Accurate nuclear and radiation health information is sorely needed
As I was reading about the organized protests against nuclear energy project development in India, I noted the following passage. It provides evidence for the importance of working hard to spread accurate information about nuclear energy and the health effects of radiation.
Sunthari Pentan sat near the church in a black sari and gold-colored necklace, rolling small cigarettes called bidis. The mother of two said her biggest concerns regarding the nuclear plant were possible birth defects, radiation in the food chain and tainted fish killing her husband’s livelihood. If rich, technologically advanced nations such as Japan, the U.S. and the Soviet Union have had reactor accidents, she said, how can Indians believe the government’s safety claims, given its corruption and opaque oversight.
Think about that. A woman who makes her living hand rolling cigarettes is actively protesting the construction of a nuclear power station because she has been convinced – by the concentrated efforts of the opposition – that the plant will release materials that may cause birth defects, radiation in the food supply and radioactive materials that might cause fish to be rejected in the market.
This provides me one more reason to inform nuclear supporters that we now have a vehicle that we can support that might help alleviate this issue of ignorance. (That is not an insult, ignorance can be cured with information.) Please visit the Nuclear Literacy Project and donate generously. Both financial and technical assistance would be greatly appreciated.
What most people know nothing about is DNA repair, which has been much researched in recent years.
It is DNA repair that sets the limit to how much radiation can be tolerated. But so far as I know, there are no details yet as to what the threshold is. It will not be an exact figure.
Compare the effect of cuts to the skin. A single cut easily heals. A thousand cuts may not.
Hopefully the utility industry will understand the risk of cost increases of making plants more safe when they are already safe enough as indicated by SOARCA. The loss of the cash cows of bought and paid for nuclear reactors will be a significant dent in any utilities bottom line and detrimental to the economies in their service areas.
Your Tweet of Casey urging the review of nuclear reactors could serve as a battle rally for utilities to preserve their assets and maybe even challenge the basis of LNT (that is perhaps going too far). That wold make nuclear even many orders of magnitude safer that SOARCA showed, because it was based on LNT.
I think the message to send is that existing plants are safe. They exceed regulatory standards, and as a power producer we will take the lessons onboard from Fukushima to learn how to better prevent the loss of these valuable generating assets.
ALARA is dead. Good enough is good enough. Meeting a standard is no small task and that is the role of the regulator to ensure that we meet the standard. We have, we are, and we will continue to do so. There is no need for improved safety measures because we are safe enough. There is need for improved operational performance. Loosing 6-multi-billion dollar assets is not a good thing for maintaining company viability or continuing to supply electricity.
The lessons to be learned are not how to make the plants safer. The lesson is how to protect the plants better so they can keep on working and when the really bad stuff happens have a plan for an extended loss of all AC so we don’t melt the fuel so we can bring the plants back up to restore the regions power. From this perspective the NRC’s job is done. The chairman is using this as an opportunity for a power grab. The work to be done is better suited for INPO and EPRI. These companies are funded by utilities to do exactly what I just laid out above. Additionally, their assessment of plants should be used as valuation measures of utilities by Wall Street analysts. Losing a irreplaceable (you can’t just build an amortized plant) generating asset is not looking out for shareholder interests.
We are safe enough. We don’t need the government to make us safer. We have a responsibility to our shareholders and our service areas to preserve the most valuable assets we have, our existing nuclear reactors.
As a side note, I think it would also be a good idea to use SOARCA to challenge the EPZ restriction. Since the plants are so safe and we can quantify the risk, why are we paying so much to maintain an unnecessary buffer?
Forget about explaining nuclear. Just explain to her that when the plant starts up she will be able to get a frost-free fridge that will run reliably on electricity from the plant 24/7. Radiation will fears will fade away when families can store perishable food safely for several days.
I think the cigarette roller is being rational. She and everyone else has been unnecessarily frightened…by the nuclear authorities themselves who propagate the idea that any amount of radiation is harmful. This is moronic, and opposed to common sense, and immensely damaging monetarily. And yet, there it is. It is somewhat of a mystery why the large corporations involved in the nuclear industry do not spend a few million dollars to overthrow extreme interpretations of ALARA and the Linear Non-Threshold theory of radiation damage. Would not AREVA benefit from increased sales, and less idiotic pressure on them domestically from the Greens and even the Socialists? What about Hitachi, Toshiba and Mitsubishi in Japan, similarly? As well, the entirety of Japanese heavy industry would benefit from eradicating the basis for radiophobia in Japan, with the restart of their reactors, and the resettling of most evacuated areas. Must the world wait until the Chinese enter the reactor export market for them to introduce the rationality of engineers (instead of lawyers) and insist on radiation limits that aren’t contradicted by the evidence? Congratulations for the voluntary group Nuclear Literacy Project, but where are the big players? Hell, even Babcock and Wilcox should be able to fund something like this. I wonder why some nuclear entity could not finance a low cost documentary that simply has some traveler go to Denver, Ramsar Iran, Spokane, Calgary and Grand Central Station etc. with a dosimeter of some kind that shows the background radiation levels so that the people around Fukushima could be reassured that their kids are safe. What is the frickin’ problem with the big-time nuclear players?
There is no true nuclear industry, save maybe AREVA, but even that has other energy holdings. At the end of the day, it’s most expedient to sell fossil fuels at the highest prices the market will allow. Promoting new nuclear would only hurt their profits short term, and therefore, there is no real push to do so.
I disagree with “there is no true nuclear industry.” The industry that makes up the members of the NEI are also vendors, utilities, and engineering firms with interests outside of the nuclear industry. The same can be said for the American Petroleum Institute or the American Coal Council. The lines get blurry really fast.
It is not just promoting nuclear it is promoting the value of energy in the economy. Any restriction on the supply of energy will result in a reduced standard of living. Doesn’t matter where it is from. These lobbying groups I mentioned form a collective of the energy industry. The interests for each may seem conflicting however, I think for the most part the utilities want to sell more electricity at the lowest prices to their service areas. Only way to do that is with coal or nuclear. As the WSJ published today the oil and gas industry is trying to elbow out coal and nuclear (something Rod has been stomping up and down saying for longer than I’ve known him.)
Try looking at it from a different perspective. Why not work with other industries and seek to maximize the profits for all. The optimal and most efficient point is somewhere in the middle. As it is so in microeconomics it is so in macro. Right now oil and gas are pushing to establish an oligopoly on energy production. This hurts the electricity industry and consumers in general.
NEI is starting a focused advertising campaign on “The Daily Show” :
Thank you Joel for the link!
The funny thing is that by not working together we have much more to loose than we do to gain.
I would be careful with attacking LNT. I don’t believe it either, but as long as there is no proof, the public perception will be that the nuclear industry is telling lies – and that will be used by antinuclear groups. I would stick to the facts, i.e. that there have not been seen any mutations in the atomic bombing survivors nor in mice living in the red forest of chernobyl. Put the risks in perspective, compare nuclear to smoking, emissions from coal plants, climate change, tell the indians about the cheap electricity and the jobs it will create. Facts are in our favour anyway, we need not expose ourselves to cheap attacks.
I too keep wondering why the nuclear industry is keeping it’s silence. They should have noticed how well the PR works for PV and wind. Then again, i am living in germany where there are a few utilities with reactors, but aside from that, there is no nuclear industry anymore. After fukushima, there were only a few scientists speaking in favour of nuclear, physics professors, risk researchears and climate researchers, but facing the public sentiment and the one-sided coverage in TV, they quickly became defensive and ultimately gave up. There is a french/german TV channel, which was broadcasting valuable, well investigated documentarys a few years ago, but after fukushima, they showed several documentarys in a row, where anti-nuclear groups got practically all of the air time. In contrast, there is an entirely different situation in the UK, where the media handled the accident more moderate and fact-based. There is a self-reinfocing effect about what people are seeing, and what they want to see. I try to see it positive – as long as people have time to disgust about nuclear power, they can’t be too badly off.
The people in india, however, do need more power. If the indian government is clever, it should teach a few basics in school, have people visit actual plants, bring people from communities that profit from them and get them in touch with nuclear technology, so that anti-nuclear groups don’t have it easy to spread their fairy tales.
I am not too sure about the idea of creating games for nuclear power. Who would play them? I would certainly not, and the kids would only play it, if they were more entertaining than WOW or “STALKER – shadow of chernobyl”. I wonder if it’s a good medium to teach facts…well, at least to me. I haven’t seen what are the ideas for the games though.
The fact is that there is more than enough evidence to bury LNT already available. It continues as a standard because of politics, not science and that is reason enough to hammer away at it.
While I agree that the nuclear industry (such as it is) cannot be seen doing it, there are many of us who can demonstrate sufficient independence, and we must take up this task.
@Paul – I did not say that the cigarette roller was being irrational. I carefully chose the words “has been convinced” to indicate that there were active efforts invested to produce the result of her fear.
As you point out, some of the active efforts have come from people who are nominally supposed to be supportive of nuclear energy, but whose real economic motive is to make money from spreading fear of radiation. The radiation protection profession would be far less lucrative if there was an educated public who could read their own dosimetry and recognize the difference between dangerous exposures and those that are below concern.
We do not have to wait for the Chinese to teach us how to make rational, risk informed decisions. We just have to stop listening to the wrong people and start paying more attention to people like Ted Rockwell, Jerry Cuttler, Myron Polycove, Wade Allison, and David Rossin.
Rod, to me this post shows off a trend that I’ve been noticing for the last few years.
People don’t seem to trust Experts anymore.
Look at all the Fukishima coverage these days, the people they talk to are 80 yr old rice farmers, kindergarten teachers, guys in bars, ladies who roll cigarettes.
You can have 12 engineers and scientists, but the media will run the story on the Hobo beside them saying that Lolly-pop men told him Radiation was bad.
Heck the best thing that the nuke industry could do would be to slap a Pro-Nuke slogan and picture on a NASCAR car.
Why is Atomic Energy Better than Natural Gas, well the #42 Atomic Rod Chevy beat the #32 Facking Ford at Taladega last weekend so it’s gotta be good! Too Bad the #81 Solar Toyota could not run cause it was overcast…
At least the Government of India is being proactive in fighting antinuclear groups that are funded from outside the country. The Government clearly understands the need for energy to develop the country, and realizes that nuclear is their best, if not only option.
I think the best public education and value return project the Nuclear Literacy Project can do to make its mark is to IMMEDIATELY round up the top Nuclear Carnival honchos to produce a string of pro-nuke YouTube shows directly taking on the assertions and FUD and outright lies of anti-nuke blogs and videos on an non-academic ivory tower gut level. Call It Nuke Challenge or whatever but get such out there! Video is the new literacy! If junior high punks can churn out fifteen-minute long “videos” like cookies in their basements and basketball courts surely a league of pros can at least occasionally turn out anti-nuke rebuttals to save a vital energy resource, forget the industry! I’m so TIRED of seeing Misko Kenso (sp?)’s smug anti-nuker mug smiling in half the cable “science” shows out there — just like just now!
Michio Kaku perhaps?
I think people need to respect the scientific studies that have occurred. Really after radiation research, atomic bomb research, high energy and ionizing radiation studies, power plant cancer proximity studies, methodology studies, etc… we have a pretty good idea what dosages are a problem without having to rely on a incorrectly extended linear no-threshold model that we know not to be the real life case.
Its great we use it to set maximum exposure guidelines – as it means nuclear facilities operate all the more carefully and less industrial emissions are always better.
I just think its not what many want to hear. You get the same thing with climate science; people dont want to believe things they are doing are responsible for climate change so they deny the reality of the science actively misinterpret statements and publications and make everything seem hazy and vague when it is not.
Even if LNT is assumed (and it must be treated as such under current dose limits from ICRP et al), the actual risks are tiny (as calculated using effective dose etc). Much of public (a.k.a anti-nuclear) will not buy ‘nuclear energy is safe’ unless we say it is ‘SAFE’ (without risk). But, those same people will drive a car, fly, use the rail work etc and will probably concede that none are truly SAFE (without risk). So, any effort proving that nuclear energy is ‘without risk’ (which is clearly stupid because everything in life is bound by risk) is a waste of time. Therefore, the effort required to prove if LNT is or is not valid is also probably a waste of resource too. The acceptability of nuclear energy by the masses (i.e those that go about their daily lives and are neither particularly pro or anti nuclear) is the important thing to achieve. Quite how this is done is another question …
William Tucker, author of Terrestrial Energy, in a March 6 editorial in The Wall Street Journal reviewed the Taiwan apartment building that was inadvertently built of steel contaminated with Cobalt 60. The background radiation in the apartments was up to 30 times higher than normal background. The mistake was not discovered for 15 years. He reported that only 5 cases of cancer was found among the 10,000 residents. He further stated that normal occurrence would have predicted 160 cancers. The cancer incidence was 97 percent lower than the anticipated amount and birth defects were 94% than expected. Tucker states that the residents of the Taiwan apartments experienced 10 times the level of radiation as prevalent in the Fukushima evacuation zone.
Radiophobia is responsible for much harm to residents excluded from returning to their homes.
The linear-no-threshold and as low as reasonably achievable (ALARA) are causing great emotional harm – they must go! That sort of reasoning is sound for physics, but faulty reasoning when applied to biological systems where low level radiation is stimulatory to damage control systems so projecting from high doses is not a valid assumption.
It has been argued that something more that probability is needed to refute the reasoning for ALARA.
A report from a Berkeley research group gives direct evidence of the failure of the LNT hypothesis. “Our data show that at lower doses of ionizing radiation, DNA repair mechanisms work much better than at higher doses,” says Mina Bissell, a world-renowned breast cancer research with Berkeley Lab’s Sciences Division. “This non-linear DNA damage response casts doubt on the general assumption that any amount of ionizing radiation is harmful and additive.”
In response to hysterical fear of radiation, unrealistic low radiation limits are enforced world-wide by the International Commisission on Radiological Protection (ICRP). The conservative ICRP adheres to the flawed linear-no-threshold hypothesis (LNT) and promotes the standard, (ALARA). Their recommended safety level for a person is radiation exposure of only 1 mSv per year.
Wade Allison author of Radiation and Reason, York UK 2009 writes: “The result is that new safety levels for human radiation exposures are suggested: 100 millisievert as a single dose; 100 millisievert in total dose in any month, 5,000 millisievert as a total whole-of-life exposure.” He says his proposal has a wide margin of safety.
John, while the Taiwanese Co-60 story is interesting, I don’t think it’s really scientifically safe. I seriously doubt that hormesis – if it exists – would be as powerful a force as implied by those results, or we would see far more evidence of it. I suspect there is a disconnect on the statistical analysis that has failed to account for some aspect of the situation, like the profile of the populaiton or the bias of record collection.
But it’s not necessary to hang one’s hat on hormesis to be thoroughly opposed to the over-restrictive radiological limits associated with post-Fukushima restrictions. Wade Allison makes convincing arguments from Hiroshima/Nagasaki data and from medical processes to support his evidence-based immediate dose limits. I never quite worked out why he had a whole-life limit, but it is high enough not to be a significant restriction.
I agree,the drive for more rational radiation standards should be kept separate from the radiation hormesis hypothesis. While it is certainly interesting and should be a subject for further study, it is not (yet) given the current state of the science, a useful tool in the current debate.
The fact is that the radiation hormesis hypothesis suffers from much the same problems as the LNT hypothesis in that there is a lack of compelling evidence to support it and it is difficult to (to say nothing of being hypocritical) to attack the credibility LNT on the quality of the paradigms used to support it without recognizing how flimsy most of those supporting radiation hormesis are.
The 2010 book, Radiation Hormesis and the Linear-No-Threshold Assumption, by Charles Sanders, published by Springer Verlaug, builds a strong case for promoting radiation hormesis. Significant portions of this book can be looked at by clicking the “look inside” arrow. Scroll down to the Accident, Tests and Incidents section. Read about Eastern Urals nuclear waste explosion,Tiawan contaminated buildings, and the Japanese A-bomb survivors. This is at least a good start to a convincing case for radiation hormesis.
On PBS yesterday a Hawaiian reporter visiting tsunami damage was not only stunned by damage but how independent filmmakers roaming there were willfully portraying salvage crews wearing bunny suits and masks as protecting themselves from far way Fukuskima radiation, instead of actually protecting themselves from the incredibly toxic and disease riddled sludge left behind by the wave. Have nuclear blogs picked up on this? The clueless eat these kinds of scenes up when shown by anti-nukers. The public works repairs there will dwarf any reactor decommissions but you’d hardly know it!
@James – did the reporter make that connection or did you? Do you have a link to the story? Your comment did not give me enough clues to find the story.
“incredibly toxic and disease riddled sludge”
I see no reason why this sludge should be either incredibly toxic or disease ridden. What toxic chemicals do you expect to find in it?
There will be large numbers of ordinary decay bacteria and common soil organisms (unless the “toxic” chemicals kill them all), but why would there be disease bacteria or viruses?
Rod, Not entirely on topic here but I read this:
How likely is such an event? Might interest your readers.
Looks like Japan is starting to use some nice reasoned methodology for their evacuation zones. Good for them.
Joel – I respectfully disagree.
50 mSv per year is an acceptably low dose with no expectation of any negative health effects. When I first entered the nuclear navy, 50 mSv per year was the conservatively selected limit for occupational exposure under normal conditions, though we were allowed to go up to 250 mSv for emergencies and even higher if there was life and limb at stake.
It makes no sense to take people’s lives and property to protect them from being exposed to a very low rate of radiation exposure where it would take a year – probably with “conservative” assumptions about activities – to accumulate a dose that was deemed safe enough even for Admiral Rickover’s notoriously conservative program.
Any area where the annual dose is less than 50 mSv should be open for business and residency. I would bet that there are VERY few areas where that dose rate is not already limited to a very few “hot spots.” After all, the total amount of Cs-137 that was emitted from the three melted cores – including the 80% that drifted off over the ocean – was about 11 kilograms. (~26 pounds).
One more thing – I entered the nuclear Navy in 1981. The program had been operating for nearly 30 years and those occupational limits were still in place when I stopped going to sea on submarines. We maintained careful records and could prove to anyone that they were never harmed by the radiation they received as members of the program.
You would agree that this is progress though, right?
Using actual data and reasoning, rather than simply drawing circles (Jaczko-style), is an improvement over what had been the case prior to this change.
This article by nuclear engineer Ramtanu Maitra,
“West-Based NGOs Stall India’s Nuclear
Program; But, at Whose Behest?” provides an in-depth
analysis of the situation.
Please read my new “Commentary on the Appropriate Radiation Level for Evacuations.” It is being published in the Dose Response Journal. The prepress version has been available since March 19 at:
This commentary points out that the road to linearity was the result of ideology and suppressed scientific data. The ICRP had no scientific basis to change from its “tolerance dose” standard in the 1930s to the LNT risk standard in the 1950s, so it should restore the tolerance dose standard for radiation protection purposes. The tolerance dose level was 0.2 roentgen of x-radiation per day, which is 680 mSv per year.
Hey Rod, I have been looking to buy a dosimeter in Calgary. I hate Canada’s silence and pretense that they don’t know how much radiation we are exposed to. The problem is that no one in Calgary sells them. Everyone has to order them from Ontario or Russia or some place.
I also want the type that can detect, especially, radiation in food, particularly if it comes from China. I wonder why these are so scarce.
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