An Atomic Insights reader pointed me to Joe Romm’s recent post titled False Balance Exposed: BBC Gives Too Much Weight to Fringe Views on Climate Change, Independent Review Finds. Duh. In that post, Joe discusses how an outside reviewer has determined that the BBCs strong desire to show impartiality can result in providing poor information to the public.
If there is a topic where there is overwhelming scientific consensus, but a show producer feels the need to show “balance”, he or she might decide to give a fringe opinion nearly equal time. That decision would, instead of providing information, result in a perception that there is no consensus and there is still an open and ongoing debate.
Since I am passionate about the fact that nuclear energy is a terrific answer to concerns about global warming and the build up of CO2 caused by burning 6-10 billion tons of hydrocarbons every year, I decided to ask Joe, a notorious nuclear energy denier, some questions. Here is the comment that I left on his post.
Joe – How do you think that the news media’s coverage of the hazards of low level radiation compares to its coverage of climate change? Are the wild opinions of the far out – like those of Helen Caldicott – given too much weight in comparison to the reality of measurements and the science that has been developed over the past 100 years by organizations like the Health Physics Society or the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR)?
Do you agree that the UNSCEAR is correct in its statements that the death toll from Chernobyl is approximately 50 with the POSSIBILITY that another 4,000 or so MIGHT die earlier than they otherwise would have – out of a population of several million?
Or do you think that Yablokov and his Chernobyl Consequences book that Helen Caldicott promotes so heavily is correct in his claim that there have already been almost a million deaths caused by the accident?
Do you agree that the science shows that the probability of zero deaths from exposure to the radioactive materials that leaked from Fukushima approaches 100%, though there is some uncertainty due to the fact that a handful of workers have received doses that are high enough to give them a measurable increase in cancer risk? That increased risk is a few percent higher than it would have been without the exposure.
This question is closely tied in with global warming denialism because the only emission-free technology that has proven its ability to replace coal, oil and natural gas combustion is nuclear fission – no other alternative can produce reliable power at the time and place where it is needed.
However, actively promoted fear of radiation is causing some really silly political actions. One shining example is the decision by Germany to shut down several perfectly well-functioning nuclear plants that are not near any potential source of a tsunami in favor of increased consumption of coal and natural gas. Another is the decision by certain local leaders in Japan to keep reactors shut down even when the power is needed and the reactors have been carefully inspected.
My assertion is that the same funding sources that support efforts to confuse the public about global warming also support efforts to confuse the public about nuclear energy and radiation.
In both cases, acceptance of the truth would lead to a reduction in consumption of fossil fuels and a reduction in the wealth and power of some very greedy people who care little about the truth or the prosperity of their fellow human beings.
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights
Knowing Joe and his opinions reasonably well, I am going to guess that, if he responds, the response will say that he is not opposed to nuclear energy, just that he believes it is too expensive to matter. (Joe likes to espouse the philosophy of one of his first energy mentors – Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, where Joe worked from 1991-1993.)
My response then would be – how much additional cost do you think that the excessive fear of radiation has added to the cost of building and operating nuclear energy facilities? It is a rather incredible number to contemplate from the viewpoint of seeing just how much effort we put into the process of ensuring that radiation levels are “as low as reasonably achievable” with the word “reasonable” defined by irrational people like Greg Jaczko, the man who thought it was “reasonable” to evacuate Americans who were within 50 miles of three reactors that had been shut down for four days already.
In support of my assertions about the health effects of radiation, I highly recommend a 2010 paper published in Dose-Response, the journal of the International Dose Response Society, by Zbigniew Jaworowski titled OBSERVATIONS ON THE CHERNOBYL DISASTER AND LNT (4.5 MB PDF).
Have an atomic day!