Physical Insights

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More Nuclear Madness

with 6 comments

I’ve just finished reading and taking notes from Helen Caldicott’s Nuclear Madness. In time, you’ll see a detailed chapter-by-chapter deconstruction released, just as i’m working on with her other book.

Until then, i’ll leave you with a few choice quotes:

“The radioactive inventory [[released at Chernobyl]] contained plutonium; iodine-131 and iodine-129 (half-life of 16 million years); neptunium-139; 2.5 million curies of cesium-137; and strontium-90.”

There’s no such thing as Neptunium-139. Even if we assume that’s a misprint, and it’s supposed to say Np-239, that has a half-life of 2.4 days.

…a nuclear reactor must operate at full capacity for ten years to repay its energy debt incurred by uranium mining, enrichment, fuel fabrication, steel and zirconium manufacture, and plant construction (this does not include decommissioning). Add to this eight to ten years for plant construction and fuel loading and reloading. It would therefore take approximately eighteen years for one net calorie of energy to be generated for societal consumption.”

Here’s a tip. Don’t double count the costs and then explain in detail where you’ve double counted it.

“Long-term plans call for the disposal of the plutonium derived from these decommissioned former Soviet Union and US weapons. The plutonium will be placed in reactors and fissioned and converted or “transmuted” to shorter-lived, radioactive isotopes; eg, from 239-Pu, with a total life of 500,000 years, to 90-Sr and 137-Cs, with radioactive lives of 600 years. Sounds good, but I wonder if eighteen generations from now, the people will appreciate the carcinogenic and mutagenic effects of ubiquitous 90-Sr in their bones, and 137-Cs in their muscles and reproductive organs.”

Maybe we should just keep the bombs, then? A fission reactor destroys, permanently and immediately, weaponisable Plutonium, something that can not be accomplished with any other means.

“Hanford – America’s nuclear cemetery – a vast dead satanic area, poisonous for millions of years.”

The above paragraph is quoted verbatim. That’s a separate paragraph in its entirety.

“We do know for a fact, however, that ground water at the [[Savannah River]] complex is already contaminated with cesium 137, cobalt 60, plutonium 238 and 239, radium, ruthenium 166, strontium 90, tritium, uranium, and complex organic solvents that enhance the radioactive migration.”

Ruthenium-166? Great. Now we’ve got radioactive contamination from radioactive isotopes that do not exist.

Now, on page 196 we’ve got this:

“Some of this material contained 99-Tc – a mobile isotope with a half-life of 212,000 years.”

(The symbols for the elements are mine, they’re not used in the book, but i’ll use them for the sake of brevity. I’m sure all readers are capable of recognising chemical symbols.)

But, on page 204, something a little interesting:

“The grout contains, among other isotopes to mention, technetium-99, with a half-life of 210,000 years.”

In case anyone’s curious, the half-life is actually 211,100 years. Getting it right to within 1000 years, as 212,000 years, is good enough for me, but I can’t for the life of me work out why a different figure was used.

“When rain falls on the desert, the water migrates deeply very quickly carrying with it the toxic radioisotopes; and should it evaporate in the heat, soluble isotopes evaporate with it.

Good grief. Did this woman have any exposure to science in elementary school?

“Israel cooperated with South Africa to test its first nuclear weapon in 1979…”

Can any credible source credibly call this a truth? To this day, it remains a conspiracy theory.

“Once an individual or group is in possession of Plutonium, bomb fabrication is not very difficult. Using only declassified information, college students have succeeded in designing functional bombs.

The designs call for metal fixtures bought at local hardware stores and ten to twenty pounds of plutonium, an amount that can easily be concealed in a shopping bag”

Oh dear.


Written by Luke Weston

September 5, 2007 at 4:16 pm

6 Responses

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  1. Oh dear, indeed. These days, I would usually chalk it up to senility; however, this book was written well over a decade ago.

    Damn it, Jim! I’m a doctor, not a person who is good at math or science!

    Sorry for the Star Trek parody, but this quote could easily apply to our dear “Doctor” (Bones) Caldicott. Numbers confuse her.


    September 5, 2007 at 5:14 pm

  2. There is more than just conspiracy theory vis-a-vis S. Africa and Israel and the bomb. The Russians actually stated they believe it based on their old KGB sources (since it occured on the USSR watch). Mordichi Vininu confirmed it before he was arrested and ‘disappeared’ by Mossad. It’s also pretty commonly accpeted by ANC activists now in gov’t in SA. And…no one disputes it either. You get a ‘no comment’ from the Israeli’s if you ask.


    David Walters

    September 8, 2007 at 1:13 am

  3. Also, Luke, what IS the energy equalization pay off for nuclear? I never really thought about it. Leaving aside the absurd say-anything doctrine of Caldicott…I always figured it was about 8 months to break even point for MWs in to MWs out. I think I saw this someplace.


    David Walters

    September 8, 2007 at 1:15 am

  4. Well, for all questions of life-cycle analysis, this is one of my favourite references – extremely detailed, well referenced and researched.

    It’s worth reading the first chapter or so, specifically around page 18 – 21.

    Payback time should, basically, be the lifetime of a nuclear plant times the energy intensity, which they give in in the nice table on p. 9 as 0.18. Assume a life time of say 50 years, and that’s a payback time of 9 years. I don’t completely understand the extra factor they’ve introduced on page 21, i’ll need to read more of this report. I think it’s to do with considering how much of the energy input comes from clean energy sources. For R = 0.3, as they give for Australia, the payback time is reduced to 2.7 years.

    The team, using Vattenfall Forsmark NPP data, put the energy payback time for the “non-nuclear energy requirement” at 8 months total, including decommissioning, waste disposal, everything.


    September 8, 2007 at 8:23 am

  5. “to 90-Sr and 137-Cs, with radioactive lives of 600 years.”

    Okay, I have no idea what a “radioactive life” is but the half life of Sr-90 is about 28.8 years and for Cs-137 it’s 30.07 years. So, I am assuming that the meaning of “radioactive life” is implying the rough amount of time that it takes the material to be more-or-less non-radioactive, or at least not enough to be a hazard.

    If you round those to 30 years, given that they both have a half-life of ballpark 30 years. Then the 1000 rule of thumb (or to be more accurate the 1024 rule tells you there will be about .1% of the remaining material. In other words: for every gram there will be a milligram remaining.

    Of course, this does not mean you won’t have significant reduction before that. At 60 years you’re only left with 25%

    I suppose Cauldicott has decided that 1/1048576 of the remaining material is where it becomes okay.

    Bull. For one thing, you have to consider that the total proportion of the longer lived fission products vs the fuel is relatively small. Consider also that this relatively small amount can be disposed of safely pretty easily. A couple of centuries is not a lot of time from a geological standpoint.

    A few KG of SR-90 and Cs-137 could be relatively easily disposed of.


    September 21, 2007 at 5:52 am

  6. Yeah, Caldicott is quite consistent about using this rule of thumb, which i’ve never seen used much elsewhere, of 20 half-lives, saying that a material becomes non-radioactive after 20 half-lives, eg. a 600 year “radioactive life” for Cs-137, or 500,000 years for Pu-239.

    Then, elsewhere in the book, she states that I-131 “remains radioactive for only six weeks”! That’s only about 5 half-lives!


    September 21, 2007 at 8:36 am

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