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  1. Use your brain! – Why is anyone worried about this? This is purely a matter of technical and not physical imperfection. It is highly improbable, if not impossible, anyone could measure the difference in leakage caused by this insignificant imperfection. Even if they could measure the “additional” un-measurable leakage caused by this hole the containment leakage test would still pass the NRC requirements. I have personally witnessed leakage tests that have passed the test requirements with a 1 inch pipe open to the atmosphere! And, this is a hole in the liner, not a hole in the containment. This is not like the inner-tube in a tire that is needed to retain pressure! The liner only provide additional defense against leakage. The containment is pressure tested every ten years, and this hole was probably there during the last test pressure test. The pressure inside the containment would push the liner tighter up to the concrete, which is 3 to 4 feet thick – how much air will leak through that? This is equivalent to a quarter size hole in the wallpaper of your living room. How much will that add to the leakage of air into your house? I have even help a plant avoid a significant fine by providing calculations showing that the leakage caused by leaving the cap off of a 1/4 inch instrument test line did not cause the leakage to exceed the required NRC leakage requirements. The violation was lowered to that of a “procedure violation” with no fine. Surely a 1/4 inch pipe open on both ends would leak more air than a 1 inch hole in the liner with 3 feet of concrete to pass through.
    Besides, I have never seen a PWR containment that had a “steel” liner on the floor!
    Use your brain!

  2. Thank you Rod for embedding that video of NIRS testimony. I loved that she finished with that flawed NC-WARN slide showing solar costs crossing below nuclear in 2010. I guess that she hopes that NRC commissioners and staff are ignorant, or that by showing something to the NRC commissioners, it becomes accepted fact.
    Regarding the slide at 5:32 purporting to show a 1990 NRC study that equates 100 mrem annual dose to 3.5 cancers per 1000 males (lifetime): Is this old (ancient) data/guidelines? I found this fact sheet on the biological effects of radiation on the NRC website: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/bio-effects-radiation.html and this web page from Idaho St Univ http://www.physics.isu.edu/radinf/risk.htm

    1. @Paul – I am not sure where the antinuclear folks are getting their dose effect numbers, but I do suspect that they are coming from misinterpreting ancient studies like the 30 year old BIER III, which was conducted in 1980. I have been having a bit of a conversation with a man named Paul Blanch who keeps pointing to a 1997 Brookhaven National Laboratory report done under contract to the NRC that predicted outlandish consequences from a used fuel pool fire that somehow is ASSUMED to occur and is ASSUMED to put a large fraction of the stored isotopes into the atmosphere after somehow losing all of the thousands of tons of H2O in the pool.
      Though you have to follow a convoluted trail of references to discover this fact, the numbers that the study authors derive after making those physically impossible ASSUMPTIONS are also based on dose response curves provided by the 1980 BEIR III report. Even at the time that the Brookhaven paper was produced, those numbers (which include a lot of assumptions themselves due to the fact that the dose response studies were still underway) were 16 years old.
      The data gathered since then are quite consistent and demonstrate that the old assumptions about the health effects of low levels of radiation exposure were grossly overestimated. Here is a quote from the Health Physics Society’s currently approved position paper titled Radiation Risk in Perspective
      In accordance with current knowledge of radiation health risks, the Health Physics Society recommends against quantitative estimation of health risks below an individual dose of 5 rem1 in one year or a lifetime dose of 10 rem above that received from natural sources. Doses from natural background radiation in the United States average about 0.3 rem per year. A dose of 5 rem will be accumulated in the first 17 years of life and about 25 rem in a lifetime of 80 years. Estimation of health risk associated with radiation doses that are of similar magnitude as those received from natural sources should be strictly qualitative and encompass a range of hypothetical health outcomes, including the possibility of no adverse health effects at such low levels.
      There is substantial and convincing scientific evidence for health risks following high-dose exposures. However, below 5

      1. “Gentle correction – Mary Olson’s testimony was given to the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future (BRC), not the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).”
        In other words, she is betting that “commissioners and staff are ignorant,” as Paul hinted. Frankly, it’s not a bad bet, because there are a few members on the BRC who will swallow her nonsense hook, line, and sinker. Those who are familiar with the make-up of this commission probably know whom I’m talking about.

  3. I’m always amazed at how people can misconstrue “data” to the point that it flies in the face of common sense. If there is “no safe dose” of radiation as Mary says, then we are all very unsafe at this moment. Eating a banana with Brazil nuts ought to be considered suicidal by her standards.
    I found her earlier statement about bringing home ionizing radiation home to her family from her lab/workplace to be at odds with my basic understanding of how radiation works. Unless she had a significant amount of radioactive chemical residue on her body and clothing, this isn’t possible. Some people seem to think that radiation is contagious or give the suggestion that is the case like Mary did. This is not the case. NIRS has confusion and ignorance on their side and unfortunately not much is being done to combat that confusion.

  4. Part Two of my comments on Ms. Olson’s testimony:
    Moving to her statement that she could teach the senator about ionizing radiation. How exactly was she going to teach the senator when her testimony was slanted and therefore scientifically inaccurate? She only mentioned one possible scenario of the effects of ionizing radiation and that was the worst possible effect, which supports her and her organization

  5. Mm. I think that video clip needs a short rebuttal right next to it.
    Like Jason above I too was puzzled by Olson’s reference to taking radiation home. I find myself occasionally having to insist that radioactive materials are not like a virus; they don’t make othe things radiaoactive. But her misprepresentation of background radiation at 100mrem seems aimed at saying that the permissible off-site dose will double exposure, which is not true, and her wild extrapolations of exposure to large populations of a dose that simply doesn’t happen is similarly wrong.
    Anybody know which document is her source for the 3.5/1000 claim?

  6. When she talks about taking radiation home, she almost certainly meant that her hands, feet, or clothing were contaminated at work (meaning some small amount of probably a liquid solution of radioactive material got onto her). She would then leave work and leave behind traces of the radioactive material in her car, on the steering wheel,at home. Since she says this was a major turning point for her, I’m thinking someone must have found this out, come and done a contamination survey at her home, and discovered she had spread the contamination all over. This isn’t something that’s fun to find out.
    I used to work in radiation safety for the biology labs at a university. These labs use small amounts of radioactive materials as tracers. Based on Ms. Olson’s testimony that she is a biologist, I am sure her work in the lab is similar to the labs I have experience with. I was in one case involved in a contamination incident from handling waste. Material got onto my lab coat, and from there my hands once my gloves were removed. I had to scrub for about an hour before my hand cleared the hand-and-foot monitor. However, since my education is in nuclear engineering, I’m well aware that my added risk under LNT assumptions is negligible. She, on the other hand, apparently began a crusade to skew information about ionizing radiation. If her lab was anything like the university labs, she would’ve used something on the order of 10s of millicuries per month. Only a small fraction of this could have made it onto her as contamination; otherwise she surely wouldn’t have left the lab without knowing.
    That’s my best guess for what happened, seeing as how this same sort of thing happened to me.

    1. JD,
      Thanks for the explanation. Not having worked in a university lab I am not familiar with the protocol.
      However I have to ask, at both DOE and civilian installations where I have been a qualified rad worker the situation you describe would have set off the entire alarm system including incident reports if I had managed to leave with any level of contamination.
      What is the typical monitoring methodology at a biology lab?
      Either way I go back to my original comment that Ms. Olson needs to either refine her statements when in a public forum or drop the comment entirely. You explained that you took the proper actions when the contamination occurred. Ms. Olson’s comment makes it sound as if she did not which goes to a training and experience issue. And at this point in her career she should have sufficient knowledge and experience to understand the mistakes that lead to her “taking radiation home” and why that comment is technically inacurrate. Instead she continues to speak about the event as if she is at an anti-nuclear rally not a public forum about the future of nuclear power in the US.

      1. A clarificaiton of my first statement above.
        I have not worked in a biological or radiological lab within a university environment. I have worked in typical university labs where standard worker safety protocols were required and enforced.

        1. Bill,
          I apologize for answering you so late; I forgot to watch this thread for questions. You may never see this answer, but here it is anyhow.
          The way biology labs were supposed to monitor is to use a geiger counter. After the use of material, the lab workers used the geiger counter to ensure they hadn’t left any material behind on the counter. They were also to survey their own hands, etc. and record that they had no contamination. This was basically honor system though; as a radiation safety tech we surveyed the labs monthly for contamination, verified they had a working geiger counter, and verified that they were keeping survey records. As for whether the records were complete or accurate – anyone’s guess.
          I’ve also been to DOE labs and a civilian nuclear power plant. The radiation monitoring at these places are not comparable to my experiences with biology labs, because there really isn’t a lot to fret over at a biology lab. We really only delivered vials of a few millicuries of something like P-32 or S-35 every couple of weeks.
          So how could she leave without setting off alarms? Simple, there isn’t an alarm. My best guess: her lab probably wasn’t surveying employees or the countertops thoroughly. At least, she didn’t before she left that day. Maybe later that evening or the next day someone doing a survey discovered contamination in the area she was working. Radiation safety would probably try to track the spread of contamination, because this is very easy to do. In my story above, the vehicle I was driving had contamination on the steering wheel. Fortunately, the radiation safety office procedure involved a hand and foot monitor check, or I probably would’ve gone home for the day unawares. This, I think, is what happened to her. I can imagine a follow-on visit and discoveries of contamination locations was pretty frightening.
          Not particularly dangerous, but frightening.
          And I agree, her technical knowledge on the subject is clearly limited. This is the case with all the anti-nuclear speakers at the Blue Ribbon Commission meetings that I’ve seen on the video webcast. In fact, in their “Comments” section on the website, there is a recent posting where someone is fretting over the half life of U-238 “3.5 billion years about the same age of our planet”. Of course being concerned by that information is nonsense on several levels.

  7. Well, before we’re too harsh with Ms. Olson, she actually did say something that was accurate. At about 3:50 into the video, she said:
    “If it weren’t for radiation we wouldn’t be here.”
    This is true, since it is commonly believed by evolutionary biologists that radiation is essential for the development of the many species, including our own, that have walked the Earth (and certainly all species evolved in an environment that was more radioactive than what we observe today). There is a good case to be made that life itself depends on radiation.
    Oh the other hand, there is a figure that appears at 9:00 in the video that begets the question: when did the US reach a population of 400 million? Last time I checked we passed only 300 million a couple of years ago.
    How can she expect anyone to have any confidence in her figures when she gets the most basic of stats wrong?
    Having watched the entire video, I must conclude that Mary Olson is an idiot.

    1. @Brian – I agree. There is an old saying that concludes with “…than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” I posted this video to assist Ms. Olson remove all doubt about her level of knowledge of the technical details of health effects of radiation and the use of nuclear energy in a wider forum.
      I am sure that she has been working hard for a couple of decades to share her knowledge, but she has been choosing forums where hard questions do not get asked and where people do not listen very hard. Atomic Insights readers are doing a pretty fair job of doing the analysis.

  8. I’m a little late to the party, but I’d like to make a comment. You guys *might* be right that a small hole in the containment isn’t a big deal, technically speaking, but there’s a far greater reality: A containment building is something people *understand*. People who understand very basic physics and engineering at a high school level, can look at a containment building and say, “I think that is a reasonable way of preventing another Chernobyl from ever happening again, and that is a reasonable way of preventing terrorists from blowing up a reactor by dive-bombing a passenger jet into it, or from blowing it up with a Truck-Bomb – a 1 or 2 meter-thick containment seems like it would reasonably prevent such problems”.
    You are advocates for an industry that people are afraid of, because they think to themselves, “Even if nuclear plants can for the most part run safely, all it takes is ONE, just ONE big major disaster, and nuclear power will not be worth it because of the death and disease and long-term contamination over a wide area of maybe hundreds of square miles, where people live.” That is the big fear that environmentalists can appeal to – most people probably do think nuclear can run safely, but they wonder, can it run *perfectly* safely? Or, they might be afraid that there will be one per century or somethign – in any other industry, one incident per century would be a remarkable safety record, but people might be afraid (this is a fear which might be wrong, but I admit that without better knowledge, I wonder about this too): If you have even one accident per century that releases a substantial amount of radioactive material, then over the course of a few centuries, that can add up to the point where almost nowhere on earth is ‘pristine’ and unaffected by the radiation. Is that a legacy we want to leave future generations?
    They may also wonder, “why couldn’t a quarter sized hole, during a melt-down event, let high-pressure steam containing radioactive materials ‘jet’ out of the containment building”? Rod mentions that during the TMI incident, the fissile materials condensed on the inner surfaces of the containment building – but a reasonable person without an engineering background, might wonder that, sure that’s the case when there is complete integrity of the containment – BUT, would that *still* be the case when there isn’t 100% integrity? After all, there’s a world of difference between 100% and 99%. Also – would a quarter size hole act as a point of weakness in the structural integrity of the containment? There are certain structures that when they have 100% integrity, will be very strong at doing what they are supposed to, but introduce even a small flaw, and they become significantly weaker – like a windshield with a small hole/crack, that under stress rapidly grows to be a crack all the way across or up and down your windshield, or even begins a ‘spider-web’ pattern of cracking. If a containment building has a small hole in it, and a powerful bomb or gas explosion goes off close by, or there’s an earthquake, or a plane is flown into the structure, will that point of weakness prove to be a critical flaw that causes the hole containment to fail?
    Now, the point of my writing all this is this: When nuclear advocates write something like this article by Rod Adams, while they mean well, and are trying to educate the public about compex technical matters, it can come off as, well, sort of ‘crass’. Like nuclear advocates don’t care, and can’t be trusted. In other words, it might do the exact opposite of the intention of the author – instead of reassuring people that the nuclear industry is filled with people who have a deep personal commitment to safety, they may just come away thinking that the industry doesn’t really take safety as seriously as the people think you NEED to, in order to be trusted with something which seems so very potentially dangerous.

    1. “that can add up to the point where almost nowhere on earth is ‘pristine’ and unaffected by the radiation. …”
      But nowhere on earth is “‘pristine’ and unaffected by … radiation.” Radiation is everywhere. As you read this, you are literally bathed in radiation from both heaven and earth. You have radioactive material inside of you. Everything you eat, drink, and breathe is radioactive to greater or lesser extents.
      “Is that a legacy we want to leave future generations?”
      I’m far more worried about a legacy where we leave future generations wallowing in ignorance and stupidity.
      If someone thinks that the earth is somehow “pristine” and that radiation does not exist naturally, then he or she needs to be informed about how the natural world works. Pandering to their ignorance by trying to prove that the highly improbable is somehow impossible accomplishes nothing. It’s a fool’s errand that manages only to breed more fools.
      Let me put it another way. If I were to talk to someone from a century and a half ago and explain that people today get from point A to point B by riding in a vehicle that creates little “explosions” inside its engine thousands of times each second, this person would probably think that I was daft! Someone from that era would most likely be familiar with steam engines, in which an explosion is always catastrophic. It’s highly doubtful that it would be easy to convince him or her that such a device is safe, without accurately explaining how the device works.
      This is where intuition fails you, and it is why such questions are best left to highly detailed engineering analysis, and not to the guesses of “Monday-morning engineers,” who frankly don’t have the knowledge to estimate what is dangerous and what is not.
      Thus, it is better to explain how radiation safety works at a nuclear power plant to the layman in clear, sober, and accurate terms than it is to simply assume that everyone is an idiot who is too frightened or stupid to understand.
      If this comes across as “crass” to someone, well, that says more about the biases of the individual than the message itself. It is unlikely that this person would be convinced by a rational argument in the first place. Nevertheless, those who do not harbor such biases deserve an honest response that is unimpeded by the superstitions of others.

      1. I agree that there is certainly an education aspect required. But, most people would also understand ‘pristine’ to me ‘undisturbed by activities of man’, e.g. there might be natural low levels of radioactive materials, but pollution from a nuclear plant could maybe significantly elevate those levels.
        I’m not arguing against educating people about nuclear plant safety or facts about radiation – I think we need much more of that. What I’m saying is, I found this blog post by Rod to be not very ‘educational’ – it states many things as fact without seemingly providing any real understanding of why those things are true. If you are going to try to educate people, you can’t do it with short, dismissive posts that basically say there’s no risk, without actually going into the detail necessary to *prove it* to a level most people could understand and accept.
        Also, I’m trying to point out that, at least for awhile, until the general public is A) more comfortable with nuclear power plants (because you have a reasonable number/sample size running for many more years without an accident [we are *starting*, I think, to have the public get more comfortable with nuclear power, but Chernobyl is still *recent enough* that people aren’t entirely comfortable with it; I’d say go another 30 years without incident, and the public will get a lot more comfortable), and B) more educated about the actual issues,
        then:
        The industry just needs to accept that they’ll need some ‘additional expense’ in things like containment buildings which might not strictly be necessary, very thorough inspections and quick repairs of even things like quarter sized holes, even if it’s not strictly necessary. You might think that’s stupid, but that’s, in part, what it’s going to take to ensure the public trusts the industry.
        Now, we can take ‘unnecessary safety’ to such extremes that it makes nuclear completely untennable economically, and I’m not saying it should be taken to that extreme. But, really, is fixing a quarter-sized hole that big a deal? Is it that expensive? Just find and fix the hole, and move on. The public will be re-assured, and the expense won’t be great.

        1. @Jeff – first of all, the hole will be repaired expeditiously. I am not cavalier about the need to perform preventive and corrective maintenance. My message is that it is nothing to worry about. There are plenty of far more important things in life than getting concerned about non issues.
          You called my post dismissive – I call it brief. There are more than 1600 posts of various lengths and depths on Atomic Insights and the number increases rather steadily. I am doing the best I can to share good information and to provide links to others doing the same. In this particular post, I provided a link to a very important article published in a reputable journal. I wish that link would lead to a full, free version of the article, but that is not the way that Science chooses to do business.
          It should also be noted that I do not speak for the “nuclear industry.” In fact, my view is a tiny minority view – I think the industry has “rolled over” for far too long. In my opinion, and it is only my opinion, the biggest reason that the public still has the concerns that it has after 55 years of safe nuclear power plant operation is that the industry has failed to keep telling its own story effectively.
          Since the public is quite willing to overlook at least four fatal natural gas sourced fires/explosions that have occurred in the United States during the past 10 months, I am pretty sure that they could have managed to overcome their fears of nuclear if they were caused by an accident that happened 10 time zones away and nearly a quarter of a century ago. (Those natural gas explosions have killed 6, 29, 11, and 7 people. There were others who received serious injuries that may shorten their lives. Chernobyl killed 31 immediately and about 20 or so from delayed effects.)

        2. “there might be natural low levels of radioactive materials, but pollution from a nuclear plant could maybe significantly elevate those levels.”
          Might be? Maybe? Don’t you know? Are you always this comfortable speaking from ignorance?
          If you would bother to actually investigate what the regulatory standards are then you would realize that the “pollution from a nuclear plant” is a tiny fraction of background radiation levels — i.e., the stuff that we are exposed to every day.
          “I’m trying to point out that, at least for awhile, until the general public is A) more comfortable with nuclear power plants (because you have a reasonable number/sample size running for many more years without an accident …”
          I guess that three decades of near-perfect operation without a single significant accident is not enough to make you feel comfortable. More than four decades without harming a single member of the public is not enough for a nimrod like you to conclude that the technology is safe?
          Is that what you’re saying?!!
          All I can do to advise you, Mr. Ostrich, is to go back to burying your head in the sand. You’re obviously not interested in learning anything new.
          The nuclear industry already has a defense-in-depth approach to safety that is unequaled by any other industry in the world. The modern approach to safety in the nuclear sector relies on probabilistic risk assessment, which is the most mature, most advanced approach to assessing risk that exists today. Other industries are only now adopting their methodologies to benefit from this approach.
          Predictably, you’re focused on the “hole,” rather than whether the hole makes a difference. Please do some research before you speculate here again.

          1. I feel I must address this post. I’m a not an anti-nuclear activist or anything of the sort. I was merely trying to raise an awareness that, while I agree with what Rod is saying (and I do respect, Rod, that you were trying to keep it brief), that you have to be careful *how* you say things. PR is important. I’d hate for a well-meaning post by Rod to be turned into an ‘example’ by someone like Ms. Olsen (although, it’s probably gonna happen no matter what Rod says, admittedly, because, from what I’ve seen of most of the anti-nuclear ‘advocates’, they love turning any ridiculous thing into an argument in ‘their favor’, even when it clearly isn’t). Also, I was saying that the nuclear industry might, to some extent, need to live with what can be viewed as ‘too much safety’ for awhile.
            You ask if three decades isn’t enough for me? It’s NOT ABOUT ME. For a lot of people, 3 decades *isn’t* long enough. We’re talking about psychology here – in order to ‘pave the way’ to easier/more reasonable government regulation, better financing terms, less resistance by local residents to new sites, etc, it will *probably*, I think, take more than 3 decades. Why? Simply because of the fact that radioactive materials are so long lived – that is what people are afraid of.
            I remember reading Ted Rockwell somewhere ask why people are ‘more afraid’ of radiation than other risks. I’ll tell you why. Other problems tend to be very temporary – a gas line explodes, and the incident is over within a few hours or days (although rebuilding San Bruno may take months or years). What people are afraid of with nuclear is that it is Pandora’s box – if radioactivity ever gets out of the box, so to speak, it’s almost impossible to put it back in (or at least, that’s what we are often taught – perhaps that’s wrong), that is, to cleanup, and it lasts a long time.
            Now, I will share something you probably already know, and I’ve learned as I’ve been reading recently – even though it might last a long time, if it’s wide spread, it can become very dilute, and should pose no harm. In the areas where it *is* concentrated, it should be possible to come in and scoop up the contaminated top-soil, and replace it with ‘clean’ soil which only has regular background radiation levels. So, it shouldn’t cause people to fear as much as it does, but people need to learn these things.
            As for ‘my ignorance’ – I don’t know everything. I’ve been trying to read and learn more about radiation safety, nuclear engineering safety, etc. That is the whole reason I’ve been reading, and asking questions, on Atomic Insights, as well as other blogs. I would appreciate if you would please avoid personal attacks and name-calling. I sometimes phrase things in a non-assertive matter, because I do sometimes tend to get things wrong (or at least partly wrong), when I post, as I’m no subject-matter expert in these areas.

          2. @Brian – It is time to step in with a little gentle moderating influence. You recently wrote the following at the conclusion of a comment:
            “Predictably, you’re focused on the “hole,” rather than whether the hole makes a difference. Please do some research before you speculate here again.”
            As the host, I want to make everyone feel welcome, even (perhaps especially) if they are doing their research here rather than completing it before they come here to speculate and learn. I fully understand how it can get frustrating to keep sharing what we know, but that is the challenge that any good teacher must face every year. All of those wonderful things that they spent the last year (or the last decade or two) teaching with painstaking effort and beautifully prepared materials are all NEW again to the fresh crop of students.
            Jeff has been making a number of useful and inquiring comments, but he is pretty new to the blog and perhaps even to the atomic topics. Please do not scare him or others like him away.

    2. @Jeff – I do not want to respond to every point, but one item should be addressed. In this discussion, we are talking about a quarter sized hole in the liner of a reactor containment building. It is not even a hole through the building itself. You made the following statement:
      “After all, there’s a world of difference between 100% and 99%.”
      I agree that there is a difference between 100% and 99%, but there is also a world of difference between 462 square millimeters (the size of a quarter) and 400 square feet (about the size of a hole that would equal 1% of the area of a containment building).
      (Note: the area on the inside of a containment that is 100 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall is 39250 square feet if you ignore the bottom surface. 1% of that area would be 392 square feet.)

      1. Rod, thank you for the clarification. I wasn’t sure if the hole went the entire way through, or if it was only partial, as in this case. It does make complete sense to me that a small hole in the liner, but not the outer containment ‘shell’ should pose essentially zero risk, but upon initially reading this topic, I misunderstood the issue to be a (perhaps hypothetical) hole the size of a quarter all the way from the inside to the sky, so to speak.

  9. Has anyone done any analysis of the claim/graphic that Ms. Olsen presents in her video about the “Historic Crossover” – e.g. the claim that Solar PV is now cheaper per unit energy than nuclear? Does such analysis look at the issue that you need 3-10X more ‘nameplate’ capacity for solar than nuclear (e.g. that 1000MWe of Solar PV is *really* about 200-300MWe when you look at the capacity factor, while 1000MWe of Nuclear is closer to 900MWe)?
    I mean, do we even know what data that graphic comes from? Pretty graphics are nice and all, but without access to the underlying data, and information about what analysis was performed on the data to arrive at the graphic, it’s pretty much meaningless?

  10. You know, Ms. Olson may fear ionizing radiation, but she’s at a lot more risk from her morbid obesity. Doesn’t seem like she really understands either hazard, does it?

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