Monday, December 17, 2007

TWiN 52 - Anti-Nuclear Union of Concerned Scientists Releases Flawed Report

Listen to the Podcast Here

In recent weeks as several companies and nations around the world have announced plans for new nuclear plants. This is causing a flurry of anti-nuclear propaganda as the opposition attempts to counter the positive momentum that's being created. I'm always reminded that there are an awful lot of people out there who make a living opposing nuclear plants, and these career anti-nukes must be having a fit right about now!

Then again, maybe they prefer it this way because it gives them another soapbox to stand on. And as long as the mainstream media gives them the opportunity, they'll keep taking it. One such group, the Union on Concerned Scientists is having a good week because they got loads of free publicity from a front page article on the USA Today news paper on Wednesday.

The headline was “A new era of nuclear power is beginning. How risky is it?” The article attempts to lead the leaders to the conclusion that nuclear plants are indeed too risky by including quote after quote from the UCS and other established anti-nuclear groups and politicians, while hardly mentioning the nuclear industry's impressive safety record, and low costs. There's also zero comparison to the safety and costs associated with other forms of base-load electricity.

The article was blantantly anti-nuclear, and one thing that struck me was the lack of homework the reporter did . There were so many factual errors in the report that it's obvious they got most of the material for the story straight from the UCS. Let me give you some examples:

The very first sentence of the story was outright incorrect. The story starts out with:

Nearly two years ago, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gave the operator of the Indian Point nuclear plant a year to add backup power supplies to the plant's emergency warning sirens . . . but still hasn't done the work at the plant 24 miles north of New York City.

This is completely false. The work is done and has been for months. In fact, the plant was ready to close the book on the modification when the federal government (FEMA) decided they needed more time to review the work. Although the government is still doing their review, the system is in place and is functioning as designed.

And the second sentence is misleading and inflammatory:

“At the Peach Bottom nuclear plant south of Harrisburg, Pa., security guards often took 15-minute "power naps," ...

The reporter wants you to believe that guards were sleeping while on patrol at a nuclear plant, but that's not he case. The guards in question were napping, and that was against company policy, but were doing so while on breaks in their break room. There was no safety concern.

And just a few lines down, yet another myth is perpetuated:

“Power companies are beginning to file applications to build up to 32 nuclear plants over the next 20 years, the first since the 1979 accident at the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania halted plans for new reactors...”

Economics caused the slowdown in new nuclear plant construction, not the TMI accident. In fact, more COAL plants were canceled than nuclear plants during the same period.

The report also says that even though security at nuclear plants was increased after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, reactors still aren't sufficiently protected against terrorist threats such as hijacked jets, and new reactors aren't being designed to be significantly safer than existing ones.

Both statements are false. While not specifically designed with a 9/11 style attack in mind, the robustness and reinforced structure and components in a nuclear plant can easily withstand the crash of a commercial jetliner into the containment without danger to the public of a reactor accident. Also, new designs that rely on passive safety systems instead of “active” systems are more than 10 times safer than current designs.

Here's another factual error...the article states that AT LEAST 4000 deaths will occur among Chernobyl survivors due to their exposure to radiation.

Paul Davidson got that wrong again. According to the World Health Organization, the number is “UP TO 4000” people. Again, the anti-nuclear bias shows through here.

In fact, although the WHO says that studies indicate those deaths are POSSIBLE, they also acknowledge that in the more than 20 years since the accident there have been:

  • No evidence or likelihood of decreased fertility among the affected population has been found.
  • No evidence of increases in congenital malformations that can be attributed to radiation exposure.
  • Most emergency workers and people living in contaminated areas received relatively low whole body radiation doses, comparable to natural background levels.
  • No negative health impacts to the rest of the population in surrounding areas.
  • No widespread contamination that would continue to pose a substantial threat to human health.
  • No increase in radiation-induced cancer and leukemia deaths among emergency workers.
The WHO says fewer than 50 people died as a direct result of the accident – mostly plants workers and fire fighters. In addition there were nine people who died from untreated thyroid cancer they acquired from being exposed to the radioactive iodine gas that was released during the event. These deaths are tragic and regrettable, and are the result of an irresponsible social and political system that built a nuclear reactor without a containment, operated the reactor outside it's design envelope, caused it to catch on fire, then failed to notify people who were in the path of the smoke for several days. This can not and would not happen anywhere in the world today, and certainly could not happen in the USA. Let's get real! The deaths from the single worst nuclear disaster pale in comparison to the people who die EVERY YEAR from activity that supports other forms of electricity generation!

Every human endeavor imparts some amount of risk, including the generation of electricity and other forms of energy. The deaths from the coal fuel cycle, the source of 50% of our electricity, are staggering – more than 5000 coal miners die around the world each year, and more than 24,000 premature deaths from air pollution in the USA alone each year. If the climate change people are right, the cost in human life could be an order of magnitude higher.
Articles like the one in the USA Today newspaper do us a great disservice. The news media has a responsibility to INFORM the public, but when the information presented is wrong, biased, or leaves out important facts they are violating the trust placed in them.

Here are some facts ignored by USA TODAY:

Electricity from Nuclear Energy ...
  • is much safer than coal (just look at the coal cycle death toll)
  • has carbon footprint about equal to wind energy
  • is far less costly than gas, oil, wind, or solar
  • helps reduce reliance on imported oil

Nuclear Power Plants . . .

  • do not cause particulate or chemical air pollution
  • do not contribute to acid rain
  • do not cause mercury in drinking water

Don't take my word for it, do some reading yourself. I recommend a great new book called “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy” by Gwyneth Cravens. She's a former nuclear plant protester who shares her experience learning about nuclear energy.


John Wheeler


hahajohnnyb said...

Anti-nuclear people are all liars or idiots who believe the liars. That being said, I think that a lot of the pro-nuke people have been unduly harsh on the coal industry while failing to recognize the synergy that could be created through co-operation with coal, biomass, wind and nuclear.

Together all of these energy sources would be perfect for the production of syngas (methanol)which could replace oil and natural in the future and is possible to create a by-product of other industrial processes like concrete production.

John Wheeler said...


You make an excellent point. I know that sometimes I AM harsh on the coal industry.

It is a fact of life that the people will be burning coal until the coal is gone. It's simple economics, and anyone who thinks they can stop it, particularity in developing nations, is fooling themselves and/or their audience.

I've been thinking a lot about the inevitability of coal lately and I think I'll put it all together in an upcoming podcast episode.

Thanks for the "nudge."!



Alexandra Prokopenko said...

There is such a thing about radicall pro- or anti-nuclear people - none of them tells you the whole truth, especially if there is a commercial or PR interest behind their speeches. Modern nuclear power is quite safe comparing to the time of Chernobyl accident (Chernobyl accident was more a product of the Soviet system which did not value security and human health so much - they just wanted more plants as quick as possible, and did not bother for the quality). Certainly nuclear power is much more eco-friendly then coal industry. So far no energy technology can replace nuclear having at least the same commercial efficiency.
I join the "YES"!