplish requires a lot of hard work. The point is not going to be a demonstration that we are somehow better than other people, it is the resolution of common problems. What does matter is taking the process of finding the truth seriously.

NNadir said...

I think worldwide, the anti-nukes are losing credibility, although some, like the fools Romm and Lovins - who predictably worked together - still retain an undeserved modicum of respect.

But nuclear energy is definitely undergoing a sea change internationally.

The task for we Americans is to finish the job here. Our country's future is seriously at risk if we do not jump start the rebuilding of US nuclear infrastructure.

This would include the re-establishment of a broader set of nuclear engineering programs throughout the country, and expansion of chairs in related fields such as nuclear chemistry.

These are critical issues, I think.

I know you do your share Charles. I will try to put some work into a discussion of hydrogen cycles here in the future.

I've been goofing around with other pursuits lately.

DocForesight said...

Charles, I couldn't agree more and I appreciate your sentiment towards those who suffer from energy poverty and, thus, economic poverty.

Nukemann said...

I have been labeled a "shill" for nuclear power since I started posting. My favorite was being told I was posting under an assumed name and really was 12 people in a "boiler room" with multiple computers and a script. If anyone knows where "big nuclear" is paying for "Huffington posters'" please send me an application. I believe nuclear power is currently the best way to produce electric power for a better future, Go Nukes! I now "waste" several sentences of each post with a disclaimer. I am what is known as a Nuclear Professional, specifically an Instrument and Control Technician. I calibrate and maintain the instrumentation and control systems used to safely operate a nuclear power plant. I am responsible for the health and safety of the public, including my own family. I take my job very seriously, I am not a paid spokesperson, my views and opinions are my own.

Joseph Hunkins said...

Nice post Mr. Barton. As you note the nuclear debate needs to shift to a rational discussion of the risks and rewards rather than an ongoing negative campaign of cheap shots from the uninformed. Many in the anti-everything-activist community now face the contradiction of insisting that massive reductions in CO2 are imperative while actively ignoring the fact that nuclear power offers the most realistic options for low emissions with big power.

Rightly or wrongly I think that this contradiction will break down the key barrier to entry for widespread US power adoption - uninformed activism.


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