By George A Erickson
In the sixties, I was living in a small Minnesota farming community when the U.S. and the USSR finally agreed to slow the production of hydrogen bombs. Nevertheless, one of my sons who had just entered kindergarten, was taught how to “duck and cover” in case of a nuclear attack.
We’d been warned about radiation and fallout, and although we took that knowledge in stride, I decided to build a shelter in my basement that I hoped would shield my family for a week or so if events with Russia turned sour.
Time passed. The Cold War waned, and when discussions about nuclear power switched to creating electricity instead of bombs, thoughts of things nuclear drifted away until I chanced upon a lecture on thorium in 2002. Intrigued, I began to investigate thorium because of its many advantages over uranium for producing nuclear power.
I joined the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Thorium Energy Alliance, which provided a huge upgrade to my better than average knowledge of physics. Without the generous input from my fellow members, some named, many un-named, this article would not have been possible. And then came Climate Change.
I had known about greenhouse gases and Charles Keeling’s work on Mauna Loa, but I hadn’t realized that switching to CO2-free nuclear power could be our most effective weapon for combating Climate Change, a HUGE portion of which is created by burning carbon to supply our demands for more and MORE electricity.
The answer seemed obvious – just replace the “carbon burners” with nuclear power. However, I soon learned that powerful forces oppose almost everything nuclear – some out of ignorance, some out of fear, and some for profit, but I also found support from those who’d set aside their fears after discovering the impressive safety record of nuclear power.
And so – with Climate Change becoming more potent every year, and with my grand-children’s futures at stake, I decided to summarize what I’d learned about why so many fear the safest of all power technologies (and to reveal its true record – including Chernobyl and Fukushima) – and to highlight a few of the new types of power plants that will be even safer and more efficient than those in use today. Finally, I want to share a discovery that came as a huge surprise – that our radiation standards are based on a fraud that became dogma after WW II, and that low levels of radiation can even improve our lives. I know that sounds crazy – at first it did to me – but stick with me. There’s science to back it up.
We must turn away from carbon.
We have to do better than this!
By George A Erickson
The Industrial Revolution, the genie that delivered the Age of Hydrocarbons and its endless supply of marvels, also has a dark side – a world of melting ice caps, rising sea levels, refugees, resource wars, powerful storms, desiccating droughts and rising acidity that threatens our ocean food chain. However, in less than fifty years, we can drastically slow these trends if we expand the use of updated nuclear power and then enter the Age of Thorium.
A Little Nuclear History
By 1959, the United States already had a design for Molten Salt Reactors (MSRs). Fueled by thorium or uranium dissolved in a liquid salt, the MSR had proven performance and safety advantages over water-cooled, uranium-powered, solid-fuel Light Water Reactors (LWRs or “conventional” reactors.) However, the LWR industry was already well established, and despite its running successfully for 5 years, the MSR was shelved.
There was another reason: The Cold War was heating up, and the uranium-plutonium fuel cycle of LWRs was useful for making bombs, but making a nuclear weapon with MSR technology was – and is – impractical and dangerously difficult.
The Seaborg Commission knew that MSRs could generate low cost, abundant electricity while breeding their own fuel and creating far less waste than conventional reactors. Had its recommendations been followed, switching to MSRs would have eliminated much of the fossil fuel-generated CO2 emissions that have created Climate Change and caused medical expenses estimated in billions of dollars. James Hansen, former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says that just our partial reliance on carbon-free nuclear power since 1971 has saved 1.8 million lives that would have been lost due to fossil fuel pollution.
Alvin Weinberg of Oak Ridge National Laboratories had proved the superiority of MSRs in hundreds of tests, but the military wanted the weapons-grade plutonium, and Admiral Hyman Rickover wanted conventional reactors to power his submarines, so Weinberg was fired, and the MSR program was eventually terminated.
Since then, almost all of the electricity created by nuclear power has been produced by LWRs – high pressure, water-cooled reactors that are fueled with uranium pellets – a workable-but-complex process. And, according to Michael Mayfield, head of the Office of Advanced Reactors at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the NRC is “unfamiliar with most new small-reactor technology, and has no proven process to certify one.” (2010)
That must change. In July, 2013, the U. S. Energy Information Administration predicted that world energy use will increase 56% by 2040 – and most of the increase will come from burning carbon, which will add some 30 billion tons of CO2 per year to our already damaged biosphere. Worse yet, we are clear cutting CO2-consuming rainforests the size of West Virginia every year.
In 2014, scientists who monitor the rate of arctic melting for California’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory reported that 51 cubic miles of the Greenland ice sheet had melted during 2013. And a 2014 United Nations report predicted that by 2020, acidification from CO2 will severely damage the ocean food chain that provides 20% of our protein. Oregon and Washington oyster farmers are already compelled to add lime to the ocean to offset the damage being done by the increase in ocean acidity.
More recently, Canadian scientists have learned that the amount of phytoplankton has dropped by 40 percent since 1950 and continues to drop at one percent per year.
Why should we care about these microscopic plants? Because phytoplankton are the base of the food pyramid that sustains all marine life. No phytoplankton will eventually mean “no fish”. And there’s more: Phytoplankton produce half of the world’s oxygen and absorb some of the carbon-dioxide that we are spewing into the air.
As Elizabeth Kolbert noted in The Sixth Extinction, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is already 50% dead, and by 2050, shellfish calcification (and survival) in most oceans will have become impossible. According to Kolbert, “New data finds that the rate of human caused CO2 emissions is greater than the rate of the CO2 emissions from volcanic activity that marked the great extinction 250 million years ago. Then, the world lost 90% of all species.”
Why not replace coal and gas power plants with nuclear power, which creates no CO2? Is it really as dangerous as some claim?
The largest obstacle to nuclear power is the misinformation about radiation safety. We are bathed in natural radiation from birth to death – about 2/3 from cosmic radiation and elements like radon, and the rest from elements within us, consumer products and medical uses. We all have 4400 nuclear beta/gamma decays per second throughout our bodies for life, just from Potassium 40 in foods like bananas.
Eating one banana per week per year is like living beside a nuclear power plant for a year. And that beer we enjoy is 13 times as radioactive as the steam used to power the turbines that make your electricity.
Fortunately, our ancestral life forms evolved during times when radiation levels were far higher than they are today, and they evolved some very effective ways to repair cell damage caused by radiation and oxidation, which is why we should favor anti-oxidants like grapes and greens. (Antioxidants help protect DNA from damage by inhibiting oxidation caused by free radicals that are by-products of our metabolic processes. More DNA “bond breaks” are caused by oxidation than radiation).
Radiation from nuclear power plants is just a tiny part of the 1% listed above as “other.”
Radioactive elements naturally decay, eventually becoming stable, non-radioactive elements. “Half-life” is the time needed for half of the atoms in a given mass of an element to decay. For potassium-40, this is 1.2 billion years. For the Americium-241 in your smoke detector, it’s 432 years, and for Iodine-131, it’s about 8 days. Long half-lives = low hazard. Short = high.
Radioactivity is measured by the amount of decay per unit of time. One decay per second is one Becquerel (Bq). One banana produces about 15 Bq from its potassium-40. Your smoke detector has about 30,000 Bq.
Radiation dose is the energy transferred by radiation to body tissue. One mammogram = 1 – 2 milliSeiverts (mSv). One dental Xray = 0.001 mSv.
Natural radiation dose rates vary, averaging 3 mSv/year in the US, 7 mSv/y in Finland, 12 in Denver to sites with up to 500 mSv/y in the state of Kerala, India.
Dose Rates and Health – A massive, single, whole-body radiation dose severely injures blood cell production and the digestive and nervous systems. A 5,000 mSv dose is usually fatal, but over a lifetime it is harmless because at low dose rates, cells recover. (Consume a cup of salt in one sitting, and you will die, but do it over a year and it’s no problem.)
Why radiation is safe below 100 mSv/y.
Atomic bomb survivors – In 1945, the U S exploded two atomic bombs over Japan, killing 200,000 people. 93,000 survivors have since been studied for health effects. In 55 years, 10,423 survivors died from cancer, 573 more than the 9,850 deaths normally expected by comparison with distant residents. However, there were no cancer deaths observed in those who received radiation doses less than 100 mSv. Subsequent studies by the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) of exposed people have proved that below 100mSv, which is well above background radiation levels, it’s not possible to find any cancer excesses.
Note the absence of data for living near a coal power plant, which would get a 90 Burning coal releases more radiation than a nuclear power plant.
Because radiation can break a chemical bond in a DNA molecule, which might recombine improperly to propagate cancerous cells and, because in the 40s and 50s, we knew almost nothing about our cells’ ability to repair radiation damage, we adopted the Linear No Threshold (LNT) theory, which said there is no safe level for radiation, assumed that it is cumulative, and concluded that any exposure was hazardous LNT claims that the risk is proportionate to radiation dose, even at very low dose rates over long times, and it ignores life’s adaptive response. LNT theory is like the earth-centered solar system that everyone “knew” was true for thousands of years. – and it’s a crime that some still believe it.
Hermann Muller, the originator of LNT theory, caused mutations in fruit flies that he exposed to at least 2,750 mSv in just 3.5 minutes, which is comparable to 1000 mammograms. He then called this a low dose, although it is extremely high. Because he wanted to heighten fear of fallout during the Cold War, he then extrapolated his results down to well below 100 mSv despite contrary evidence.
Muller knew he was wrong, as did several of his colleagues, including a meticulous researcher named Ernst Caspari, whose work Muller praised. (We learned this after their correspondence was declassified.)
So why wasn’t Muller truthful? In a radio interview on IEEE Spectrum’s “Techwise Conversations,” Dr. Edward Calabrese explained it this way:
“Ernst Caspari and Kurt Stern were colleagues, and Muller was a consultant to Stern. Muller provided the fruit fly strain that Stern and his coworkers used. Stern and Muller thought there was a linear dose-response relationship even at low doses….
“In the chronic study, which was done far better in terms of research methodology than an earlier study, they found that the linear relationship was not supported, and what they observed would be supportive of a threshold dose-response relationship. This created a conflict—not for the actual researchers like Caspari, but for his boss, Kurt Stern, who tried to convince Caspari that his study showed no support for the linear model was because his control group values were artificially high.
“So Caspari dug out the literature, got lots of unpublished findings from Muller, and put together a case that his boss was wrong. Ultimately, he got Stern to accept his findings that supported the threshold dose response. [Which meant that there was almost certainly a threshold below which low doses of radiation would be safe,]
“They sent Caspari’s paper to Muller on Nov. 6, 1946. On Nov. 12 he [Muller] wrote to Stern indicating that he went over the paper, and he saw that the results were contrary to what he thought would have happened, that he couldn’t challenge the paper because Caspari was an excellent researcher, that they needed to replicate this, and that this was a significant challenge to a linear dose response because this study was the best study to date, and it was looking at the lowest dose rate that had ever been used in such a study.
“A month later, Muller went to Stockholm to get his Nobel Prize, and in his speech, he tells the scientists, dignitaries, press, everybody who is there… that one can no longer accept any consideration of a threshold model, that all you can really accept is the linear dose-response model.
“… Yet Muller had actually seen the results of a study that he was a consultant on, that was the best in showing no support for the linear model – but support for a threshold model. He had the audacity to actually go in front of all these dignitaries and mislead the audience. He could have said, ‘This is a critical area, and we need to do more research to try to figure this out.’ It would have been intellectually honest and the appropriate thing to say, but that’s not what he says. He tries to actually mislead the audience by saying there’s not even a remote possibility that this alternative exists, and yet he has seen it.”
Because Muller had opposed the atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs and wanted to frighten the public away from nuclear energy, he seems to have decided that the end justified the means, even if it compromised his integrity. Please see:
When the LNT model was adopted by the National Academy of Sciences in 1956, its summary stated: “Even small amounts of radiation have the power to injure.” The report, published in the New York Times, quickly initiated the fear of even low-dose radiation:
However, de-classified letters between NAS committee members reveal statements that indicate that the reason for adopting the LNT model was not that small amounts of radiation are dangerous, but that self-interest and Muller’s deception had trumped science:
“I have a hard time keeping a straight face when there is talk about genetic deaths and the tremendous dangers of irradiation. Let us be honest—we are both interested in genetics research, and for the sake of it, we are willing to stretch a point when necessary”, and “Now, the business of genetic effects of atomic energy has produced a public scare, and a consequent interest in and recognition of importance of genetics. This is good, since it may lead to the government giving more money for genetic research.”
In 2015, while reading The Emperor of All Maladies, a meticulous, eloquently written Pulitzer Prize winner about our long contest with cancer, I came upon the following:
”In 1928, Hermann Joseph Muller, one of Thomas Morgan’s students, discovered that X-rays could vastly increase the rate of mutations in fruit flies…” [Morgan, by studying an enormous number of fruit flies, had discovered that altered genes and mutations could be carried from one generation to the next.]
“Had Morgan and Muller cooperated, they might have uncovered the link between mutations and malignancy. But they became bitter rivals…. Morgan refused to give Muller recognition for his theory of mutagenesis… Muller, in turn, was sensitive and paranoid; he felt that Morgan had stolen his ideas and taken an undue share of the credit. In 1933, having moved his lab to Texas, Muller walked into a nearby woods and swallowed a roll of sleeping pills in an attempt at suicide. He survived, but was haunted by anxiety and depression. In 1933, Morgan received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work on fruit fly genetics. (Muller received the Nobel prize independently in 1946.”)
Knowing this, I wonder if Muller’s need for recognition and his resentment of Morgan might have caused him to hide the work of Caspari and others because it would have jeopardized his “15 minutes of fame.”
Thanks to researchers at MIT, we have learned that DNA strands break and repair about 10,000 times per day per cell, and that a 100 mSv/y dose increases this number by only 12 per day. The overwhelming majority of DNA breaks are caused by ionized oxygen atoms from metabolism within the cell, but because DNA is a double helix, the duplicate information in the other strand lets enzymes easily repair these single strand breaks.
Adaptive response – the Vaccination effect
Dr. Alex Cannara explains it this way:
“Radiation from unstable isotopes is continually decreasing. That’s what the “half-life” for an isotope expresses. Going back in time is going back to much higher radiation environments — 8 times more for Uranium 235 when photosynthesis began to make oxygen common in air, and oxidation made elements like Uranium soluble in water. Living things were, back then, even more intimately in contact with these [radioactive] isotopes.
“So how did life survive higher radiation in the past, and how did life survive the increasing oxygen atmosphere, which corrodes life’s hydrocarbons into CO2 and water?
“The answer is simple: Nature evolved repair mechanisms. Each cell repairs proteins or digests badly malformed cells. Each cell repairs genetic material before it’s used or copied for reproduction.
“Thus, Nature has, for billions of years, been able to deal with chemical & radiation threats. Today, chemical threats have increased due to human invention, while radiation threats have decreased, unless some unnatural event produces fresh isotopes (e.g., atom bomb testing).
”Therefore, we should not be surprised by the lack of radiation deaths at Fukushima, and the small death rates in and around Chernobyl.”
In addition, a recent study of Chernobyl clean-up workers yielded similar results.
The following paragraphs reveal lower cancer rates for those who receive additional low level radiation vs. those who get only background radiation.
Knowing this, it is no surprise that, when steel contaminated with cobalt-60 was used to build Taiwan apartments, which exposed 8,000 people to an additional 400 mSv of radiation during some 20 years, cancer incidence was sharply down, not up 30% as LNT predicted. Instead, the residents’ adaptive response to low-level radiation seemed to provide health benefits.
Furthermore, during radiation therapy for some cancers, we’ve learned that the collateral damage to lymphocytes can be reduced by up to 50% if a small dose is given to the cells a few hours before the larger “cancer-killing” dose is administered.
Another powerful example is provided by the southwest India state of Kerala, where children under 5 have the lowest mortality rate in India, and life expectancy at birth is 74 despite a background radiation rate that ranges as high as 30 times the global average.
See http://bravenewclimate.com/2015/01/24/what-can-we-learn-from-kerala/ – the source of much of the following material.
For thousands of years, many Keralites have been bathed in radiation at more than triple the level that got people thrown out of their homes in Japan, where, around Fukushima, the maximum allowed annual radiation limit is 20 milliSieverts per year, even though parts of Kerala have had levels of 70 mSv/yr., with a few locales at 500 – forever. And Keralites haven’t just been bathing in radioactivity, they’ve also been eating about 10 times more radioactivity than people consume in the US.
The cancer incidence rate overall in Kerala is much the same as the overall rate in India; which is about 1/2 that of Japan and less than 1/3rd of the rate in Australia. As the linked article above says, “Cancer experts know a great deal about the drivers of these huge differences, and radiation isn’t on the list.”
In Kerala, scientists are working with a genuinely low rate of radiation exposure that mirrors what would be the case in Fukushima if the Government hadn’t needlessly moved so many people.
So why did they? Partly from panic, but largely because most radiation protection standards derive from studies of Japanese atomic bomb victims who got their dose in a very short time, and being bombed isn’t like living in a slightly elevated radiation field.
The Kerala evidence contradicts the assumptions behind those radiation safety standards. People getting a dose of 500 mSv should show a measurable rise in cancer rates. They did when the dose was delivered quickly, as with the atomic blasts, but they don’t at Kerala.
The Kerala data also confirms our modern understanding of DNA repair. Namely that radiation damage isn’t cumulative at background dose rates as high as 30 times normal – meaning that 70 milliSieverts a year for a lifetime does nothing. The very concepts of “annual dose” or “cumulative dose” are simply misleading in such a situation. Instead, the best available evidence is that an annual exposure to 100 milliSieverts results in an actual dose of zero because it is below a person’s capacity for perfect repair.
When experts discuss these matters, they always distinguish exposure, which is measured in Grays, from dose, which is measured in Sieverts, but they haven’t considered delivery rate or DNA repair because the power and mechanisms of DNA repair were unknown when LNT theory was adopted.
The suffering caused by this obsolete science has been immense. It’s no wonder that UK radiation expert Malcolm Grimston has said that the Fukushima evacuation was, and still is, “stark raving mad”. (Guarapari beach in Brazil yields 340 mSv/yr, and residents often go there to bury themselves in the sand without ill effect.)
When the Japanese Government lifted the evacuation orders on Minamisoma City because the radiation level had dropped to 20 milliSieverts per year, city officials predicted that 80 percent of residents would not return because of radiation fear.
We should be concerned about genuinely dangerous, short lived radioactive isotopes, but we shouldn’t waste energy and money cleaning up levels of radioactivity that don’t do anything, and that’s what they are doing in Japan.
Unfortunately, despite our now knowing that our cells have amazing repair abilities, LNT still propagates fear of nuclear power, including the panic and excessive evacuations at Fukushima.
“LNT has become an ideology ruled by hysteria and fueled by ignorance.” Dr. Kathy Reichs. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2663584/ (2015) and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4036393/ (dose-response)
Our continued reliance on the discredited LNT theory explains why 160,000 Japanese were needlessly turned into frightened refugees – and why their prolonged evacuation caused some 1,100 deaths due to stress and the disruption of medical and social welfare facilities.
In May 2013, UNSCEAR reported that “Radiation exposure following the accident at Fukushima Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely [that there will be] any health effects among the general public and the vast majority of workers.”
Given this information, it seems reasonable that radiation limits should be the same no matter the source, but nuclear plants are held to a 100x higher standard than coal plants, which emit substantial amounts of radiation. Even granite buildings radiate more than nuclear power plants.
The idea that ANY radiation can kill created the ALARA – As Low As Reasonably Achievable – bias that permeates regulations. The word “reasonably” is vague, and “achievable” depends on technology, not health effects.
For example, the World Health Organization set a public exposure limit for radioactive tritium from nuclear power plants of 0.1 mSv per year. Canada’s heavy water reactors comply with this limit, but due to ALARA, US reactors must emit even less. Our limit is 0.04 mSv per year. Why? Because it was achievable.
LNT and ALARA can lead to absurd results: For example, airline passengers are exposed to 20 times as much cosmic radiation than exists at ground level, but despite the dire predictions of LNT, they experience no more cancer than those who don’t fly. Should jets be required to fly at low altitudes to satisfy ALARA?
It is hugely wasteful to invest in “protecting” people from tiny amounts of radiation from nuclear power when the money could be invested in measures to protect people from radon in their homes or to persuade them to stop smoking, which brings many carcinogens, including uranium, into intimate contact with their lungs.
Frankly, radiation exposure inside reactor buildings is so low that it isn’t an issue, but educating the public on the basics of environmental radiation is a very critical issue. After Fukushima, lack of that knowledge and the media’s ignorance caused a run on potassium iodide (KI) pills on the West Coast from California to Washington. No media pointed out that this was foolish. Pharmacies ran out, and those who needed KI for other reasons couldn’t get it, while those who loaded up on it actually raised their chances of disease because too much KI can cause thyroid malfunction.
If people understood that “We have 200 billion cells that die every day..” which need to be replaced, they will be better able to accept the fact that our bodies have hugely efficient repair mechanisms that can handle low levels of radiation. Science magazine. March, 2015.
Advantages of nuclear power.
No other technology produces energy steadily on a large scale as cheaply with a better safety record than nuclear power. The energy density of nuclear power is a MILLION TIMES GREATER than that of fossil fuels – and more so for wind or solar. As of 2013, the world’s 400 + nuclear reactors generate about 15% of our electricity. France tops 60% and Finland, currently at 30%, is aiming for 60. France emits about 40 grams of CO2 / kwh, but Germany, the US, Japan, and most industrialized nations emit 400 – 500 grams/kwh – ten times as much per kwh as France. Compared to fossil fuels, nuclear energy is a gift from the energy gods.
Nuclear reactors are the largest displacers of greenhouse gases on the planet. Given that fact, how can anyone, even my fellow “greens,” oppose nuclear power when the environmental costs of burning carbon-based fuels are so high?
James Lovelock, a patriarch of the environmental movement, begged his friends to drop their objection to nuclear energy: “…its worldwide use as our main source of energy poses an insignificant threat compared with the dangers of lethal heat waves and sea levels rising…. civilization is in imminent danger and has to use nuclear power – the one safe, available, energy source now or suffer the pain soon to be inflicted by an outraged planet.” (from Power to Save the World – G. Cravens)
In May, 2014, Robert Bryce wrote in Bloomberg View:
“Inside the core of an average reactor, the power density is about 338 million watts per square meter. To equal that with wind energy, which has a paltry power density of 1 watt per square meter, you’d need about 772 square miles of wind turbines – ¾ of Rhode Island….
“Some opponents still claim that nuclear energy is too dangerous. Debunking that argument requires only a look at the facts about Fukushima….
“Here’s the reality: It caused exactly two deaths — two workers who drowned at the plant.
“It was feared that radioactive materials from the plant would contaminate large areas of Japan and even reach the U.S. That didn’t happen. In early 2013, the World Health Organization concluded: ‘Outside the geographical areas most affected by radiation, even in locations within Fukushima prefecture, the predicted risks remain low and no observable increases in cancer above natural variation in baseline rates are anticipated.
“High on my list of well-intentioned dupes are those who praise science and are eager to confront Climate Change, but refuse to accept nuclear power as an essential component of carbon-reduction strategies. They dismiss new reactor designs that they don’t understand, and then talk about how wind and solar power are can “supply our needs.
“They’re wrong, but nuclear can supply our needs when people conquer their fears, educate themselves on the safety record of nuclear power – and constructively join the fray. Until they do, they must accept their culpability in creating an overheated planet with a millions of climate refugees.”
Only at the patently “illegal” plant at Chernobyl, has anyone died from radiation from commercial nuclear power, but we’ve had tens of millions of coal and petroleum-related deaths. And our reactors, by consuming the ~19,000 warheads we bought from Russia, have become the ultimate in weapons-reduction techniques.
What about reactor waste?
Nuclear power plants are required to contain every speck of their waste. If you were to get all the electricity for your lifetime from conventional uranium reactors, your share of the waste would weigh just two pounds – but much of that will be hazardous for 100,000 years. Disposal of this waste in the US has not been solved. Instead, it has been allowed to accumulate at nuclear power plants and at places like Washington’s Hanford Site. Half as big as Rhode Island, the site had one purpose, the manufacture of plutonium for bombs. Fortunately, a recent study shows that mixing plutonium-contaminated waste with blast furnace slag and turning it into glass reduces its volume by 85-95% and locks in the plutonium, creating a stable end product. France, however, has an efficient waste recycling” program that greatly reduces its volume and the length of time it must be stored. (All of France’s multi-decade waste could be stored on one basketball court.)
So what about Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima? Let’s examine them one by one, but first, it’s important to recognize that nuclear plants have been supplying 15% of the world’s electricity, while emitting no CO2, for 15,000 reactor-years of almost-accident-free operation, and second, that the reactors that have powered our navy for more than 40 years have similar histories.
Three Mile Island
In March, 1979, two weeks after the release of the movie titled The China Syndrome, a partial meltdown of one of the reactor cores (due to coolant pump failure and operator error) caused mildly radioactive gases and hydrogen to accumulate inside a reactor building. After being filtered through charcoal, the gases were vented. A small amount of contaminated water was released into the Susquehanna River. No one died or was harmed.
In fact, radiation exposure from Three Mile was less than what an airline passenger would receive on a round trip flight across the U.S. And in the following decades, more than a dozen studies have found no short or long-term ill effects for anyone, whether they were downwind, downstream, or at the plant itself – and operator training and safety measures have been greatly enhanced. Despite all of the fear, paranoia and panic, nothing happened. No one died, and no one got cancer. But the incident almost shut down American nuclear power.
During an equipment test in 1986, operators ignored automated warnings, disabled the safety systems and inadvertently exposed the core of the reactor, which had design hazards not present in Western reactors. As Spencer Weart wrote in The Rise of Nuclear Fear, “In short, for Soviet reactor designers, safety was less important than building civilian reactors that could produce military plutonium if desired, and building them cheaply.”
This negligence led to a hydrogen explosion that released radioactive particles and gases into the atmosphere because the reactor had no containment structure. In contrast, every water-cooled U.S. reactor has a robust, re-enforced concrete containment structure, and the NRC strictly supervises every plant. Chernobyl, which was built by the old USSR, was long judged to be dangerous by American scientists.
Chernobyl was a failure of bad design, poor training and a political system that forbade operators from sharing information about reactor problems. Chernobyl is the only civilian reactor accident where radiation directly killed anyone. Up to 54 “firefighters” eventually died from intense radiation. In addition, the Soviet government didn’t distribute dirt-cheap iodine tablets, which could have protected thousands from airborne iodine-131, which is readily absorbed by the thyroid, particularly in the young. (A body with an abundance of normal iodine-127 is less likely to absorb I-131.)
According to a study by 100 scientists from eight U N agencies, “Chernobyl produced an additional 50 deaths over the following 20 years.” That’s a tiny fraction of the deaths caused by the use of coal and oil. Furthermore, those pathetically deformed and retarded “Chernobyl children” (that sensation-seeking TV networks feature) are no different in severity or incidence than similarly afflicted Russian children who received no fallout, but that information is never provided by anti-nuclear activists and media.
Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi reactors began operation in 1971, and ran without issue for 40 years, generating huge amounts of electricity while adding ZERO CO2 to our atmosphere.
Following the 2011 earthquake that severed Fukushima’s connections to the power grid, the 18-foot seawall (that Tepco had been told was grossly inadequate – but refused to raise) was swamped by a record-setting tsunami. The government could have compelled Tepco to raise the seawall, but did not. (Tepco had also falsified safety reports and lied about inspections.)
Old, deeply weathered Sendai “stones” in the area had been warning for centuries, “Don’t build below the ~150 foot elevation.” Instead, in 1967, Tepco cut 25 meters off of the site’s 35 meter natural seawall to make it easier to unload equipment at the building site, which placed the reactors five meters below the crest of the 2011 tsunami.
Emergency diesel generators located in basements were flooded. Batteries powered the coolant pumps for 8 hours – and then failed. Without coolant, meltdown occurred. Had a reservoir or water towers been built nearby, and space was available, the reactors could have been cooled by gravity-powered water. Reactors 1-4 are now useless, #5 has slight damage, and 6 was unaffected, and is capable of producing power, but it has not been re-started, largely due to anti-nuclear hysteria.
The Onagawa nuclear plant, which was closer to the epicenter of the quake, also survived the quake (as did Fukushima), and its 45-foot seawall easily blocked the tsunami. Onagawa’s reactors were shut down only as a precaution. The tsunami took 20,000 lives, but the Fukushima failure directly took the lives of just two workers who drowned.
Nuclear power has been tarred by the Fukushima disaster, but the failure was NOT the fault of nuclear power. It was caused by repeated corporate lying, record falsifying and penny-pinching, by the lack of government enforcement of seawall height, by building too low to the ocean, and by installing backup generators in easily flooded basements. Blaming nuclear power for Fukushima is like blaming the train when an engineer derails it by taking a turn at 70 mph that is posted for 30.
What’s the Fossil Fuel Record?
In 2006, the Sago coal mine disaster killed 12. A few years later, West Virginia’s Big Branch coal mine explosion killed 29. In May 2014, 240 miners died in a Turkish coal mine, but no one seeks to end coal mining. The full list is almost endless – and is longer every year.
The ash derived from burning coal for power averages 80,000 pounds per American lifetime. Compare that to two pounds of nuclear “waste”. The world’s 1,200 largest coal-fired plants cause 13,000 premature American deaths per year plus hundreds of thousands of cases of lung and heart diseases.
The 20% of our electricity supplied by nuclear power plants saves our atmosphere from being polluted with 177 million tons of greenhouses gases EVERY year, but despite the increasing consequences of Climate Change, burning carbon for power is still rising. Coal fired plants also expel mercury, radon, arsenic, polonium, uranium, cyanide and harmful particulates while exposing us to 100 times more radiation than nuclear plants – which create no CO2. In fact, coal ash is more radioactive than any emission from any operating nuclear plant.
Every year, we create and store 140 million tons of coal ash in unlined or poorly lined landfills and tailing ponds. In 2008, five million tons of toxic ash burst through a Tennessee berm (see below), destroying homes and fouling lakes and rivers. Coal power plants leak more toxic pollution into America’s waters than any other industry. For example, a June, 2013 test found that arsenic levels leaking from unlined coal ash ponds were 300 times the safety level for drinking water. And in 2014 Duke Energy’s North Carolina plant spilled 39,000 tons of toxic, coal ash sludge into the Dan River.
When a natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California, eight people died, thirty-five homes were leveled and dozens more were damaged. Should we abandon natural gas?
In 2010, an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in Michigan, spilling more than a million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River. In 2014, the “cleanup” was still incomplete.
BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers and spilled at least 20 million gallons of crude. Prior to that, an explosion at a BP Texas refinery killed 15. And these are just two of the oil companies that American taxpayers subsidize with $2.4 billion per year.
In 2013, a train wreck dumped 2 million gallons of crude oil into Lac Magentic, Quebec, killing 47 residents while incinerating the center of the town – but that’s just another page in the petroleum tale, like the disastrous Exxon “spill” in Mayflower, Arkansas that received scant notice from a press and public.
In November, 2013, a train loaded with 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota crude went incendiary in Alabama, followed in December by a North Dakota conflagration. 2014 began with another fiery derailment in New Brunswick, Canada. In October, 2014, 625,000 liters of oil and toxic mine-water were spilled in Alberta. Same for July, August and September, which brought Alberta’s fall total to 90 pipeline spills. 2015 brought four fiery oil train wrecks by just March. Few expressed concern, but mention nuclear power or RADIATION, and it’s OH DEAR! OH MY!
If we give nuclear power a score of 1 on fatalities per watts produced, coal is 4000 times worse, and oil gets a 900. Again, NO ONE has died from radiation from commercial nuclear power production in Western Europe, Asia or the Southern and Western hemispheres because of nuclear power, but more than 2 MILLION DIE EVERY YEAR from the burning of coal and oil.
The cost per kWh of nuclear electricity is less than that of coal, as well as that from wind and solar. Just one 1154 Megawatt nuclear power plant constantly generates as much electricity as 2,000 2-Megawatt wind generators, which demand vast tracts of land, kill bats and birds, and are intermittent and unpredictable, which is why wind (and solar) typically yield less than 30 % of their rated capacity. Furthermore, building wind turbines won’t mean much against the huge increases in energy production and carbon emissions in China, India, Africa and Southeast Asia.
We should be powering our huge container ships with nuclear power, but we don’t due to our fear of proliferation. However, using MSRs, which are proliferation-resistant, would save seven million barrels of oil per day, remove 4% of our greenhouse gas emissions and replace their huge fuel tanks with profitable cargo. (Propelling one of our huge aircraft carriers at 27 mph for 24 hours requires only three pounds of nuclear fuel – the equivalent of at least 400,000 gallons of diesel fuel.)
Why do we persist with carbon fuels when six uranium pellets the size of your little finger contain as much energy as 3 tons of coal or 60,000 cubic feet of natural gas – and the pellets create no CO2? Just a fistful of Uranium can run all of NYC for an hour, and the waste products are less than that. The Excel Energy plant at Becker, MN turns 60,000,000 pounds of coal per day into CO2, but less than 100 pounds of uranium would do as well while making no CO2.
Why do we plunge ahead with fracking for natural gas when even Louis Allstadt, the former executive vice president of Mobil Oil opposes the practice: “With hundreds of thousands of wells leaking methane, you’re going to exacerbate global warming… The industry is unloading all the costs of what it’s been doing onto the public. Just go out and build miles of levees around New York City and build drainage systems…. We’ll go on producing natural gas and keep the cost low by having taxpayers pick up the cost of dealing with the consequences of global warming. Something has to wake up the public. It will either be education from the environmental movements or some kind of climate disaster that no one can ignore.”
In 2014, satellite observations of oil and gas basins in East Texas and North Dakota revealed staggering 9-10 percent leakage rates of heat-trapping methane. Thanks to these leaks, fracking accelerates climate change even before the methane it seeks is burned.
The sediments and bottom water in many of the world’s shallow oceans and lakes also contain vast amounts of methane (which is at least 20 times more potent than CO2) that is released from frozen soils as the organic matter thaws and decomposes. According to a United Nations report, atmospheric methane levels have never exceeded 700 parts per billion in the last 400,000 years, but they reached 1850 ppb by 2013. We must not dither!
How does a water-cooled, uranium-powered reactor (a Light Water Reactor – LWR) work, and what are its pluses and minuses?
In a conventional reactor, uranium pellets are sealed in hundreds of narrow, 12 foot zirconium tubes that are housed under 600 degree (F) water at 2700 psi to prevent the water from “exploding” into steam. Steam generated in a heat exchanger powers a turbine that spins a generator to make electricity. Because of the potential for an “explosion” of the super-heated, pressurized water (that would expand 1000 times) a huge, expensive, immensely strong containment dome encloses the reactor so that steam and other gases cannot escape.
During fission, reaction waste products accumulate in the pellets and tubes that must contain all the byproducts while in the reactor and for many years thereafter. Other reactions that involve the zirconium rods and the super-hot water can produce hydrogen, which caused the explosions at Chernobyl and Fukushima.
As the uranium pellets become contaminated with waste they become inefficient, and must be replaced every 18 months during a multi-day shut-down in which the assemblies are moved by remotely operated cranes to storage pools that keep them from melting. After a few years, their radioactivity decreases enough so that they can be moved to dry cask storage, which provides our current long term answer.
Why switch from solid-fuel reactors to Molten Salt Reactors?
Because MSRs avoid many of the disadvantages of solid-fuel reactors.
In an MSR, the fuel – uranium or thorium – is dissolved in a liquid fluoride salt, and although fluorine gas is corrosive, fluoride salts are not. Fluoride salts don’t change under high temperatures or high radiation, and they lock up radioactive materials to prevent them from being released to the environment. And yes, an Oak Ridge MSR ran successfully for 22,000 hours from 1965 – 1969.
Schematic of a Molten Salt Reactor
When uranium or thorium is combined with a liquid fluoride salt, there are no pellets, no zirconium tubes, no water and, therefore, no hydrogen. The fluid containing the nuclear fuel is also the heat-transfer agent, so no coolant water is needed. And an MSR’s efficiency is much higher that a water-cooled plant, because it uses molten salt above 700 degrees C, instead of water at about 330 degrees.
Because the molten salt cannot boil until 14OO°C, and MSRs are not water-cooled, they can operate at atmospheric pressure. As a result, there can be no steam “explosion” to propel radioactive isotopes into the environment, and no containment dome is needed.
As the liquid salt fuel in the core heats up, it expands, decreasing the density of the fuel, which slows the rate of fission. As a consequence, an MSR is inherently stable or “self-governing,” and because the fuel is liquid, it can be easily drained from the reactor as needed. A dangerous “meltdown” like that at Fukushima cannot occur. A “disaster” from an MSR would be measured in square yards, not square miles – as with conventional reactors.
Furthermore, in the event of an electric power outage, a refrigerated salt plug at the bottom of the MSR automatically melts, allowing the fuel to drain into a large-diameter tank, where it spreads out, cools and solidifies, stopping the reaction. In effect, MSRs are walk-away safe. Even if you abandon an MSR, it will cool down and solidify all by itself. Fukushima could not have happened with an MSR, and because radioactive Cesium, Iodine and Strontium are bound to stable salts in an MSR, they would not be released during an accident.
MSRs generate twice as much heat as a conventional reactor. That heat can be used to create more power, desalinate seawater, split water for hydrogen fuel cells, make ammonia for fertilizer, and extract carbon from the air and our carbon-endangered oceans to make gasoline and diesel fuel.
Finally, MSRs can “burn” 96% of our 68,000 tons of stored uranium waste and the fissile material in our thousands of nuclear bombs.
Useful MSR By-Products
Fission of U-233 in an MSR produces essential chemicals for industry that include xenon, neodymium for high-strength magnets, medical Molybdenum-99, radioStrontium, Zirconium, Rhodium, Ruthenium and Palladium plus Iodine-131 to treat thyroid cancers.
So why develop Thorium-fueled MSRs?
A thorium-powered MSR is called a Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor –
a LFTR – pronounced LIFTER
A Lifetime of power in the palm of your hand
With a half-life of 14 billion years, Thorium (Th-232) is one of the safest, least radioactive elements in the world, but because it becomes Th-233 and then U-233 in a MSR, it’s a potent source of power. Th-232 emits harmless alpha particles that cannot even penetrate skin. In contrast, sunlight, the Potassium-40 in a banana, living at high altitude, and Radon from a gas stove or a coal-burning power plant are more hazardous than Thorium.
LFTRs are vastly more efficient than a uranium-fueled MSR, and they create very little waste because a thorium-fueled MSR “burns” 99% of the thorium, but current reactors consume only about 2% of their uranium. That’s like burning a tiny part of a log while the rest gets contaminated with chemicals you must store for thousands of years.
Because just one pound of thorium equals 1700 tons coal, replacing coal-burning power plants with LFTRs would eliminate the largest source of CO2-caused climate change. That same pound – a golf ball size lump – can yield all the energy a person will ever need, and just a cubic yard can power a small city for a year. In fact, replacing ALL coal, oil and natural gas power production with LFTRs would eliminate about 50% of all man-made greenhouse gas production. (From 1977-1982, the LWR at Shippingport, PA was powered with a Thorium – Uranium mix, and when it was shuttered, the reactor core was found to contain ~1% more fissile (U233/235) than when it was loaded in ‘77.) More recently, India, which is well supplied with thorium, is planning to build Th/U233 breeder reactors, as is China, while we struggle to overcome the public’s fear of nuclear power.
Thorium ore is 3-4 times as plentiful as uranium ore and 500 times more abundant than uranium’s fissile U-235 isotope, which is the potent part. At current consumption rates, uranium fuels can last for decades, but thorium reactors could power our world for centuries. The U S has some 400,000 tons of thorium reserves. Australia and India tie for the largest at about 500,000 tons, and China is well supplied. Just 1,000 tons of thorium is equivalent to 47 billion barrels of oil or 460 billion cubic meters of gas. Better yet, we don’t even have to mine Thorium because the tailing ponds at our Rare Earth Elements’ processing plants receive, every year, enough Thorium to power the entire planet.
Waste and storage.
Because of their efficiency, LFTRs create about 1% of the waste that LWRs produce, and conventional waste is hazardous for thousands of years. With LFTRs, it’s a few hundred, so geologic repositories much smaller than Yucca mountain would easily suffice. A 1 Gigawatt LFTR, run for 30 years, will produce less than 1000 lbs. of waste, and LFTRs can run practically “forever” because they produce enough neutrons to breed their own fuel. In addition, the radiotoxicity from LFTR waste is 1/1000 that of conventional reactor waste. So, the best way to eliminate almost all nuclear waste is to stop creating it with conventional reactors by replacing them with MSRs that can “burn” that waste as fuel.
Transmission line costs and line losses will be reduced.
With no need for huge cooling towers or large containment buildings, MSRs can be much smaller, both physically and in power capacity. Factories, cities and ships could have their own power source, thus creating a more reliable, efficient power grid by cutting transmission line losses that can run from 8 – 20%.
Not surprisingly, the conventional nuclear industry, like the carbon-based industries, has had no interest in MSRs or LFTRS, perhaps for financial reasons, and few elected officials are likely to challenge the carbon industries that provide millions of jobs and wield great political power. As a consequence, thorium technology gets little help from the government, although China and Canada are moving toward thorium, and India already has a reactor that runs on 20% thorium oxide.
After our DoE signed a collaboration agreement with China, we handed over all of our molten salt information through the auspices of Oak Ridge National Labs, U C Berkeley, MIT, and the U of Wisconsin. In order to meet demand while MSRs are being developed, China has 29 modern Generation III+ nuclear plants under construction or scheduled. In addition, the Chinese Academy of Sciences has allocated $1billion to begin building build LFTRs by 2020. And in Japan, a FUJI design for a 100-200 mw LFTR is being developed by a consortium from Japan, the U. S. and Russia at a cost of just 2.85 cents per kilowatt hour.
How a LFTR works
In a LFTR, the liquid uranium/salt mix circulates through the reactor core, releasing neutrons that convert Th-232 in an outer shell to Th-233. (Thorium 232 cannot sustain a chain reaction, but it is fertile, meaning that it can be converted to fissile U-233 through neutron capture, also known as “breeding.”)
When the U-235 converts Th-232 into Th-233, it fissions, releasing energy while creating Protactinium-233, which decays to U-233, which “activates” more Th-232. During the process, huge amounts of energy are released as heat. In short, a LFTR turns thorium into uranium, which it thoroughly consumes, producing a tiny amount of short-term waste in the process.
(Illustration from THORIUM: Energy Cheaper Than Coal – by Robert Hargraves)
The half-life of Th-232, which comprises most of thorium ore, is 14 billion years, so it is not hazardous due to its extremely slow decay.
Uranium is most easily stolen during shipment for enriching, production of pellets and rods, delivery to the reactor, and for long-term storage, but LFTRs only use Uranium to start the reaction, after which Uranium is produced within the reactor from Thorium.
A conventional, 1 GW reactor requires 35 tons of Uranium oxide/year for 30-50 years. In contrast, a 1 GW LFTR will only need a one-time “kick-start” of about 500 lbs. of Uranium in 50 years plus 1 ton of Thorium per year during the reactor’s 50 year lifespan.
It would be extremely difficult to make a nuclear weapon from MSRs because the fuel contains intensively radioactive isotopes. The gamma rays they emit would damage a bomb’s electronics and harm technicians, and they are easily detected – even by satellite.
Summary: Advantages of LFTRs
(Some of these also apply to MSRs that use Uranium.)
No CO2 emissions. Not practical for making bombs. Breed their own fuel.
Produce a very small amount of short-lived, low toxicity waste which is benign in 350 years.
Proliferation resistant – The liquid fuel, besides being at 700-1000 degrees C, contains isotopes that would be fatal to saboteurs. (There are other, much safer ways to obtain nuclear material for bomb making.)
Do not need periodic shut downs for refueling because fuel is supplied as needed and the fission by-products are continuously removed. (Conventional reactors must be shut down for weeks for refueling about every 18 months).
Not water-cooled, so hydrogen and steam explosions are eliminated. Well suited to areas where water is scarce.
No huge containment domes are needed because they operate at atmospheric pressure.
The reactor can’t “melt down” because the fuel/coolant is already liquid and the reactor vessel is designed to handle even higher temperatures.
Thorium ore is safer to mine because it is less radioactive than uranium ore.
Thorium 232 is 500 X as abundant as U-235.
Fluoride salts are easier to handle and less dangerous than the supercritical water used by solid-fuel reactors.
Could replace all of the world’s coal-powered generators by 2060.
Cost much less than conventional reactors.
Suitable for modular factory production, truck transport and on-site assembly.
Intrinsically safe because overheating expands the fuel/salt, decreasing its density, which lowers the fission rate.
If there is a loss of electric power, the molten salt fuel quickly melts a freeze plug, automatically draining the fuel into a tank, where it naturally cools and solidifies.
Extremely efficient. At least 99% of a LFTR’s thorium is “burned”, compared to about 2 % of the uranium in conventional reactors.
Create Plutonium-238 that powers NASA’s deep space exploration vehicles.
Highly scalable – from 10 MW to 2,000 MW plants. A modern LFTR with a 7 x .7 m core and a one meter thick thorium-conversion “blanket”, would generate 220 MW of electricity, and could be transported on a semi-trailer”.
“Given the diminished scale of LFTRs, it seems reasonable to project that reactors of 100 megawatts can be factory produced for a cost of around $200 million.” Hargraves, American Scientist Vol. 98, July 2010. That’s about 2 dollars per watt, which is cheaper than building an advanced coal-fired power plant.
CAN’T AFFORD IT?
There’s plenty of fat in our “defense” budget. We’ve lost more than $400 billion on worthless F-37 fighter jets and $2 billion PER WEEK in Afghanistan.
According to the Guardian, “… companies spent $670 billion in 2013 searching for more fossil fuels, investments that could be worthless if action on global warming slashes allowed emissions.” With that money, we could build enough molten salt reactors to end the burning of fossil fuels for generating power while drastically cutting CO2 production.
California plans a $50-100 billion high speed train to serve impatient commuters between San Francisco and L A, and in 2014, Wall Street forked over $28 billion in bonuses to needy executives. Now add golf, NASCAR and other luxuries that Climate Change should make us scrutinize, and the total can hit $1 trillion.
We only need about $2 billion to build a modern MSR and about $6 Billion to build a MSR with output of 4.8 GW on an assembly line. But while we temporize, Russia plans to build modular reactors (conventional and MSRs), some of which can be mounted on barges that can be towed to coastal cities, making long transmission lines – and their power loss – unnecessary.
According to World Nuclear News, Rusatom Overseas is also aiming to sell desalination facilities with large capacity nuclear power plants to Russia’s export markets.
“Dzhomart Aliyev, head of Rusatom Overseas, says that the company sees “a significant potential in foreign markets”, and is offering two AES-2006 LWRs producing 1200 MWe each to Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy as part of a combined power and desalination plant.
“Desalination units can produce 170,000 cubic meters of potable water per day, with 850 MWh per day of electricity. This would use only about 3% of the output of a 1200 MW nuclear power plant. In addition, two desalination units are also being considered for inclusion in Iran’s plans to expand the Bushehr nuclear power plant with Russian technology, and an agreement between Argentina and Russia also includes desalination with nuclear power.”
Does California come to mind?
But in the U. S., our nuclear power industry, opposed by Climate deniers, fervent “greens” and powerful corporations that profit from polluting our planet, struggles to stay alive.
Rep. Michelle Bachman – Climate Change denier.
Former governor Sarah Palin – another denier.
Rep. Louis Gohmert – “God will help us.”
Helen Caldicott, Barry Commoner, Ralph Nader and others who did good work in ending nuclear testing, shifted to being anti-everything nuclear when the testing ended, and their success in limiting nuclear power have contributed to Climate Change. Because they have refused to educate themselves about radiation safety, they continue to spread gross distortions or even falsehoods.
Biased “experts” like Dr. Arjun Makhijani who told a Minnesota Senate committee that each of France’s nuclear power plants produces 30 bombs worth of plutonium every year. Makhijani’s statement is deceptive because he did not admit that the plutonium produced in commercial light water reactors — like France operates — is a mixture of isotopes that is less useful for making atomic bombs than the uranium distributed throughout the earth’s crust. He also avoided mentioning that there are no nuclear weapons in any of the world’s inventory that were produced with plutonium produced in a commercial nuclear power plant.
Organizations like ECO Watch trumpet “… ocean waters off the west coast are testing positive for radioactive elements,” and “Cesium has been detected in seawater having a radio-intensity of 4 Becquerels per cubic meter, but don’t know or want to admit that the natural radioactivity of seawater is 12,000 Bq per cubic meter. They are willfully ignorant or are fear-mongering or both.
In addition, influential organizations like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, having refused to educate themselves on the facts of radiation safety, remain hostile to nuclear energy despite its superior safety record, its ability to displace greenhouse gases and its efficiency.
Some simply lie.
This U.S. government image displays various tsunami wave heights following the record-setting earthquake that damaged the Fukushima reactors, but at least one anti-nuclear power group claimed that it was a representation of radiation levels in the Pacific.
Others, like the carbon industries, spend millions on fear-producing propaganda like the following advertisement that led to the closing of Long Island’s Shoreham nuclear power plant, a new facility that was ready to go to work. As a result, thousands of tons of carbon dioxide were added to our atmosphere during the following decades. Unfortunately, the carbon industries will continue to lie about nuclear power while trying to seem “green” by accepting wind and solar because they know that wind and solar cannot deliver baseload power 24/7, and that nuclear power will ring the death knell to the profligate, polluting use of coal, oil and natural gas.
The G W Bush administration tried to censor NASA’s James Hansen on Climate Change, and Florida’s Republican administration has ordered state employees to avoid mention of Climate Change and Global warming.
THE ANSWER: Why Only Inherently Safe, Mini-Nuclear Power Plants Can Save Our World.
by Reese Palley
“By 2050 we will have added 50% to the world population, which will add 50% more CO2/yr than the 8 billion tons we are adding now. Even more alarming is a 2009 release from the National Academy of Science: ‘The severity of climate change depends on the magnitude of the change and on the potential for irreversibility. The climate change that takes place due to increases in CO2 is largely irreversible for 1,000 years after the emissions stop.’
“… the prospect of recapturing and sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere is an exercise in futility. Once CO2 is released, it will take more energy to reclaim it. Unlike our 68,000 tons of nuclear waste, which accounts for just 0.01 % of all industrial toxic waste, there is no place to store the billions of tons of CO2 that will spell disaster within 50 years if we fail to act wisely.
“We must stop using carbon fuels. Progressively tax energy use. GO NUCLEAR with thousands of on-site MSRs. The power grids we rely on can be damaged, if not destroyed, by a massive solar flare. However, if the U. S. were powered with thousands of LFTRs, these risks would be greatly reduced. Small, modular, inherently safe LFTRs can be built on assembly lines at high speed and shipped by the thousands on semi-trailer trucks.”
THORIUM: Energy Cheaper than Coal – by Robert Hargraves.
“The U N cannot solve our energy/climate crises. Ultimately, individual leaders are the key.”
Super Fuel – by Richard Martin.
“For millions of years, thorium has been awaiting the right time, the right circumstances and the right minds to enable it to provide thousands of years of clean, safe, affordable energy. The technology exists, the economics are favorable, and the need is urgent.”
Power to Save the World – by Gwyneth Cravens
“The power to save the world does not lie in rocks, rivers, wind or sunshine. It lies in each of us.”
“Deniers are ideologically committed to attacking an opposing viewpoint – often for financial reasons – and no amount of evidence will change their minds.”
“Helen Caldicott and Barry Commoner moved seamlessly from campaigning about radioactive fallout to trying to ban nuclear power. When Caldicott moved to the United States in 1977 and found nobody interested in bombs any more, she began to fight reactors.”
Near Three Mile Island, “…Journalists sought out the most worried people to interview, while on national television, Walter Cronkite philosophized about Frankenstein and man’s ‘tampering with natural forces.’ …the China Syndrome was just then playing in the theaters. The press, adopting a narrative prepared by the anti-nuclear movement, covered Three Mile Island with an intensity far beyond that accorded to previous industrial accidents. Residents were so upset that some, calling themselves ‘survivors’, suffered psychological difficulties…. This was nuclear fear at work, single-minded and unappeasable.”
Popular Science – special ENERGY ISSUE – July, 2011
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK367T7h6ZY (LFTRs in 5 minutes)
Here’s a link to your Senators’ and Representatives’ addresses. PLEASE USE IT! http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
Here’s the White House:
We must do better than this:
George Erickson is a best-selling author, a past V P of the American Humanist Association, a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Thorium Energy Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy and more. Please visit www.tundracub.com. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 218-744-2003 for more information or to schedule a presentation on nuclear power and radiation safety.
- 1. In 1896 Svante Arrhenius realized that CO2 was a greenhouse gas, and that doubling it would raise global temps 9 degrees F.
- Smoking-related diseases kill 5 million/yr. Tobacco smoke contains over 70 carcinogens plus chemicals that cause heart and lung diseases. These include cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide.
- Coors, the Koch brothers and most of the major coal and oil producers fund the Climate Change deniers, many of whom previously worked for companies that were – and still are – “skeptics” on acid rain, overpopulation, ozone depletion, global warming, tobacco, evolution, vaccinations and nuclear power.
From Radiation and Health by Hendrickson and Maillie
“In radiation therapy, chromosome damage to lymphocytes can be reduced by up to 50% if a small dose is given before the larger dose is given.”
Why Not Nuclear? – by Brian King
…Argonne National Laboratory has long held the major responsibility for developing nuclear power in the U.S. By 1980, there were two main goals: 1. Develop a Nuclear power plant that can’t melt down, and 2. Build a reactor that can run on waste from other nuclear power plants.
In the early 80’s Argonne opened a site for a Generation IV project in Idaho, and in about five years they were ready for a demonstration run at the plant. Scientists from around the globe were invited to watch a test of what would happen if there was a loss of all power and cooling to the reactor, a condition very similar to the one that occurred at Fukushima.
A film was made inside the control room as the test proceeded. The visiting dignitaries seemed anxious as power to the cooling system was turned off because the event at Fukushima resulted when the cooling system shut off [due to tsunami damage] and the cores of the reactors overheated and melted. Dr. Charles Till, the director of the Generation IV project, calmly watched the gauges on the panel as core temperature briefly increased, then dropped precipitously as the reactor shut itself down without any operator intervention!
The Argonne Generation IV project was as complete a success as one can imagine, but it couldn’t get past the anti-nuke politics of the 90’s, so it was shut down by the Clinton administration in 1994 because we didn’t “need it.”
One can only imagine what the world would look like today, with a fleet of Generation IV nuclear plants that would run safely for hundreds of years on all the waste at storage sites around the globe. No CO2 would have been created – only ever increasing amounts of clean, reliable power. So, Why Not Nuclear?
Unfortunately, most environmentalists are against nuclear power, as are many liberals. The Democratic Party is afraid of anti-nuclear sentiment… as are Monthly Review Magazine, Progressive Democrats of America, the Nation Magazine, The Sierra Club, In These Times, and many more, all anti-nuke. Why are all these people against such a safe and promising source of energy? Why not the same opposition to the vastly more deadly coal?
I believe that nuclear power has been tarred with the same brush as nuclear weapons. Nuclear power plants can’t explode like bombs, but people still think that way…. There is also a matter of group prejudice, not unlike a fervently religious group or an audience at a sports event of great importance to local fans. People are afraid to go against the beliefs of their peers, no matter how scientifically unsubstantiated those beliefs may be.
The Sierra Club provides an interesting case. In the early 1970’s, The Sierra Club supported the development of nuclear power, as a reasonable alternative to construction of more river-destroying damns in California. This changed by the mid 70’s, when The Sierra Club joined the anti-nuclear power stampede…
from Radiation: The No-Safe-Level Myth
by Leslie Corrice – Member of the American Nuclear Society and Scientists for Accurate Radiation Information.
Beginning with the accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, a widespread belief has proliferated that all levels of ionizing radiation are dangerous. Since 1980, radiation Hormesis studies have shown there is actually a threshold of danger with high level exposures, but below that threshold low dose radiation is essentially safe and quite possibly beneficial to life. Yet, this relatively new, seemingly contradictory understanding of radiation’s health effects has gone essentially unknown to the general public….
Effects of the No-Safe-Level Assumption
After the accident at TMI, the groundless no-safe-level theory of low radiation exposures was added to the public’s already-existent confusions between reactors and bombs, and between fallout and radiation itself. Subsequently, the no-safe-level theory amplified the Hiroshima Syndrome to a level of full-blown public phobia relative to all things nuclear and expanded its damaging tendrils into anything associated with radiation. If and when the no-safe-level theory of radiation exposure is exorcised from the public’s political and informational arenas, only then can the negative psychological impacts of the Hiroshima Syndrome be effectively addressed and eventually healed. As long as the no-safe-level theory is maintained, the Hiroshima Syndrome will continue to damage the psyche of all humanity, restrict the therapeutic and healing effects of non-lethal doses of radiation, limit the growth of clean and green nuclear energy, and un-necessarily prolong the practice of burning fossil fuels in order to produce large round-the-clock volumes of electricity.