Letter to a reporter from Bloomberg – 1/7/2006
One of my many weird hobbies is writing early morning letters to authors and editors of news stories about energy topics. I figured that it might be a good use of this blog space to post some of those gems, since some of them never see the light of day. (Occasionally, however, I get them published and have even made it into the December 2005 edition of the National Geographic!) Besides, if I have already gone to the trouble to create this “content” I might as well repurpose it right away.
Here is a missive that I just composed to respond to a story titled GE, Shaw, Mitsubishi, Toshiba Bid for Westinghouse (Update2)
Dear Ms. Moya:
I enjoyed reading your article titled “GE, Shaw, Mitsubishi, Toshiba Bid for Westinghouse (Update2)” on bloomberg.com. As a former nuclear submarine engineer officer currently employed full time outside the industry, I am heartened by the prospects of new developments and new job opportunities. Nuclear fission power has some significant advantages over coal, oil and gas; not only is the fuel much cheaper, but the process is clean enough to power a sealed submarine. I am glad that the world is beginning to recognize that fact.
However, I do have a few nits to pick about one paragraph in your story:
The nuclear-power industry ground to a halt in western Europe and the U.S. after the Chernobyl explosion in Ukraine in 1986 blew radiation as far away as Sweden. Death rates among more than half a million workers who helped clean up the Chernobyl site soared. Thyroid cancer rates in Gomel, Belarus, increased 22-fold from 1986 through 1990.
In the US, nuclear power plant new construction had already essentially stopped well before the Chernobyl explosion. Some observers blame the 1979 Three Mile Island accident, but even that non fatal event happened almost six years AFTER the last successfully completed order for a nuclear plant was placed. New orders for nuclear power plants in the US slowed dramatically in 1973 after the Arab Oil Embargo helped to initiate a recession that caused electricity demand growth to stop and utilities to halt all of their new construction projects. Lack of quality control, poor project management, lack of cost controls, active opposition and fear of overcapacity by investors all helped to keep the industry from regaining its momentum after the construction halt.
Secondly, though there was a lot of fear about possible death rate increases from Chernobyl, investigations completed in the 19 plus years since the accident show that the fears were largely unfounded. Almost all of the long term problems in the region following the accident were more a result of fear and dislocation than exposure to radiation or other toxic emissions from the plant itself. You can find a tremendous amount of detail about the accident health effects on the web using a search such as “chernobyl long term health impact”. One of the most comprehensive and easy to understand sources is on a page produced by the French Nuclear Energy Agency titled “Chapter V Health impact – Chernobyl: Assessment of Radiological and Health Impact” at http://www.nea.fr/html/rp/chernobyl/c05.html.
I hope that you keep digging into the exciting prospects for the industry. It is certainly a newsworthy change in the world perception and may end up making a pretty big impact on the balance of power in the world.
Editor, Atomic Insights
On a side note – apparently the current bid for Westinghouse is about $2.5 Billion with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries out in front of the four company pack. Stay tuned for more updates on this company sale – it seems to be a pretty good proxy for the way that nuclear power is currently being viewed by the investor community.