1. @Kit P – you and I will never agree on this issue. If government actions prevent the use of nuclear energy, they will result in an increase in the use of coal, oil and natural gas. People like Lochbaum will be able to get away with claiming that they have reduced risk, but working to hinder the safe use of nuclear energy adds a significant risk burden in other areas.
      I maintain that the “nuclear” industry has gotten this equation wrong since the beginning because most of the companies involved were also part of the fossil fuel industry. The “nuclear industry” leaders have been repeatedly taught that it is a mistake to help the general public compare energy choices on objective measures. Since the industry has not helped the public make those comparisons, we are left with a situation where emotions rather than facts rule.
      I made that comment after sitting through a number of presentations by people like Lochbaum, Jim Williams, and Victoria Winfrey talking about how afraid they and their constituents were about the “risks” associated with used fuel storage and nuclear power plant operation. The number I quoted was almost assuredly a low ball figure since I can point to just three accidents that add up to that total and I am sure there were others, probably some that included no identifiable human errors.
      Please admit that uncontrolled natural gas is explosive and that the gas has a proven track record of escaping from its containers in concentrations that can – and do – explode with nasty consequences for the people nearby.

      1. Sorry, Rod, but Kit has a very good point here. When you’re at an event to discuss the safety of transporting and storing used fuel, it is a very bad idea to remind everyone in the room that industrial accidents happen and that they happen more frequently than most people would like to admit.
        What were you thinking when you pointed out how many deaths have occurred from a common substance that many people (including me) have piped into their homes every day? What do you think that the average person is going to take away from this? What do you suppose the average person is going think about stuff that has to be kept in mysterious pools or isolated in large, robust casks to keep it away from the environment? The more you keep bringing up accidents like this, the more people are going to piss their pants over safety concerns and demand strangling over-regulation.
        Why don’t you take a lesson from the competition and set up a pseudo-grass-roots front group to bash the competition. You’re not doing anybody a favor by pointing out how unsafe everything is while simultaneously drawing attention to nuclear energy.

        1. @Brian – I was thinking that the vast majority of people do not need to have the risks of life hidden from them. We all know that nothing is 100% safe, and we all know that we accept many risks. What many do not know is that there are ways to rack and stack risks – when you do that rationally, worrying about the risks of the kind of materials that were very well described during the meeting should start to fall pretty darn low on the priority list.
          People do not go through life worrying about things like automobiles, gasoline and natural gas. They probably shouldn’t – there is far more to life than worry. However, if they accept those risks with equanimity, they should not devote their lives to stamping out incredibly smaller risks.
          Here is a quote from Jim Williams, representing the Western Governors Association:
          Not only does the general public dread highly radioactive waste, and mistrust its federal program managers, but in no other policy area do federal policies cut so differently among states and localities.
          And here is one from Victoria Winfrey, President of the Prairie Island Indian Community Tribal Council:
          “The plant

          1. Rod – The problem is that people don’t think in terms of OSHA statistics. They think in terms of the things that are immediately in front of them.
            Were you writing an academic paper on relative risks in the electricity sector, or were you speaking at a public meeting? When it comes to PR, there are certain “no no’s” that good practitioners simply do not do. One is drawing needless attention to issues that do as much harm to your cause as they do to someone else’s. This is why you do not see the following ad:
            Buy Exxon-Mobil gas. Hey, it was the other guy who polluted the gulf.
            Or back in 1993, when there was an E. coli outbreak at Jack in the Box restaurants, Carl’s Jr. didn’t run an ad saying
            Eat our hamburgers. Our competition’s fast-food burgers have killed three toddlers.
            There are other, better ways to get your point across than bluntly pointing out how many people have been killed this year in the business of making electricity.
            Neither Jim Williams nor Victoria Winfrey represent the natural gas industry. Thus, they can say whatever they want without adversely affecting their respective interests.
            Once you’ve identified yourself as a nuclear energy proponent, however, you have put “nuclear” in the forefront of everyone’s mind. Thus, what you say and the concerns you raise impact what people are going to think about nuclear, whether you want them to or not, and whether you are talking about nuclear power or any other aspect of the power industry.

            1. @Brian – I disagree. I was a fan of the Mac versus PC commercials. When the Mac operating system had a measurable security and usability advantage over Vista, Apple’s PR and marketing folks made hay of those advantages with some very effective messaging. You might have noticed that the commercials are no longer running, Apple has apparently recognized that their competition has gotten a lot better with its release of Windows 7.
              I also paid attention to the way that the rest of the energy industry has communicated about the BP spill, often emphasizing their own record of few violations and fatal accidents. Sure, you might not see that in a 30 second spot, but I am pretty sure I can find examples in large format print ads. The leaders of the companies also testified in front of Congress to that effect.
              Are you a marketing or PR professional or have you studied that topic in depth with case studies, or are you simply sharing the knowledge that you have gained from industry sponsored workshops on communicating with the public? I have attended those kinds of sessions as well; I have often heard the PR folks teaching employees to stay on message and never introduce suggestions of risks from other similar activities.
              Of course, I am a skeptic. I am pretty sure that the corporate PR specialists have been reminded frequently of the fact that most of the companies in the energy industry are involved in far more than one technology. They advocate a “balanced” portfolio of energy sources, because they have figured out ways to profitably sell even inferior products via participation in the political process that allocates subsidies, mandates, and tradable renewable energy certificates or emission allowances.
              Having employees who recognize and promote the technical superiority of one of their product lines over another would not necessarily benefit the corporation, even it the employee is absolutely correct.
              PS – I have a recording in my library somewhere of a PR professional from Southern Company telling why she has never been allowed to compare coal to nuclear. I have heard that same conversation dozens of times in the hallways at various industry meetings during the past 15 years.

              1. I decided to go and find that audio recording. I will not identify the speaker or the company, but I do have that information at hand. This quote is coming from the head of a communications organization at a large utility that has a mix of generating assets. The speaker has more than 22 years of professional experience. She is speaking to a group of nuclear professionals:
                “If you go back before the new deployment stuff, a lot of our communications, well there weren’t that many. The majority of our capacity is coal, so we were kind of really limited in communicating anything that would tout the benefits of nuclear if you’re competing against the coal assets. So prior to the plans for new deployment, there were not a lot of communications that we did, either internally or externally that really promoted nuclear power.”

              2. Once again, Rod, you’re off in left field.
                Let me give you a hint: So tell me, how many people did the Mac representative claim that the PC had killed in those commercials that you admire?
                I’m not objecting to pointing out superior features of a product (and in that respect, Linux clearly takes the prize, since it is superior to both the Apple and Windows software platforms — including Windows 7 — on so many levels). I’m complaining about your ghoulish habit of focusing on how many deaths were caused by this and that. That was in your statement, wasn’t it?
                That kind of information might have a proper place in the discussion, given an appropriate context, but at a meeting where the sole concern (let’s face it) is how many people this stuff (nuclear “waste”) is going to harm in the next couple of centuries … well … let’s just say that this was not the best time to be pulling out a body count.
                I am no more of “a marketing or PR professional” than you are. What do the professionals say? Well, you have told us:
                “I have often heard the PR folks teaching employees to stay on message and never introduce suggestions of risks from other similar activities.”
                That’s good advice. It’s a shame that you are too stubborn to absorb it. I guess that’s why you’re just a blogger among the many bloggers on the internet.
                Perhaps when you are hired as a PR person for a company, or perhaps when you run a company that has to deal with the consequences of off-hand remarks in a sensitive area of your business, you will understand what these “PR folks” are talking about.

                1. @Brian – You are correct that I would be a very poor hired PR person. I would have a very difficult time staying on message for a corporation or an organization that is attempting to spin its way out of a real issue, especially if I knew that the reason that the corporation got itself in trouble was an attempt to shave costs to maximize returns for executives and institutional shareholders who do not care very much about the long term value of the company, its employees and its customers.
                  I even had some difficulties thinking about how I would stay on message if I was asked to be a spokesman for a 220 year old organization whose history I deeply admire when I realized that too many of its current flag officers and senior civilian executives make the same kind of short term, somewhat selfish decisions. I realized that many of them developed those patterns of thinking while attending prestigious business schools that taught them that they should be working to cut costs by eliminating training, “leaning” their spare parts inventories and reducing head count.
                  Yes, I am just a blogger and just a voice in the wilderness called the Internet. I hope that there are at least a few people who read this blog that recognize an attempt at being honest and direct. I hope they read Atomic Insights because I am trying to help people use accurate information to enable them to balance energy choices. My repetitive comments about the fatal accidents associated with natural gas are not meant to instill fear of natural gas any more than the cops who go around the country showing ghoulish videos of the results of automobile accidents are trying to instill fear of driving. What we both are trying to do is to break people away from getting so complacent about their choices that they end up making really bad ones.
                  There is an often repeated story line in American politics that tells people that nuclear is especially dangerous, and that we can do without it if we would just move towards a combination of “clean natural gas” and renewable energy. There is no doubt in my mind that maintaining our current use of natural gas will cause a rather steady number of deaths due to fires and explosions and that increasing our use will cause a higher number of deaths as we reach for ever more difficult reserves. There are even reasonable scenarios associated with large gas pipelines that could result in widespread effects and large scale loss of life. Can you imagine what would have happened if the Carlsbad explosion of August 2000 had happened somewhere besides an open desert? By its very nature, gas is explosive and it really wants to get out of its containers when stored at high pressure. Increasing demand for gas is a choice that would introduce a greater overall risk – probability times consequence.
                  (continued in comment posted on 8/23/2010 at 04:26:52))

                  1. “Can you imagine what would have happened if the Carlsbad explosion of August 2000 had happened somewhere besides an open desert?”
                    I can imagine that not much would happen. Just like nothing much happened two and a half years ago when a natural gas “incident” occurred about two blocks from the office where I was working at the time. It rendered the building where the incident occurred totally unusable — the outer walls had to be held up for months with steel buttresses to ensure that they didn’t fall into the street — but nobody really thought much of it.
                    Do you mean somewhere like New Jersey, or perhaps just outside of Dallas, or maybe even in LA? Gas explosions happen all the time, in both urban and rural areas. Hell, you don’t even have to be near a gas explosion to be killed by it. Talk about random death from above.
                    Does any of this capture the public’s attention? No. Even emotional appeals like “think of the children” don’t garner much response. Then again, natural gas has a history of wreaking havoc with children, but in the past 73 years, public opinion has not turned against natural gas. Why should I expect this to change anytime soon?

                    1. Brian – you have made my point pretty well. The local public often does get informed with a short article somewhere in the paper or on the evening news if there is a fatal natural gas explosion. There might even be some sustained attention locally – take a look at the post I did with links to local stories as the Kleen Energy Plant in Middletown, CT story developed.
                      There is rarely, if ever, a lot of sustained national attention. The lack of attention might be caused by the media’s preference for unusual stories (man bites dog versus dog bites man). It might also be caused by the fact that the national news media is well aware that trying to conduct any kind of sustained attack on the petroleum industry can be hazardous to profitability. Take a look at how quickly after the BP leak stopped that many sections of the advertiser supported media stopped coverage, reported “all’s well” or something similar. It would be great if the nuclear industry could step up and make it known that sustained attacks on nuclear can also be hazardous to profitability, but I do not know how to make that happen since “nuclear” companies do not advertise in the national media.
                      I am not advocating that anyone on the pro nuclear side try to instill fear in the general population about something that is an accepted part of our industrial society.
                      However, when there is a chance to address people who are charged with soberly making long term decisions using a rational evaluation of the facts, I will continue to remind them that gas has its history of hazards. Repetition an important technique for learning. The people on the BRC are responsible, thoughtful people who probably KNOW that gas can be dangerous. They may even be dimly aware that it often kills people.
                      They need to hear that there are people who are concerned about the potential for even greater hazards if we have to use more natural gas because we cannot afford ever increasing layers of protection for a material that has not proven that it can get out of the layers we already use to cause anyone any harm.

                    2. “Brian – you have made my point pretty well.”
                      Rod – I’m sure I have, because we agree on about 95% or more of this issue.
                      “The local public often does get informed with a short article somewhere in the paper or on the evening news if there is a fatal natural gas explosion.”
                      I don’t doubt that, but on the other hand, please tell me: when has any local community declared themselves to be a “natural-gas-free zone” as a result of this attention? Berkeley, CA, has declared itself a “nuclear-free zone” and this designation extends to all things nuclear (including electricity generation). Fortunately, the jurisdiction of the town does not extend to the university there, which is under the authority of the state.
                      My point? People might pay attention, but they don’t do anything about it.
                      I know that you have more hope for this BRC than I do. I largely see it as a cynical stalling tactic, which was set up for purely political reasons, but I’m a pessimist that way. Nevertheless, I really can’t see that this part of your statement had any effect. The members of the subcommittee who actually cared probably rationalized that this is beyond the scope of their commission’s purpose. The rest were probably already aware of these statistics and couldn’t care less.

                2. (Continued from comment posted on 8/23/2010 at 04:25:39)
                  However, corporate leaders focused on short term rewards often talk about natural gas as the easy choice. New capacity is quick to install and simple to operate (with few troublesome, independent thinking people involved). Of course, the utility leaders know that the fuel is not actually very cheap, but they have figured out how to stack the rules to reduce that as a risk – nearly every regulated utility can pass the cost of fuel directly to their customers in a fuel adjustment surcharge. John Rowe, a member of the Blue Ribbon Commission, has often told his shareholders how beneficial it is to his company when demand for gas drives the prices for gas up. I know, I have listened to Exelon shareholder conference calls.
                  Remember, my comment was not in the middle of any kind of crisis. It was not designed to distract a hostile press or throw the blame for an event somewhere else. I have done enough independent study of crisis communications to recognize that would not be an effect time to introduce a distraction. My comment was in the context of a commission that has been specifically formed to consider the long term planning and consequences. It is, after all, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. I wanted to make sure that the commissioners do not think about their task in isolation or believe that the choice is scary nuclear versus magic pixie dust that has no dangers at all. I know most of them will not already, but there are some members who might think that they can erect even more barriers that will inevitably slow the deployment of new nuclear power plants and everything will still turn out okay.
                  There is a cost to that decision and a very real risk that gets introduced. People can make decisions based on doing everything they possibly can to alleviate concerns of those who claim to be worried that someday, somewhere our society will have forgotten how to maintain control over nuclear materials stored in highly engineered containers. (There were some of those people invited to testify.) Focusing on just that issue might cause some of the committee members to recommend a gradual phase out of nuclear energy.
                  Alternatively they can realize that the alternative to effective use of nuclear energy, including making provisions that enable significant growth, is that every year a substantial number of people will be in a place where natural gas beat its containers, pipes and operators and did what it does best – burn or explode, resulting in death and injury.

  1. Rod you might be open to the idea that your interest in nuclear power based on being a navy nuke officer a long time ago may in no way qualify you to promote nuclear power now.
    First of all the US government is not preventing the use of nuclear power. My present job working on the design of new reactors is a result of incentives provided for in the 2005 Energy Bill. Have you read that?
    Maybe you do not like public debate but let me remind you that there are 104 reactors in the US and not very many in China. Sure it is easier to get a permit to start building a nuke in China but I think our adversarial well although it is very irritating at time.
    Both Rod and I have spoken an public meetings with out fear of a beat down from our government.
    Second, you do not have a clue about evaluating hazard and reducing risk in the electricity generating industry. The electricity generating industry has a superb safety record. The risk are essentially the same as required by regulation. It is a very small number indeed. If you are going to talk about risk use numbers like an engineer and not an English major.
    The same systemic process (process safety, PRA, ect) used by the commercial nuclear industry has been adopted by the rest of the electricity generating industry for many years.

    1. Let me give you a number, Kit. 0. Commercial nuclear power plants have not killed a single person through radiation ever in the United States. Let me give you another number. 5. That’s how many people were killed in the latest gas power plant explosion down in CT a few months back. In terms of power sources that kill people, gas turbines already do. Unlike nuclear power.

      1. “Let me give you a number, Kit. 0. Commercial nuclear power plants have not killed a single person through radiation ever in the United States. …”
        Dave – I don’t know what you do or where you work, but you obviously don’t work in an industrial setting that has to deal seriously with OSHA recordables. Otherwise, you would not make such silly statements.
        Injury is injury, and death is death, regardless of the cause. People have died in the business of generating electricity at nuclear plants (I can cite instances if you are not aware of any). Now, do you have the chutzpah to go up to the relatives of those dead workers and explain that none of it matters because they were not “killed … through radiation”?
        Just last week, I listened to the president of my company tell us about an incident where an electrician at the MOX facility, which is currently under construction in Aiken, SC, was almost killed because the wire that he was working on was accidentally activated. This is going down as an OSHA recordable injury, but it would have been an OSHA recordable death if another worker hadn’t (fortunately) been close enough to see what was happening and to jerk him away from the wire in time. (This worker was also fortunate in that the electricity exited his body through the back of his head, into the I-beam behind him, instead of traveling through his chest and sending him into cardiac arrest.)
        Thus, MOX fuel almost suffered its first fatality before the first MOX fuel pellet was ever fabricated.
        Perhaps you should think about this before the next time you so cavalierly go comparing apples to oranges.
        If you want to make a statement, then do your homework and find out the real statistics on OSHA recordables. The safety culture of the nuclear industry speaks for itself; the statistics show that this safety culture is unparalleled in heavy industry and is also superior to other sectors. Nevertheless, this “zero deaths” mantra must die, because it has reached the point where it is doing more harm to the credibility of nuclear power advocates than it is doing good.

        1. Brian – I am of course aware that there exists a high potential for injuries in every industrial facility. I believe there was a high-energy steam line break back in a nuclear plant several years back, and several workers tragically perished. Tragedies occur in many industrial facilities.
          The point I am trying to make, however, is that the controversial aspect of nuclear power is nuclear fission, radiation, and radioactive materials; these are what the antis use to scare the public. Steam isn’t scary (well, actually, if it’s at 2000 psi, and 500oF, it is kinda scary…) – the thermal power industry deals with it all the time, as well as many other industries – and occasionally, tragedies happen. By stating that there have been zero deaths from radiation, nuclear materials, and fission processes, I’m showing the public that perhaps their fear of fission is misplaced. There are other dangers common to all thermal power stations in general (arc flashover, high energy line breaks, etc.) in nuclear facilities – but those are, perhaps, not unique to nuclear.

  2. The only country in the world having arranged the saving of the spent nuclear fuel ( which will have orders of magnitude bigger price, once the technology to utilize it arrives ) is Finland. There was recently a poll :
    Finland nearly always is on top in the international comparison tables concerning education.
    So increasing the overall level of education and awareness towards the benefits of nuclear power is the key for public acceptance.

    1. Most of the anti-nukes I have met are very well educated city dwellers. It is about drama for those with an easy life who are afraid of nuclear war. There is no point in trying to educate people who enjoy drama. It is a harmless form of obsessive compulsive disorder.
      Locations with nuke plants in the US have a very positive acceptance of nuclear power that has nothing to do with education level. Word gets around about how great the jobs are at nuke plants.

  3. I have long thought that the issue is not risk but benefit. Yes nuclear fission is safer, but fuels such as gasolene provide a unique and tangible benefit. It is not economic to have fission reactors for lawn mowers or weed whackers. This may sound silly, but it is a missing piece of the debate.

    1. @r margolis – the key for showing the unique and tangible benefit is to to help people clearly understand how their electric power is made and how it gets delivered. Put video of nuclear plants in direct contrast to video showing an equivalent number of windmills (actually, no such thing since wind is not controllable). Show what really comes out of smokestacks and gets put into ash ponds. Show underwater video of submarines and put in a tag line – powered by clean nuclear power. Put that in contrast to the “clean natural gas” powered buses with their exhaust pipes showing.

  4. Certainly nuclear power has demonstrated that it is the only source of power that can operate in so many different environments (deep ocean, outer space, Antartica, etc.). Just too bad not that many people live under the sea, in outer space, or in Antartica. 😉
    We put up with gasolene because we personally use it. There are even oil and coal burners for individual homes. Nuclear is the only energy source that is NOT available for direct use by the public (i.e. no fission powered cars or water heaters). Yes it is cleaner, but there is an inherent lack of familiarity that is an obstacle to overcome.

  5. I would first like to say that I think that people that care about and advocate nuclear power got their monies worth from the allotted 5-minutes of testimony by Rod Adams of Atomic Insights before the Blue Ribbon Commission Storage and Transportation Subcommittee. While the presentation had a staccato rhythm, Rod addressed many important facts quickly and packed a great amount of good information in a short 5 minutes time. I would like to amplify two short remarks points that were included in Rod

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