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18 Comments

  1. Basically Rod you are saying that the NRC has a job to do here in terms of educating the masses and being proactive.

    But the NRC being anti nuclear in essence would not be able to achieve anything in that regard.

    Plus, let us keep in sight the massive anachronisms that seems to be a specialty of the NRC.

    1) The waste issue which is pending for decades and probably will for a while to go. This will serve as a lame excuse to stall everything from new licences to extensions. (Waste is NOT an issue for new plants nor to certify new models!)

    2) The office lease situation currently being investigated by higher authorities where the NRC anticipates a surge in new licence applications and thus requires more office space but at the same time does everything it can not to grant any such licences.

    3) The outdated foreign ownership content that has already caused 2 potential licensees to withdraw their applications without even responding to the NRC. (One happened a while ago and another one just came up last week)

    With this kind of management, there is only 1 thing to do but it would require courage. Pull the plug on the death standard that the NRC is to the nuclear industry. I do not see why the NRC is referred to the gold standard

  2. As in a comment I put up at ANS version, reading this article reminded me of some energy cost comparison studies done in The Netherlands by fairly respectable energy consultancy firms. In those cost comparison studies, nuclear power gets a very good result initially, but then the authors of those studies go and attach a ‘risk aversion’ factor to the calculated cost of nuclear accidents. This ‘risk aversion’ factor varies depending on which study you look at, but can reach up to 700. In other words: these studies provide a recognizable calculation of the probability-times-consequences of nuclear accidents and subsequently multiply the resulting calculated cost by another 700-fold in order to arrive at the ‘risk aversion corrected’ cost of nuclear accidents, which is then compared to the (external) costs of the other energy options, which have no ‘risk aversion’ factors associated with them. Presumably, when people get blown-up by natural gas explosions or get lung disease from PM or NOX, or suffer climate change damage or energy import dependence, this all causes vastly less aversion per unit of suffering than if they were to get poisoned by radiation.

    Isn’t this in a way similar to the approach of calculating and adding an ‘outrage’ cost to the cost of nuclear accidents as described in your article? I’m wondering if these are not both ways to (try to) quantify risk aversion/outrage.

    I note as well that anti-nuclear proponents in my country are of course avidly waving such reports in the air as ‘proof’ that nuclear power is hardly cheap.

    But in my opinion that is not the purport of these studies. What these studies are really telling us is that the cost of nuclear power is (according to these researchers) in very large measure dependent on ‘risk aversion’ and therefore – in order to reduce nuclear total societal costs and thereby maximise nuclear benefits – education of the public is a crucial component. Because such education would be expected to drastically reduce the ‘risk aversion’ factor.

    It confirms what most Nukes already know I guess: that nuclear power is fundamentally a Great National Project, and thereby quite distinct from other types of energy systems. If the public and government are not on-board, and if misinformation by anti-nuke vested interests is not countered effectively, then nuclear power development is dead in the water due to exploding ‘risk aversion’/outrage, no-matter how safe or inexpensive the nuclear systems are engineered to be.

    1. Joris,

      …that nuclear power is fundamentally a Great National Project

      Of your many good points that one bears more thought. If you are largely correct then we need to be putting most of our effort in this direction. And perhaps investing in western Norway islands for future development trusts for the grand kids (the planet will be much warmer without nuclear).

      Perhaps the good news is that it matters less what the EU, US do than the future policies of China, India, Indonesia. Where outrage management has a better chance.

  3. So even Mr. Sanders thinks that people have died from Fukushima, just not that many, and this “concession” that “not many” have died is something he is “granting” you. Wow. Witness the success accomplished through the pervasive dishonesty of nuclear energy opponents. Something to behold.

  4. I have to admit to being somewhat careless in my reading habits. Many times I read the first few letters of a word and finish the word based on context. A month or so ago I became aware of two words that I had been reading as the same word, outage and outrage. I have been reading both as outrage which to me mean describes a feeling one has when extremely angry. For years I would read the headlines about nuclear plant outages and wondered why it was named after the feeling produced in the electric users.

    In my personal life I have never had an outage or an outrage but on occasion I have been outraged. The is an exterior light on my house that will not turn on but I would never describe this situation as an outrage of external lighting. If I turn the fuse off to work on something, should I tell my wife about the outage?

    May I suggest “planned downtime” instead of “outage”?
    What about “unexpected downtime” instead of “outrage”?

    Sometimes nuclear insiders do not recognize specialized use of words that do not communicate well with the public.

  5. Read this story on EPA work on response/evacuation guidelines in event of nuclear incidents:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/are-we-safe-from-nuclear-radiation/2013/04/29/75c628d2-ad23-11e2-a198-99893f10d6dd_story.html

    Then read the comments. There is no question that a majority of people are deathly afraid of radiation. And, based on reading the comments (diction, grammar, etc), these people are not a bunch of dummies. Maybe that means some of them are bright enough to entertain the notion that there is actually a safe dose. But I doubt it. The very idea seems inconceivable to these folks, to the point where they’d dismiss any such arguments without paying attention. A huge barrier to any proposed “education” efforts.

  6. @gmax137 – “The very idea seems inconceivable to these folks, to the point where they’d dismiss any such arguments without paying attention”

    “Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.” – Vladimir Lenin

    “A lie told often enough becomes the truth” – Vladimir Lenin

    “Karl Grossman is a full professor of journalism at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury” – Wikipedia

  7. Rod – Thanks for this post, and for the mention! I’m over the moon right now – I’ve been noticed by a nuclear hero ( : D such is my opinion of you and your work). I’m hoping that this connection will blossom.

    I’m also still going through Sandman’s site to educate myself on outrage management. There are actually two components here – reducing the outrage (and panic) triggered by the N word, and increasing the outrage about carbon emissions, pollution deaths, energy poverty, and misapplied subsidies.

    Sandman wants to increase outrage about infectious diseases since he considers them as ‘high hazard – low outrage’ right now. Battling infectious diseases needs a steady supply of energy and fuels to create medications, provide clean water and sanitation, and transport people and supplies. It would be nice if he were on side with nuclear fission.

    I think you could have a great conversation with him – any chance of an Atomic Show with him as a guest?

  8. interesting topic and conversation. and totally true that “outrage management” is very much needed on the subject of nuke power. but what’s missing here is an acknowledgement of the root cause first. too complicated for a blog comment explanation; the nuke industry has lost the PR battle and can’t compete with that fear’s root cause initiators. that is what needs to be addressed to change attitudes in large populations. anyone my age (70) grew up post WW2 knows it was US government policy to further their agenda (and defense budgets) by imposing fear of nuclear war on a grand scale. it worked; now abnormal fear of radiation is part of our DNA, and it has spilled over into fear of nuke power. nuke power can’t fix it (although it doesn’t hurt to try), the people that caused it have to fix it, and stop doing it. the lesson to learn is to be always fearful of a government that uses fear to set their policy agenda. history has countless examples of failed governments who tried. my opinion is the greatest cause of the NRC loosing their way, is fear that they will ever again be blamed for a TMI type event. it is so engrained in their DNA that it has paralyzed their ability to effectively regulate.

  9. “Hazard” and “Outrage” … heh … more like trouble caused by physics and trouble caused by psychosis. I’m not sure that it’s wise to equate the two.

    “How much pain the evils cost us that never happened.” — Th. Jefferson

  10. Rod, thanks for a great post – one of the most important posts you have written.

    I’ll add my vote to Andrew’s suggestion: an Atomic Show with Peter Sandman.

  11. Hi Rod,

    I’m outraged by Grossman’s comment that nuclear risk professionals need to recalibrate after Fukushima. No, they don’t. The initiating event at Fukushima is unique and it goes without saying I can dismiss it for the US and Europe. There are lessons to be learned from thsi event, as there are any time there is a loss of life, but it does not upend or recalibrate anything about the practice of risk analysis.

    A NPP risk assessment starts with an initiating event, such as an operator error or equipment failure, or perhaps an external event such as the weather or a terrorist act. Risk analysis only makes sense, however, when the consequences from core damage are far worse than the initiating event; e.g., a loss of offsite power or a pipe break. Fukushima was the reverse: core damage was trivial compared to the initiating event. If you had asked me to start my PRA by assuming a 9.0 level earthquake and 50 ft tsunami followed by 20,000 deaths, I would have responded with a blank look and called it a day. There is no point to an exercise like this because at Westinghouse we knew 20 years ago that even severe core damage (release of volatile fission products) was unlikely to cause any loss of life.

    1. Well, keep in mind that Sandman (not Grossman) doesn’t specialize in real risk (what he calls “hazard”). He thinks in terms of fake “risk” (what he calls “outrage”) and worries almost exclusively about the consequences of overreactions to a perceived threat, which might not have any basis in reality whatsoever.

      PRA’s have nothing to do with this fake “risk.” It is the result of phobias and conditioning that have resulted from decades of lies and propaganda from sources like Greenpeace and an incompetent mainstream media consisting of “science” journalists, who think that risk is directly proportional to the size of the font used for the headline.

      1. Brian, you are dead wrong. These organizations (including the fossil fuel industry) have merely learned to exploit the public’s basic fear of radiation for their own intent. That phobic fear of radiation was induced in the public by our government, by design, to further their foreign policy agendas for decades. And that is what nuke power is up against. The public does not differentiate radiation from a bomb with radiation from a nuke plant. I remember grade school training on what to do in a nuclear attack, how to build fall-out shelters, constant deluge of news about fear of global annihilation from nuke war, etc. That’s where the propaganda originated, our government’s love affair with nuke weapons. And to me it is especially ironic that virtually all government bomb factory sites today are some of the worst ecological disaster areas known, a more informed public is aware of it, and they now associate the same risk from nuke plants. Greenpeace didn’t induce the fear, our government did it, by intent.

    2. @Perdajz

      I think you have misunderstood Sandman’s professional advice – he is not talking to risk management or risk analysis professionals, but to risk communications professionals.

      While people at Westinghouse might have known 20 years ago that “even severe core damage (release of volatile fission products) was unlikely to cause any loss of life” you and the rest of the people who understood that have never successfully enabled the public with that reassuring knowledge. Even the way that you phrase it does not reassure – “unlikely to cause any loss of life” has apparently still been heard as “may result in unknown cancer risk to a large number of people occupying a large geographic area.”

      It would have been terrific if Westinghouse, GE, B&W, and the NRC had decided to invest a relatively modest amount of money after TMI in performing a controlled “worst case” accident DEMONSTRATION in which a real core was instrumented and taken to the point of drying out. The test would not have required a specially built plant, Essentially any of the decommissioned units could have been used if the owners had been convinced to give up the plant’s body to science.

      I remain convinced that TMI was a very strong indicator — good enough to be called proof for me, but perhaps not for everyone — that the nonvolatile portions of a reactor core will remain inside the pressure vessel of a licensable light water reactor even under the worst possible conditions. “In vessel retention” means that the worst possible event results in acceptably low consequences AND is not very likely to occur anyway. Instead of performing a well publicized demonstration on a real core with a real pressure vessel under measured conditions, the testing was done with scale models, simulated heat sources, and pressures that could only be imagined to be possible.

      As a result of the inconclusive testing, risk analysis professionals do not agree that the TMI autopsy proved that “in vessel retention” was a reasonable prediction or a cost-reducing, confidence-building severe accident response strategy. Many of them still advocate ex-vessel retention using something similar to the costly core catcher used in the EPR.

      In my opinion, the tests that Sandia and INL performed were stacked in such a way as to “indicate” that there was still a measurable possibility of lower head failure and a resulting “core on the floor” result in the probabilistic risk assessment.

      By maintaining the fiction that a “China syndrome” melt-through is a possible — if admittedly “unlikely” — event, risk analysis professionals have reinforced “uncertainty”. Fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) continues to restrict the growth of nuclear energy. It is a substantial contributor to both the initial capital cost of all new nuclear power plants and to the ongoing operations, maintenance and capital investments required to continue producing electricity with nuclear fission.

  12. Rod, if it ever comes to pass that Dr Sandman appears on Atomic Show, will you ask him to discuss this statement in his email response to your original article.

    “Three Mile Island really did little or no harm.” Of course he was discussing the actual radiological consequences of the event, and his response was narrowly focused on your article. But within the context of his area of expertise, I’d like him to discuss the TMI impact on the current subject of “outrage management”, and his thoughts about how the TMI event may have firmly planted the seeds of current outrage.

    To elaborate on my earlier comment about the US government, as a matter of policy, fanning the flames of irrational fear of radiation from nuke bombs, I maintain the TMI event, looked at within the context of the history of that time, is the single most influential event responsible for “outrage” over commercial nuke power, ever.

    TMI happened during the cold war, and the nation was already being frequently deluged with fear of bomb radiation. If you lived through the coverage and history of the TMI event (I did), you have to remember the Mattson/Stello argument over the H2 explosion possibility, and poor Denton caught in the middle. So Denton goes on national TV and calmly says “we can’t eliminate the possibility at this time”, and the whole nation is literally terrorized, really. And it’s a radioactive explosion (bomb) that is feared. To further my point, poor Governor Thornburgh of PA, who has about given up on both the NRC and MET ED, then advises a precautionary evacuation of women and children and sheltering of others. All this is done within view of a national TV audience.

    Not much acknowledged ever in the press, but Mattson is wrong and Stello is right, and Denton the national NRC spokesperson is wrong by association. What is remembered by the nation is the possibility of a radioactive explosion. You just can’t simply undo or ignore the impact of that event on the “outrage” view of commercial nuke power, in an historical context.

    Now add in the effect of the nation’s history for the ‘80s, ironically both the boom and bust years for commercial nuke power at the same time. And add in an administration that made its legacy by fanning the fears of bomb radiation, calling for more bombs. A more informed public was/is listening to that propaganda. And there-in lays the source of the problem faced by “outrage management”; a nation with an irrational fear of radiation, from any source. I don’t pretend to know the solution, but acknowledging the source of the problem at least seems to be a worthwhile step. There are parallels in other national problems, which you often write about.

    I would really like to hear Dr Sandman’s thoughts on this.

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