The Establishment Wants Us All To Overreact To Fukushima
A recurring theme on Atomic Insights is that nuclear energy is a disruptive technology that has the potential to reshuffle the wealth and power underpinning what my generation called “The Establishment”, which is essentially the same as what some now call the 1%.
Though it may be a bit of an exaggeration or over simplification, modern society rests on a hydrocarbon foundation. Without the reliable energy provided by burning vast quantities of stored material, the earth’s ability to sustain its human population would be severely diminished. The corollary to the fact of society’s hydrocarbon dependence is that extracting and delivering fossil fuels is one of the world’s largest and most profitable industrial activities. It has been that way since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It is difficult (though not impossible) to find any part of The Establishment whose wealth and power is not somehow related to financing, finding, extracting, protecting, refining, transporting, or consuming coal, oil and natural gas.
Many parts of The Establishment prosper when hydrocarbon prices rise. Higher prices result in a more rapid torrent of money from consumers to suppliers because demand is only modestly affected by price signals. As is the case for any commodity, energy prices are driven by the balance (real or perceived) between supply and demand – when actual or perceived supply is slightly lower than demand, prices rise as a result of competition for that supply.
Recognizing this reality drove me to my theory that liberal environmentalists and gentle grannies are not the real strength behind the world wide opposition to the use of nuclear energy. Instead, effective opposition to nuclear energy is a very logical activity for The Establishment. It is not a particularly admirable activity, however, so the opposition is not expressed openly. Well-educated members of The Establishment understand that subtle digs can be more effective than sign-carrying protests, especially when they can also convince others to carry the signs for them.
Members of the fossil fuel industry dependent Establishment have no desire to allow anyone else to have access to nearly unlimited power. “Power to the people” means less power for the people who have it now. The Establishment has no desire to compete in the market against fuel sources like uranium, thorium and plutonium that together have the triple play advantage of being inexhaustible, emission free, and reliable. They know that their favorite fuel sources are inferior in all of those measures of effectiveness.
During the past 24 hours, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about ways to share my theories to wider audiences. Those focused thoughts were stimulated as a result of reading the Wall Street Journal weekend edition for August 18-19, 2012. The Journal, arguably the paper of record for the economic establishment in the United States, published a special section that I believe was aimed squarely at subconsciously supporting existing fears about nuclear energy.
The front page article of the special section was a piece titled The Panic Over Fukushima. Though I normally read my news online, I happened to be spending part of the weekend in a hotel that provides free copies of the Wall Street Journal to its guests. When I opened the paper version of the weekend edition, the first thing that struck me was a nearly half page sized version of the below graphic element.
The eye-catching, scary, red-tinged graphic was accompanied by a piece by Richard Muller ostensibly aimed at explaining why he thought the world might have overreacted to Fukushima. However, the message I got from the piece was that Muller and the Wall Street Journal were subtly working together to damn nuclear energy with faint praise. Based on email conversations about the piece, I am pretty sure that many nuclear energy advocates will disagree with my interpretation, but here are some quotes from the article that might encourage others to rethink their initial impression.
The most thoughtful high-number estimate of deaths that will be caused by the Fukushima disaster comes from Richard Garwin, a renowned nuclear expert. He has written that the best estimate for the number of deaths is about 1,500—well above my estimate but still only 10% of the immediate tsunami deaths.
I don’t dispute Dr. Garwin’s number, but I believe it has to be understood in context.
Even though Dr. Garwin predicts 1,500 eventual deaths from the nuclear accident in Japan, he says the figure is small enough that the long-term evacuation of Fukushima itself would probably cause more harm than good. Evacuation causes disruption to lives that is hard to quantify but very real.
Some people believe that the proportionality assumption about radiation should be made because it gives a “conservative” estimate of possible risks.
Another way to overestimate the deaths is to use a much higher value for the induced cancer risk than has been determined by the best scientific studies. I think the most useful estimate is the one I’ve given: From the radiation so far, perhaps 100 induced cancers. Residents of Fukushima who are concerned that residual radiation will cause additional risk can avoid that by leaving, but they need to recognize that any additional cancers will be statistically unobservable, hidden well below those of natural cancer and the other dangers of modern life.
Aside The first time I heard of Richard Garwin was when I read Muller’s piece. Though I do not know every nuclear energy expert, I have been closely following and writing about the field for about 20 years. End Aside.
After reading the article, I watched the accompanying video, which is embedded below.
Though it is possible that the interviewer was simply asking leading questions and was not revealing his true feelings about nuclear energy, the words he spoke indicated a strong sense of distrust.
Gary Rosen: So Rich, the upshot of your piece is that we have panicked in response to Fukushima and that your concern is that this will, in a certain way bring an end to the development of new nuclear reactors around the world. Why is that a bad thing? Why should we want to promote this seemingly dangerous, relatively dangerous form of energy?
Though the interview only lasted for 5 minutes, I was quickly infused with a desire to interrupt and ask the interviewer why he thinks that media coverage should dictate whether or not people are afraid. As a media person himself, he has to realize that there is a difference between story telling and reality.
Gary Rosen: Now Rich, part of this book is, in a way, a defense of the nuclear industry and in particular a response to what happened in Fukushima. Now we all saw the coverage of this awful event. Are we not right to be very concerned about the lasting impact of that radioactive dispersal there?
There is one other subtle aspect to this article. On the web version, there is an accompanying slideshow that includes two images from the atomic bomb files of devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those images would not have been included if the goal of publishing the piece was to assuage fear, uncertainty and doubt about nuclear energy. (See slide 4 and slide 5. Please tell me if you agree or not with my assertion that they are not appropriate illustrations for this article unless the goal is to instill fear.)
Perhaps I am being unfair to Dr. Muller and the Weekend Edition editors. However, when I compare this piece to other recent interviews in which Muller is persuasively advocating a rapid shift of electricity production from coal to natural gas, I see this article as, at best, lukewarm support for nuclear energy. I am certain that many readers will remember the figure of 1,500 predicted deaths and remember that Muller gave credence to that calculation. They will forget some of the additional words he wrote and they will forget that the calculation includes a long tail of exposure well below the level that has be proven to cause any harm.
In today’s world, lukewarm support translates into a mistaken impression that nuclear energy is too risky and too expensive to trust. That is especially when ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and all of their media and political buddies keep telling us all – in both paid and unpaid advertisements – that the US has enormous quantities of “clean natural gas”.
What the commercial messaging does not tell us is that selling shale gas will produce a lot more wealth for The Establishment if nuclear energy is distrusted because it is believed to have the ability to cause thousands of cancer deaths, even in a “western” designed power plant. The commercials also do not tell us that the “century of natural gas” is really closer to 80 years at current consumption rates and a lot less than that if consumption increases as a result of successful marketing efforts.
A vague distrust of nuclear energy results in the technology being kept under wraps and not allowed to participate in the energy market to its full potential. Muller’s piece only reinforces that distrust and supports the Establishment message that we need to keep depending on fossil fuels for all of the good things that we take for granted about modern living.
I cut Muller some slack in his WSJ article (not the video) is because at least he is more or less on a world media stage providing an anti-FUD viewpoint in a major organ cool towards nuclear to say the least. Granted he’s no nuclear Carl Sagan (if only we had one!!) but at least he doesn’t slam nuclear and gives it a tepid thumbs-up, and though some of his points are shaky and turns on a dime I prefer his kind to silence in the forest. With great frustration I skim the NYTimes, Wash Post, LA Times, Daily News and it’s just one anti-nuke parade after another. With greater frustration I wait for nuclear professional organizations and groups, between dishing out life awards and Girl Scout nuclear badges, to aggressively publicly challenge questionable reporting on the SONGS boilers and mutant butterflies in op eds at the very least, if not their own PSAs and YouTube vids which I’m sure their dues can cough up, but all we get there are crickets. Arnie and Helen and Greenpeace run amok in the mainstream media and academia with respected FUD, but our pro challengers are chilling out in the closet. It’s like the nuclear field doesn’t see this as a war for the hearts and minds of a nuclear skittish public, and the other side is royally getting over because the pro-nuclear big leagues are too damn timid to just as aggressively get out there and do some media/public FUD-busting and challenge all those bogus “All Energy For America” commercials. To see at least one dim light in the forest espousing SOMETHING positive about nuclear energy in a media sea of negatives is a triumph to me. It’s not that Muller’s doing anything maliciously wrong weighing the virtues of nuclear, but pro-nuclear PR hasn’t really been doing much right. I take my media champions where I get them as they are, like beggars can’t be choosers until the big boys who ought be in this fight step up to bat.
Well said, James. I wish the ANS allowed non-professionals to join, and that they would launch a major, long-lasting PR initiative to engage the airwaves, cable, print media, and online debates. With all respect to the individual bloggers who have made an important pro-nuclear presence on the internet, organizations like the ANS are the only ones with the financial and administrative resources to maintain an initiative like that over the long haul.
The ANS is a 55 year old technical society with a defined mission that does not include the kind of PR initiative that you recommend. It does a good job in producing educational materials and in spreading accurate technical information to school teachers who can be sponsored to attend ANS workshops.
There are at least four established non-profits that can accept members and contributions from people who want to do more to promote nuclear energy technology. Here is my list so far:
Nuclear Literacy Project
The Energy Education Project of the Ethan Allen Institute
US Nuclear Energy Foundation
All are small, but all could use support and volunteers to enable them to grow. Activism takes time and resources from people who really care.
Another thoughtful post as always, Rod!
I am going to be very disappointed if Muller does turn out to be less than pro-nuclear. I loved his book “Physics for Future Presidents.” – which is not the same as Energy for Future Presidents.
I wonder if the WSJ altered his original composition any …? Muller seemed so rational in his original “Physics” book which I believe he also used as his textbook for teaching a very popular university class. Yup, I’m thinking the WSJ had a hand in how the article was presented and not just in making the graphic RED!
The problem has been that some of the very people who should be trying to advance nuclear also have interests in fossil fuel plants – they own them, or have stock or what-have-you. Like a certain nuclear lobbying group that shall remain nameless here, the members own fossil fuel plants as well as nuclear. Those guys are NEVER going to take the gloves off and fight wholeheartedly for nuclear … it would compromise the legitimacy of their other energy plants …
Hi Rod: I agree with much of what you say. But Garwin is an expert of sorts. He co-wrote one of the first big books I read on nuclear power: Megawatts + Megatons: The Future of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons.
Garwin appears primarily to be a nuclear weapons/proliferation expert. Charpak is actually a nuclear physicist.
This book is pretty pro LNT, without making much of an argument for it.
What do you think of the hypothesis (expressed by Yanis Varoufakis in “The Global Minotaur”) that the US establishment was actually secretly happy with the oil price rises of the ’70s (while publicly attacking the “greedy Arabs” for pushing up the prices), because they believed that higher oil prices would hurt America’s competitors in Western Europe and Japan more than they hurt America itself, and thus help reduce the US trade deficit that had recently emerged?
I guess that means European anti-nuclear campaigners in the Cold War could have been helped not just by a KGB anxious to increase Soviet oil and gas exports, but also by the CIA.
I know that much of the US establishment was happy about the oil price increases of the 1970s because they were either in the business of selling oil or in the business of selling their souls to people who sold oil.
I highly recommend reading “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” to get a feel for how happy the military industrial complex was about the way that high oil prices helped to increase the flow of money from the pockets of American and European consumers into the pockets of Saudi Arabia and other OPEC nations and back into the coffers of the arms manufacturers that sold them weapons to protect their oil wealth.
I am grateful that you read the Muller article and feature it for comment on Atomic Insights.
I think that Dr. Muller is a better energy analyst than you have frequently portrayed him lately. Muller is pro-nuclear, as could easily be ascertained even from this single article and would be even more evident if you read his recently released book “Energy for future Presidents”, although Muller is part of a very large and even dominant army of nuclear professionals who accept LNT as an operative theory of radiation caused cancenogenic-radiotoxicity (which is regrettable).
LNT is deeply established within the circle of responsible professional official radiation safety, currently.
Important, major, professional radiation safety related organizations, including government agencies responsible for public radiation safety, accept Dr. John Gofman’s LNT as the operative working theory for radiation risk. This includes the Health Physics Society which proclaims on it website in the ” Positions of the Health Physics Society” area of the site –
Health Physics Society – PS010
” The HPS recognizes the practical advantages of the linear no-threshold hypothesis to the practice of radiation protection.”
LNT is the customary and routinely assumed as a background understanding when radiation professionals gather to discuss how radiation risks are best accessed. Those holding threshold bound radiation safety views, as I do, are the small minority, and when they speak and present, we must first explain our views and attempt to justify them before the larger majority who accept as a functional theory, the LNT approach to radiation risk estimation.
When you criticize Muller for his moderate views on LNT, you criticize him for having views inline with the major Health Physics Society and EPA and DOE and other government agencies dedicated to protecting the nation from risks associated with radiation. You are branding Muller as being “soft on nuclear” because he has mainstream views on radiation risk and its interpretation.
Actually, using the LNT to calculate eventual cancers from a known, low dose/dose rate is specifically NOT in line with the recommendations of the Health Physics Society.
Here is a quote from the HPS publication titled Radiation Risk in Perspective:
Here is another quote from the same position paper:
Though I do not have the links at my fingertips, I am pretty sure that the UNSCEAR and the ICRP also recommend NOT using collective dose or anything that resembles the use of collective doses to calculate a number of expected deaths without using a range that INCLUDES the possibility of ZERO adverse health effects.
Cui bono is the idea that the responsibility for an act can usually be determined by asking who stands to gain as a result of the act. It is an adage that can often be used to get some perspective on an issue, and in the case of nuclear vs. carbon it is so glaringly obvious it is almost painful.
The real question is why in the face of this, and with others working just as hard to show that the continued use of combustion has consequences that are at least as dire as any problems nuclear might have, does it seem the antinuclear message resonates more strongly.
Frankly, I don’t believe it does.
The public is not as opposed to nuclear energy as we are being led to believe, the numbers are rather strong considering the constant drip of antinuclear propaganda that the public is exposed to. This suggests that what we are seeing is an attempt to isolate those that might support nuclear with the idea that they hold a view that is far more dangerous that it really is. Thus the move here to lukewarm support rather than outright rejection. The message is “Ya, you’re right, but…” which seeks to undermine someone’s position, rather than assert they are wrong, outright.
What I believe is that those that oppose nuclear energy see that they are losing ground far more clearly that those of us that support nuclear see we are gaining. We desperately need to engage in some sort of broad outreach now. The antinuclear house is rotten to the core and that it will collapse into dust with one well placed kick.
I agree, public opinion of nuclear is not in line with what the media would have you believe:
A slight majority (57%) think it’s safe and favor its use. The survey also indicates that opinions have largely remained unchanged since the silly, overly exaggerated “disaster” in Japan.
Also, Rod, take a look at who believes nuclear energy is NOT safe and tell me again why you think the far left will someday welcome nuclear into it’s open arms.
And here’s some more stuff from that camp. Find me some anti-nuclear conservatives please:
Do you consider Cato to be “conservative”?
If so, search Atomic Insights for Jerry Taylor. You’ll find some interesting posts.
Rod, CATO us conservative vis-a-vis economics and taxes. They are the *most* conservative in this respect, up there (or down there depending on where you are standing) with Heritage Foundation. Who even questions this? On social issues they tend not to issue much, and are libertarian in many respects.
So Cato is both “conservative” and opposed to the use of nuclear energy. Of course they couch their opposition in words about cost that sound like they could have come directly from the Rocky Mountain Institute or the Nuclear Information Resource Service.
Yeah, he uses the exact same arguments that you see on environmentalist sites. You got me on that one!
But in general, you have to admit the significance of the fact that 72% of republican/leaners believe nuclear energy is safe. And not all free market advocates are against some sort of carbon tax, consider Tim Worstall at Forbes.
I’d consider myself libertarian. I use the word “conservative” just because of it’s breadth. But I’m willing to make an exception for nuclear energy since I recognize the value of cheap, abundant, clean energy. Sort of like roads and bridges, lol.
@Jon – I can name quite a few people who lean to the left who are strong supporters of nuclear energy. It is not a “right-left” or “red-blue” issue.
It is one that tends to unite people who espouse a dislike of humans with those who love to make money selling fossil fuel. They both think that oil and gas should be very expensive and that nuclear energy is the bane of their existence.
Yeah sure … let’s not make this a political issue by supporting the rhetoric of one side or the other. It’s not one of those issues.
I don’t understand your response. Surely you do not think that The Establishment is either right or left – there are members of the elite on both sides of the political spectrum.
It is certainly no secret that the elites run both the Republican and the Democratic parties, so this is not about politics. It is about economics, technology and opportunity for more people to have more power.
Rod – If you can find an example of a prominent Republican politician using the term “1%” to describe anybody in a negative way, then I’ll admit that my sarcasm is misplaced and inappropriate.
However, repeating the partisan labels of Obama and his supporters while claiming to be neither right nor left, red nor blue, is … well … worthy of a sarcastic response, don’t you think?
My advice to you is to stay away from politically charged terms unless you want to be marked as being political.
If you want to be political, then please don’t get offended when someone points out that you are.
@Brian – I’m not sure I could find an example of any prominent Democrat using the term 1% either, but I am not really much of a politics watcher. The Occupy movement, which originated the term, seemed to be pretty angry at both established parties. That matches my current attitude.
I am not for forced redistribution, but I am solidly for strong public primary education, excellent roads, bridges, parks, and higher education that does not require someone to go so deeply in debt that they may not be able to pay off their loans with a mere average job after graduation. I believe that our country functions better when the end result is a broader distribution of wealth and power among the people. There is no class warfare when there is a large, functioning middle class where even modestly skilled hard workers can earn a family wage and accumulate decent pensions.
There is, however, a class war in progress right now where some people think it is fine for someone who produces nothing of value but digits on a spreadsheet to make tens of millions of dollars per year. I spent most of my professional life in an organization in which the top dogs wore the same clothing as everyone else – with a few extra ribbons and slightly different looking collar devices. They earned comfortable salaries that were perhaps 7-10 times as high as the entry level people and controlled large, complex organizations with skill and dedication.
They did not make salaries or collect bonuses that were large enough to pay several dozen skilled, experienced engineering managers.
In my view, a part of the reason that our economic structure is currently so vastly different than the one that enabled my family to climb out of the dire poverty they experienced during the Great Depression is that we are collectively paying way too much of our total output to a very tiny collection of energy suppliers. Those suppliers, who are made wealthy beyond belief based on geography, cunning, or outright theft of resources, share their wealth with people based on criteria other than productive skill.
Nuclear energy changes that dynamic and will help to flatten the distribution curve considerably. (Sure, there are other contributors to the current wealth distribution, but energy is a big part.)
I never said that nuclear energy was not political. I said it was not a left-right, red-blue issue.
(Note from moderator: I checked back through my own comments and realize that I did write “this is not about politics”. What I was thinking at the time was that the issue is not about party politics in the sense of there being a red choice and a blue choice and nothing else. It is certainly a political statement to claim that nuclear energy is a technology that threatens the wealth and power of the people at the very top – from both parties – but offers sustainable hope and prosperity to everyone else.)
Rod – I can, and it didn’t require much research.
Yeah, sure … the “Occupy movement” is angry at both established parties; that is true … but so is the Tea Party. If you ignore the lack of hygiene and the prevalence of drug-abuse and rape in one of the two organizations, they’re practically the same movement when it comes to upsetting the status quo. As a moderate, I reject both, since their only goal is to push American politics to the extremes — one to the left, the other to the right — and thus, we find ourselves now in an era when the few remaining moderate politicians are becoming fed up and are abandoning the US Congress like rats leaving a sinking ship.
If you think that nuclear power will thrive in a political environment dominated by the extremists, then you are fooling yourself. Repeating the slogans of movements that have demonstrated unequivocally that they are openly hostile to nuclear power is taking fooling yourself to an entire different level.
Good luck with that.
Your description of the Occupy movement participants is a caricature. The advertiser supported media worked pretty hard to marginalize a group that expressed a real sense of frustration and distrust of the way that banks and the people who run them seem to have been protected from the consequences of taking extreme risks.
The vast American middle class has been shrinking, partially as a result of the way that people at the top have abdicated their responsibilities to lift others up as they climb. Greed is not good, no matter how many times the movie clip is repeated. Oil, gas and coal are commodities that can be controlled to concentrate wealth; nuclear energy is far more dependent on large numbers of reliable people with high levels of personal integrity and a sense of responsibility.
The link you posted illustrates the fact that a large portion of the antinuclear movement was initially motivated by discomfort with the bomb. I believe that the ties between the bomb and nuclear energy have been carefully drawn and reinforced by people who wish to co-opt the passion that invigorates antibomb action and redirect it to action against nuclear energy. That strategy has been working for 40 years, but I think it is something that can be turned around.
I might be “fooling myself”, but I believe that people like Patrick Moore, Stewart Brand, Mark Lynas, George Monbiot, Gwyneth Cravens and Ben Heard are not outliers. When people take the time to think hard and evaluate energy options, they will often recognize that turning the dense energy stored in nuclear materials into useful power is a pretty good option.
Rod – Caricature? So do you deny that rapes and drug abuse happened at the Occupy camps? I think that the police record is pretty clear.
My comment is no more a caricature of the Occupy movement than the media’s typical description of the Tea Party — or, for that matter, your description of the “one percent.”
I don’t know where you’re getting this “American middle class has been shrinking” stuff from, but it doesn’t reflect the actual statistics. I assume that you have just made it up or are parroting something that you heard on NPR.
The 60% in the middle — i.e., the 60% of the population in the middle of the income scale in the US — have seen their real (inflation-adjusted) after-tax average household income increase by almost 40% in a generation (since 1979).
So the American middle class is about 40% richer (in terms of income, on average) than it was a generation ago, and yet somehow it is shrinking?! The only way that I can reason this one out is to presume that you mean that some in this class have worked their way out of this category because they now earn more than what would have been considered “middle-class” income back in the “good old days.”
Brian – I certainly deny that rapes and drug abuse had anything like the presence at Occupy sites that was portrayed by the ad supported media.
This link is not exactly from NPR
I also find it interesting that you selected a period of time that dates to before my college graduation. I was thinking about the trends for the past 10-20 years.
Rod – And your evidence is so overwhelming. Wow! You surely told me a thing or two.
Oh no, that link is to a random blog post that was written by a financial analyst who has been banned from the securities industry for lying in his stock analyses. (Nice choice, by the way.) While it does not have the brand quality of NPR, the blog that you have chosen to cite (according to Wikipedia) “provides and analyzes business news and acts as an aggregator of top news stories from around the web, each with an ‘edgy’ commentary. Its original works are sometimes cited by other, larger, publications such as The New York Times and domestic news outlets like National Public Radio.”
Apparently, I have underestimated you, Rod. Rather than rely on NPR, you have gone directly to the source (of misinformation). I apologize for not giving you proper credit for the lengths to which you will go to spread a little popular propaganda.
For what it’s worth, the source of my stats is a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, “Trends in the Distribution of Household Income Between 1979 and 2007,” which was published last year. You can download a copy for free from the CBO website (google it), if you are interested.
While you might find the choice of the starting date “interesting,” the date that I used was merely the starting date referenced in the report that I was using as a source. As the authors of this report explain, this date was chosen because it was the first year that certain statistics used in their analysis were available. If I had wanted to cherry-pick a starting date (assuming that I’m not an idiot) I would have waited a few years, since the (inflation-adjusted) income of most households decreased during the recession of the early 1980’s. My numbers would have sounded a lot better if I had chosen, say, 1983 as a starting point.
The report contains graphs that cover the years between 1979 and 2007, so don’t take my word for it. You can draw your own conclusions.
Note that this is the very report that President Obama refers to these days when he talks about the “one-percent,” so I’m not relying on right-wing propaganda. Fortunately, I’m not a politician who is trying to keep his job for another four years, so I can delve deeper into the report than Obama’s shallow talking points do.
As President Obama likes to point out, the main gist of the report is that the top 1% or top 10% have had their real income increase at a much faster rate than the remaining 90%. But the rest of the story is that everyone — even the bottom 20% — have seen their income (before and after tax) increase over the years.
The reasons for the discrepancy between the rise in income of the top 1% and the rest of the population is an interesting topic, but it is something that is beyond the scope of this already too-long comment.
I did not provide any links for my statement about the way that the ad supported media overplayed the stories about drugs and rapes at Occupy camps because I would be searching for evidence of what did not happen.
The stories about all of the people who attended the events and did not engage in those activities is about as interesting to the media as the stories about all of the people who did not die as a result of radiation leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdowns.
When I made the first comment, I linked to the article I wrote after talking with “That Guitar Man” who told me what he had experienced in many days of attending the camp in New York. I recognize that was just one man’s perspective, but he apparently talked to a whole lot of people.
I’m not going to keep pursuing this conversation because it is not really the topic of my blog or the focus of my atomic advocacy. I remain convinced that concentrating society’s resources into the hands of a very small portion of the population is a very bad long term strategy, that it IS a long term strategy by the people at the very top of the hill who have been taught that “greed is good”, and that fossil fuel dependence plays a key role in enabling that strategy to work.
Oh the irony! I first came across Muller when I was criticizing climatology-deniars. Muller was a denier with a bit of a cult following. Then last year, funded by the Koch Brothers, he actually looked at the evidence and found it supported the science. Funny how that works!
The fact that he publicly changed his mind speaks to his honesty, especially considering his ties to the Kochs. Here’s geochemist J.L. Powell discussing Muller’s behaviour:
Muller seems to be a bit of a health physics denier, though wishy-washy.
“I am uncomfortable with these large numbers of predicted deaths. They are based on a theory that assumes proportionality in the way that radiation increases the likelihood of cancer—a theory that has never been tested, will not be tested in the foreseeable future, and which is known to fail for leukemia”
LNT has and is and will be tested. The a-bomb survivor study is still ongoing. It doesn’t fail for leukemia. Leukemia is best modeled with a linear-quadratic dose response. Solid cancers can be modeled either way.
He doesn’t dispute Garwin’s number and yet he sort of does.
Forgive me, but “linear-quadratic” does not sound a bit like “linear-no threshold”. You are obfuscating your own point. The fact is that a linear dose response all the way to zero dose simply does not fit the data that has been accumulated through about 100 years worth of data gathering. Even the “gold standard” study favored by the staunch defenders of the LNT – the Life Span Study (LSS) of Atomic Bomb Survivors – has accumulated inescapable evidence that there is less evidence for harm at low levels than would seem to be predicted by the LNT.
I’m not obfuscating anything. There is no threshold. For leukemia, the risk goes up very fast with dose, it is a linear-quadratic response. For solid cancers, the risk goes up more slowly, it can be modeled either way, (ie, a very small quadratic term added to the linear term).
You have a cartoonish view of what LNT actually says, so you are arguing against a strawman. You are doing what Muller did on climatology. He finally saw the light. Can you?
What is the lowest dose at which there has been proven to be a measurable increase in leukemia? Step away from the assumptions and the models and show me the data.
Guilty as charged. I believe that a “linear, no-threshold” dose response model means that the equation of the risk line is in the form of y=mx + b where b=0 (since the risk of zero is at the same place where the dose is zero.)
The only thing research should be able to provide is the slope of the curve – also known as the value of ‘m’.
If research shows that ‘m’ varies depending on dose – which you are stating by saying that “for leukemia, the risk goes up very fast with dose” that proves that the linear equation is NOT accurate. If the dose is indeed linear and there are indeed more than one value of ‘m’ then by mathematical definition, there has to be a value of ‘b’ (the ‘y’ intercept – also known as threshold) that is not zero.
You cannot have your model both ways. Either it is linear or it is not. Either there is a threshold or there is not.
“What is the lowest dose at which there has been proven to be a measurable increase in leukemia? Step away from the assumptions and the models and show me the data.”
The question doesn’t even make sense. A “dose” is based on a model, we can’t directly measure the amount of energy absorbed by someone. With the A-bomb survivors there was a 6% excess of leukemia in the lowest dose strata (0.5 – 10 rem).
“Proven” doesn’t make sense. Math has proofs. Science has evidence to support a conclusion, but the conclusion is always conditional on new evidence.
How about some real numbers instead of percentage increase in risk? As we both know, the risk of leukemia is already quite low, so the numbers are based on rather small groupings and samples. The total number of cases of leukemia among the A bomb population of 51,114 was only 176. The “expected” number in that population was 89, leading to a computed “excess” of 87 cases over the entire range of exposures.
According to the graph on page three of an RERF summary publication (http://dels-old.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/rerf_final.pdf) by the National Academies, the error bars for the “chance of radiation-induced leukemia” look like they go below zero for all doses up to about .1 Sv (10 rem). Perhaps you have a sharper pencil or sharper eyes than I do, so I’d be interested in the actual numbers and the ranges of error associated with them.
The publication linked and discussed above is titled “Health Effects of Radiation Findings of the Radiation Effects Research Foundation”
I agree that the normal incidence of leukemia is low. At low doses, the excess incidence of leukemia is also low. That’s why it takes a huge sample in order to discern the difference (50K + is a large sample, but small relative to country’s population).
I am fine with your graph and its error bars. The points calculated are what they. The uncertainty is what it is. That’s no reason to ignore the uncertainty in favor of HIGHER estimates (upper half of error bars) while fixating on the uncertainty in favor of LOWER estimates.
That is bias.
Sorry, but generalizations are not sufficient answers. How many people were in the sample of people with exposures of less than 10 rem? What was their expected number of leukemia deaths? How precise is that number? What was the total number of leukemia cases? How precisely was that number measured?
My point is that your assertion of a 6% excess is a very precise number from imprecise data. It is a little like that 20% rate of mutations in the butterfly study that was really just one butterfly with deformed wings – since there were only 5 butterflies in the sample.
If the total number of expected cases of leukemia in the cohort of people with doses less than 10 rem was 16 and the measured number was 17, you could be claiming that there was a 6% increase in risk. What your number would obfuscate is the fact that the expected value might really range from 13-19, which means that 17 was in the expected range.
The doses for the atomic bomb victims were not measured. At the low end, there is a lot of uncertainty in the number. We should all know that there were confounding influences associated with that particular group of people that might have made them more (or less) susceptible to leukemia. Claiming that a 6% increase in a cohort that includes people with exposures over a range from 0.5 to 10 rem validates the LNT shows that you are practicing data torture to extract the answer you are expecting to hear.
“The ANS is a 55 year old technical society with a defined mission that does not include the kind of PR initiative that you recommend.”
Indeed it is. And I am saying the ANS should expand its mission and its membership. Or, new organizations should be founded with the explicit mission of becoming a national PR presence, on par with major environmental groups, leading think tanks, and other groups that are in the trenches to sway public opinion.
I’ve watched nonprofits getting set up, and I’ve served on nonprofit boards of organizations large and small. People who really care are important. A business plan and funding are important. And what is most important are leaders who have the determination to carry out the mission, and the knowledge and salesmanship to navigate the many challenges.
I wonder if the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations could be persuaded to do some promoting of nuclear, or are they fearful of being accused of compromising their integrity and independence..
LNT seems to be contradicted by incidence of cancers in populations living in areas of high background radiation.
There’s some recent research (sorry no cite, my brain’s not cooperating this week) into the effects of very low levels of radiation on DNA and it seems to activate certain genes within the DNA resulting in more “reliable” cell division; i.e. less successful mutation through increased apoptosis(?) in mutated cells. As such, the research supports the hypothesis of radiation hormesis.
It could mean that people from regions of high background radiation are less vulnerable to “bursts” of radiation. Lending itself to pre-selecting nuclear plant workers and others who might be more at risk of being accidentally exposed to brief, high doses of radiation. Also, radiation workers who have been exposed to low doses of radiation are to some extent innoculated against short bursts of more intense radiation; moreso than those who spend a lot of time in low-radiation environments.
Predictions of deaths from radiation, when background radiation levels are well below those of other regions of the world where people have thrived for generations, is irresponsible fear-mongering. I don’t recall seeing figures in any official reports on the population-wide screening about even a few “civilian” individuals from the region having received doses of radiation that would make them significantly more likely to develop cancer than the rest of the population.
The natural disaster around Fukushima has claimed about 20,000 lives. Fear-mongering by activists and government over-reaction has destroyed more lives.
The sooner the Japanses government gets a grip on reality, the better. Allowing a managed return of residents to the region to rebuild and to relax and enjoy their lives. The biggest danger from radiation to the Japanese people is sunburn.
The following web reference, which I found under “radiation hormesis” on WIki, presents preliminary data that seems to call into question the LNT hypothesis, at least for bacteria.:
Upon reflection it should come as no surprise that life on this planet has adapted to the
radiation background even to the extent that it has a some dependence upon it. In much
the same way that we depend upon our planet’s gravitational field to keep our bones healthy.
The release article didn’t mention the techniques that were used to remove Potassium–40 from the environment in which the bacteria were growing.
“That’s why it takes a huge sample in order to discern the difference (50K + is a large sample, but small relative to country’s population).”
Just to point out that the country’s population is irrelevent here.
“modern society rests on a hydrocarbon foundation” and the currency of the trans-Atlantic finacial system is petro-dollars………….in short, nuclear power is an empire killer
You’ve got it. Nuclear energy is disruptive; since I am not a fan of empires, I like that aspect of the technology.
I just read this article and it has convinced me to buy the book. I detect NO bias by
Muller at all, and if you read much later in the article, it most definitely discusses the danger of using proportional damage for such small numbers. The article doesn’t say directly linear no threshold, but if sure is discussed for the lay public. Even when using the linear basis, he has come up with small numbers. He even questions Garwin’s numbers. Moreover, in the text I learned a new way of thinking about REM and cancer dose – it “quantifies” cell destruction – spread over many people rather than occurring in one person leads to vastly different outcomes. In reading this, Muller is CLEARLY pro nuclear, and for rational reasons.
Consequently, I’m not sure what the fuss is about.
Greig – Muller is on a book tour for his book about energy policy. In two separate interviews, he said there are just two things we need to do to make a big impact on global emissions – conserve energy and replace as much coal burning as possible with natural gas.
Why didn’t he say build more nuclear plants? Why didn’t he recognize that China has 25 new nuclear plants under construction already? Replacing coal with nuclear will make a much larger impact on emissions than replacing coal with gas.
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