As part of my rambling effort to catch up with events and commentary about nuclear power, I found an article about “new” whistleblower accusations of a massive cover up following TMI.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned the Steven Wing studies that claim that the health records of people who lived near the facility indicate patterns that would be consistent with much higher radiation releases than were reported.
It is important to note that Wing does not present any evidence that those higher releases occurred. He ASSUMES that the cancer rates that he teased out of health records are accurate and cannot be explained by any other phenomenon. Here is a quote from Wing in a 1997 Washington Post article about his study:
“The cancer findings, along with studies of animals, plants and chromosomal damage in Three Mile Island area residents, all point to much higher radiation levels than were previously reported,” said Steven Wing, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina and co-author of the study. “If you say there was no high radiation, then you are left with higher cancer rates . . . that are otherwise unexplainable.”
In the article I found today, titled Investigation: Revelations about Three Mile Island disaster raise doubts over nuclear plant safety the author details a number of anecdotes that claim that there really were higher than reported doses. A major source of information for the story is a revelation by two people who claimed to have been hired as health physicists shortly after the accident and who apparently computed much higher releases than everyone else who was there. The comment thread for the article is quite interesting – it has been visited several times by both the article author and one of her other quoted sources – Arnie Gundersen. (That name should be familiar to people who are following the Vermont Yankee and Indian Point sagas.) Here is my addition to the comment thread:
It would be very difficult for me to tackle a point by point rebuttal of the claims made in this story, but it is important to understand that there is excellent technical information available that contradicts the anecdotes. While I am sure that whistleblowers like Arnie Gunderson and the Thompsons are sincere in their beliefs, I hope that at least some of the readers here will accept the fact that the nuclear industry is not composed of ogres but includes thousands of well educated, caring professionals who take their jobs and responsibilities very seriously.
As a nuclear trained submarine officer who has hundreds of associates in the nuclear technology field, I can testify that many of us recognize that profit seeking managers exist, but we also have one of the strongest “safety cultures” of any major enterprise. From day one, even Navy nukes are trained to operate with a questioning attitude that does not allow us to blindly follow orders or to engage in cover ups. When I served as a submarine Engineer Officer I made it very clear to my people that we were all human and subject to making errors so it was important for all of us to admit those errors so that real learning could take place and we could back each other up. This attitude came directly from Admiral Rickover who emphasized personal responsibility and accountability. The quickest path out the door in the nuclear power program is getting caught lying or falsifying records.
That is a long way of explanation as to why I do not believe and do not agree with the claims made here. It is beyond belief that such a coverup could be imposed on the thousands of people who were involved in the accident event, response and decades long investigation.
There are plenty of financial reasons why some people – including the several times cited Amory Lovins – want to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about atomic energy. Like all commodities, the value of energy products depends on the balance between supply and demand. When the supply exceeds the demand, the price drops – often quite precipitously. Take a hard look at the behavior of energy fuel prices in the past year – not just oil, but coal and natural gas as well. See what happens to the profits of fossil fuel companies when demand falls. Then think about how those companies would behave if they saw a major new source of energy entering the market and stealing their market share like nuclear power was during the 1970s when we were building 10-12 new plants every year.
For example, take Amory Lovins, a man who has been publishing articles recommending an “anything but nuclear” energy philosophy since the mid 1970s. Here is a quote from his July 18, 2008 appearance on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program:
“You know, I’ve worked for major oil companies for about thirty-five years, and they understand how expensive it is to drill for oil.”
He also wrote the following about coal in his 1976 seminal work in Foreign Affairs called Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken. (Note: the quote comes after a Lovins style long and wordy commentary about “new” coal technology.)
“Coal can fill the real gaps in our fuel economy with only a temporary and modest (less than twofold at peak) (Emphasis added) expansion of mining, not requiring the enormous infrastructure and social impacts implied by the scale of coal use in Figure 1.
In sum, Figure 2 outlines a prompt redirection of effort at the margin that lets us use fossil fuels intelligently to buy the time we need to change over to living on our energy income.”
If you want to see the figures mentioned, you can find them at Blast from the past from a “clean coal” advocate – Amory Lovins. It is interesting to note that US coal consumption has done almost exactly what Lovins wanted in 1976 – it has essentially doubled. If we had continued building nuclear plants at the rate achieved then, we would not be burning any coal today.
Lovins and his Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) have consulted for many major energy companies and establishment organizations like the Department of Defense and freely discuss the fact on their web site that the consulting fees represent more than half of the institute’s income. There may be NO relation at all between his decades of anti-nuclear activism and the income that he gets by helping the fossil fuel industry to prosper. Then again, there might be a reason why atomic fission competitors continue to hire him for a fee that some people tell me exceeds ten thousand dollars per day.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
Host and producer, The Atomic Show
Founder, Adams Atomic Engines, Inc.
Disclosure: I have hopes for financial prosperity in a revived nuclear power industry, but my current income has nothing to do with that industry.