Atomic Show #207- Stomping scare stories
There has been a whole spate of scary stories published in the past couple of weeks about various aspects of nuclear energy. While the reason for the flood is not entirely clear, some atomic advocates — including me — believe that people who have invested their careers in working to halt nuclear energy are worried that they are going to need to struggle to remain relevant.
The postulated cause for their concern is the increasing number of people who are being moved by Pandora’s Promise to question their long held belief structures about nuclear energy. This guess about the origin of the antinuclear scare story flood is supported by a recent opinion piece in the New York Times by one of their food critics. (Yes, the grey lady is allowing food critics to share their opinions about nuclear energy.) Here is a sample quote from that piece:
There is a new discussion about nuclear energy, prompted by well-founded concerns about carbon emissions and fueled by a pro-nuclear documentary called “Pandora’s Promise.” Add a statement by James E. Hansen — who famously sounded the alarm on climate change — and, of course, industry propaganda, and presto: We Love Nukes.
Before we all become pro-nuclear greens, however, you’ve got to ask three questions: Is nuclear power safe and clean? Is it economical? And are there better alternatives?
No, no and yes. So let’s not swap the pending environmental disaster of climate change for another that may be equally risky.
Despite all-out efforts and international cooperation, Fukushima, which scared Germany right out of the nuclear power business, still isn’t under control.
Of course, the fear mongers are almost 100% wrong. For example, there is water leaking out of storage tanks at Fukushima but it is very lightly contaminated water that has no chance of measurably increasing the radioactivity of the harbor right next to the plant, much less the entire Pacific Ocean. In another example, Professor Kuperman’s grad student is correct; nuclear plants in the United States do not have special defenses against airborne attack. However, we have the world’s most capable military and defend the whole country against such attacks. Even if such an attack could succeed, there are far more consequential targets with far less protection.
I gathered some well informed friends for a round table discussion of the communications challenge of addressing the volleys of fact free stories in a constructive, non defensive way. As is my habit, I introduced the concept of shooting at the archers, not the arrows, but I’ll let you hear how everyone responded to that notion.
Guests on the show included:
Ben Heard, director of Think Climate Consulting
Gwyneth Cravens, author of Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy and one of the stars of Pandora’s Promise
Meredith Angwin, publisher of Yes Vermont Yankee and director of the Energy Education Project
Suzy Hobbs-Baker, director of PopAtomic Studios and the Nuclear Literacy Project
Will Davis, publisher of Atomic Power Review and frequent contributor to the ANS Nuclear Cafe
Just in case you are interested in seeing what all the fuss is about, Pandora’s Promise is going to be shown on CNN Films on November 7 and will be available to purchase on iTunes on December 3. There is perhaps no better excuse available at the moment to gather some friends and associates together for an entertaining evening of a film viewing and discussion to help explain your nuclear energy advocacy.
Fukushima Commentary August 24 Japan’s Disastrous Flirtation with Worst-Case Scenarios
The Register – Oh noes! New ‘CRISIS DISASTER’ at Fukushima! Oh wait, it’s nothing. Again: But hey, let’s soil ourselves repeatedly anyway
New Scientist – Should Fukushima’s radioactive water be dumped at sea?
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Thanks for having us Rod. As Will put beautifully, if you are pulling flak, you are nearing the target!
Let’s stay the course with good information and keep occupying the middle ground. The extreme views will prove to be just that.
Regarding the discussion of NPP security and the difficulties of getting “in” — I think you missed the point: That’s what all the GP stunts with fence cutting and paraglider invasions are about. Those stunts sell very well in the media.
The water leaking out of Fukushima is emitting Beta rays. Very scary indeed.
We need James Conca to make a little paper on that Fukushima radioactive water leak in Forbes. Or maybe Nnadir.
Rod, can you link the article that Ben mentioned about the speed of building nuclear? I’d also be interested in hearing a recording of the debate between Ben and, iirc, someone from the green party.
The video of the discussion is embedded in the Aug 26 post.
I’ll ask about the speed of nuclear, but most facts can be gathered from history od US, and French programs.
This was a good Roundtable, one that really points out that the nuclear community is far more reactive than proactive in saving its own skin and name. You have to laugh and pity the muted hysteria of those responding the “The Register”‘s feature on Fukushima leaks. http://forums.theregister.co.uk/forum/3/2013/08/21/omg_new_crisis_disaster_at_fukushima_oh_wait_its_nothing_again/ . Then they’re fed a daily diet of unchallenged off-the-wall anti-nuclear dogma every day, from slanted current reporting to recycled dated “science” programming that hashes the eggshell-sensitive perils of nuclear energy. And of course it’s all believable because the media has no qualms with it! Again I scratch my head wondering why in heaven’s name the nuclear community (power plants, research labs, engineering facilities, publishing, unions, etc) can’t pass the cup around from their coffee budgets and start producing some _adult_ nuclear education ads and PSA’s and 9-1-1 De-FUDing nuclear incident truth response teams like Jim Conca and NEI did so well with the security sham. Also, the thing about these “ex” nuclear professionals turned anti-nuke activist is how they’ve suddenly become Jacks of All Nuke Trades. When an aircraft wing specialist has doubts about the integrity of a new design’s wing s/he’ll often stick to proving it till the wings come off, and if not, if that new plane crashes the first reflex dismay that’ll pop up in the wing designer’s head is “Omigod, I just knew it! (the wing!)” It won’t first pop up whether it was the engines or electrical or hydrulic systems because those aren’t in his/her ballpark, and you trust that your fellows in those areas took to their jobs as seriously as you do. But for some reason we have all these (grudgeful, sour grapes, cheated, embittered, etc) ex-nuclear engineers turned antis coming out of the woodwork finding pinpoint faults and flaws with almost EVERY system in a nuke plant! Like they were THE design and engineering team! I don’t think Bacock & Wilcox has a resident genius as the sole engineer, do they? Yet such a nutty omni-specialist critic concept is credible to the public — and unquestioned by the media! That’s where the fight for the minds and trust of public dwells, on the media stage. And the anti’s have proven ace veteran stars at it while pro-nukes aren’t even ingenues. Com’on, this isn’t rocket science! Grab the Tylenol ad agency!
Oh, one last point; Your ads have flashed your big bad trucks at Hoover Dam and sprawling Windmill and Solar farms, so when are you rolling out your “Ram-Tough” trucks in front of a nuclear plant, Dodge??
Thanks, yeah, I noticed the video right after posting. Please link the article if it’s not too big of a problem.
Good podcast this week.
I can’t say I have the answer for changing public opinion. If I knew how I’d change it for my own cable broadband industry. We share a similar problem that preception isn’t close to reality. Most people will still tell you their cable serivce is unreliable, even though they won’t be able to remember the last time it went out (or worse, won’t complain to the company providing service, giving us a chance to fix thier issues, just complain to everyone else). We take the brunt of abuse when the networks increase the rates they charge us (outpacing inflation by a wide margin), and never mention our costs to do business to our customers. Not to mention that people don’t understand that the Internet isn’t just a concept, but a physical connected network that we have to build to, not the other way around. But at least when it comes to Internet service we still have a better reputation than the cell phone industry.
I think there are a lot of parallels in the nuclear power industry. Nuclear power was born of bombs and secret development during a war. No one ever seems to be able to get that out of their minds. Right from the start you’ve got to get people thinking differently. The cable industry started by charging people money for something they could get for free if they put up an antenna (not exactly but you get the idea). In most people’s mind, TV is something that should be free, even though someone had to put up the capital for the cable, rent communications space on telephone polls and pay people to maintain the system. Again, just comparing preception vs reality, not trying to elevate cable to the same level as nuclear power.
It didn’t help that after the war there was a lot of hype about just what was possible with nuclear power (like energy too cheap to meter), mixed with the “duck and cover” BS that terrified an entire generation of school kids. Both scenarios were extremely unlikely, but once it’s out there the idea won’t go away. Add to that a complete lack of understanding of science and technology, and public opinion (journalists included) becomes set to “extreme skepticism,” and there’s very little can be done to change it.
Duck and cover is not BS in two different ways.
First, nuclear war was not an “extremely unlikely” event; it almost happened, at least twice during the Cuban missile crisis. A soviet sub believed it was under attack when US destroyers was trying to force it to surface with practice depth charges. 2 out of 3 officers wanted to launch nuclear torpedos and destroy the american fleet. The likelyhood of this staying a “limited” nuclear exchange would have been low. The joint chiefs of staff wanted an invasion of Cuba; we now know the soviets were prepared to launch a nuclear response in such an event. The pentagon officials were prepared to go to war if the USSR didn’t withdraw it’s missiles.
Nobody wanted it, and they almost blundered into it anyway.
Secondly, duck and cover is very effective.
The flash is not instantaneous and a great deal of serious burns can be avoided by ducking and covering. Shrapnel is mostly at chest level, from windows etc; ducking makes a huge difference.
Ducking helps with blast wind, so that you do not get knocked over and into things.
5 PSI blast overpressure knocks over most buildings, but 35-45 PSI kills only 1% of unprotected people. Covering your head from blunt trauma helps.
Nuclear weapons are generally a lot weaker than people expect them to be. They seem to expect everything to be vapourized, but almost nothing is. Lots of people would die, but they would die of mundane injures; falling over book shelves, being thrown off their feet, burns.
“It didn’t help that after the war there was a lot of hype about just what was possible with nuclear power (like energy too cheap to meter), …”
Well, that’s just a good example of a lie that has become “common knowledge”. There was never “a lot of hype” about nuclear power becoming “too cheap to meter”. It was said ONE TIME and ONE TIME ONLY, and that was by the then-Chairman of the old AEC, in a speech to a group of science writers. Most people believe Strauss was alluding to the nascent hydrogen fusion program of the time, Project Sherwood. There is no indication he was referring to fission reactors, and certainly on one in the industry mentioned it once nuclear stations were begun in the 1960s.
And even if it did refer to fission reactors, he may have been alluding to a pricing scheme wherein one pays a flat rate for the service, and the quantity is unmetered because the service connection provides the revenue. My cable TV is like that. I pay a flat monthly rate, whether I watch no TV, or hundreds of hours. The monthly fee pays the costs.
I forgot to add the man’s name, which was Lewis Strauss, who served as both an AEC Commissioner and later its Chairman.
That was just one example. There are plenty of other things that were discussed (and still are being discussed), from giant nuclear powered cruise ships and nuclear bomb civil engineering projects to city sized water desalination.
But then we get back to the fear of the dark forces gaining control over the fuel and we’re back to “duck and cover” again.
Rod- Towards the end of the podcast, Ben mentioned something about the speed at which new power plants come on-line in China? He said that he E-mailed the information to you. Could you provide that link? I could not find information about this at the Breakthrough Institute website.
By the way, when you were discussing Adam Curry’s resume’, you might have mentioned on the podcast that Adam was instrumental in inventing the podcast medium.
I really dont understand how the nuclear industry just don`t get tired of all this improvable scenarios that are thrown at them.
Few months after the Japan tsunami I was out for some beers with a friend that work in one of Sweden 11 reactors, some environmentally friendly people where in the bar discussing how something like this can happen in Sweden by means of a meteorite hitting the baltic sea.
I was laughing about that since, like Rod say, is that happens the least of my worries will the nuclear plants when my friend told to me that the Swedish government have asked the NPP to assess that possibility and make plans to mitigate the consequences.
Really this type of stupid scenarios that increase the cost of the reactors and then they say that they are not economically viable.
Rod I would also like to get the link that Ben mentioned about the construction speed of different power plants. Thanks you very much for all your work.
Pedro- I contacted Ben Heard, and he sent me some information from Geoff Russell. See the following link at the Breakthrough Institute on the build-up of power generation in various countries. Germany’s Energiewende build-up rate of wind and solar is the slowest shown.
Thanks for the information Pete.
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