If I was a print journalist, I would be limited in my ability to describe the vast difference between the presentations of Areva, GE Hitachi, Westinghouse, and EnergySolutions and that of the Union of Concerned Scientists during the first session of the Reactor and Fuel Cycle Subcommittee of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future. Fortunately, I do not write for a print publication, but I do have a YouTube account and a blog with the ability to embed a video.
After watching Dr. Edwin Lyman, the senior scientist of the Union of Concerned Scientists, you should be able to get a real feel for the depth of his knowledge and his facility with the concepts that the other people on the panel described. (I apologize if it was a little painful to watch and I congratulate you if you completed the task in a single sitting.) You should also be able to answer for yourself whether or not Dr. Lyman’s opening salvo explaining that “the Union of Concerned Scientists is not (emphasis in the original) an anti-nuclear organization” bears a distinct relationship to a frequently repeated line originating from Shakespeare’s Hamlet Act III Scene II – “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
As a nuclear professional and as a person who has been imbued from birth by both parents with a conservationist philosophy of avoiding wasteful habits by reducing material inputs, reusing what you can, and recycling whenever possible, I am offended by the UCS’s position taken in opposition to improving the material utilization rate in the nuclear fuel cycle. In the comments sections of other posts that have involved the UCS, people have expressed the opinion that the organization is neither “concerned” about the prosperity and safety of future generations nor particularly “science” based. After watching Dr. Lyman in action during both his prepared remarks and the question and answer session that followed, I have to agree.
If he is the best scientist or technologist that the UCS can offer to send to an important public policy discussion, then perhaps those of us who favor the use of nuclear energy because we have worked long and hard to understand the technology can stop worrying so much about the opposition. They are largely unarmed when it comes to facts or an understanding of reality.
We cannot allow the kind of unsubstantiated statements and vague references to “studies” that Lyman makes stand without challenge, however. In our society, we all have the right to talk. Some people have worked long and hard to attempt to dominate the available soapboxes. The answer is not attempting to silence the dissent, but to expose it to as much light as possible. We also need to work hard to respond effectively.
Along those lines, I would be pleased if you could all help me dissect Lyman’s presentation. If you want to take on a particular statement, note the time hack when his statement was made, a general summary of what he said and then your response. Links and references would be excellent contributions to a prepared, point by point response.
Update: (posted on September 6, 2010 at 0544) Transcript of Interview with Dr. Henry Kendall, founder of the Union of Concerned Scientists. Finn Aaserud at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, November 25 and 26, 1986
The above is a lengthy interview with some important details about the early days of the UCS as the effort of essentially two individuals, Daniel Ford (an economist) and Dr. Henry Kendall (a physicist whose research efforts were focused on high energy particle accelerators). According to Dr. Kendall, they did their work on nuclear reactor safety in the name of an organization that essentially had ceased to exist other than as a name. Most of the detailed information about the UCS and its interest in reactor safety starts toward the end of the first day of the interview and picks up again at the beginning of the second day. The first part of the interview provides some interesting background on Dr. Kendall and his research background.
Kendall: And then in 1971, I got into the big issue, the reactor safety business, which basically made UCS a nationally known organization. By that time, we had already learned reasonably completely how to proceed, although we had no resources to speak of. On the safety business we did a technical study, wrote a paper, had a news conference, and we were launched.
. . .
It is true that that was the opening gun, so to speak, on the nuclear reactor safety debate. And that report and press conference was followed by another one, I think in October of that year. Not long after that we became involved in the major hearings that went on for about two years on the subject of emergency core cooling and reactor safety.
This reactor effort, started when the Union of Concerned Scientists, was very small. Indeed there were really just two of us by early 1972 who carried the Union and its name through.
Aaserud: That was you and…
Kendall: Daniel Ford.
Article reprinted from New Scientist – 21 September 1972 US ponders possible runaway reactors.
The above article documents a view about the Emergency Core Cooling System related safety hearings held during the first eight months of 1972 that helped to establish the UCS (consisting at the time of Daniel Ford and Henry Kendall) as a potent force in the debate on nuclear power plant construction. It provides some cautionary tales worth remembering – the vendors did not do themselves any favors by their claim of “trade secrets”. The failure of the AEC leaders to read and head reports that they had commissioned also did not play well in the hearing.