Becoming a nuclear nut case

One of my favorite aspects of hosting a topically focused site like Atomic Insights is attracting active participation from people with varied backgrounds who join together to discuss their shared energy interests. I hope you delve into the comment threads; they are often more informative than the initial post that starts the conversation.

A few days ago, Joris wrote about his job. He is apparently a consultant who puts together long range energy master plans for major facilities like airports, industrial parks, university campusses, hospitals and datacenters. He often tries to include a small nuclear plant option in those plans, since they are conceptual and designed to last long enough that such a technology might be an available option.

He described the strong resistance that he gets from well-educated people who do not even want to consider such an option. Instead, they want to be told how biofuels, wind and solar can make them carbon free in a reasonable period of time at a price close to what they are used to paying today – after all, that is what they have been told so many times already.

David responded with a comment that I thought was worth elevating to the position of initial conversation starter. He gave me his permission to copy and republish, but refrained from providing anything more than his first name for professional reasons.

Hi Joris,

Thanks for continuing to mention Nuclear. I understand the reactions. The image of Nuclear power is so negative in the minds of most that it is apriori EVIL. This is mainly due to the fact that the authoritative voices in our modern society say so. That is – they rarely if ever come out with a genuine support of Nuclear power. Instead, according to the current meme – Nuclear can be an evil path taken to avoid a more evil path – Like CO2 but it can NEVER be a good choice.

This is reinforced by movies that constantly portray these types of energy choices as being possible but forbidden by more civilized societies. I can’t think of a specific name right now but several of the Star Trek movies and TV shows have this theme.

When you have been labeled as Evil – how do you reverse that?

In my case it was from a great deal of study, but I am a geek in that regard. I have worn out my family and friends talking about this so I don’t go into it often now. (I do hang out on blogs and continue to try to convince others). My energy study was started by living in an energy poor country in South East Asia. I began to look at every renewable type of energy on the basis that once installed they could provide power to these back water villages. A couple of years of hobby research into every conceivable type of power generation left me with a deep respect for the energy content and portability of gasoline and diesel fuel. About 2007 I ran across an MIT sponsored design for a modular Nuclear Power Plant. I knew nothing about Nuclear at the time but began to read. After a while I came across Adam’s Atomic Engines and then from there Rod’s blog. I took the time to listen to every single pod cast, to read some of the books he recommended and to look up basic information.

It was Nuclear medicine that finally tipped the scales from being interested to seeing the deep lie that is the current state of radiation protection. Somewhere in the long hours of podcasts, I heard a medical doctor say that they expose a tumor to 2 grays and the surrounding tissue gets 1 gray. The healthy tissue recovers in about 10 hours from the exposure and they continue the process 24 hours later. The tumor dies while the healthy tissue recovers. I was amazed at this and checked with a fellow church member who work in nuclear medicine to see if this was correct. He verified it. At that point I knew that the “protection” we are asking from Nuclear Power Plants is literally 1000 times what is necessary to protect anyone from actual radiation sickness.

I have lived on islands and visited many islands where Electricity from Diesel costs 40 cents a kwh. When the generators run. I am deeply attracted to Hyperion’s design and Rod’s Atomic Engines because these type of simple designs can be run safely by people with a few months of intensive training and are still safe even if people walk away from them. I love the simplicity and I love the reliability.

I have become a nuclear Nut case.

I pray that you will be very effective as you present options for those looking to power various sites.

About Rod Adams

33 Responses to “Becoming a nuclear nut case”

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  1. John Tjostem says:

    Thank for pointing out that:” we are we are asking from Nuclear Power Plants is literally 1000 times what is necessary to protect anyone from actual radiation sickness.” I would also add that we have set the limits of a one time dose 100 times lower than is necessary for preventing an increase in incidence of cancer from ionizing radiation. For chronic radiation the annual dose limit could be increased by a 1000 times without causing an increase in cancer because of the ability of immune system to repair and/or eliminate DNA damaged cells. Ionizing radiation in moderate amounts actually stimulates the immune systems protective functions.

  2. Daniel says:

    My thanksgiving was a while ago in Canada. It almost always matches Columbus day in the US.

    Today, I want to thank all the knowledgable ‘nuclear nut cases’ who participate in the nuclear debate here on atomic insights.

    But foremost, I think Rod deserves a lot of credit for all the time and passion that he has invested over the years. And I want to thank him for giving me a channel where I have an opportunity to enhance my knowledge on nuclear energy. I have read a lot on the topic before joining here, but this place rocks.

  3. Anders says:

    I’m as pro-nuclear as anyone and there are good reasons to question radiation protection standards as well as the validity of the current LNT model for cancer risk at low dose rates. That being said, this notion that the acceptable absorbed dose to healthy tissue near a tumor during radiotherapy has any bearing on the debate is fundamentally silly. Limits for that exposure is set to avoid unacceptable deterministic effects on the tissue in question while still hopefully having some chance of killing the targeted tumor cells. That is not to say that radiation therapy patients do not routinely suffer from severe and sometimes irreversible side effects from the effect on normal tissue, just that these are deemed acceptable in light of the therapeutic or palliative effects of radiation on the tumors. The stochastic effects (i.e. increased risk of cancer) on normal tissue do not really enter into these decisions, as the patients do already have cancer and in many cases are not expected to survive the 10-30 years it would take from mutation to tumor. The debate about lifetime dose and dose rates to the public high enough to evacuate areas following a NPP accident for example is however *all* about stochastic effects, and the relevant data here is from epidemiological studies of low dose exposure as well as qualitative study of radiobiological mechanisms. If you start talking about what absorbed dose we accept to the bladder of a prostate cancer patient in that context you are bringing not even a knife but possibly a small stuffed animal to a gun fight.

    • Rod Adams says:

      @Anders

      You are self-described as “as pro-nuclear as anyone”. Can you prove that assertion?

      Likewise, do you have any data that supports your assertion that people who absorb acceptable doses to healthy tissue during radiotherapy “routinely suffer from severe and sometimes irreversible side effects from the effect on normal tissue”?

      I cannot lay my hands on the studies right now, but I have read several that indicate that the assumed effects of those large doses have not been demonstrated over time. It is expensive to perform studies that follow large cohorts of people during lengthy lifetimes, so the volume of data is a bit sparse, but there have been a few studies that show that medical exposures are not anywhere near as dangerous as you imply.

      I think that Wade Allison’s book discusses this issue pretty thoroughly. http://www.radiationandreason.com/index.php?contents

      • Anders says:

        You are confusing deterministic and stochastic effects. You do not really mean you are unaware of routine deterministic side-effects of radiation therapy do you? If so, please spend a few seconds with for example the NHI: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/coping/radiation-therapy-and-you/page6

        As for increased cancer-risk in irradiated healthy tissue of radiation therapy patients, epidemiological data from Hiroshima/Nagasaki would lead us to believe there is such an increase since we are talking about potentially high doses at high dose rates in contrast to for example public exposure at Chernobyl and Fukushima (low doses at low dose rates). I’m not up to date on the field but I imagine it would be a nightmare to study these effects since you would have to separate the new cancer from metastases of the original tumor(s) as well as control for the myriad other variables such as different chemotherapies etc. So it would not surprise me if it was impossible to get good enough statistics to see the probably very small radiation-induced effect…

        Anyway, this does not in any way mean that LNT should not be critically evaluated at low dose rates or that radiation protection standards are often extreme in comparison to risks we accept from other sources such as fossil fuels. However, if we are to see any progress in those areas and by extension lower public resistance to the large expansion of nuclear power that seems necessary to limit the effects of global warming we have to have to have the integrity to call out bad arguments, even from our own side of the issue.

        • Rod Adams says:

          @Anders

          I have had a number of friends and family who have undergone radiation treatment. I am well aware of the deterministic effects. I am challenging your characterization of those effects as “severe” especially when compared to chemotherapy effects.

          Yes, radiation treatment often results in effects like reddened, dry skin, fatigue and hair loss. In most cases, those effects with properly fractionated dose regimes is about equivalent to excess sunning. I grew up in South Florida, so I frequently saw people purposely impose far worse effects on their own bodies and go back to do the same thing the next day – just so they could go back home with a Florida tan.

          The Hiroshima / Nagasaki Life Span Studies (LSS) results do not make me tremble in fear of radiation. Sure, there are doses that are high enough to cause substantial risk of near term health effects, but the mere fact that there are still a substantial number of hibakusha still being studied nearly 70 years after they received their dose tells me there are many more important risks to worry about.

          • Anders says:

            Your mileage may vary but I would certainly say the side effects are severe and irreversible for many patients, especially head-and-neck cancers, certainly compared to the glib “The healthy tissue recovers” of the blog post. No, LSS should make no one tremble with fear, as they prove that radiation is a pretty weak carcinogen. However, they prove beyond a doubt that doses in the range of radiation therapy (above 100 mSv or so) does raise the risk of cancer. Which is what is relevant in the discussion when it comes to nuclear power, and referring to what levels give acceptable deterministic side effects from radiation therapy is therefore entirely besides the point and a bad argument.

    • James Greenidge says:

      Re: “The debate about lifetime dose and dose rates to the public high enough to evacuate areas following a NPP accident for example is however *all* about stochastic effects, and the relevant data here is from epidemiological studies of low dose exposure as well as qualitative study of radiobiological mechanisms.”

      You know, we don’t need all this jetsam. A research team ought park themselves at a hospital or clinic or tent at the top ten highest background radiation saturated inhabited towns on Earth and start counting longevity and mutations for a couple of years. End all the damn speculative competitive studies!

      James Greenidge
      Queens NY

      • Daniel says:

        @ James,

        Why a couple of years. The data is there in Ramsar, Iran and many other radio active places in the world. Get some medical crews to perform some basic statistical tests for a month or two.

        On the other hand, if there was anything worth reporting, it would be out by now.

        • Pete51 says:

          Researchers from the University of South Carolina and University of Paris-Sud performed a meta-analysis of many different low radiation dose studies, and found even low levels of radiation are harmful. Any comments on this? The fact that they started with a population of 5000+ papers on the subject, but ended up using only 46, leaves me to question whether they cherry-picked which studies to include in the meta-study.

          http://www.sc.edu/news/newsarticle.php?nid=5214#.ULLHg9f4J8E

          • Brian Mays says:

            Eh … that’s just more junk science from Mousseau and Møller. Expect the academic community to give a great big yawn over this new “study.”

            It’s funny that only these two guys seem to find these types of “results” about low-levels of radiation. After you’ve read the tenth junk-science paper that they’ve published together, it becomes clear that they’re fanatics on a crusade, and no “science” is too much junk for them to publish. Accusations of “cherry-picking” are being kind to these two, compared to what they deserve.

            Note that Møller is at the University of Paris-Sud today because he was found guilty of academic fraud in his home country for some papers that he published in the 1990’s. He basically just made up data in some of the research that he published, he got caught, and so he couldn’t work there anymore. Mousseau is his latest partner in crime.

          • Rod Adams says:

            @Brian

            Can you help me understand why the academic community will “give a great big yawn” instead of forcefully responding and pointing out the serious methodology errors?

            In my former profession, we fired idiots or at least ensured that they would end up “passing out basketballs in in Aleutians”; we did not allow them to continue to besmirch our profession with their incompetence.

          • Brian Mays says:

            Rod – I base my prediction on the historical record. Has anyone in the academic community stepped forward to forcefully respond and point out the serious methodology errors in the Mousseau and Møller papers on swallows in the Chernobyl exclusion zone?

            No. Not really. There are a couple of professors in Texas (who have done significant work on studying animals in the Chernobyl exclusion zone) who have commented that the work by Mousseau and Møller is a bit sketchy, but since these two guys are the only researchers who have done any work on the swallows, it’s almost impossible to forcefully counter their work with anything substantial.

            Besides, Møller in particular is a sloppy, but highly prolific, researcher. It would probably take several scientists, working full-time, to adequately review and seriously critique his voluminous output. Thus, his work has gone largely unchecked and unchallenged to this day.

            Even when he gets caught and found guilty of academic fraud, that is not the end of his career. He just moves to another university in Europe and continues to make up stuff and publish nonsense, now with the help of a colleague in North America.

            If you look at the pattern, however, it’s clear that it doesn’t matter whether their papers are ultimately discredited or demonstrated worthless. These guys are publishing for the press release. The general public does not follow the academic back and forth in scientific journals. They read a headline like “Chernobyl makes birds’ brains smaller,” and that is the take-away message. Mission accomplished.

          • John Tucker says:

            I cant find the original study and it has not been vetted but :

            “The review is a meta-analysis of studies of locations around the globe that have very high natural background radiation as a result of the minerals in the ground there”

            Just because its naturally occurring doesn’t mean its “low”:

            “The organisms studied included plants and animals, but had a large preponderance of human subjects. Each study examined one or more possible effects of radiation, such as DNA damage measured in the lab, prevalence of a disease such as Down’s Syndrome, or the sex ratio produced in offspring.”

            Thats a big red flag as Down’s Syndrome in humans has not been linked conclusively to low dose radiation. So if they are including studies that do it would nice to know why.

          • John Tucker says:

            BTW here is a link to the full study ( http://cricket.biol.sc.edu/chernobyl/papers/Moller-Mousseau-BRV-2012.pdf )

            Links to Selected REFERENCES ( http://cricket.biol.sc.edu/papers/natural/ )

    • David says:

      HI Anders,

      It is not “fundamentally silly.” This type of information gives us a clear idea of the levels of radiation that are on the borderline of safety. They set a sort of rational upper limit to the kinds of safety levels we can use. Wade Allison in his video posted on http://radiationandreason.com/ says we should use a much lower limite than this for safety. He recommends a 20 X safety factor. Do you agree with this? Personally I think this is very reasonable. He recommends switching from As low as Reasonably Achievable to As High As Reasonably Safe. The first standard is a slippery slope for ever decreasing the “Acceptable” dose. While the second demands that we define clearly what is actually safe for a person. For myself, I believe that safety factors for the Nuclear Industry ought to be close to those for other energy producers. They ought to be a bit safer than the stuff we normally use at home. As it is, Government is now requiring a level of protection from radiation that if applied in any other area (or every other area) of life would bring modern civilization to a halt.

      For myself, as a person who has slept on bamboo beds, and had the “green apple trots” more times than I care to count from eating food with botulism, or drinking contaminated water, my concern about safety is fairly pragmatic. Is it going to kill me today? How about tomorrow? What about in the next 3 months? When you start getting past stuff that can clearly kill me in this next year – frankly I don’t worry to much.

      I drink bottled water in places where it would be dangerous not to. At home I drink from the faucet. I heard that the EPA standards for tap water are far higher than the FDA standards for bottled water. On the other hand, animal or human dung dropping into the well does make me concerned about using that internally.

      The point being that – a full melt down and a release of nuclear materials outside the containment (knowing now what types of containment we actually use). Is frankly a bit of a yawn for me. I wonder why the market for Geiger counters in Japan has not sky rocketed? Or even for that matter in the Ukraine? The real answer lies in the attitude of people in authority. They feel that they know best and don’t want bad press or to be blamed. Especially if they can’t tax the fear. So, much better to avoid blame and shift it over to the evil TEPCO rather than simply pass out Geiger counters, teach people the real dangers of radiation and how to use the Geiger counter to avoid those areas and turn them loose. You see passing out Geiger counters does not bring the tax revenue that importing Natural Gas does. Passing out Geiger counters does not support the widespread but superstitious fear of radiation. Turning people loose does not increase their need for the government to protect them.

      • Anders says:

        “They set a sort of rational upper limit to the kinds of safety levels we can use.” No, they do not, they set the limit for acceptable deterministic effects in the context of cancer treatment only. You could probably successfully argue that we routinely accept higher increased risks of cancer from other materials and chemicals than radiation even with the model of risk we use today, which as I said there is good reason to question if it is not too cautious at low dose rates. What will not help you in that argument is referring to a totally different risk, in a totally different situation.

        • David says:

          Hi Anders,

          Can you help me understand how these are totally different situations?

          Situation 1. I get zapped with 2000 mSvr of radiation every day for a long time. I survive and have about a 5% chance of getting some cancer later on down the road. 95% of the time I survive and get better.

          Situation 2. I work in a Nuclear Power plant that melts down. I am exposed to 100 mSvr every day and absolutely nothing happens to me.

          OH, I see, you are right – these are very different. In the case of cancer I have a 95% chance of getting well and never having having cancer again.

          In the case of a Nuclear melt down I have NO chance of getting cancer. Yep these are entirely different cases.

          • Anders says:

            Sigh, one last try with this. In your situation 1, the probability of cancer is 100%, the patient already has it. The trade-off of incurring maybe a few percent of risk of future cancer in normal tissue in exchange for a good chance of curing the current tumor is a trade-off most would make. The limits in dose then are not set by the cancer risk but by what deterministic side effects the body can handle and are deemed acceptable.

            Also, dosimetry is a tricky business, radiotherapy doses are usually measured in Gray, that is Joule/kg, to the areas of the body actually being irradiated. For radiation protection however, the most useful metric is effective dose, which is a calculation from the combined exposure to different parts of the body, their respective radiation sensitivity etc. This calculation gives you a value in Sievert which you can plug into your model for overall cancer risk. In the case of whole body gamma irradiation, Gy and Sv are the same, but not in other cases, such as local radiotherapy.

            Let me put situation 2 in a more realistic setting. You have an area contaminated by NPP accident fallout, the extra effective dose from this fallout is a few tens of mSv per year. In this situation, the deterministic effects limiting radiotherapy dose are not of concern, the doses and dose rates are too low. However, if the alternative is to relocate the public to an area without this increased dose, you really care about just how bit the increased risk in cancer is. It’s perfectly fine to argue that the increased risk is low even with current models, that the models are too cautious, or that the stress of evacuation is a much greater risk. None of these arguments are helped in any way by the fact that for patients that already have cancer, we can accept a high dose in the context of curing their existing tumor.

        • David says:

          Hi Anders,

          Thank you so much for taking time to try to explain. I do understand the difference you are making, and that you understand the risks of cancer are quite low.

          I am responding both to you and to the people who are so fearful of radiation that they toss around the term “Fukushima 50″ as though they all gave their lives to save the reactor. When I point out that none of them died they are amazed. You see, while I do understand the distinction you are making most people hear the words “risk of cancer” and their brain turns off – from fear. But in fact, the actual comparative “risk of cancer” is so low that it cannot be practically measured due to the size of the experiment necessary to prove increased risk from that measure alone. In other words – it is a NORMAL risk.

          I am NOT conflating two different risks. I am pointing out the fact that it takes a whole lot of radiation to make you immediately sick. Once you get below that threshold the risk of cancer basically fades into the back ground of comparative risks.

          I always keep in mind that I am going to die. Most likely a painful death. I also keep in mind that all risks must be balanced against the benefit. You call my argument silly and you sigh over my ignorance. I understand your impatience. Do you understand the level of fear we are dealing with? Do you understand the level of induced panic over what is basically not much more (or perhaps much less) dangerous than the bleach most people have under their sinks?

  4. Daniel says:

    @ Anders,

    Your comment:

    ‘epidemiological data from Hiroshima/Nagasaki would lead us to believe there is such an increase since we are talking about potentially high doses at high dose rates’

    My comment:

    I think you are wrong. There is a truck load of studies on habitants of Nagasaki and Horoshima. Citizens there did not leave their cities and started rebuilding after the bombings. These 2 cities are now vibrant and there are no evidence of any significant health consequences on the population of those 2 areas.

  5. John Tucker says:

    I was going to jump in this and was looking for my favourite statistics dealing with astronauts and came across this :

    Wiki – Spaceflight radiation carcinogenesis

    “The risk of cancer caused by ionizing radiation is very great at radiation doses of around 50 mSv”

    Thats an outright lie and fraud. Several wiki on radiation are a disaster of misinformation and questionable studies. Why are you all not fixing that.

    Also radiotherapy deals in near lethal doses – its not low dose radiation and has nothing to do with it. The end.

    • John Tucker says:

      People who are undecided or seeking new information on something they don’t know about generally go to wiki – for better or worse – first, as a starting point. It would be worthwhile to fix these for everyone’s sake if not for the sake of honesty itself. Looking around there I see this is a huge problem.

      • James Greenidge says:

        Going a little off topic with your mention, but I sorely wish there was a fact-certified/verified equivalent of Wiki out there because such a resource is sorely needed. I guess there’re no bucks in being true and right.

        James Greenidge
        Queens NY

      • Joris van Dorp says:

        If you want to change something on wiki, you can do so. Just go to the edit tab and change it, giving a short reason why the change. I do it all the time whenever I see something that is demonstrably incorrect (and anti-nuclear). So far, all my changes have not been disputed by others.

        • John Tucker says:

          Hi Joris,

          I did, It now says :

          “The risk of cancer caused by ionizing radiation is well documented at radiation doses beginning at 50 mSv and above”

          Which I actually dont agree with, I haven’t seen that so much, but its more in line with the research they cite. I think they mean direct tissue exposure of ionizing radiation but would like to read it again, and other sources before I modify it more.

          • Joris van Dorp says:

            I think there is no science demonstrating that 50 mSv/year is firmly connected with increased cancer risk. The science indicates that 100 mSv/year or more increases cancer risk (slightly but measurably).

            Personally, I think 1000 mSv per year is an acceptable level of exposure at this time, if the various health benefits of nuclear versus fossil fuels are fully taken into account. After all, fossil fuels are prolific and indiscriminate routine killers compared to nuclear power and that’s not even counting the giant health effects of climate change which are already in the pipeline, and this should be taken into account when deciding what the *relative* health consequences of radiation exposure is due to using nuclear power, since only nuclear power can credibly substitute for fossil fuels.

            Hopefully, if what I write above is incorrect, someone will correct me.

  6. Yokohama Michael says:

    I just want to confirm the importance of wikipedia. It was the first place for me to go after Fukushima when I couldn’t be sure of TV or newspapers, and was a kind of gateway for me to another point-of-view. It’s not the best source of information on the planet, but interestingly the more controversial the topic, the more reliable the article, because the editors always have to back up their claims against each other with good sources.

    Amongst other things it is committed to the scientific consensus, which by itself is a huge thing and an eye-opener for someone who many only have heard information from Arnie Gundersen. And the talk pages behind the articles are at times extraordinary reading and where the action happens.

  7. Peter Lang says:

    Rod Adams,

    I’d like to ask a question (perhaps O/T but perhaps not given your opening paragraph to this thread asking for discussion from many perspectives).

    Obama has announced funding for ‘mPower’ (180 MWe modular nuclear power plant, air cooled). http://www.uxc.com/smr/Library/Design%20Specific/mPower/Presentations/2012%20-%20Reactor%20Design%20Overview.pdf

    I notice it is designed for 4 years between refueling.

    However, I understand the Virginia class submarines are designed to run for their whole life (about 33 years) on a fuel load.

    My question is: why can’t small modular nuclear power plants be designed to run for life on a fuel load, or at least run a lot longer than 4 years?

    I realise that the mPower is designed to use, 5% enriched uranium whereas the subs use more highly enriched fuel. My questions is why can’t the civil nuclear power plants be designed to run for a long time between refueling?

    • ddpalmer says:

      I am sure others can give a more technical answer, but here is my stab at a short one.

      There is no scientific reason a civil nuclear power plant can’t be designed to run for a long time between refuelings by using more highly enriched fuel.

      The reason it isn’t done is partly economic, the cost of enrichment isn’t linear thus more highly enriched fuel costs more per unit of power that it can produce. This isn’t a major drawback for the military where profit isn’t a motive and where downtime for refueling takes an asset out of play for an extended period of time. But for a commercial company who must make a profit to survive the considerations are much different.

      There is also a political reason. Although the basis has been debunked, the claim would be made that more highly enriched uranium could be stolen by a rogue group to make a bomb (not really a concern until 90% or greater) and/or that a reactor using more highly enriched fuel would produce more plutonium that could be stolen by a rogue group to make a bomb (it would also produce more of the undesirable isotopes making it essentially useless without your own enrichment facility and it would be much more radioactive making stealing it just about impossible)

      • gmax137 says:

        ” My questions is why can’t the civil nuclear power plants be designed to run for a long time between refueling?”

        I think four years between refueling IS a long time. Sure, plants could be designed with an even longer time, but why? There is a kind of diminishing return: If you take 3 weeks every fourth year, you’re at 98.6% capacity.