Physical Insights

An independent scientist’s observations on society, technology, energy, science and the environment. “Modern science has been a voyage into the unknown, with a lesson in humility waiting at every stop. Many passengers would rather have stayed home.” – Carl Sagan

Archive for the ‘Helen Caldicott’ Category

Anti-Nuclear Quote of the Day.

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“Once presented, the facts will speak for themselves.” — Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Madness


Written by Luke Weston

September 3, 2007 at 7:59 am

Nuclear Madness: Chapter 1

with 10 comments

Yes, I’m referring to the book.

 “…we can no longer afford to entrust our lives, and the lives and health of future generations, to politicians, bureaucrats, “experts”, or scientific specialists, because all too often their objectivity is compromised.”

Oh dear oh dear. In other words, any scientist or engineer, physician or physicist, who potentially disagrees with us, must clearly be a shill.

But it doesn’t really matter, fundamentally. Ultimately, if a physicist or chemist says this or that, ultimately, what they say is tested against the physical characteristics of reality. What scientists say, by rights, doesn’t matter. What physical reality does is what matters. Nature can’t be paid off by the big scary corporations and lobby groups.

 “It (nuclear energy) is also obviously extremely unsafe, as opposed to the fallacious claims made by the nuclear industry…”

The empirical observation is that it is safe. He-says-she-says doesn’t matter.

“The Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee exposed nearly 500 patients with leukemia and other cancers to exceptionally high levels of radiation from radioactive caesium and cobalt, including a six-year-old boy.”

The infamous human radioactivity experiments are potentially a great topic of discussion for the people that want to convince the public that human applications of radioactivity are intrinsically evil. I’m not quite sure what relevance the infamous and controversial research has to nuclear energy, but reading the above passage, one thing immediately stands out.

Thousands of patients with cancers are exposed to exceptionally high doses of radiation, from radionuclides of Caesium and cobalt, in hospitals every day, even today. And it saves their lives.

  “…the long-term medical consequences of radiation were just beginning to appear, in the form of an increased rate of leukemia among Japanese atomic bomb survivors.”

These are the medical consequences of very high doses of whole-body ionizing radiation exposure. That these grave medical consequences of very large doses of ionizing radiation exist, and what they are, has never, ever, been in any dispute. Very high doses of ionizing radiation kill people.

“Nonbiodegradable, and some virtually potent forever, these toxic nuclear materials…”

Radionuclides are non-biodegradable! My god.

If one synthesises a biodegradable polymer, such as a lactide-derived polyester, and labels it with say Tritium or Carbon-14, the radioactive polymer is still biodegradable.

All radionuclides intrinsically, inevitably, decay over time. This is one of the most intrinsic and fundamental aspects of the phenomenon of radioactivity.

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, such as benzo[a]pyrene, are strongly mutagenic, and correspondingly carcinogenic and teratogenic, and exposure to these compounds in the environment has the potential to cause increased incidences of cancer, decades into the future, and leave future generations with legacies of genetic disease, birth defects and so forth, as a result of mutation of genes reproductive cells in generations exposed to these pollutants.

This is the legacy we leave to future generations with the continued use, and expanded use, of dangerous fossil fuels.

These persistent organic pollutants in dangerous fossil fuel waste are not biodegradable, and their nuclei are for the most part, stable. They do not break down over time, or decay. At all.

“Each 1 GW nuclear (power) reactor contains as much long-lived radioactive material (“fallout”) as would be produced by 1000 Hiroshima-sized bombs.”

Radioactive material is not “fallout” until is is dispersed in the atmosphere in the form of dispersed dust, volatile and particulate contamination. Arguably, the Chernobyl disaster created radioactive “fallout” contamination, kind of analogous to that produced by a nuclear weapon.

But in practice, what circumstances are required for such dispersion to be created with any other nuclear reactor?

“A “meltdown”, in which the fissioning nuclear fuel overheats and melts, penetrating the steel and concrete structures that encase it, could release a reactor’s radioactive contents into the atmosphere…”

Can a “meltdown” destroy the steel reactor vessel of a nuclear reactor? Theory shows it’s extremely doubtful, and experience, at Three Mile Island, says no. Even if the pressure vessel is destroyed, could the massive reinforced concrete containment building be destroyed by hot, partially molten, fuel? For all practical intents and purposes, such an idea is regarded as impossible.

 “One need not be a scientist or nuclear engineer to take part in this important debate; in fact, an over-specialised approach tends to confuse the issue. The basic questions involved ultimately go beyond the technical problems related to reactor safety and radioactive waste management.”

What? In other words, is Caldicott trying to tell us that the science and engineering does not matter? These are the most fundamental aspects of the debate. On a foundation of scientific and technological fact, the complex political and social debate over nuclear technology can proceed in a sensible, informed manner.

“How can we ensure the longevity of the social institutions responsible for perpetuating that isolation?” (the isolation of radioactive waste from the environment over the long term.)  “And what moral right do we have to burden our progeny with this poisonous legacy…

Social institutions do not perpetuate the longevity of that isolation. Half a kilometer of solid rock perpetuates it. We know from history, from the nuclear fission waste under the rock at Oklo, and from, say, the great Pyramids, that these great structures of rock will carry our legacy over the time frames required.

Permanent geological repositories,  such as that under construction by Sweden’s SKB, deal with the radioactive waste permanantly, and once it’s sealed, it’s dealt with, safe forever. These repositories require no monitoring or maintainence by future generations.

Well, that’s Chapter 1, and the Introduction, covered.

Written by Luke Weston

August 8, 2007 at 1:29 am

A critique of “Nuclear Power is not the Answer…”

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Some of you will have already seen my little essay/thesis or whatever you want to call it, here.

I’ve been doing some more work on this recently, and it’s considerably further along and more polished than it has been before.

There are some factual claims being made by the anti-nuclear movement that I just don’t think are informed by good attention to science, and this is my main effort at standing up and attempting to address this.

It’s a very long piece of writing, I know. I never thought that it could get that long, but I guess I just refuse to gloss over scientific issues in a half arsed way.

It’s still not complete, there will be typos, bits that need to be edited, and so forth. It’s a work in progress.

Please check it out, and tell me what you think. (Please don’t be impolite, though.)

Peer review, proofreading, “peer review”, checking or critiquing of the science and factual content, and so forth is all very welcome and appreciated.

Written by Luke Weston

August 3, 2007 at 1:44 am