Dr. Jeffery Patterson, the President of the Physicians for Social Responsibility (originally founded by Dr. Helen Caldicott) has published an op-ed titled Lessons from the Gulf for nuclear reactors that is another attempt to use concerns about the oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico to increase the level of resistance to the development of new nuclear power plants.
His piece contains a number of incorrect statements. Here is one in particular that raised Ted Rockwell’s ire, especially since Ted was a part of a two decade long effort to do the science and engineering required to prove it false.
Federal lawmakers are weighing a BP-type deregulation of new nuclear reactors – the one energy source in which damage from a major accident could dwarf harm done by a ruptured offshore oil well.
Here is Ted’s response to that claim from an email that he just sent to me. (He gave me permission to quote it.):
The words above in red are demonstrably wrong. Not improbable. Just plain physically impossible in the real world. Scientists were glad to take the billion dollars it took for an international program of several decades duration to back up that statement. It doesn’t apply to every reactor built—not Chernobyl, for example. But for the LWR plants we’re now planning, and the commercial nuclear power plants we have built, the statement applies. It was documented in a Policy Forum by 19 members of the National Academy of Engineering published in the mainstream peer-reviewed journal SCIENCE, 20 September 2002. We cannot guarantee that an accident will not happen. But we can, and we do, guarantee that the public health consequences will be limited and tolerable. The core may melt. The containment integrity may be compromised. Even so, the worst public health consequences expected will be “few, if any, deaths offsite.” The wording was publicly confirmed by then-NRC Chair, Nils Diaz. Anyone who wants to challenge that statement has to start by challenging the backup documentation in the SCIENCE paper, and the 1980 EPRI report by Chauncey Starr, Milt Levenson et al.
How do we expect the public to endorse nuclear power, if we let statements like that in red to stand unrefuted? No major industrial enterprise in history has as impressive a record of safety and reliability as nuclear power: not a single public radiological death, while oil, gas and hydro continue to kill people and despoil the landscape.
There are no tricky PR lessons or techniques involved here. Just a simple matter of insisting that the facts be right.
David Walters on Daily Kos – We need to apply nuclear standards to oil drilling
Dr. Patterson’s op-ed was originally published in The Hill’ Congress Blog on January 16, 2010 – Lessons from the Gulf for nuclear reactors. The Congress Blog has a subtitle “Where lawmakers come to blog”, and judging from the by-lines on recent posts, that appears to be true. It might be worth your time to visit and add your own comments to Dr. Patterson’s biased rant against nuclear energy development.