Nuclear power – some perspective

Yesterday I suggested that the fuss about imminent nuclear disaster was greatly overdone. And predictably, the first name invoked by one of the gang of shrill haters who congregate below this blog was Chernobyl. So I’m grateful to Roddy Campbell for producing this guest post on that subject.

(to read more, click here)

16 thoughts on “Nuclear power – some perspective”

  1. You are quite correct James that deaths and accidents come with whatever energy industry one chooses. Though we now have nuclear accidents in Russia, America, Japan and low but dangerous emissions from French and British plants (pretty much everyone then!)

    As you report Germany is “extending the life of its plants (and shutting half its plants for safety checks as we speak). But what do all these “accidents” have in common?

    Nuclear plants are really bloody expensive to operate/run. Parts are very expensive. The commercial world would teach you very high running and repair costs inevitably lead to corners being cut, maintenance being neglected, safety checks being ‘bent’ so as not to run up costs and shutdowns.

    Compared to a coal or gas fired power plant, nuclear is a nightmare from every angle including worst nightmare of all, dumping safely spent material.

    And whilst you recognise the expense and negative energy budget of green energy you simply haven’t mentioned the extortinate price of nuclear energy, up to 400% more expensive than either coal or gas fired power stations.

    You haven’t mentioned that if left to the free market, instead of the pampered propped-up world of State monopoly nuclear, that the market simply would not go near nuclear because of its extreme expense. The free market would never choose nuclear, only the dumbest institution on the planet, Govt, picks nuclear.

    And that settles the argument James. You no longer have to try to push water uphill for whatever reason you have chosen to try to do so! Nuclear is a no brainer, a non-starter, as big a joke as green energy and that’s pretty hilarious i think you’d agree

  2. “About 4000 cases of thyroid cancer, mainly in children and adolescents at the time of the accident, have resulted from the accident’s contamination and at least nine children died of thyroid cancer; however the survival rate among such cancer victims, judging from experience in Belarus, has been almost 99%.”

    But 1% of 4,000 equals 40 deaths downwind (off-site) from Chernobyl. For iodine-131 (half life 8 days) is that there is are simple antidotes like not drinking contaminated food and water, or taking potassium iodide or iodate tablets (130 mg per day). These flood the thyroid gland with stable iodine, preventing update of 99% of the iodine-131. Your death figure then goes down to 1% of 40 which is a predicted casualty rate of 0.4 dead.

    But the data quoted is wrong. The rise in thyroid cancers observed are subjective to diagnosis, and doubts have been expressed even over 40 deaths at Chernobyl, by Dr Zbigniew Jaworowski, “Radiation Risk and Ethics: Health Hazards, Prevention Costs, and Radiophobia”, Physics Today, April 2000, pp. 89-90:

    “… it is important to note that, given the effects of a few seconds of irradiation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, a threshold near 200 mSv may be expected for leukemia and some solid tumors. For a protracted lifetime natural exposure, a threshold may be set at a level of several thousand millisieverts for malignancies, of 10 grays for radium-226 in bones, and probably about 1.5-2.0 Gy for lung cancer after x-ray and gamma irradiation. The hormetic effects, such as a decreased cancer incidence at low doses and increased longevity, may be used as a guide for estimating practical thresholds and for setting standards. …

    “The highest average thyroid doses in children (177 mGy) were accumulated in the Gomel region of Belarus. The highest incidence of thyroid cancer (17.9 cases per 100,000 children) occurred there in 1995, which means that the rate had increased by a factor of about 25 since 1987.

    “This rate increase was probably a result of improved screening [not radiation!]. Even then, the incidence rate for occult thyroid cancers was still a thousand times lower than it was for occult thyroid cancers in nonexposed populations (in the US, for example, the rate is 13,000 per 100,000 persons, and in Finland it is 35,600 per 100,000 persons). Thus, given the prospect of improved diagnostics, there is an enormous potential for detecting yet more [fictitious] “excess” thyroid cancers. In a study in the US that was performed during the period of active screening in 1974-79, it was determined that the incidence rate of malignant and other thyroid nodules was greater by 21-fold than it had been in the pre-1974 period.”

    The normal thyroid “nodule” incidence is 16% in Americans, and 35.6% in the more carefully screened Finland population. A large percentage of people have thyroids that don’t conform to the medical textbook. What happens after a nuclear accident is that people do looking for these nodules, feeling people’s throats, and detecting more of the natural incidence, then mis-reporting this rise in detection of natural thyroid gland “deformalities” as radiation-induced nodules. At Rongelap atoll, where people received a really massive thyroid dose of 1,800 R or 18 Gray from drinking water from an open cistern for two days before evacuation 115 miles downwind of the 15 megaton Bravo nuclear test on 1 March 1954, some really did get thyroid cancer. But the highest dose in kids thyroids after Chernobyl was only 177 mGy or 0.177 Gray, a hundred times lower than the 18 Gray thyroid dose at Rongelap! It seems that all Chernobyl thyroid cancers are claimed to be natural cancers, under the threshold cancer dose, and due to screening!

    The same occurred with genetic effects immediately after Hiroshima and Chernobyl. E.g., the BBC and newspapers had an episode after of Chernobyl where they visited clinics filled with special needs children downwind of Chernobyl, and tried to claim that these children were proof of the evil of nuclear power, regardless of the natural incidence. Some clinic directors cooperated, to get funding, which was needed (no problem there!). The problem was the big lie of obfuscating natural incidences of genetic effects, cancer, and thyroid “malformations” with radiation for deliberate anti-nuclear scaremongering.

    Because the scientific community were unable to communicate such facts efficiently against pseudo-scientific propaganda, over 100,000 human lives were lost by abortions after Chernobyl: in 1995, environmentalist Michael Allaby stated on pages 191-7 of his book Facing the Future: the Case for Science (Bloomsbury, London):

    “The clear aim of the anti-nuclear movement is to silence all opposition … theirs are now the only voices heard … In the Gomel district … which was one of the most heavily contaminated [after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986], the death rate per thousand newborn babies was 16.3 in 1985, 13.4 in 1986, and 13.1 in 1987; in Kiev region the figures … were, respectively, 15.5, 12.2, and 12.1.”

    The International Atomic Energy Authority has reported that over 100,000 excess abortions were performed throughout Western Europe after the Chernobyl accident (reference: L. E. Ketchum, Lessons of Chernobyl: SNM members try to decontaminate world threatened by fallout, Part I [Newsline], J. Nucl. Med., vol. 28, 1987, pp. 413-22). This is the danger from lying. The newspapers and media generally have a vested interest in hyping anti-nuclear lies to make a big “splash” that sells newspapers.

  3. I’ve been through the anti-nuclear radiation lies “evidence” here: http://glasstone.blogspot.com/2009/04/radiation-effects-research-foundation.html

    It’s all phoney, extrapolating linearly down from effects at massive doses and massive dose rates despite non-linear response rates, or falsely claiming that improved diagnosis rates correlate to effects from radiation. The whole reason why nuclear power is currently expensive is fear-mongering over radiation. This pushes up the costs of reprocessing spent fuel, because it has to be done in laboratory-type glove boxes, with staff restricted to tiny doses. E=mc^2 tells you that 1 kg converted into energy gives 9 x 10^16 Joules of energy. Fission converts 0.1% of uranium-235 into energy, so fissioning 1 kg of uranium-235 produces 9 x 10^13 Joules of energy.

    Done efficiently with cheap reprocessing and with the surplus neutrons being captured in cheap and abundant uranium-238 to form plutonium-239 (or captured in cheap and abundant thorium-232 to form uranoum-233), nuclear power would be the cheapest power on earth. The whole problem is psychological “groupthink” against small doses of radiation, despite the fact we get doses all the time.

    The reason why you can’t extract dinosaur DNA from a fossil mosquito in amber 65 million years old is that the DNA has been totally broken down by the natural background nuclear radiation dose exceeding 6 million centigray over that period. DNA in living cells has received the same dose while being passed on during all those generations, but because of DNA repair enzymes, the damage has been repaired.

  4. “The reason why you can’t extract dinosaur DNA from a fossil mosquito in amber 65 million years old is that the DNA has been totally broken down by the natural background nuclear radiation dose exceeding 6 million centigray over that period. DNA in living cells has received the same dose while being passed on during all those generations, but because of DNA repair enzymes, the damage has been repaired.”

    Interesting point. Or as my old radiochemistry tutor put it, when explaining how ‘radio’ carbon dating keeps track of time, “Because the chemistry of life is different to that of death.”

  5. On the One Show, the BBC just used the 1957 Windscale nuclear reactor fire in Cumbria to “explain” the dangers of the Japanese reactors.

    They omitted to mention that Windscale was an air-cooled burnable graphite moderated reactor with no steel pressure containment vessel. The Japanese reactors use water as the coolant, which suppresses fire (unlike air). Also, the chief danger after the Windscale fire wasn’t fission products, but inhalation of polonium-210 which was being made in the reactor for the long-obsolete neutron initiators of old-fashioned nuclear bombs (modern nuclear bombs use miniature particle accelerator “zippers” as neutron sources). There is no polonium-210 in the Japanese reactors, which are used for energy production.

  6. Nige Cook
    “There is no polonium-210 in the Japanese reactors…” Well thank fuk for that eh!
    I think “210” is the least of the Japs problems as the meltdowns and radioactivity appears to be more problems than this hieretical society can handle. They safety regulator has just increased the safety limit by 150% (usual Govt crony regulator bend-over job) and they’re preparing kamakazi workers who are “prepeared to die” to try to stop this escalating tragedy.
    They should send in the corrupt politicians who installed the most expensive electricity generation system and who made a 2nd tragic error of sighting them on tsunami risk zones.
    On top of compunding 2 terrible errors the Jap Govt and Bank of Japan who’ve already consigned themselves to 20 years of stagnant economic growth by propping up all their zombie banks and financial institutions are now pissing over $200bn down the toilet propping up their stock markets!!
    The costs of systemic political mistakes by Govt/politicians is bringing down this once advanced (and once wealthy!) nation.
    This is what happens when the dumbest institituion in the world, Govt, is allowed to run things (see education, healthcare and our own crumbling energy sector).
    No private company is interested in investing for bloody good economic reasons. Nuclear is dead…. at long last.

  7. Velocity: there is plenty of data proving that it’s the dose rate and not the old 1950s dose that really matters, because DNA repair enzymes like proteon P53 are overloaded at high dose rates. Likewise, you take a “dose” of 1,000 aspirins if you spread that dose over 20 years, but you’re dead if you take the same dose all at once. The dose criterion implicitly assumes no biological repair.

    Muller, who got the Nobel prize for discovering that X-rays mutate fruit flies, argued in May 1957 to the U.S. Congressional hearings on bomb fallout that there is no significant dose rate effect or threshold dose using his fruit fly data, plus some maize plant data on genetic effects of radiation from geneticists. However, fruit flies and seasonal crops don’t have the DNA repair enzymes like P53, which were only discovered about 20 years later.

    The DNA double helix (two strands of DNA facing each other in a spiral) in every cell nucleus in the human body suffers 200,000 single strand breaks and 15 double strand breaks every day. What’s interesting is only 0.007% of natural breaks are double-strand breaks, while 4% of radiation-induced breaks are double strand breaks. This debunks the groupthink myth that DNA damage is due to natural background radiation. It isn’t! If it were, the ratio of single to double strand breaks would be the same for both natural DNA damage, and radiation-induced DNA damage.

    It turns out that the natural damage to DNA is mostly due to thermal instability, i.e. 37 C body temperature, the mechanism being Brownian motion kinetic energy effects, i.e. water molecule bombardment of DNA molecules, related natural free radicals, etc. The cells have DNA repair proteins to rejoin the broken ends of DNA molecules. Single strand breaks don’t cause much risk, because the double helix as a whole remains unbroken. The one broken strand is easily rejoined by a DNA repair enzyme like P53, and all is well.

    The cancer risk occurs with double strand breaks, because then the entire double helix is broken off at that point. If you get two double strand breaks occurring quickly, before a DNA repair protein has time to rejoin correctly them, at a very high radiation dose rate, then the loose broken-free segment of DNA might move, reverse, or be lost, and the wrong ends can be joined by accident (like trying to repair a vase after it is smashed up into lots of similar pieces), causing a mutation that can lead to cancer in some cases.

    There’s plenty of evidence using mice that dose rates a few hundred times natural background stimulate the DNA repair enzymes to use more energy and work faster, not only preventing additional risks, but also actually reducing the natural cancer risk from the natural 15 double strand breaks per cell per day. See: http://www.radpro.com/641luckey.pdf

    More recently, there was a fine piece of mice research by Kazuo Sakai, Iwasaki Kazuo, Toshiyasu Iwasaki, Yuko Hoshi, Takaharu Nomura, Takeshi Oda, Kazuko Fujita, Takeshi Yamada, and Hiroshi Tanooka, International Congress Series (2002) 1236 (Radiation and Homoeostasis): 487–490. They found that a dose rate of 1 mGy/hour (100 mR/hour or 10,000 times natural radiation background) stops cancer, and a further paper by Sakai and collaborators in 2006 gives statistically significant evidence that 0.7 mGy/hour extended the life expectancy of mice by 15% (Sakai has nice colour photos showing the slower aging of the irradiated mice, see my blog). There is also human data:

    “Today we have a population of 2,383 [radium dial painter] cases for whom we have reliable body content measurements. . . . All 64 bone sarcoma [cancer] cases occurred in the 264 cases with more than 10 Gy [1,000 rads], while no sarcomas appeared in the 2,119 radium cases with less than 10 Gy.”

    – Dr Robert Rowland, Director of the Center for Human Radiobiology, Bone Sarcoma in Humans Induced by Radium: A Threshold Response?, Proceedings of the 27th Annual Meeting, European Society for Radiation Biology, Radioprotection colloquies, Vol. 32CI (1997), pp. 331-8.

    The higher the dose rate the lower the threshold dose for effects, just as with aspirin. The radium dial painters had their bones irradiated by deposited radium over typically 30 years. Rowland could measure the radium in the bones after they died to determine the dose rate accurately, so this is reliable data (he even exhumed skeletons to get data). His funding was cut off when it became clear that there was a massive threshold dose needed for bone cancer if the dose was spread out. For Hiroshima nuclear bomb data, the dose rate was much higher so threshold dose for cancer was only a few cGy.

    Below the threshold dose excess cancer cases in Hiroshima and Nagasaki data, there was still evidence for hormesis, although recently the RERF (the Radiation Effects Research Foundation, funded by the politically correct of Tokyo and Washington, D.C.) has tried in its publications (e.g. “A Brief Description”) to obfuscate its low dose data (both for solid tumours and also for leukemia) by lumping together cancer rates in about 30,000 people for the massive (20 fold variation) interval of 0.005-0.1 Gy to cover-up hormesis, while using intervals of just a factor of 2-variation for doses, e.g. the next interval is 0.1-0.2 Gy which contains about 5,000 people! When you look at their older data which clearly show hormesis in the lower half of the 0.005-0.1 Gy interval, you can see what they are covering-up. They are choosing intervals to avoid showing hormesis by juggling their data.

    The whole nuclear industry is in limbo on this, they’re mainly conservative and believe the best way to resolve any crisis is to do nothing, and say nothing. The anti-nuclear lobby uses falsified statistics that are complete lies, but they gain ground because hardly anybody defends the facts. One typical ploy is the lying claim that there is no human proof of hormesis or thresholds (ignoring the radium painters and Hiroshima), and that animal data is inadmissible.

  8. Nige Cook – i’m very sure both sides lie on the theoretical and actual dnager and death rate. The Jap Health Regulator has just doubled by 150% the ‘safe’ exposure rate so clearly they’ve been lying for 40 years too!
    But really who cares, the safety limit is rather mute compared to the facts nuclear is an extortinately expensive (un-commercial) means of electricity generation. Like trains, buses, green policies, only the dumbest instititution in the world, Government, thinks spending such large sums is ‘clever’. this is not and never will be a profitable (commercially sane) means of electricity which is why the private sector will not invest.
    And of course the expense of nuclear in running costs leads to the unreliability and the safety issues we’ve now seen in almost every country nuclear plants are installed. This is one dumb expensive option to use when far more efficient, productive and easier all-round coal and gas fired power stations are available. ‘Game Over’ for nuclear …unless you’re a complete retard (ie. a politician)

  9. “… the safety limit is rather mute compared to the facts nuclear is an extortinately expensive (un-commercial) means of electricity generation.” – Velocity

    You’re missing the whole point about nuclear power: it’s the lying safety limits of effectively “zero safe dose” that makes nuclear power expensive in the first place. The name for this fiasco is the LNT (linear no threshold dogma) which politically leads to the ALARA (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) “not me guv!” Health and Safety officaldom. Lewis Strauss, Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, in his speech to the National Association of Science Writers, New York City, September 16th, 1954, said:

    “It is not too much to expect that our children will enjoy in their homes electrical energy too cheap to meter, will know of great periodic regional famines in the world only as matters of history, will travel effortlessly over the seas and under them and through the air with a minimum of danger and at great speeds, and will experience a lifespan far longer than ours as disease yields and man comes to understand what causes him to age.”

    Nuclear energy offers energy too cheap to meter by E=mc^2. c = 300 Mm/second, so 1 kg of energy conversion (which is what you get from fissioning 1 ton of uranium-235 or plutonium) gives you precisely (3 x 10^8)^2 = 9 x 10^16 Joules of energy!!! The costs come in from the use of glove boxes to limit doses to reprocessing plant workers to almost zero. They have to work behind a thick shield, often using remote control, which slows down reprocessing and drives the cost of nuclear power through the roof. The cheapest power on earth has been made needlessly expensive by political anti-nuclear propaganda.

    “i’m very sure both sides lie on the theoretical and actual danger and death rate.” – Velocity

    I’m on the “side” of not lying, by establishing the scientific facts. The BBC could have exposed the lying propaganda, and thereby helped to inform people. Instead, they chose to scare-monger with lies.

  10. The naturally radioactive potassium-40 in bananas and coffee is worse than caesium-137 and strontium-90, by the anti-nuclear fear-mongering propaganda standards of “scary long half-life”.

    Natural potassium-40 has a half-life of 1,248,000,000 years, compared to only 29 and 30 years for strontium and caesium!

    Another “fun fact”: the alpha particles emitted by plutonium-239 are only 5.2 MeV in energy, less ionizing that the 5.6 MeV the alpha particles from the Am-241 in a household smoke detector.

  11. Very interesting,I dont see you getting on a plane, though?. Go on, go clear it up. Its not dangerous. You’ve proved it. I’ll lend you a broom, and a water pistol.

  12. Nige Cook

    Ever had the feeling in life you are flogging a dead horse? No, ok here goes…
    The Jap Govt i’m sure you’re pleased to hear has just raised the decontamination threshold by nearly 20x from 6,000 cpm to a stunning 100,000 cpm. Radioactive caesium found in sea water is now 24.8 times their safety limit and Kyodo says radioactive Iodine found in sea water is nearly 130 times the safety limit.
    Remind me why Govts have safety limits? Is it so they can move them when it’s ‘politically expedient’ to do so?
    So now you have your safety limits (goal posts) shifted in a very shifty manner what to do now your shifty limits are still being exceeded?
    And this is a pattern for the nuclear industry. A number of covered-up accidents in America, then we have Russia, Britain and now Japan. Serial dangerous errors when coal and gas stations present no such threat to human existence. Why choose the dangerous (dumb) option when you can choose the safe cheaper one eh?
    You (keep) ignoring the fact nuclear is up to 400% more expensive than coal or gas fired power generation (the economic case). Now you’ve had the safety limits moved you’re now ignoring the danger (safety) case too!
    You have reached the stage all delusional scumbags (politicians) reach. You’re delusional and a cancerous wart (rather than worthwhile) in/on society.
    Are we crystal clear nuclear is not just dumb but double-dumb yet??

  13. Velocity:

    If you actually bother to read the facts on radiation hormesis you’ll see it’s a health benefit at dose rates up to several hundred times background: http://nige.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/luckey.pdf

    It’s not the dose but the dose rate that determines whether your P53 and other DNA repair enzymes are stimulated and expend more energy (reducing the natural cancer rate), or are overloaded (as in the most highly exposed groups at Hiroshima).

    Obviously the Japanese government has taken action because they have to in time of leak. I doubt if the politically correct left wing governments of the EUSSR, including ours, will increase radiation standards to make nuclear power to cheap to meter. Nor will the health physicists lose their Health and Safety powers by campaigning to shift limits up here. You’ll get the usual quango that includes left-wing fanatics who think radiation is unnatural and a danger.

    We’re getting the same thing with ultraviolet radiation in sunlight. At low dose rates (intensities), ultraviolet on skin is a health benefit; at high dose rates it’s like soft X-rays and causes damage to DNA faster than repair enzymes can work, so there’s a cancer risk.

  14. Herman Kahn (RAND Corp.): … I suggest that we should be willing to accept something like 50 to 100 sunshine units in our children …

    Representative Holifield: We have been using the term “strontium unit” rather than “sunshine.” Some of us are allergic to this term “sunshine”. We prefer the term “strontium”. …

    Senator Anderson: I think that term sunshine came because the first time they said if the fallout came down very, very slowly, that was good for you. And then later they said if it came down very fast, that was good for you. We decided to take the sunshine, in view of everything.

    Herman Kahn (RAND Corp.): I prefer not getting into that debate. I deal in a number of controversial subjects, but I try to keep the number down. … But I might point out, no one has ever seen a bone cancer directly attributable to radioactive material in the bone at less than the equivalent of 20 to 30 microcuries. … Ten microcuries of Sr-90 per kg of calcium [an adult has typically 1 kg of bone calcium, so this implies 10,000 strontium units in the bone] would mean a dose of about 20 roentgens a year in the bones.”

    – June 1959 U.S. Congressional Hearings on the Biological and Environmental Effects of Nuclear War, page 900.

    http://nige.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/1959-congress-nuclear-war-hearings.pdf

    At low dose rates, you can take vast doses of radiation spread over a period of decades; it’s only when you receive the dose too quickly for DNA repair enzymes to fix correctly that you get in trouble. So it’s the radiation “dose rate”, not the “dose”, that actually determines the hazard or benefit. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory megamouse project run by Dr Russell in the 1960s (where 7 million of mice were exposed to various dose rates to get statistically reliable cancer and genetic effects data) clearly showed that the linear no-threshold dogma from Edward Lewis and others at the 1957 fallout hearings was wrong. Female mice had a dose rate threshold of 0.54 cGy/hour for an increase in the mutation rate. That’s massive, 54,000 times natural background. The 1950s data was based on maize plants and Muller’s fruitflies, which don’t have long timespans and so don’t have elaborate DNA repair enzyme systems to repair DNA breaks.

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