The Other Nuclear Fallout

By Keith Kloor | March 2, 2012 3:18 pm

When I was a kid growing up on Long Island, anti-nuclear sentiment rose to a crescendo in the early to mid-1980s, just as the Shoreham nuclear power plant on the Island’s eastern end was nearing completion. If you know your history, you know what happened around this time. As Wikipedia explains:

The [Shoreham] plant faced considerable public opposition after the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. There were large protests and two dozen local groups opposed the plant. In 1981, 43 percent of Long Islanders opposed the plant; by 1986, that number had risen to 74 percent.

In 1989, the utility that built Shoreham conceded to the politics of the day and agreed not to open the plant. But the deal LILCO (Long Island Lighting Company) made with New York State also called for much of Shoreham’s $6 billion construction cost to be passed down to Long Island residents. (Long Islanders are still paying this debt off.) In 1992, the Shoreham plant was dismantled.

Twenty years later, New York is embroiled in another heated nuclear power debate, this one involving the future of the Indian Point nuclear plant, which generates 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power all of Boston and Baltimore, with juice to spare. The facility sits along the Hudson River, 28 miles north of New York City. As with Shoreham, similar concerns about safety and emergency evacuation have animated a campaign calling for Indian Point’s closure. Post 9/11, the specter of terrorism has been added to the mix. Throw in the Fukushima disaster and you can imagine the potency of the anti-Indian Point message.

There is, however, a strong argument to be made in favor of keeping Indian Point in operation.

The two sides of the debate came together last night at Columbia University’s law school. The panel discussion, which I attended, was represented by two anti-Indian Point environmentalists and two pro-Indian Point advocates. Each side made forceful, compelling cases for their respective positions. I felt that the anti-Indian Point team was least convincing on the economic and energy issues (as in, where will NYC get the 20 percent of electricity that comes from Indian Point, and at what cost to the consumer?). I felt the pro-Indian Point team was least convincing on the safety issue (they played down concerns about terrorism, fuel containment, and orderly mass evacuation).

But both sides made statements which should guide the larger nuclear debate, where ever it plays out. Ashok Gupta, Director of Energy Policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council, admitted:

We don’t live in a world with no [energy] impacts; we don’t live in a world of  free and cheap energy. We know there are tradeoffs. We have to make tough decisions. What risk do we want to take? That’s the challenge.

On the other side of the podium, Arthur Kremer, a former New State Assemblyman and currently the Chairman of the Affordable Reliable Electricity Alliance, said emotion and fear shaped the public discourse on nuclear power. On Indian Point, he asserted:

The debate has been short on facts and honesty.

The media, it goes without saying, plays an important role in the public’s understanding of nuclear power and related safety and risk issues. Alas, the public’s mind is most concentrated in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, when perspective narrows and the coverage is often breathless. (As for those economic and environmental tradeoffs, it would nice if there was more discussion of them, especially now that countries like Germany are providing a real-world case study.) Anniversaries of nuclear disasters are also a time when press coverage spikes and the public tunes in. We are entering such a moment now and the signs (for level-headed coverage) are not encouraging, assert  and  of the California-based Breakthrough Institute, at Slate:

With an eye to the first anniversary of the tsunami that killed 20,000 people and caused a partial meltdown at the Fukushima power plant in Japan, a recently formed nongovernmental organization called Rebuild Japan released a report earlier this week on the nuclear incident to alarming media coverage.

Japan Weighed Evacuating Tokyo in Nuclear Crisis,” screamed the New York Times headline, above an article by Martin Fackler that claimed, “Japan teetered on the edge of an even larger nuclear crisis than the one that engulfed the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.”

Nordhaus and Shellenberger go on to argue that the Times story credulously peddles the nuclear doomsday was narrowly averted slant of the Japanese NGO’s post-disaster report. Journalists at other esteemed outlets are viewing Fukushima through a similar lens. At the New Yorker, Evan Osnos writes:

Good fortune is not the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about Fukushima these days. But it is, in fact, one of the clearest””and most troubling””lessons to be drawn from the Fukushima story: plain old luck, along with a colossal dose of heroism and quick-thinking, prevented the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns from wounding Japan even more thoroughly than they did.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger question that take. In their Slate piece, they note:

The same day the New York Times published its story, PBS broadcast a Frontline documentary about the Fukushima meltdown that invites a somewhat different interpretation. In an interview conducted for that program, then-Prime  Minister Naoto Kan suggests that the fear of cascading plant failures was nothing more than panicked speculation among some of his advisers. “I asked many associates to make forecasts,” Kan explained to PBS, “and one such forecast was a worst-case scenario. But that scenario was just something that was possible, it didn’t mean that it seemed likely to happen.”

Nordhaus and Shellenberger suggest that the media’s emphasis on the potentially worst outcomes of Fukushima skewers the reporting and inflates the risk associated with nuclear power. Indeed, this is a criticism that journalists are already acquainted with, says Osnos in his New Yorker article:

When the [ Fukushima] anniversary arrives in two weeks, reporters and analysts will note correctly that nobody has died so far from the Fukushima meltdowns (this, of course, does not refer to the tsunami). One of the questions will be whether the media overplayed the dangers””whether it scared people away from nuclear power.

In light of what happened on Long Island two decades ago and the debate that is now playing out over the Indian Point power plant, that is not an unreasonable question to ask.

UPDATE: Bryan Walsh at Time has a related piece I didn’t see until after I posted. Taking stock of the one-year Fukushima anniversary stories starting to come out, he says that,

nearly a year after the event, the question still remains: was the Fukushima meltdown that dangerous?

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Energy, nuclear power
  • Anteros

    A well written and well balanced post. Did the pro-nuclear side make much of the actual safety record of the nuclear industry? It seems to me there isn’t much that can be done about peoples fear regarding the future when imagination is the cause of the fear [cf CAGW] but I would have thought an honest analysis of the history is worth emphasising.

    I doubt many people are going to become as fearful of hydro as they are of nuclear, but I think it is important to state that hydro has been the more dangerous – and coal and gas more dangerous still.

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    There are a couple of things about Indian point that were built in when it was constructed.  First of all it was badly sited.  There was no reason to put it on the Hudson on a low lying flat just a short way from some very heavily populated areas (and the NYC northern suburbs are heavily populated.

    More importantly Con Ed had an attack of the Dunning Krugers, they thought they could design a better plant and Unit One was always a huge mess and was closed down in 1974.  Unit 2 and 3 are standard designs, but a lot of people remember the problems with Unit 1.

    Eli was actually inside the Unit 1 reactor building before it was commissioned in  summer of 1960 in the course of a summer program at Pratt.

  • Keith Kloor

    So, Eli, what’s your take, then? Shut it down, put on a tractor and move it up somewhere further upstate, where it’s less populated? Close it up and replace with wind, gas, and efficiency gains. (many assumptions from greens on that bet).

    2,000 megatts is no chump amount of juice. I’m not convinced there is a plausible and economically viable alternative. Comes down to tradeoffs. Roll the dice one way or the other…Which one you place your bet on?

  • Menth

    “The health threat to Japanese from radiation exposure in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident last year is extremely low, even if certain areas near the crippled plant could be rendered off-limits for years to come, according to a panel of American radiation experts who’ve studied the Japanese case for the past year.”

    The panel members generally concurred that the levels of radiation emitted after the accident will not measurably raise the risk of getting cancer. The panelists estimated that the risk of getting cancer for those exposed would increase by about 0.002%, and the risk of dying from cancer would rise by 0.001%.
    http://blogs.wsj.com/japanrealtime/2012/03/02/fukushima-health-impact-minimal/

    In other news 30 people killed, thousands violently ill by all natural, locally grown organic bean sprouts in Germany last year and nary a peep from the usual suspects.

  • EdG

    Is there any doubt that the media was over the top on Fukishima?

    That is what they do. The coverage of the BP oil spill was even worse, if that is possible.

    But the most extreme actual reaction came from Germany where, in a fit of hysteria, the Greens won the day and they announced that they were shutting down their nuclear program. This will not happen because 1) they need that energy; 2) replacing it with coal, as they are now trying to do, is beyond inconvenient CO2-wise; and 3) they cannot afford to:

    http://notrickszone.com/2012/01/18/siemens-nuclear-power-shutdown-to-cost-germany-2150000000000-00-2-15-trillion/

    So, when the hype wears off they will change their plans.

    In the meantime, the radiation fears remain so out of touch with reality that progress in the misinformed countries will remain slow.
    But other countries are still marching forward on this.

    I find that this site keeps one up to date on what is really happening in nuclear power:

    http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/default.aspx

  • harrywr2

    Even the ‘normally calm’ wall street Journal has a hard time staying away from ‘breathless’ accounts of Fukushima.
    Just a few days ago the Asia edition ran an article blathering on about hundreds of thousands of gallons of cooling water per day. The precise number is 168,000 gallons of cooling water that is recirculated  per day.
     

  • RickA

    Hopefully, the USA won’t make the same mistake Germany made.

    The USA needs to boost its nuclear power output from 20% of the total power generated to probably 50% – so I see a lot of new nuclear power plants being built over the next 50 years.

    I am sure the newer power plants will be safer than the older designs, incorporating passive cooling and other safety features like power being required to keep the damping rods suspended – lose power and the rods fall automatically.

    We are going to build the first new nuclear power plants in 30 years – and I see lots more being built.

    So, I doubt that  Indian Point will be shut down – but the debate is good for the public, because it never hurts to review the designs in use and see if simple cheap changes can be made to make them safer.

    I live in Minnesota, where the Prairie Island nuclear power plant is built in a floodplain of the Mississippi river.  Probably not the best place to have built a nuclear power plant – but they are permitted until 2033.

    I predict a big debate around their re-permitting in 2033 – but it to produces a lot of power (1000 megawatts).

    Nuclear is the best non-carbon baseload power source we have, after Hydro – so we need to keep the 20% we have and increase it to 50%, so we can lower the amount of coal we use (IMO).

  • http://rabett.blogspot.com Eli Rabett

    Unit 2 has problems that will probably lead to a shutdown.  Unit 3 is OK, but probably the site needs either very serious and expensive flood controls or no more units.  Preferably another site can be found to build at least one new unit and even better more.  IP was not the optimal place to build nuclear power plants.

    What Rick A said, but adding that nuclear is an even larger part of the electrical generating capacity in the US.

  • RickA

    Eli said:

    nuclear is an even larger part of the electrical generating capacity in the US.

    What is nuclear’s percentage of electrical generating capacity at  now? 

  • harrywr2

    #9 RickA
    What is nuclear’s percentage of electrical generating capacity at  now?
    In the US 10% of capacity….20% of actual generation.
    Getting pass 40% capacity would be ‘prohibitively expensive’ as the plants wouldn’t be able to run 24×7…but that would give you about 70% of actual generation.

  • EdG

    Bit of irony here. To the right of this post, at least where I am, there is an ad for ’5 foods to never eat’ featuring a picture of a banana. Apparently they will make you fat.

    But bananas are also classic poster children for the irrational fears about radiation:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/02/16/going-bananas-over-radiation/

    Let us all hope there are no explosions at a banana warehouse.

  • Anteros

    EdG -

    Thanks for the links. I’ve been looking for a ‘banana’ one for while.

    It’s interesting for me to watch the passionate believer in CAGW remember that they also happen to be passionately anti-nuclear. I haven’t followed the German debate closely enough to know what hoops the CAGW side of it had to jump through to accept the scrapping of the whole nuclear program, but I bet it was entertaining.

    It was quite enlightening to watch George Moronbiot reason his way into thinking that even if he didn’t like the idea of nuclear, it was still the sensible way to go [to prevent Armageddon] Most interesting of all was to see the scales fall from his eyes and for him to declare “we’ve been deceiving ourselves!, we’ve told ourselves lies!, we believed total untruths!” as if an enormous hoax had been perpetrated on the Green movement.

    What he didn’t do, is question any other part of the litany; any other sacred cows. Not the slightest thought that maybe the self-deluding had spread to one or two other parts of the ideological edifice and in fact the delusions about nuclear were just the tip of the iceberg.

    Still, baby steps and all that.

  • Lewis Deane

    And, of course, Keith, this is dealing with irrationality within irrationality. By the way, is that the final, unfortunate, count – 20,000 dead? I thought it was larger? One is enough.
    But none of them where as a consequence of Fukishima and it is emotive, even of you, to use the term ‘disaster’ – it was in a ‘disaster’ area but was so perfectly designed’ for disaster that it survived disaster, the most serious disaster any first world country has ever faced. Imagine the same happening to the East coast of the US? Three Mile Island, of which no one, after the event, has been proven to die, is nothing compared to this. And yet we have 3 to 400 people dying in coal mining accidents, in China (and as far as they tell us!?) every year – and the consequent health problems and the more than possible environmental costs.
    And every time, we hear, after people have conceded these points, of the initial costs of starting nuclear – but those very costs are the costs you demand of this extraordinary safety, not demanded of coal, not (as yet) demanded of oil, certainly not needed with frack! If nuclear, in terms of risk to cost, were treated on par with other energy industries, then it would more proximate (though not approach – since initial start up cost will always be prohibitive!) those other industries, whose ‘safety’ costs are, rightly, getting steeper (just looking at the insurance!).
    And, finally, it is the anxiety about ‘disposal’, the residue of this production of energy. That is a tough one. Something that isn’t quite solved. But I would suggest that it is both ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ as the former. I would suggest ‘disposal’ is more than practical and more than possible. I would suggest, most of all, if we want a rational energy future, we must take risks, advance our technologies, so they are safer, yes, but Know, without these technologies, the lights will go out. No carbon, no lights? Or no carbon, nuclear? I suggest those are our choices.

  • Lewis Deane

    By the way, we can only ‘advance’ our technologies on the basis of an advanced society, that is a ‘high energy’ society. That is our paradox, that is the circle we must square. Assuming ‘we are running out of time’ we must, therefore, ‘run faster’ with our ingenuity, our technology, before  time runs out. Nuclear is a very viable, short term option, a medium term rational choice. The future, later, is full of possibilities!

  • Anteros

    Lewis Deane -

    The official Chinese figures for deaths per annum in the coal mines was ~ 5000, which of course didn’t include those in small rural mines. The official figure has fallen a little, but read into that what you may.
    I think a ballpark figure for those dying prematurely from coal-derived airborne pollution in China is at least an order of magnitude larger. The last I heard it was ~17,000 in the US.

    To agree with you – no, none of it is rational. But that is the landscape on which all the interested parties have to work.

  • Lewis Deane

    Anteros, my bad! I should look up these figures before I speak, otherwise the ‘irrational’ will catch me out! I think what is gratifying is that all good willed, thinking people, on both ‘sides’ of this alleged debate have converged on this, the nuclear one and that is more than welcome, especially in the light of the hysteria of the last couple of weeks! How ironic that ‘we’ can agree, from the wabbit to Monbiot to you, Anterous, and I! Like Ali in the last round, it is rationality that triumphs and that is hopeful!

  • Jarmo

    Nobody brings up the successful use of nuclear power for propulsion. The US Navy operates 100 reactors right now and has a good safety record. Russian record is worse, for known and well-understood reasons. Russians also have a nuclear icebreaker fleet

    Nuclear power is an issue where the greens have been “merchants of doubt” with considerable success. Over here they argue that nuclear is threat to renewables and represents past technology. Fortunately, most people don’t agree with them.

     

     

  • Anteros

    Jarmo -

    Well-mentioned. Both the propulsion consideration, and the ‘merchants of doubt’ perspective…

  • Martha

    Eli identifies the main issues and options re. Indian Point.

    Location is a huge part of safety and the chain of causation for risk assessment and reduction.

    Re. Japan.  For those interested, Tepco’s own reports assess that the current safety will not hold up to a new disruption e.g. another major earthquake, with the current cooling system now in place.  Also see Tepco on e.g. ris of melt-through of the concrete floor and containment walls.

    While only one person died in the plant, other workers were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation and the impact on food and water and health for many Japanese communities has yet to be properly assessed, especially since the Japanese government has set a high rate of allowable exposure.   As well, tons of radioactive water was released into the ocean;  and Japan’s land mass, already incredibly small, is now reduced by another 3% which is now uninhabitable.

    So we see that the location of this type of real estate is everything.  
    Also as I think Eli suggests, we really need to understand the risks associated with  shared components of multi-unit reactor sites.

  • Jeff Norris

    Martha
    Could you please cite your source for “is now reduced by another 3% which is now uninhabitable”?
    I found a similar unreferenced statement on the NIRS web site but nowhere else.

  • Anteros

    Martha – you make two completely unsupported claims.

    Firstly you say that the workers at the Fukushima were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation. There is no evidence that anyone – a year later – has suffered any ill-effects and before even thinking about mentioning an undetectable change in cancer rates you need to have a mindful comparison of the 20,000 people killed in the natural disaster.

    Secondly, you say that the Japanese government has set a ‘high’ rate of allowable exposure. That is just nonsense. Experts such as Wade Allison recommend rates between 100 and 1000 times as high as those set in Japan – which are the kind of levels that set off alarms at US customs by people having bananas in their handbags.

    This is a perfect example of what Jarmo referred to the Green ‘merchants of doubt’.

  • Nullius in Verba

    FWIW 3% of Japan’s land area is about 10,000 km^2. The current evacuation zone is about 20 km radius which works out at 1,100 km^2 or 0.3%. There are stories floating around that the Japanese government may need to declare areas with high radiation levels ‘uninhabitable for decades’ but the impression given is of hotspots inside the evacuation zone. There is rampant speculation on internet anti-nuclear sites that a large area outside the zone would also be declared off-limits, ranging all the way up to 1/3 of the area of the northern island.

    It may also be of interest to note that industrial chemical pollution has also rendered areas unsafe – agrochemicals, steel-works, petrochemicals, plastics, etc. The earthquake did a lot of damage. At the risk of setting off a reaction in which they demand we shut down the entire chemical industry too, I’d like to suggest it’s not a valid risk assessment to count one and not the other.

  • BBD

    Martha

    While only one person died in the plant, other workers were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation

    The only fatality was a worker trapped in the cabin of a crane. His death had nothing to do with radiation. Nobody at all has received dangerous levels of exposure to radiation, and no deaths are expected among the work force at the site.

    Please check facts carefully when dealing with incendiary issues like this.

  • BBD

    The same blatantly OTT ‘Japan nearly destroyed’ story ran in the UK Sunday Times IIRC (Murdoch).

  • BBD

    Eh. Hoist with my own petard. After following the excellent advice at #23, I find that there were two fatalities at Daiichi, and one at Daini (the unfortunate trapped in the crane).

    See here.

    The essential fact is unchanged: radiation killed no-one, nor is any worker at the plant expected to die as a result of exposure to radiation.

  • harrywr2

    #22,
    There are stories floating around that the Japanese government may need to declare areas with high radiation levels “˜uninhabitable for decades’ but the impression given is of hotspots inside the evacuation zone
    Heavily forested areas are extremely difficult to decontaminate. You can’t scrape off the top 2″ of soil without harvesting the forest.  There is a lot of heavily forested area around Fukushima that was uninhabited before the accident and will mostly likely be declared ‘uninhabitable’ for decades.
    Of course it doesn’t make for a juicy story to say ‘large previously uninhabited area to be declared uninhabitable’.
     

  • BBD

    Eli raises a valid point. Those of us who think that the WAIS might contribute a metre or more to MSL by century’s end need to encourage others to consider the siting of new plant very carefully. Best to be extra-cautious. Longer coolant intake/outflow pipes are a minor price to pay.

  • harrywr2

    #19 Martha
    Tepco’s own reports assess that the current safety will not hold up to a new disruption e.g. another major earthquake, with the current cooling system now in place.
    You are correct.
    Tepco also has a pair of ‘concrete pumping trucks’ on site as well as other portable pumping equipment that is more then adequate to pump the required 5-8 cubic meters per reactor of cooling water required to maintain cold shutdown into the depressurized reactors that are currently in ‘cold shutdown’.
    Pumping 35 gallons a minute into a depressurized container is a fairly trivial matter.
    A 3/4″ garden hose will easily supply 10 GPM.
    An $80 dollar sump pump available at any hardware store will pump 30 GPM. If you have $150 to spend you can get a ‘fancy model’ that will pump 60 GPM.


  • EdG

    Disasters are never disasters for everybody, especially when one adds irrational fear:

    “Date: Tue. Mar. 15 2011 8:22 PM ET

    Panic over the radiation from the quake-crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant in Japan is sparking a sudden surge in sales of iodine pills around the world – even as health experts warn that the pills may be of little use.
    Since word emerged that Japan has begun distributing potassium iodide tablets to residents near the Fukushima facility, other global regions have noted a spike in sales of the pills…
    There are reports that packets of potassium iodide pills are attracting bids of up to US$540 on eBay.”

    http://www.ctv.ca/CTVNews/TopStories/20110315/japan-radiation-iodine-pills-110315/ 

    Not nearly as lucrative as a WHO sanctioned “pandemic” is for their Big Pharma partners but still a bonus for the pill pushers.

  • Martha

    Hi Jeff
    Sorry- just a typo.  Should be .3%  i.e., the 20 km exclusion zone.  Thanks for catching that. 

  • Martha

    Anteros
    Actually it is you who make unsupported statements. 
    Tepco is doing health monitoring on workers exposed to high levels of radiation, as identified in Tepco’s own reporting of exposure levels.  What part of ‘see Tepco’ confused you?  Background is that the Fukushima safety record re. overall radiation exposure for workers was already the worst in Japan according to not only Tepco but the Ministry.  And a lot of their current documentation does not include the many temp workers and emergency workers involved in managing the accident and clean up.  I said the health effects had not yet been properly assessed, because obviously  we do not have the longterm data.

    Secondly, the government raised allowable limits for these workers still involved in clean-up.  And increased increased the allowable limit for the public, including children, well above internationally approved exposure limits.  I don’t give a crap about what Wade Allison says;  but since you do, you should really explain why. 

  • Martha

    BBD says ” The only fatality was a worker trapped in the cabin of a crane. His death had nothing to do with radiation. Nobody at all has received dangerous levels of exposure to radiation, and no deaths are expected among the work force at the site”
    “Pleasecheck facts carefully when dealing with incendiary issues like this”

    Actually there were almost two dozen workers injured in various ways according to Tepco and government data and I didn’t say or imply that the person who died in the plant died of exposure to radiation.  Not that you care, clearly, but during emergency stabilization work, two workers were also sent to hospital with radiation burns (Tepco).

    Workers were not exposed to high levels of radiation?  Tepco says you are wrong:
    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/press/corp-com/release/betu11_e/images/110713e19.pdf
     http://dl.dropbox.com/u/8248462/Tepco_Fukushima_Daiichi_status_201112.pdf


    And this does not include the thousands of temp workers employed in clean-up.  It is you who needs to learn to back up your statements with facts.

    Along with Anteros, you also need some education in public health.  The longterm health effects, including death, are not yet known.  Obviously.  We don’t  yet have the data on public health.  Kind of self-explanatory. 

    Dozens of experts (including the WHO) are only  now meeting through UNSCEAR to study the effects.  That would be why I said “the health effects have not yet been properly assessed”. 

    Please learn to read.

  • Martha

    harrywr2

    “There is a lot of heavily forested area around Fukushima that was uninhabited before the accident and will mostly likely be declared “˜uninhabitable’ for decades” “Of course it doesn’t make for a juicy story to say “˜large previously uninhabited area to be declared uninhabitable’”

    In fact, the accident affected an area including farmland, inhabited areas, and forest. There are two cities, and several towns and villages in the immediate area/exclusion zone and tens of thousands of people are permanently displaced.  If  you have some other map of Japan that says the area is uninhabited forest, please email it immediately to the Japanese government.

    Regarding forests, contrary to your apparent utter ignorance, these are inhabited by creatures and important to people, who gather food such as berries, collect firewood, etc.    

  • gallopingcamel

    As a newbie on this blog I was impressed by the balanced coverage given the anti-nuclear hysteria being demonstrated in Japan and Germany.
    The main consideration in electric power generation should always be the cost to the consumer.  Governments should avoid interfering with the market by subsidizing technologies such as solar or wind power.   These technologies will grow into the niches that suit them and government efforts to expand them beyond those niches will fail.
    With a few exceptions, natural gas and coal provide the cheapest electricity but as those depend on fossil fuels it is only a matter of time before nuclear becomes the low cost provider of electricity.
    Then there is the safety issue.  Which technology kills the most people per Giga-Watt of power delivered?  Clearly, “Hydro” is the deadliest technology thanks to the Banqaio disaster in China.  Next would be coal with the huge number of fatalities associated with coal mining.
    So which technology is the safest in terms of deaths per GW?  By at least an order of magnitude it is nuclear power.

  • Martha

    While much is not yet formally documented, we do have some idea of the efforts of workers, people’s suffering, and the reality of this accident for Japanese families.

    A number of comments are surprisingly insensitive, and demonstrate little grasp of specifics.

  • gallopingcamel

    Martha,
    You come across as a nuclear hysteric.
    Radiation safety workers in the USA are limited to 5 REM per year and this is a very conservative limit given that there are places in Iran and India where natural radiation delivers a larger dose without any measurable health effects.

    The workers at Fukishima who paddled around in radioactive water were exposed to low energy beta radiation that produces a similar effect to sunburn.  Not even close to “life threatening”.

    The exclusion area around the Fukushima power plants is not justified by the area monitor reports that I have seen.  Please note that I was responsible for radiation safety at a research university in the USA.

  • Jeff Norris

    Martha,

    No problem happens to everybody.  Strangely though I am seeing that error repeated on other anti nuclear sites.
     

     

  • Jarmo

    While much is not yet formally documented, we do have some idea of the efforts of workers, people’s suffering, and the reality of this accident for Japanese families.
    A number of comments are surprisingly insensitive, and demonstrate little grasp of specifics.

    One might also argue that it is insensitive and biased to ignore the 19 000 people who died as the result of earthquake and tsunami and concentrate on something that is yet to kill a single person.  

  • BBD

    Martha

    Actually there were almost two dozen workers injured in various ways according to Tepco and government data and I didn’t say or imply that the person who died in the plant died of exposure to radiation.

    We are talking about fatalities and radiation here, not injuries. Goalpost moving for rhetorical effect

    Your original sentence was:

    While only one person died in the plant, other workers were exposed to extremely high doses of radiation and the impact on food and water and health for many Japanese communities has yet to be properly assessed

    My reading comprehension is adequate to the task of parsing your prose. You implied very strongly that the fatality was caused by radiation. Please don’t pretend otherwise.

    Not that you care, clearly, but during emergency stabilization work, two workers were also sent to hospital with radiation burns (Tepco).

    This is an unwarranted accusation of callousness coupled with an exaggeration of the seriousness of injury to those workers. That they were exposed is deeply regrettable. You, not I, are using their misfortune as ammunition in a blog debate.

    Five workers have been internally exposed to >250 mSv (presumably particle inhalation). Yes, this may have health implications. This is – as you point out – currently not known. Again, you are being shrill and exaggerating by implication.

    And this does not include the thousands of temp workers employed in clean-up.  It is you who needs to learn to back up your statements with facts.

    From the document you linked, not one exposure of newly-engaged workers (May 2011) exceeds 50 mSv. You are exaggerating again for effect. As others have noted, you are clearly extremely partisan on this matter and it is affecting the clarity of your discourse.

  • harrywr2

    Martha Says:


    <i>In fact, the accident affected an area including farmland, inhabited areas, and forest.</i>
    Knock yourself out going thru the radiation monitoring records -
    http://www.mext.go.jp/english/incident/1303959.htm
    Anywhere 2.5 uSv/hr or less is inhabitable now.(Double the background does rate in Denver) 4.0 uSv/hr or less will be inhabitable within 2 years simply by allowing natural radiation decay.
    Anywhere over that will either have to be abandoned for decades or decontaminated.
    If you wander over to Google maps you will discover that a ‘high percentage’ of the land more then a few kilometers from the coast is mountainous and densely forested.
    IMHO The Japanese government is going to leave the forests alone and focus decontamination efforts on ‘populated’ areas.
    Rather then read descriptions I do things like look at the actual measurements and look at maps.
    The radiation readings at ‘Monitoring Post #1″ at the damaged Fukushima plant are at 3 uSv/hr. A little over twice background in Denver. Other monitoring posts at the plant are 100 times that.
    http://www.tepco.co.jp/en/nu/fukushima-np/f1/images/f1-mp-2012030412-e.pdf

    A lot of people in Japan are currently evacuated from areas where the radiation levels are less then the background radiation of Denver,Colorado.
    Background in Denver – http://isis-online.org/risk/tab7
    Decontamination plan for a village in Japan to reduce exposure to 1/2 background in Denver. (Original plan was 1/10th background in Denver) – http://ajw.asahi.com/article/0311disaster/fukushima/AJ201112170002
     

  • Fred

    Recent evidence is showing more and more that solar influences drive climate, not CO2. There is no need to eschew carbon-producing forms of energy such as natural gas, oil, and coal.

    See:

    http://notrickszone.com/2012/03/02/emphatic-blow-to-co2-warmists-new-study-shows-a-clear-millennial-solar-impact-throughout-holocene/

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2012/03/01/nigel-calder-reports-on-yet-another-trick-of-cosmic-rays/

    There is no need for a corbon-phobic energy policy. Natural gas is undoubtedly cheaper than nuclear with none of the safety concerns.

  • harrywr2

    #41
    Natural gas is undoubtedly cheaper than nuclear with none of the safety concerns.
    In the year 2006 there were 17 proposed Liquified Natural Gas import terminals because no one believed we would have enough domestic natural gas to meet our domestic needs at existing consumption rates.

    http://intelligencepress.com/features/lng/
    If…and it’s a big if…Natural Gas were to become the ‘fuel of choice’ for transportation and the fuel of choice for home heating and the fuel of choice for power generation those ‘massive reserves’ the natural gas industry blathers on about would suddenly seem ‘small’.
    They only look ‘large’ compared to ‘current consumption’.
    Sometimes we forget that ‘petroleum’ is the King Kong of US energy consumption in the US…and natural gas is probably the easiest substitute.
    http://totalenergy/data/annual/pecss_diagram.cfm
    In the US we have 467 GW of natural gas generating capacity, followed by coal with 342 GW followed by nuclear with at 106 GW.
    http:///www.eia.gov/electricity/annual/pdf/table1.2.pdf
    I’m old enough to remember when ‘cheap oil’ was going to last forever. We powered our 6 MPG cars with oil, heated our homes with oil and made a significant  portion of our electricity with oil. When the price ‘spiked’ it was mighty painful.
    Oh look…the ‘peak year’ for electricity from oil was in 1978.
    http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/pdf/sec8_8.pdf
    Five years after the ‘Arab Oil Embargo’. What were we thinking?

  • Keith Kloor

    On a related note, check out this excellent piece. As one commenter over there noted, the headline is off. Doesn’t track with the actual article.

  • BBD

    Keith

    Good article:

    And some, including Richard Garfield, a professor of Clinical and International Nursing at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, go a step further. “In terms of the health impact, the radiation is negligible,” he says. “The radiation will cause very few, close to no deaths.”

    The tireless and repellently opportunistic scaremongering by the anti-science lobby against nuclear will continue unabated, of course. Look forwards to a long and rich timeline of rubbish about ‘tens of thousands’ of deaths from Fukushima – there’s plenty of lying nonsense out there already, and given the astonishing fictions constructed around Chernobyl, almost anything is possible.

  • hunter

    @44 BBD,
    On this topic we are in agreement. I look forward to hearing more from you regarding nuclear power.
     

  • harrywr2

    #44,
    <i>The tireless and repellently opportunistic scaremongering by the anti-science lobby against nuclear will continue unabated</i>
    It’s mostly ignorance,parroted by other ignorant people combined with pretty much ‘no one’ on the other side of the debate.
    New York, New Jersey and the New England States have pretty good ‘base-load’ nuclear penetration.
    Coal is ‘cheaper then dirt’ West of the Mississippi all the way to the Rockies. So the economic case can’t be made there ‘at the current time’.
    You can’t even build a Solar Farm in California without years of court battles..so I don’t think ‘Nuclear Power’ is being ‘singled out’ for special attention there.
    Nuclear is ‘going forth’ in the South East without much ‘public concern’.
    The situation in Japan has to do more with Japanese management practices and a loss of public trust rather then an anti-science ‘hysteria’. We have reactors in the US identical to Fukushima with the emergency generators parked on the second floor of the reactor in case of the ‘off chance’ of a biblical flood. At Fukushima they were in the basement in a known ‘Tsunami Zone’.
    If I was Japanese I would be hopping mad. It doesn’t cost that much to park a spare set of generators on the second floor rather then the basement.
    IMHO The nuclear industry has to take a page from the Airline Industry. The airlines don’t say a ‘crash’ is impossible…they actually brief you as what to do in a crash before the plane takes off.

  • Dean

    Getting into the news coverage of Fukushima without examining what information was or was not made available to the media is not a reasonable analysis. TEPCO has gotten seriously hammered for it’s secrecy at the time, and it is only human nature to imagine the worst in the face of a lack of knowledge.

    A serious problem nuclear faces is that the risk is completely invisible. We can see and hear an oncoming flood if a dam breaks. And running a few hundred meters up a hill saves you. Then you get to go back and pick up the pieces and rebuild. The very nature of radiation and how it does it’s damage will always make nuclear accidents far harder to handle.

    After the initial death of 11 people in the Gulf oil spill, no human lives were at immediate risk, but it led the evening network news for months. This is how disasters get covered, and whatever you think of the Fukushima coverage, it was not out of line for how disasters are covered, all things considered. 

    As far as I’m concerned, there are few issues of import that get truly rational discourse in the public sphere in the United States these days. Advocates on both sides have learned that rationality equals surrender and they don’t want to lose. Anybody who doesn’t make that choice ends up being irrelevant. The public claims to hate negative campaigning and divisiveness, but in most cases these things work _most_ of the time. If it works, people will do it.

    Personally, though not a fan of nuclear nor supporting a massive increase, I also would not close functioning plants unless specific problems are shown. And I don’t know if Indian Point has such specific problems or not. I do wonder how long older plants can continue to be relicensed. 

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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