1. Thanks Rod for a well thought out and written article. I am sure it will stimulate an interesting discussion. I have one comment about this statement:
    “It’s time to ask the Chairman and her fellow NRC Commissioners to reread the law and to recognize that the determination that the technology is useful and should provide maximum benefits was made a long time ago. The NRC does not have role in creating new technology or funding its development, but it has an assigned mission to enable atomic energy to provide ‘the maximum contribution to the general welfare.'”

    This is like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped. People will be people, including all their flaws. If someone does not believe that the intent of the original law was as you have clearly stated, they clearly are not qualified to sit on the Commission. And by my value system they should not accept a nomination. Their time and effort should be more ethically spent trying to change the law, not derail it.

    The folks who need to take your suggestion to “reread the law” are the folks making the recommended nominations for Commission positions. Unfortunately, in today’s political environment, they are about impossible to identify, so it is impossible to determine their real agenda. I just don’t believe for a moment the person “announcing” the nomination even has a clue about the long term ramifications. But then this situation is not unique to nuclear power.

    Only my opinion…. other’s mileage may vary.

  2. Thank you for this informative report. This statement pretty well sums up the short comings of the regulators hang up on hit theory, ” Since that 1956 genetics committee made its assertions, there has been a revolution in biology and a vast improvement in our ability to sense DNA structures and to measure effects, both in vitro (cell cultures outside of living organisms) and in vivo (cells taken from living organisms). The hit theory ignores the biological response processes of apoptosis, necrosis, phagocytosis, cell differentiation-senescence, immune responses, or up-regulation of response mechanisms that can now be observed in the laboratory with the proper equipment.” (Feinendegen et. al. 2012)

  3. The NRC licenses and regulates the Nation’s civilian use of radioactive materials to protect public health and safety, promote the common defense and security, and protect the environment.

    Fossil fuel power plants demonstrably degrade public health, are more hazardous, and have more negative consequences to the environment than nuclear power plants. I submit that the current regulatory framework, with its extended license approval time and high cost, discourages the construction of nuclear power plants. Thus fossil fuel power plants are constructed instead. The conclusion is that the NRC is violating its assigned mission and direction.

    Re: the ‘hit’ theory. By this theory, accumulated genetic damage should have caused life to cease millions of years ago due to natural radiation (which was even higher back then than now). Anyone who holds to the ‘hit’ theory needs to explain how life exists at all.

  4. “A large resulting man-Sv number from a radioactive material release to a very large population of people is likely to have no health effects as long as all members of the population receive small doses.”

    I think the exact wording is

    (f) “In general, increases in the incidence of health effects in populations
    cannot be attributed reliably to chronic exposure to radiation at levels that are
    typical of the global average background levels of radiation. This is because of the
    uncertainties associated with the assessment of risks at low doses, the current
    absence of radiation-specific biomarkers for health effects and the insufficient
    statistical power of epidemiological studies. Therefore, the Scientific Committee
    does not recommend multiplying very low doses by large numbers of individuals to
    estimate numbers of radiation-induced health effects within a population exposed to
    incremental doses at levels equivalent to or lower than natural background levels;”

    From Report of the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation Fifty-ninth session (May 2012) Chapter III page 10.

    Slightly less nuanced are The 2007 Recommendations of the
    International Commission on Radiological Protection
    , which unequivocally endorse LNT:

    (g) “The central assumption of a linear dose–response relationship for the induction of cancer and heritable effects, according to which an increment in dose induces a proportional increment in risk even at low doses, continues to provide the basis for the summation of doses from external sources of radiation and from intakes of radionuclides.” (Executive Summary pg 12)

    tempered only by the equivocation:

    (k) “The collective effective dose quantity is an instrument for optimisation, for comparing radiological technologies and protection procedures, predominantly in the context of occupational exposure. Collective effective dose is not intended as a tool for epidemiological risk assessment, and it is inappropriate to use it in risk projections. The aggregation of very low individual doses over extended time periods is inappropriate, and in particular, the calculation of the number of cancer deaths based on collective effective doses from trivial individual doses should be avoided.” (Executive Summary pg 13)

    In other words, LNT is unequivocally correct, save at low doses where it isn’t.

    All that aside, Dr. Macfarlane’s reluctance to engage in anything resembling advocacy for the nuclear power industry should perhaps be viewed in its post-Fukushima context. Those who “believe that the NRC must maintain an agnostic attitude about atomic energy” may in fact have the best interest of the industry at heart. I think many of us recognize that Fukushima was a disaster “Made in Japan”. From Why Fukushima was Preventable:

    “It would be wrong to conclude that the accident at Fukushima revealed a fatal and uncovered intrinsic risk associated with nuclear power technology and infrastructure. With appropriate foresight by Japan’s authorities and industry, it appears that the accident could have been avoided or prevented. At the time of the accident, it appears that Japanese industry and government were taking tentative steps toward what might have emerged as a consensus view that Japan’s nuclear power plants were not prepared to cope with an extreme tsunami. But they had not overcome impediments inhibiting TEPCO and NISA from taking effective action sooner.”

    Dr. Macfarlane may merely (!) wish the popular misconception of a (faintly) incestuous relationship between Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, and that country’s nuclear power providers, having proved so costly to the global environment, not contaminate her NRC with unwarranted suspicion of conflict of interest as well.

    There’s a planet to save and we really must get on with nuclear power. Seeding distrust in NRC will not further that end. Accurate radiation education might better be tasked to NIH and EPA. NRC certainly can’t go there without them.

    1. @Ed Leaver

      No. The target theory is simply wrong. It does not explain biological reaction to ionizing radiation.

      The reason there are no bio markers for radiation exposure at low dose and low dose rate is that recovery is complete in a short time. There are no lurking, hidden effects. There is no ticking time bomb. Those ideas were all based on a theory that has been experimentally falsified.

  5. “In other words, LNT is unequivocally correct, save at low doses where it isn’t.”

    That’s not exactly how I’d read or apply the quoted paragraph (k). I think it says LNT is a “pretty good idea” (optimisation tool) for occupational exposure (for radiation workers). In other words ALARA is a “pretty good idea” for radiation workers as long as emphasis is kept on “reasonably.” The problem arises with differing interpretations of “reasonably”, but the tool clearly applies to occupational exposure.
    But it is not intended as a tool for risk “over the fence”. In fact it is even inappropriate to use it that way.

    1. Completely inappropriate in some venues over the fence. In some cases, the opposite of LNT-based ALARA is the rule, and it becomes AMARA (M=much). When my father was being treated for cancer, they wanted to give him (at the tumor site) as many rads as possible, to the tolerance of the healthy tissue. Our neighbor had interstitial brachytherapy using radioiodine seeds for treatment of prostate cancer. He carried around a lot of millicuries for awhile, but better that than let the tumor grow as it was doing. I had a heart scan some years ago that used 99mTc and the same afternoon after the procedure I went into work and was setting off area alarms when I was close to them. Probably sent a fair amount down the sewer, too, that day and the next.

  6. Given the health risks associated with fossil fuels, bio fuels and renewables, the application of ALARA is not a “pretty good idea for anyone including radiation workers. All energy carries dangers, but limiting the use of energy carries a disaster. Compare the longevity of populations who have access to electric power to those who live without energy from the grid. Wade Allison makes the case that regulators should relax exposure level 100 fold for a one time dose and more than a 1000 fold for chronic doses. As a biologist I strongly support Dr. Allison’s position. We should lobby to get a biologist on the NRC board in order to provide balance.. The insight of a biologist is truly needed.

    There are two things going on here, one is relative risk associated with various sources of power generation and the other is hormesis. The literature is filled with studies that show longevity to be increased with moderate increases in exposure to ionizing radiation. It is a shame the Japan continues to keep people living near Fukushima from returning to their homes. Survivors of the A-bombs are living significantly longer that their fellow countrymen Two large very well executed studies, the US shipyard study and the British radiologists 100 year study both show a significant increase in longevity and a reduction in cancer at moderate levels of radiation.

    1. Also I very much doubt that “article” appeared just by chance and concern. And the daily caller has reporters? I mean come on. Nearly everything in media, especially “news” is linked to PR now. Especially on political sites.

    2. A minority on the political right will sadly be anti-nuclear energy. A majority on the left will predictably be anti-nuclear energy. The anti-nuclear left has its politicians in power: Barbara Boxer, Bernie Sanders, Andy Cuomo, Ed Markey, et al. Barack Hussein Obama appointed anti-nuclear Jaczko as Chairman and when he proved an election embarrassment because of his harassment of women in the NRC, he was replaced with Allison Macfarlane whose husband, Hugh Gusterson, is an anthropologist of anti-nuclear activism. It is uncertain whether or not he equivocates nuclear weapons with nuclear energy, but the behavior of his wife would indicate that to be not unlikely, and it is a typical leftist point of view. Again, of course there are exceptions. Just as a minority of those on the right may be anti-nuclear energy, a minority on the left may be pro-nuclear energy. But it was George W Bush on the right who kicked off nuclear resurgence with GNEP, and it is Barack Hussein Obama on the left who is negating that with first Jaczko, then Macfarlane and now Stephen Burns and Jeffery Baran. The Commission is now stacked 3 to 2 against nuclear power. Wasn’t one of those guys an adviser for Henry Waxman on the left, and he is not exactly pro-nuclear energy?

      By the way, for the record, while I loathe liberal leftism, I have nothing but contempt for the hypocrisy and weak-kneed capitulation on the right. I believe in personal freedom commensurate with personal accountability and responsibility, in the family as the building block of society, in the Constitution as a fixed contract limiting the powers of Caesar Augustus, and in objective truth which is NEVER determined by democratic vote – two wolves and one sheep voting on what’s for dinner. As for politicians left or right wing, pro or anti-nuclear power, the Psalmist wrote so long ago, “Put not your faith in princes.”

      1. “Just as a minority of those on the right may be anti-nuclear energy….”

        A statement that completely ignores the right’s stance on Iran’s nuclear energy program.

        Partisan to the extreme, Paul’s pseudo discomfort with the right is a dishonest attempt to attach credibility to his demonization of the democrats.

  7. Its kinda depressing that there seems to been a totally prohibitive approach to nuclear at that meeting Rod. It didnt seem very enthusiastic if you dont mind me saying. The mission statement you provided was the most positive aspect. And that was sad.

    Did you leave a lot out?

    No important environmental benefits were discussed?, no exciting frontiers in which nuclear undeniably becomes central? The slogan coming out of that seems to be:

    “Nuclear – hey, its like not such a bad option if you are careful”.

    When it probably, in all honesty needs to be something like: ” Unshackle mankind!, Save the Earth!!, Free the Atom!!! “

  8. “When it probably, in all honesty needs to be something like: ” Unshackle mankind!, Save the Earth!!, Free the Atom!!! “”

    It sure seems likely that the atom freeing will be by other nations than the US. Look at the sales of reactors by the Koreans, Chinese and Russians. The hands-on experience the engineers of these countries will achieve has a strong possibility of new nuclear developments by those nations.

    US companies will be able to buy the improved reactors from those other nations when US natural gas becomes less plentiful.

    And, you know, I’ll bet it doesn’t bother some of those bureaucrats one whit.

  9. Catch-22.

    Regulate nuclear power as if it was important that the technology is securely enabled, and you are attacked and removed from your position under suspicion of ‘being in bed with the nuclear industry’ or something to that effect.

    Regulate nuclear power according to the demands of appearing (!) agnostic, and you cannot hardly avoid killing any chance of nuclear power growing to fulfill the role it must if we are to protect the environment and maintain quality of life going forward.

    I don’t see a solution anymore. What I see is humanity continuing digging a hole for itself which it will not emerge from again in my lifetime. Oh well. Sh*t happens!

    Perhaps one solution does exis. MacFarlane – turning out IMHO to not be nearly as bad as some suggested when she was nominated – could publish an outpouring from the heart detailing the catch-22 which is holding the USA and ultimately humanity hostage regarding the nuclear question. She could name names and provide background that would otherwise never be revealed. She would open a turgid can of worms that needs urgently to be opened. She would then offer her resignation and perhaps join Dr. James Hansen in his stated mission of outreach and public education about nuclear power, the environment and Our Common Future.

    Would this possibly provide the public relations jolt that is needed to shock us all out of the deadly anti-science stupor which we find ourselves in regarding the Nuclear Option? If I was MacFarlane, I’d straighten my back, take a deep breath, and go for it. One for all, and all for one.

    1. Dont hold your breath for such a “team player” to do something individually courageous or extraordinary. Not saying its good or bad – just the way it seems to nearly always work out.

      I think you are right though about the needed shock. Look on the left at Rods twitter, go to the recent story by the guy he was talking to ( http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/14/science/earth/sun-and-wind-alter-german-landscape-leaving-utilities-behind.html?ref=world&_r=0 ). Read the comments. I accept im not a rocket scientist and will never be but those people are, if not colossally stupid, then depressingly uninformed.

      Myself, I like the good cop bad cop approach. Rod and most in science and the nuclear industry are completely respectable professionals and good cops. That leaves us with a specific role that needs to be filled.

    2. @Joris & John & Tom:
      I think Dr. Macfarlane should stay where she is. She has youth on her side and much of her career yet to contribute. Dr. Hansen is a relic from a bygone age, choosing to play his Obi-wan role to the hilt. Two different people, two different circumstance.

      One planet.

      The problem with a Macfarlane resignation is, who would replace her? Short answer: if the Democrats lose the Senate in six weeks, no one. If they don’t, well… from
      US Senate confirms 2 new NRC comissioners:

      The addition of Stephen Burns and Jeffrey Baran brings the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to its full complement of five members and reasserts Democrat control of the independent body. The two newcomers were Democrat-chosen and will couple with Chairman Allison Macfarlane to form a majority on the panel.

      Kristine Svinicki and William Ostendorff, both Republican choices, round out the commission.

      The NRC has jurisdiction over nuclear waste matters but its work on the Yucca Mountain Project has been minimal in recent years after the Obama administration withdrew its support and funding for the controversial site opposed by Nevada top leaders. The agency is under court order to continue carrying out tasks related to the project at least until its nuclear waste funding is exhausted, likely next year.

      Oh boy.

      1. US Senate confirms 2 new NRC comissioners …

        @Ed Leaver

        Party line vote … except for Lamar Alexander (who voted to confirm Burns), Manchin (who voted against Baran), Heller (R from NV and who voted to confirm both), and James Inhofe (who voted to confirm both).

        Not sure what Inhofe was thinking … perhaps he was confused?

      2. I dont recall suggesting she resign but I think its a excellent idea. Also is Hansen in the running ? He would probably make a better choice. Why are we discussing him? What is the point.

        Im sure she is a wonderful person but she seems to have little or no enthusiasm for the position and indeed as she cant even get the mission statement right I think its not what most competent people would probably call “a good match.”

      3. “and reasserts Democrat control of the independent body. ”

        Is it just me, or is that statement just a tad contradictory?

  10. Excellent post that concisely summarizes many of the policy choices facing the NRC and the federal government with respect to nuclear power and technology. Now is the time to have a “grassroots” debate about the need for balanced energy policy that promotes safe and economical use of nuclear power.

    It would be informative to pose some of these same questions to the Secretary of Energy, the senior government official empowered with developing energy policy, and compare recent government actions with the stated intent of Congress. My opinion is that this Administration has been lax in fulfilling the intent of Congress, or promoting a robust and diverse energy supply. We can and should do better.

  11. Interesting to see how that spent fuel storage at Fuku 3 and 4 turned out. It was gifted to the world.

    Above ground storage is an obvious terrorist target.

    Below ground storage that you can’t get to has unestimatable risks, and no plan B

    I’ll post this at ENE also and lets see if it gets through the censorship process here.

    1. @nukeguy

      What are you claiming happened at Fukushima 3 & 4 spent fuel pools? They did not release any material. The fix was simply refilling pools and removing debris that fell in.

      If used fuel storage areas are such an obvious terrorist target, please provide an example of an attempted attack. Murphy says that if something bad can happen, it will. If it hasn’t in many decades of opportunities, then it probably won’t.

      1. “The fix was simply refilling pools and removing debris that fell in.”

        Huh?? I thought that number three spent fuel pool had such a seriously damaged supporting structure that the spent fuel had to be removed. In fact, isn’t that process of removal currently ongoing?

        1. TEPCO is currently emptying the Unit 4 fuel pool, not #3.  #4 currently has less than 100 used fuel elements remaining in it.  The fuel pools are fine even without water at this point, since the heat output beyond 107 days past removal from the reactor is too small to cause cladding damage and radiation release.

          1. @Engineer-Poet

            Though water is not absolutely needed for cooling, it is still good to have it for shielding and for maintaining a controlled environment for long-term stability.

          2. So, the removal can be considered remedial, can it not? Or is there no danger in leaving the rods languishing atop an unstable structure? Were this structure to collapse due to a weakened state, or further seismic activity, is it your contention that remaining spent fuel does not pose a danger?

            I am usually comfortable with Rod’s comments, but his cavalier comment about this spent fuel seems like an over-simplification phrased to offer an unrealistic rebuttal to “nukeguy”s comment. Nukeguy’s hit and run comment bothers me as well, as he leaves us wondering, as Rod points out, exactly what he considers dangerous about this spent fuel at Fukushima.

            1. @poa

              It’s my contention that the spent fuel in a damaged fuel pool poses no danger to anyone who is not in the immediate vicinity of the pool. Localized dangers are not unusual in industrial settings; even carpenters have to take precautions to avoid occupational risks. That does not mean we need to fear circular saws or stored used fuel.

          3. the removal can be considered remedial, can it not? Or is there no danger in leaving the rods languishing atop an unstable structure?

            The goal is to decommission the failed units.  Removing the spent fuel allows much greater latitude for work on the reactors themselves, as is the case with decommissioning an undamaged plant.

    1. Very interesting quotes in your gas article. If these quotes are true, it could mean both heating and electricity costs will be sharply rising in a couple of years.

      From the article:

      “We now have more than enough data to know what has really happened in America.

      If a huge number of wells come on stream in a short time, you get a lot of initial production. This is exactly what has happened in the US.

      The key word here, though, is “initial”. The big snag with shale wells is that output falls away very quickly indeed after production begins. Compared with “normal” oil and gas wells, where output typically decreases by 7pc-10pc annually, rates of decline for shale wells are dramatically worse. It is by no means unusual for production from each well to fall by 60pc or more in the first 12 months of operations alone.

      Faced with such rates of decline, the only way to keep production rates up (and to keep investors on side) is to drill yet more wells. This puts operators on a “drilling treadmill”, which should worry local residents just as much as investors. Net cash flow from US shale has been negative year after year, and some of the industry’s biggest names have already walked away.

      The seemingly inevitable outcome for the US shale industry is that, once investors wise up, and once the drilling sweet spots have been used, production will slump, probably peaking in 2017-18 and falling precipitously after that. The US is already littered with wells that have been abandoned, often without the site being cleaned up.”

      1. That’s just about the time when the first AP1000 builds will be coming on-line.  They’ll be hitting an electric market that’s probably (if the EPA CO2 regulations survive) been required to use natural gas that is suddenly in shrinking supply (and also in demand for motor fuel for medium and heavy trucks).  They’ll have a license to print money.

      2. “if the quotes are true”

        They are not, I have partial ownership in shale fracked wells and the rate of return is excellent. They have been cash flow positive to me in less than 2 years, so any claim that shale ffracking is a losing business is an amazing incorrect statement.

        Yes they do pump out quick, that is not a bad thing.

        1. “Yes they do pump out quick, that is not a bad thing.”

          Is there enough shale rock down there that they can just drill in a slightly different area and find more gas? If they have quickly diminishing returns, it could still mean a quickly diminishing supply unless there are many alternate wells that could be drilled.

          This gas thing is a great boon to the entire North American economy. I’d sure hate to see a quickly diminishing supply. That would drive prices up. Investors may love it, but consumers like myself want the low energy prices. I think low natural gas prices are really helping American industry right now. That means jobs for many of us.

Comments are closed.

Recent Comments from our Readers

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
  3. Avatar
  4. Avatar
  5. Avatar

Similar Posts