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

Posts Tagged ‘anti-nuclear activism

Embarrassingly predictable?

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Here’s a powerpoint presentation from an excellent presentation given by Kirk Sorensen about the use of thorium as a nuclear energy resource.

Of course, the Powerpoint slides themselves are not as good as the whole presentation, and in and of themselves they can be a little hard to follow, without the presenter, but unfortunately you have to deal with that with any presentation where you’ve only had a chance to pick up the slides after the fact.

This presentation was prepared over a year ago – but I was only reading it last week. As for the title of this post – there was something, on a related note, that I found a little amusing.

Check out the 6th slide, in Kirk Sorensen’s presentation, and compare it to the oh-so-factual and educational graphics used in Joseph Romm’s recent post on GristMill. Isn’t it uncanny – just when you thought that nobody trying to construct a coherent (?) argument of some kind against the use of nuclear energy could actually be that silly.

Joe Romm has got another post up recently that’s worth looking at as well, in which he attempts to reinforce the notion that the linear-non-threshold hypothesis is somehow factually motivated, and that every little contribution to low doses of ionising radiation is dangerous. I’m sure some readers will be interested in going and leaving a comment in response to that.

Still, Romm deserves some credit for correctly pointing out that on the grounds of ionising radiation dose, as well as numerous other ecological and health impacts, coal-fired electricity generators are far more dangerous than nuclear power plants.

Also, in one final note, congratulations to Rod Adams on the momumental 100th episode of The Atomic Show podcast. That’s a monumental effort, producing 100 episodes of interesting, unique high-quality podcasting, interviews and commentary, and I look forward to the next 100 episodes to come.

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The battle for Chernobyl.

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Last month I got into a discussion with some people about the Chernobyl disaster, following the 22nd anniversary of the catastrophic Soviet reactor accident, and this documentary film was mentioned:

The Battle for Chernobyl.

To put it lightly, this film is an astonishing bunch of rhetorical baloney.

I’m not trying to downplay the public health consequences of the Chernobyl accident – but I’m downplaying the inaccurate or false claims made by certain groups, as distinct from the body of evidence of real, documented and substantiated (and very significant impacts).

Despite the known public health impacts, some people continue to make claims that are either just not true or are completely unsubstantiated – for example any claim that there are children, today, with an increased incidence of thyroid cancer, which just isn’t true – any children who were exposed to the short-lived iodine-131 source term in 1986 are adults today, 22 years later, and the iodine-131 decayed away quickly, within months.

Now, to look at the video:

From the gaping hole, a spray of fire, charged with radioactive particles in fusion, sprays a thousand meters into the sky.

Right from the outset, it’s completely obvious that for the next hour and a bit, science is tossed aside, and rhetoric is the first and only order of affairs.

The radioactive fallout is going to be 100 times greater than the combined power of the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Some simplistic comments have often been made in which the radioactive release of the Chernobyl event is claimed to be 300 or 400 times that of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. However, in sensible terms of radiological impacts, the two events can not be simply compared with a number suggesting that one was x times larger than the other.

Radioecology after Chernobyl – some good literature.

The total combined energy yield of both of the nuclear weapons used in Japan was about 35 kilotons of TNT equivalent – or about 41 gigawatt-hours. The Chernobyl Unit 4 reactor, with a thermal power output of about 3 gigawatts, produced that same amount of energy, and created about the same amount of fission-product activity, every 13.6 hours or thereabouts. Given that a nuclear power reactor contains fuel that has provided that kind of power output for perhaps as long as several years, of course there’s a larger inventory of radioactivity contained in the reactor fuel.

Iodine tablets swallowed to counteract the effects of radioactivity.

Iodine prophylaxis only prevents the body from uptaking iodine from the environment – which might be contaminated by radioactive iodine-131. It in no way “counteracts the effects of radioactivity”.

“The radiation level above the reactor is over 3500 R, almost nine times the lethal dose.”

3500 R over what length of time? The strength of an ionising “radiation field” in such a situation can only sensibly be expressed as roentgens (or sieverts or similar unit) per hour (or per unit of time).

0:36:40

If over six hundred pilots were “fatally contaminated with radiation”and killed, and this is known to be true, why have the Chernobyl Forum, the IAEA, the WHO, the UNDP, the UNSCEAR, Russian or Ukrainian governments never mentioned it? Can it be proven to be true, before the international community, by these people?

0:37:08

Why does none of this film show any artefacts on the film resulting from radiation damage?

0:38:20

The infamous “elephant’s foot” “magma” doesn’t look “white-hot” at this stage, although that’s how it’s described.

0:43:45

Again, the level of radioactivity is implied to be so very high – and it was high – yet it was not high enough to leave artefacts on the camera film. I don’t know exactly what sort of radiation dose is required to effect a piece of photochemical film (Remember that stuff, that was used before digital photography?), but I really expect it to show some damage under these conditions.

0:44:45

If you’ve got documentary evidence of these lives lost as a direct result of the disaster, that don’t appear in any of the UN’s findings, then I’m sure the UN would love to hear about it.

0:52:30

Oh dear – it’s “imagined” health physics, romanticised Hollywood fiction style.

“It finds a way in, and knocks you out”.

1:03:00 or thereabouts:

7000 R/hr – and still no effect on the video camera film. I wonder how strong the ionising radiation field needs to be to affect it?

1:12:30 –

“…The visit stirs up painful memories. He was fatally exposed to radiation during the seven months he spent covering the battle. Since then, he’s had to be hospitalised for over two months each year.”

He was fatally exposed to radiation? Oh, really? So you’re reanimated a dead man to interview for the program?

Chernobyl showed us the true nature of nuclear energy in human hands

No, Chernobyl showed us the potential for folly associated with the Soviet way of doing things back then. Keep in mind that the non-Soviet world has never even come remotely close to experiencing such an accident.

1:31:20:

“Inside, there are 100 kilograms of plutonium.

One microgram is a lethal dose for a human being. That means there is enough plutonium to poison 100 million people.”

Even assuming that “one microgram of plutonium is a lethal dose for a human being”, which it isn’t, I expect that somebody who is really a nuclear physicist should know how to count, and not allow such a glaring error of arithmetic to go uncorrected.

“The half-life of plutonium is 245,000 years.”

In order of descending half-life:

Pu-244: 80 million years

Pu-242: 373,300 years

Pu-239: 24,100 years

Pu-240: 6564 years

Pu-238: 87.7 years

Pu-241: 14.35 years

Pu-236: 2.858 years

The nuclides bolded are the most common ones. I don’t know about you, but Iexpect someone who is a nuclear physicist to get that right, and not just pull some nonsense number out of thin air! Again, not one of these plutonium nuclides has the half-life claimed in the film. What’s more, no credible nuclear physicist would state that “the half-life of plutonium is such-and-such” without specifying which nuclide he was talking about.

But wait – if you’ve watched the video, there are a couple more scenes that you almost certainly haven’t overlooked:

“Yet, it is thanks to these men that the worst was avoided. A second explosion, ten times more powerful than Hiroshima, which would have wiped out half of Europe.”

Yes, you heard that correctly. They claim that a  150 kiloton nuclear detonation could have happened. See below, for what I think of that.

0:34:00 – 0:35:00

The ensuing chain reaction could set off an explosion, comparable to a gigantic atomic bomb.

“Our experts studied the possibility, and concluded that the explosion would have had a force of three to five megatons. Minsk, which is 320 kilometres from Chernobyl, would have been razed, and Europe rendered uninhabitable.”

A 3 to 5 megaton nuclear detonation.

I apologise for putting this bluntly, but there’s only one thing I can say to that. What complete and utter bullshit.

They trump out the nuclear weapon explosion stock footage and everything. This is quite possibly the most blatantly shameless, ridiculous, completely falsifiable and utterly ridiculous example of shameless and absurd anti-nuclear-power propaganda I have ever seen.

Written by Luke Weston

May 8, 2008 at 3:27 pm

Pro-Nuke? Anti-Nuke? Talk About It With the Experts.

with one comment

The Mother Jones Blue Marble blog is taking on the nuclear energy debate.

There is an active comments board – however, unfortunately, it seems to be a little dominated by some very, very dubious arguments from the likes of Harvey Wasserman.

I encourage you all to check it out, and have your say on the comments board.

(My reply was posted immediately… it looks like they’ve turned off comments screening, perhaps?)

Written by Luke Weston

April 29, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Indian Point Nuclear Dead Baby World Tour!

with 5 comments

Isn’t this the most tasteless propaganda you’ve seen all year?

Indian Point Nuclear Dead Baby* World Tour. It’s affiliated with the creator of a certain other crazy lepidopterological anti-Indian Point blog. You all know the one.

* Disclaimer: The site does not actually include any references to any actual real children hurt or harmed by nuclear energy.

Now, let’s see.

“To bring attention to this issue, to oppose Entergy’s attempts to relicense these dangerous reactors, this blog will be sending symbolic dead babies (dolls) out on a world tour by leaving them at various locations.”

So, unfortunately, you couldn’t find any actual babies hurt or killed or harmed by nuclear energy, for real, in the real world?

Apparently, whilst there’s no evidence of any kind that nuclear energy actually does hurt or harm or kill real babies in the real world, it however does symbolically kill babies.

My god, won’t anybody think of the symbolic children?

“First, it seems only fair that Andrea speak, since this Indian Point Dead Baby Tour is about them, the dolls, and who it is they represent in this battle.”

Oh, silly me. It’s about dolls? Indian Point kills dolls? Not actual real, living, human babies? It seems I was misled to believe that there are somehow actual living children being killed by Indian Point… I must have been mistaken.

I hate to break it to you like this, but they’re dolls. They’re not alive – if Indian Point is killing dolls, it must be pretty dangerous indeed… right?

First, some important news on our forward progress on this environmental direct action campaign:

3. Buried three dolls in the mulch in my backyard gardens in the hopes of giving them a bit of a different soiled look, and took some incredible photographs that I hope to load onto my hard drive, again on Sunday.

That’s your environmental direct action campaign? I’m trying not to laugh.

“The doll is so elegant, that it is going to be the doll shipped over to Elena in the Ukraine with the hope that she will agree to take it with her on her next motorcycle trip through Chernobyl’s fallout zone.”

On her website, Elena Filatova posted photographs of her alleged motorcycle trips in the area around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 18 years after the power reactor disaster there. She mainly visited the virtually abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine.

Filatova took a large number of photographs of buildings, cottages, rusting carnival equipment, the interiors of schools and homes, and even a couple people who had since returned to the area. The photos are arranged in the form of a story presented as an account of a trip by a biker who got a permit to travel alone in the radiation zone. However, Chernobyl tour guides and tourists to Chernobyl have claimed that Filatova visited the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone only as part of an organized tour. Chernobyl tour guide Yuriy Tatarchuk recalls that Filatova “booked a tour, wore a leather biker jacket and posed for pictures.” Her website appeared soon after.

“There is no bigger myth within the nuclear energy than their claim that nuclear energy and commercial reactors are and environmentally friendly CO2 source of electricity. From the very beginning of the uranium fuel cycle, the massive creation of and dumping of CO2 into our environment begins, as well as a trail of far deadly contaminants. First, you have to get the uranium out of the ground…uranium mining is very equipment intensive, and the large pieces of equipment use MASSIVE amounts of fossil fuels. Further, it takes tons and tons of of ore containing trace amounts of uranium to get enough actual raw uranium to be of any use. This means said materials have to be carted to processing plants…again, said transportion of such vast quantities of these raw start up materials burn up vast amounts of carbon based fuels, adding to nuclear CO2 contributions to Global Warming.”

Yes, the mining of uranium, the enrichment of uranium, the construction of reactor infrastructure and so forth consumes energy, in just the same way as mining and refining bauxite into aluminium to construct massive wind turbines, along with the construction of the infrastructure itself, consumes large amounts of energy, often generated via relatively polluting energy sources, such as burning fossil fuels.

The independently produced, accredited, Environmental Product Declarations for Swedish energy utility Vattenfall’s Forsmark Nuclear Power Plant find that, averaged over the entire lifecycle of their nuclear power plant including uranium mining, milling, enrichment, plant construction, operating, decommissioning and waste disposal, the total amount of CO2 emitted is 3.3g per kWhe .

The proposed Woodlawn wind farm pro ject in New South Wales has also made available a detailed Environmental Impact Statement, in which greenhouse gas emissions are quantified on a whole-of-life-cycle basis.

Excluding values for wind farms that are significantly different from the proposed Woodlawn Wind Farm, GHG emissions on a life cycle basis range from 7-20 kg CO2e /MWh. This represents the GHG emissions from all activities, including the construction, transportation, assembly and operation of the turbines.

The idea that whole-of-life-cycle analysis can demonstrate that nuclear energy is unsustainable, both on an energy intensity basis and a greenhouse gas intensity basis, is based on a very limited set of highly dubious science, which has been widely rebutted, and found to be irreconcilable with the body of scientific literature established relating to the energy and greenhouse gas intensities of the nuclear fuel cycle.

I could go on, but this same bullshit argument has been done over, and over, and over, and over so many times… I’m sick of repeating myself.

“What lunacy sees the world wanting to build 2200 new nuclear reactors when the first 437 aging reactors have been such a dismal failure, and killed so many innocent people?”

Nuclear energy is the largest source of greenhouse gas free electricity in the world, and it is also the safest – one of the safest industrial enterprises in existence. Aside from Chernobyl, commercial nuclear power, operated safely in the Western world, has harmed or killed almost nobody – megawatt-hour for megawatt-hour, wind turbines, for example, are far more dangerous. I’d call that quite a success story, and I challenge anybody to provide credible evidence to the contrary, if they disagree.

“Look just under the surface of the commercial nuclear industry, and you find a trail of death…it is no coincedence that every county within 100 miles of a nuclear facility has elevated cancer rates when compared with counties outside of that 100 mile circle. Look at both wars in the Middle East (Desert Storm, and the Iraq War), and you find our soldiers coming home with strange illnesses, illnesses caused by their overexposure to depleted uranium. Already in Iraq, mothers are giving birth to children with horrible deformities, deformities caused by that same exposure to Depleted Uranium, and where does that Depleted Uranium come from? The production cycle employed to produce fuel for commercial nuclear reactors.”

Is there any credible physical evidence, any evidence of any kind, that “every county within 100 miles of a nuclear facility has elevated cancer rates when compared with counties outside of that 100 mile circle”?

What does the use of uranium munitions have to do with nuclear power? Nothing!

“That’s one of the big problems with the nuclear cycle…there is no such thing as the peaceful atom, no matter how you try to dress it up. Additionally, anywhere nuclear goes in all of its various forms, death is soon to follow. From its earliest days, even pre-dating the Manhattan Project, the exploration and exploitation of uranium has brought with it horrid deaths, devastating cancers, birth defects and destruction on a level almost unimaginable.”

Is there any evidence of any kind to support such claims in the real world?

 

“Going further, George Bush, our government, our military machine opposes Iran gaining the capability of enriching uranium for a very simple reason…with the capability of enriching said uranium for nuclear reactors, you gain as a part of the waste stream from enrichment operations the byproduct of Depleted Uranium.”

“You see, our Pentagon needs the commercial nuclear industry, and the infrastructure it takes to power it for its own evil purposes, including vast stockpiles of Depleted Uranium, which is used in numerous weaponry to make armour piercing ammunitions and war heads.”

Riiight. The uranium used in anti-tank kinetic penetrator munitions really doesn’t care what isotopic composition it is… Natural uranium, with no enrichment or depletion of particular nuclides, is perfectly usable for this purpose. Depleted uranium is not specifically required for this application at all.

“As our campaign moves along, we’ll share many of these photographs with our readers, but tonight, thought I would share a peek into the dolls long involvement in the Nuclear Industry, by introducing you to Priscilla and some of the members of her family who were forced, like many of our soldiers to endure nuclear bomb testing under the guise of the Friendly Atom and CHEAP ELECTRICITY.”

Exactly what, at all, does nuclear weapons testing have to do with generating electricity? Absolutely nothing.

 

“The tragic events surrounding the horrific aftermath of Japan’s 6.8 on the richter scale earthquake show us just how fragile and vulnerable nuclear reactors really are.”

The effects of last year’s earthquake on the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Japan actually demonstrate just how robust nuclear power plants are, when subjected to the terrible destructive power of an earthquake, something that is capable of razing entire cities.

Next up, we’ve got a picture of a Hiroshima bombing victim with terrible thermal burns.

This has got nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with Indian Point, Entergy, or nuclear energy at all.

In war, especially the most terrible of wars, as the second world war was, many civilians suffer terribly as a result of war – and civilians and soldiers alike suffer terrible thermal burns, as well as all sorts of other injuries even before the advent of nuclear weapons, and after the advent of nuclear weapons, with nuclear weapons, or without nuclear weapons.

I’d like to see a world without wars at all.

“incredibly heart wrenching photographs of the fallout area in and around Chernobyl”

 

This has got nothing, absolutely nothing at all, to do with Indian Point, Entergy, or nuclear energy at all, aside from the large-scale production of weapons-grade plutonium in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, with electricity being produced by the nuclear reactors as well, using extremely dangerous, unstable nuclear reactor technology, with no type of containment vessel around the nuclear reactor at all, that would never have been approved or licenced in the United States or anywhere else outside the Soviet Union, at any point in history.

Kentucky senator pushing for fair consideration of nuclear energy

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Atomic Insights reports that Kentucky state Senator Bob Leeper has been doing some reading and listening lately about the coming of a new wave of nuclear plant construction, and he is working to position his state as a potential site for consideration. He has recently introduced a bill that would change the language in the law to allow licensed on site storage as a means of safely handling the byproducts that remain after using fuel in a reactor for a period of time, as compared with current Kentucky law which precludes the construction of a new nuclear power plant until there is a licensed and available location for permanent disposal of used nuclear fuel or the radioactive waste which may be left following recycling of such used fuel, such as the Yucca Mountain facility under development in the United States.

Of course, some people, such as Joseph Mangano, executive director of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a name that those with their finger on the pulse of nuclear energy policy in the United States and elsewhere will have heard before, has other ideas:

 “One problem with nuclear reactors is what to do with the high-level waste they produce. This waste is actually a cocktail of chemicals such as Cesium-137, Iodine-129, Strontium-90 and Plutonium-239, each radioactive and cancer-causing.”

There’s no way that it is appropriate to call these kinds of materials waste –  they are radionuclides with useful and important technological, scientific and industrial applications. Of course, if we greatly expand the use of nuclear fission as an energy source throughout the world, along with the recycling and efficient re-use of the materials contained within irradiated nuclear fuels, it is likely that the inventories of such fission products thus created will ultimately dwarf demand for some of these radioactive materials – and it could be decided that these surplus quantities might be moved to deep underground storage, either for very long term storage, or permanant disposal.

“The waste decays slowly, remaining in dangerous amounts for thousands of years, and must be kept from escaping into the air, water and food supply”

Relatively short lived fission products, such as caesium-137 and strontium-90, with half-lives of 30 years and 29 years respectively, must be isolated from the environment for around 300 years, not thousands of years.

Longer lived fission products, such as iodine-129, one of the very longest lived of the fission product nuclides, can have half-lives of millions of years – with correspondingly smaller specific activities, and in most cases, much smaller nuclear fission yields. Some such long-lived fission products, such as I-129 and technetium-99, have sufficiently large neutron capture cross sections such that destruction of the radioactive nuclide by way of nuclear transmutation in a nuclear reactor is feasable.

I get especially bothered when these people talk of plutonium-239 and “waste” in the same sentence – it is one of the most potent, most energy dense, and most useful fuels known to humankind. There is absolutely no way that it should ever be thought of as “waste”, and it should not be wasted.

 “Another potential health problem is a large-scale release of radioactivity from a meltdown. Accidents have occurred at several reactors, including the 1986 total meltdown at Chernobyl and the 1979 partial meltdown at Three Mile Island. But in addition to accidents, a terrorist attack could also cause a meltdown. Safe evacuation would be impossible, and local residents would be exposed to toxic radiation, causing many thousands to suffer from radiation poisoning and cancer.”

The Chernobyl disaster was not a meltdown in the usual sense of the term – it was a disaster triggered by complete destruction of the reactor core caused by a massive, explosive power excursion and steam explosion, not a fuel damage accident caused by a loss of coolant accident.

 The design, operation and physical characteristics of the RBMK power reactors at Chernobyl during the era of the Soviets have absolutely nothing  to do with the operation of the commercial nuclear power industry in the world today. The Chernobyl disaster is absolutely irrelevant, it has absolutely no relevance at all, to the use of light water reactors in the commercial nuclear power industry in the United States today.

No accident even remotely comparable to the Chernobyl accident, which, in the absence of any kind of real containment around the nuclear reactor, spewed radioactivity from the destroyed reactor core for thousands of miles, has ever occured in the commercial nuclear power industry in the Western world.

At Three Mile Island, where a loss of coolant accident and partial meltdown occurred in 1979,  was safe evacuation impossible? Were local residents exposed to “toxic radiation”? What dose of ionizing radiation did they receive? This was what is usually claimed as the most dangerous nuclear power reactor accident ever in the United States – did it cause “many thousands to suffer from radiation poisoning and cancer”? Did it harm anyone?

“Although it has never had a nuclear power reactor, Kentucky is no newcomer to nuclear plants. The Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant has been enriching uranium for nuclear weapons and reactors since 1952 — and contaminating the local environment for decades.”

 Does the USEC Paducah plant produce HEU for nuclear weapons applications? That’s an open question to my readers – I’d like to know the answer.

What evidence, is there, that Paducah has been “contaminating the local environment for decades“? Is there any evidence of health or ecological effects on the surrounding community?

Local residents have breathed, drunk or eaten these contaminants, and they may have suffered. In the past quarter century, the death rate in the four closest counties (Ballard and McCracken in Kentucky, Massac and Pulaski in Illinois) is about 9 percent above the U.S. rate for both whites and blacks. This amounts to nearly 3,000 “excess” deaths in a population of only 95,000. The four counties have no obvious health risk, like language barriers, lack of education or extreme poverty, so Paducah must be considered as a potential factor in these high rates.

Kentucky already has the highest cancer death rate of any state in the nation. There is no need to increase cancer risk by introducing a hazardous means of producing electricity.

Has any scientific, peer-reviewed, epidemiological study of  health, death and disease, and the aetiology of any such abnormalities, in these counties ever been performed?

Is there any evidence, peer-reviewed scientific evidence of any kind, that nuclear energy is a “hazardous means of producing electricity” which “increases cancer risk”?