Tag Archives: LNT

What scientific idea is ready for retirement? Answer LNT

At Edge.org John Brockman posed the Edge question 2014 “What scientific idea is ready for retirement?“. There are a number of important short essays in reply to the question. I want to highlight Stewart Brand’s essay nominating The Linear No-Threshold Radiation Dose Hypothesis:

 

STEWART BRAND
Author and founder of The Whole Earth Catalog; co-founder of The Well and The Long Now Foundation

In his 1976 book, A Scientist at the White House, George Kistiakowsky, President Eisenhower’s science adviser, told us what he wrote in his diary in 1960 on being exposed to the idea by the Federal Radiation Council:

It is a rather appalling document that takes 140 pages to state the simple fact that, since we know virtually nothing about the dangers of low-intensity radiation, we might as well agree that the average population dose from manmade radiation should be no greater than that which the population already receives from natural causes; and that any individual in that population shouldn’t be exposed to more than three times that amount, the latter figure being, of course, totally arbitrary. Later in the book, Kistiakowsky, who was a nuclear expert and veteran of the Manhattan Project, wrote: “… a linear relation between dose and effect… I still believe is entirely unnecessary for the definition of the current radiation guidelines, since they are pulled out of thin air without any knowledge on which to base them.”

Sixty-three years of research on radiation effects have gone by, and Kistiakowsky’s critique still holds. The linear no-threshold (LNT) radiation dose hypothesis, which surreally influences every regulation and public fear about nuclear power, is based on no knowledge whatever.

At stake are the hundreds of billions spent on meaningless levels of “safety” around nuclear power plants and waste storage, the projected costs of next-generation nuclear plant designs to reduce greenhouse gases worldwide, and the extremely harmful episodes of public panic that accompany rare radiation-release events such as Fukushima and Chernobyl. (No birth defects whatever were caused by Chernobyl, but fear of them led to 100,000 panic abortions in the Soviet Union and Europe. What people remember about Fukushima is that nuclear opponents predicted that hundreds or thousands would die or become ill from the radiation. In fact nobody died, nobody became ill, and nobody is expected to.)

The “linear” part of the LNT is true and well documented. Based on long-term studies of survivors of the atomic bombs in Japan and of nuclear industry workers, the incidence of eventual cancer increases with increasing exposure to radiation at levels above 100 millisieverts per year. The effect is linear. Below 100 millisieverts per year, however, no increased cancer incidence has been detected, either because it doesn’t exist or because the numbers are so low that any signal gets lost in the epidemiological noise.

We all die. Nearly a half of us die of cancer (38% of females, 45% of males). If the “no-threshold” part of the LNT is taken seriously, and an exposed population experiences as much as a 0.5% increase in cancer risk, it simply cannot be detected. The LNT operates on the unprovable assumption that the cancer deaths exist, even if the increase is too small to detect, and that therefore “no level of radiation is safe” and every extra millisievert is a public health hazard.

Some evidence against the “no-threshold” hypothesis draws on studies of background radiation. In the US we are all exposed to 6.2 millisieverts a year on average, but it varies regionally. New England has lower background radiation, Colorado is much higher, yet cancer rates in New England are higher than in Colorado – an inverse effect. Some places in the world, such as Ramsar in Iran, have a tenfold higher background radiation, but no higher cancer rates have been discovered there. These results suggest that there is indeed a threshold below which radiation is not harmful.

Furthermore, recent research at the cell level shows a number of mechanisms for repair of damaged DNA and for ejection of damaged cells up to significant radiation levels. This is not surprising given that life evolved amid high radiation and other threats to DNA. The DNA repair mechanisms that have existed in yeast for 800m years are also present in humans.

The actual threat of low-dose radiation to humans is so low that the LNT hypothesis can neither be proven true nor proven false, yet it continues to dominate and misguide policies concerning radiation exposure, making them grotesquely conservative and expensive. Once the LNT is explicitly discarded, we can move on to regulations that reflect only discernible, measurable medical effects, and that respond mainly to the much larger considerations of whole-system benefits and harms.

The most crucial decisions about nuclear power are at the category level of world urban prosperity and climate change, not imaginary cancers per millisievert.

 

Radiation and nuclear technology: safety without science is dangerous

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Oxford nuclear and medical physicist Wade Allison is the author of Radiation and Reason: The Impact of Science on a Culture of Fear. Recently Prof. Allison wrote an op-ed that explained very succinctly why low levels of radiation are not to be feared; why ionising radiation from nuclear reactors is fundamentally the same as the UV from the sun. 

I recommend this brief essay as a resource for those who have friends and family who are fearful about nuclear energy. With this as background, perhaps the fearful will be better prepared to understand the stories of former anti-nuclear activists who are now campaigning for nuclear power (e.g., Stewart Brand, Mark Lynas). This is the theme of the soon-to-be-released documentary Pandora’s Promise by film maker Robert Stone (also a former anti-nuclear activist). 

Scientists are currently mired in a bogus safety culture that stifles innovation, acts as a brake on economic growth and actually makes the world a more hazardous place. How has this happened?

Until recently much prosperity flowed from new developments in chemistry and electronics that exploit the outer part of atoms. Only medicine has whole-heartedly engaged with the inner nuclear part. Following the work of Marie Curie the health of people around the world today has improved out of all recognition thanks to radiation and nuclear technology.

Unfortunately many people — politicians, the media, the wider public, even many scientists — believe that this same technology when used in other contexts is dangerous; the reasons for this are historical and cultural without any basis in science. This belief should be challenged and we should examine the evidence, based on simple ideas, personal experience and the published results of nuclear accidents. Otherwise this source of innovation will dry up with significant economic consequences.

Life has evolved to be stable under changing conditions, for example when attacked by moderate exposure to radiation, that is ionising radiation such as ultraviolet in sunshine. As we have all learnt, a little too much and we suffer from sunburn. If repeated too often, we can get skin cancer later on and that can be fatal. Other forms of ionising radiation have a similar effect except that they may penetrate below the skin.

radiationSpectrum.png

 

Regions of the radiation spectrum [left]

The diagram illustrates how the spectrum of radiation includes visible light (shown as a rainbow), the infrared range on the right, and the ultraviolet on the left merging into the X-rays and gamma rays that we know as types of nuclear radiation. Like other radiation on the right, infrared just heats living tissue and is harmless unless it overheats. However, ionising radiation, shown to the left can result in molecular damage and the creation of oxidants, dangerous chemical fragments similar to those produced in normal metabolism. These break the DNA molecules which control the cells of living tissue. In sunburn skin cells are damaged in large numbers but the DNA is repaired or the cells replaced with new. Cancer develops when faulty DNA repairs escape the vigilance of the immune system. In 2009 there were over 9000 skin cancer deaths in USA, based not on some hypothetical calculation but on actual annual mortality figures.

Nevertheless, some significant exposure of the skin to ultraviolet is important for the production of Vitamin D and the avoidance of Rickets. Sunbathing in moderation is an accepted pleasure in life and people do not take their vacations exclusively by starlight or deep underground, just to avoid the radiation with its small cancer risk. There is no plethora of international committees to discuss this danger – just gentle public education from doctors and pharmacists pressing families to use blocking agents and to restrict their time in the sun at midday. So, everybody learns of the danger without a great ballyhoo and the risks are in the same range as others encountered in life (in USA annual deaths per million population: skin cancer 30, road traffic 110). It may be a matter of life and death for the individual, but, in spite of a fair number of identified deaths every year, nobody would choose to threaten the economy or social health of a whole society on this account.

By contrast, the closely related nuclear radiation from the accident at Fukushima (damaged in the 2011 Japanese tsunami) has killed nobody and the intensities are so low that no case of cancer is likely in the next 50 years. Unlike figures for skin cancer the only estimates of risk come from discredited calculations of a tiny number of deaths that appear only on paper. Yet the authorities have reacted in a way that reduces economic output and increases damage to the environment.

(…) 

Modern scientific experiments establish beyond doubt that moderate doses of radiation do no harm. Biologists have learnt how in a billion years life has evolved defences against such attacks and even benefits from modest stimulation of these defences by low chronic doses.

So why are official attitudes and regulations so dangerously inappropriate? They cause serious social harm and benefit nobody – and by closing nuclear power plants they have caused major damage to the environment and the world economy.

The fear of a nuclear holocaust at the time of the Cold War spawned many committees, national and international, who still offer advice to governments to regulate any exposure to radiation to levels “As Low As Reasonably Achievable”. This is about 1000 times lower than a level that would be “As High As Relatively Safe” — which, after all, is the way that the safety of a bridge or ship might be assessed.

Such safety factors are unaffordable in nuclear technology, as elsewhere, and excessive safety is intimidating. These overlapping committees, should be reduced and should re-dedicate themselves to dispensing explanatory education and improved public trust in science. Only then may the known benefits of nuclear technology (access to clean power, clean water, food preservation, as well as advances in healthcare) be widely accepted and realised. Those countries that first break the mould and start fully exploiting this technology will have a great economic advantage – and they will be safe too. 

Exploring biological effects of low radiation from the other side of background

Please comment if you know where to find an online version of the captioned Health Physics paper by Dr. Geoffrey Smith et al. The NIH PubMed entry doesn’t even have an abstract. Dr. Smith describes the research area as:

Low-level Radiation Effects in the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant Permian-age Salado Formation. We are studying the effects of shielding cells from normal levels of radiation by growing them 650 meters underground at the WIPP site in a pre-World War II 6-in thick steel chamber. The effort is to test the Linear No-threshold Theory from the “other side of background”, in a radiation-shielded environment that is well below natural levels of radiation (Smith et al. 2010). Additionally, the Permian-age halite is being examined for biochemical evidence of ancient life.

This study could make an important contribution to verification or refutation of the Linear No-threshold (LNT) hypothesis.

Risks and Effects of Radiation: Putting Fukushima in Context

The Health Physics Society panel held 1 March 2012 should be an excellent source of objective Fukushima risk assessment. The proceedings have not yet been published — meanwhile here is the HPS announcement:

As the world remembers the one-year anniversary of the 2011 tsunami that devastated Japan and set off a tragic chain of events that included the nuclear reactor incident in Fukushima, the panel of leading scientific and medical experts reported on the risks and effects of radiation on the Japanese and other populations. A first-hand account of the impacts on the Fukushima population was provided by two members of the distinguished panel. The discussions included the health effects of radiation immediately following the event to present day and an analysis of future risks for the population.

The panel consisted of John Boice, ScD; Robert Emery, DrPH, CHP, CIH; Robert Peter Gale, MD, PhD, DS. (Hon); Kathryn Higley, PhD, CHP; and Richard Vetter, PhD, CHP. It was moderated by Howard Dickson, CHP, CSP, and CIH.

Members of the Washington panel agreed that while they considered the physical health risks from the exposure too small to measure, the accident would still have an impact. Psychological trauma from the evacuation and months away from home could end up being the biggest health risk from the accident.

Dr. Gale said he believed the exaggerated environmental and health risk claims from alarmists could backfire by making it harder for people in Fukushima Prefecture to resume their normal lives and businesses. “Already we see a stigmatization of people from that area or products from that area,” he said. “It’s very hard for them to survive. It’s quite unfortunate.”

While the quake and tsunami killed an estimated 20,000 people, radiation has not killed anyone so far, and members of the Health Physics Society, drawn from academia, medicine, and the nuclear industry, suggested that the doses were too small to have much effect. “There’s no opportunity for conducting epidemiological studies that have any chance of success,” said Dr. Boice. “The doses are just too low. If you were to do a proposal, it would not pass a scientific review.”

Members of the press asked several questions of the panel during the press conference and visited individually with panel members after the event.

A video of all the proceedings will be available in a few days. Watch for it on the HPS website (hps.org).

Nuclear Energy Overview summarized some of the presentations here:

(…) Dr. Robert Gale, visiting professor at Imperial College London, pointed out that although approximately 20,000 people died from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami, none of those deaths are attributable to radiation from the Fukushima accident.

However, Gale said, “The fact that everyone is here today, shows that the public’s focus is really on Fukushima. You hear very few things about the earthquake and tsunami.”

Gale presented preliminary data on the 10,000 inhabitants near the Fukushima plant thought to have received the highest doses of radiation showing that:

  • 5,800 received doses less than 1 millisievert (mSv).
  • 4,100 received doses between 1 and 10 mSv.
  • 71 received doses between 10 mSv and 20 mSv.
  • 2 received doses between 20 mSv and 23 mSv.

By comparison, each year a resident of the United States receives an average total dose from background radiation of about 3.1 mSv.

Gale said it was important to translate these doses into something the general public could easily understand. These radiation doses indicate an “incredibly small” increase in risk of death from cancer of only 0.001 percent for a member of the Japanese public, he said. The increased risk of cancer incidence would be only 0.002 percent for a member of the Japanese public.

Such a small increase in the cancer rate would make it very hard to scientifically verify an increase in cancers that could be directly linked to the Fukushima accident.

“The exposures to the population are very, very low,” said John Boice, professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and President Nominee of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. “As such, there is no opportunity to conduct epidemiological studies that have any chance of detecting excess [cancer] risk. The doses are just too low.”

Assessing Fukushima, one year later

Despite worries, radiation exposure from the Japanese nuclear plant damaged by the tsunami is unlikely to cause an increase in cancers. (…) This doesn’t mean there will be no future radiation-caused cancers, as some claim. But because there may be so few cancers, it is unlikely any epidemiological investigations will detect an increase in Japan or elsewhere that can be directly attributed to Fukushima.

(…) What do the Fukushima exposures really mean? A rough estimate is that for a 50-year-old male working at the Fukushima nuclear facility, his lifetime risk of cancer might increase from 42% to 42.2%. The magnitude of this increased risk is comparable to the added risk of living in Denver (where background radiation is higher because of the altitude and radionuclides in the Rocky Mountains) versus New York City for 10 to 15 years, or smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for one to two years. The Japanese public will, of course, get far less radiation.

Don’t miss Measuring the Fukushima radiation risks by radiation risk assessment experts Robert Peter Gale and F. Owen Hoffman.

(…) we think the public deserves an estimate of likely outcomes of radiation released when the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami caused multiple meltdowns of nuclear fuel at the plant.

Fukushima has understandably reignited debate and concern regarding cancer risks from radiation. A year after the accident, many people still won’t travel to Japan. Sushi sales have taken a hit. And yet the Japanese government says that even those who lived near the reactor have little to worry about. Who’s right?

(…) In general, we don’t think much about the inherent risks of such exposures. For example, if your doctor sends you for a CT scan, you may get a radiation dose about seven times greater than you would in a year from most natural or man-made sources. However, few people decline a CT scan because of the risk of radiation-induced cancer. But when we read of a spike in the amount of radiation in the water in Tokyo, we get scared.

One important element that we have to consider to assess cancer risks associated with an accident like Fukushima is our baseline risk for developing cancer. All of us, unfortunately, have a substantial risk of developing cancer in our lifetime. For example, a 50-year-old male has a 42% risk of developing cancer during his remaining life; it’s almost the same for a 10-year-old. This risk only decreases when we get much older and only because we are dying of other causes.

It’s true that excess radiation exposure can increase our cancer risk above baseline levels; it’s clear from studies of the survivors of the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of people exposed to radiation in medical and occupational settings, and of people exposed to radon decay products in mines and home basements. When it comes to exposures like that of Fukushima, the question is: What is the relative magnitude of the increased risk from Fukushima compared to our baseline cancer risk? Despite our fears, it is quite small.

(…) Now for Fukushima. The kind of radiation was similar to Chernobyl, but about four to 10 times less was released. And there are other important differences. Most of the radiation released (about 80%) was blown offshore by winds, where it was diluted by air and sea. Consequently, exposures received by Fukushima workers and the public are quite low, including among the 20,000 or more workers decommissioning the facility and the approximately 100,000 evacuees. This doesn’t mean there will be no future radiation-caused cancers, as some claim. But because there may be so few cancers, it is unlikely any epidemiological investigations will detect an increase in Japan or elsewhere that can be directly attributed to Fukushima.

(…) Robert Peter Gale, a visiting professor of hematology at Imperial College London, is involved with the aftermath of the Chernobyl and Fukushima accidents. F. Owen Hoffman is an expert in radiation risk assessment working in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Read the whole thing.

From his CV, some background on leukemia specialist Robert Peter Gale, particularly his relevant experience with the medical effects of radiation:

In 1986, he was asked by the government Soviet Union to coordinate medical relief efforts for victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power station accident. In 1987, he was asked by the government of Brazil to coordinate medical relief efforts for a radiation accident in Goiania. In 1988, he was part of the U.S. medical emergency team sent in the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia. In 1999 he was asked by the government of Japan to help treat victims of the nuclear criticality accident near Tokyo. In 2011 Gale was called to Japan to deal with medical consequences of the Fukushima nuclear power station accident.

Dr. Gale is the author of Final Warning: The Legacy of Chernobyl, his personal account of the aftermath of Chernobyl.

Dr. F. Owen Hoffman is the president and director of SENES Oak Ridge, Inc. Center for Risk Analysis.

He has more than 30 years experience on the evaluation of the dose to humans from the release and transport of radionuclides and chemicals in terrestrial and aquatic systems. He is recognized nationally and internationally for his contributions to the development and evaluation of mathematical models for environmental transfer and human risk assessment.

The LNT Hypothesis: Ethical Travesties

Many thanks to Rod Adams for posting the transcript of this talk by: Margaret N. Maxey, Ph.D., Professor, Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering, The University of Texas at Austin. Excerpts:

(…) Slowly but inexorably, radiation scientists are recognizing that the LNT hypothesis – at one time administratively useful in regulating radiation exposures during the infancy of radiation science — has in its maturity become scientifically illegitimate and ethically indefensible. In his book, Has Radiation Protection Become a Health Hazard? Gunnar Walinder, a Swedish radiobiologist, states unequivocally: “The linear, no-threshold hypothesis is one of the greatest scientific scandals of modern times.” Dr. Walinder’s bold statement is indicative of a significant sea-change among radiation experts in their assessment of the validity of using the LNT hypothesis as a basis for setting standards in radiation protection.

Among prominent experts, Leonard Sagan now observes that the LNT model is based on “politics and social concerns,” not science. Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Yalow writes that, “the literature and media overestimate radiation damage even if the overall effect does not differ from zero.” Sohei Kondo at Osaka, Japan’s Kinki University has conducted research into atomic bomb survivors which shows slight decreases in cancer deaths among those exposed to low doses — suggesting that radiation-induced precancerous cells undergo self-killing or apoptosis which prevents later development of a cancer. An emerging consensus concludes that current regulations for radiation exposure are not only “based on quicksand,” but have become pernicious obstacles to the ethical goal they purport to achieve: public health protection.

Radiation protection standards enacted by regulatory agencies have reflected ethical concerns based on two presuppositions:

(1) that the linear, zero-threshold hypothesis derives from scientific data in radiobiology that are virtually conclusive; and

(2) that it is “morally better” for health protection to assume that any radiation exposure, no matter how small, has some harmful effect which can and ought to be prevented.

These presuppositions have been reinforced by a popular unscientific belief that industrial man since World War II has introduced into the biosphere enormous quantities of synthetic toxic substances contaminating an otherwise benign natural world. These include “unnatural” radiation sources as well as huge quantities of “sinister” chemicals having no natural equivalents. Hence, official policy has enshrined a quasi-dogma: it is “morally prudent” to assume that “even the most minute dose, even a single molecule, may trigger a lethal change in a cell that will cause it to multiply malignantly.”

(…)

Ethical Travesties: Fear of radiation has proved to be far more detrimental to public health than radiation itself. No actual deaths of U.S. citizens have been attributed to accidental releases of radiation from reactors. But fear of radiation has proved fatal: (1) fear of bearing a “nuclear mutant” led 100,000 European women to choose unnecessary abortions after Chernobyl; (2) thousands of people avoid life-saving medical procedures such as mammograms or radiotherapy because they involve radiation; (3) regulatory roadblocks preventing management of harmless low-level wastes are causing many hospitals to shut down radiomedical treatment centers; (4) thousands of deaths from pathogens infecting seafood, eggs, beef and poultry could be prevented by irradiating food. Moreover billions of dollars have already been spent on trivial radiation risks based on grotesque scenarios about (1) single atoms destined to migrate through miles of desert soil to contaminate a potential water source in some distant future, or (2) measurable radon producing sick buildings which require costly remediation or destruction. Fear endangers human health.

Because the LNT model is deeply entrenched in standard-setting procedures of UNSCEAR, BEIR, ICRP and NCRP (UBIN), their bureaucracies have neither cited, discussed, nor refuted the data and theory contradicting the LNT model. Eventually, politicizing and prostituting scientific principles will erode not only the credibility of scientists, but also public confidence in regulatory institutions. Risk-tradeoff analysis is an ethically necessary replacement for the regulatory vested interests now dominating bureaucratic incentives to “keep the hazard alive” — namely, empire building, legalized plunder, research funding, sales of instruments, and indispensible services to a fearful public. An obsession with hypothetical health effects from but one technology siphons attention away from widespread harms claiming the lives of human beings daily.

Read the whole thing »

Fukushima’s Refugees Are Victims Of Irrational Fear, Not Radiation

Amid the Fukushima hysteria Germany has decided to shut down its nuclear reactors and import more natural gas from Putin and more nuclear energy from France and the Czechs. This does not make sense, either economically, politically or with respect to safety. If Germans or Japanese are that worried about radiation then a more sensible course of action would be to stop eating potato chips, beets, brazil nuts and bananas, all of which are relatively high but ultimately harmless sources of radiation.

The first anniversary of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami has brought on a silly season of sensational, uninformed fear-mongering (Rod Adams has a representative rogues gallery at the end of his critique). So today I was pleased to see a science-based analysis by Dr. James Conca, an international expert on the environmental effects of radioactive contamination.

Every time I eat a bag of potato chips I think of Fukushima. This 12-ounce bag of chips has 3500 picoCuries of gamma radiation in it, and the number of bags I eat a year gives me a dose as high as what I would receive living in much of the evacuated zones around Fukushima. But unlike the Fukushima refugees, I get to stay in my home. We live in a nuanced world of degree. Eating a scoop of ice cream is fine, eating a gallon at one time is bad. Jumping off a chair is no big deal; jumping off a cliff is really stupid. The numbers matter. It’s the dose that makes the poison. There is a threshold to everything.

The radiation in those potato chips isn’t going to kill me. Likewise, no one is going to die from Fukushima radiation. Cancer rates are not going to increase in Japan. The disaster wasn’t hidden like the Soviets did, so that people unknowingly ate iodine-131 for two months before it decayed away to nothing. No one threw workers into the fire like lemmings because they didn’t know what to do.

(…) This idea, known as the Linear No-Threshold Dose hypothesis (LNT), was adopted in 1959 as the global regulating philosophy and remains entrenched against all scientific evidence. It is an ethical nightmare. And it will destroy Japan’s economy.

It‘s keeping 100,000 Japanese citizens as refugees, as it did almost a million Ukrainians. It will waste $100 billion that’s needed to rebuild the devastation from the tsunami, not protect against a large intake of potato chips. It will cause more injury to Japan’s already beleaguered population and damaged economy, for no benefit.

We set thresholds to protect people against harm, and we’ve done a good job. The Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, seat belts, coal flue scrubbers, all have saved millions of lives and made the quality of life better for everyone. But thresholds need to be set with reason. We don’t stop driving just because 50,000 people still die on the roadways each year, or stop heating our homes because 1,000 people die every month from coal particle inhalation. We try to make it safer and we deal with things as they occur.

For radiation this philosophy has failed. The LNT theory has been long since disproven. We are bathed in radiation every day and we know that low levels of radiation or even ten times background levels have never hurt anyone. It doesn’t cause cancer. Yet the global fear of nuclear energy and radiation has diverted billions of dollars from more serious health issues. The amount of funding the U.S. spent since 1990 protecting against what, in many parts of the world, are background levels of radiation, could have immunized the entire continent of Africa against its three worst scourges. Instead we saved not one life. This is an ethical issue. The science is easy, the politics are not.

Highly recommended. Read the whole thing »

James L. Conca is Director of NMSU Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center (CEMRC), his CV including publications.

Princeton PAW: Nuclear power’s safety

While researching the anti-nuclear history of Frank von Hippel I noted a brief interview on Fukushima April 27, 2011 with the Princeton Alumni Weekly. His comments irritated another Princeton alumnus — US Navy nuclear expert Ted Rockwell. Ted’s response to von Hippel is here:

Published on June 1, 2011

Knowing Princeton’s historic contributions to early nuclear-energy technology, I’m sad that nuclear commentary from Princeton is now generally from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Frank von Hippel’s response to the question of safety at Fukushima (A Moment With, April 27) is typical:

“These reactors were not designed for inherent safety. These are the descendants of submarine propulsion reactors, where safety has been an add-on … I think this technology could be safe. But I don’t think that the people running these plants, and the people regulating them, are producing that result.”

Over a period of two human generations (50-plus years), our nuclear navy has driven 526 nuclear-reactor cores 150 million miles without a single ­radiological incident. The commercial nuclear-power program based on that technology has safely and reliably ­generated 20 percent of America’s electricity. Half of that electricity is fueled by uranium taken from converted Russian missile warheads. No one has been killed by radiation from either our naval or our commercial nuclear programs. I believe the same is true of the Japanese program, including Fukushima. How would von Hippel improve on that record?

He mentions the Soviet Chernobyl reactor, “the one big accident we’ve had so far.” That’s irrelevant. No one is planning to build more Chernobyls. But von Hippel’s statement that this reactor meltdown “shortened the lives of about 10,000 people by cancer” is false — a shuffling of A-bomb data improperly applied to Chernobyl. As the U.N. ­Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, WHO, and Red Cross reports have been demonstrating for 25 years, the actual number of ­cancer cases was not increased by the accident.

Theodore Rockwell ’43 *45 p’70

Chevy Chase, Md.

Editor’s note: Rockwell’s six decades of involvement in nuclear power include work as technical director of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. The U.S. Department of Energy recently made his 1956 Reactor Shielding Design Manual available free to the public on its website.

Ted’s letter elicited three comments from other Princeton alums — all favorable. The last posted September 1st is by Rick Mott, who proposes that Princeton install a SMR:

Rick Mott ’73 Says: 2011-09-01 11:27:31

I’ve been traveling all summer, or I’d have responded sooner. We’ve heard from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s — I guess it’s time for the ’70s to chime in. I gave a talk at my kids’ school for Earth Day, six weeks after Fukushima, entitled “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”. A greatly expanded version of that talk is available here: I’m throwing down a challenge. If Princeton truly believes carbon emissions are a problem, it should install a small modular reactor to power the existing cogeneration plant, and reduce its emissions from electricity consumption not to 1990 levels, but to near zero. The detailed case is made here: http://www.nucleartigers.org The problems with this are not technical, but political, legal and regulatory. It will take a decade for the discussion to play out, but Princeton is uniquely qualified to educate the public on this issue. The best way to do that is in the context of a concrete proposal which is the opposite of NIMBY. Do we fear students would refuse to attend a nuclear-powered Princeton? Then we should tell them it’s already 50% nuclear. Half of New Jersey’s electricity comes from Oyster Creek. Any responses from the four decades after us old-timers?

Rick knows radiation (he is PulseTor’s Chief Technical Officer). I recommend Rick’s Earth Day slideshow at SCRIBD  “A Rational Environmentalist’s Guide to Nuclear Power”. It is scientifically correct and an effective presentation. E.g., after presenting the facts about life cycle risks for each energy source, including a detailed review of Chernobyl, Rick asks:

201109301013.jpg

In the radiation section of Rick’s tutorial he explains why LNT is wrong. One of his quips was perfect

80 aspirin at once will kill half the people “exposed” ́ to them. LNT would therefore predict 2 aspirin would kill 1.25% of users. So don’t take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

Another excellent piece by Rick is published by PubMed Central reviewing the paper “Can Psychiatric Approaches Help to Address Global Warming?”

Richard B. Mott, Ringoes, New Jersey ; Email: rickmott@pulsetor.com

To the Editor:

As it turns out, I am an engineer involved in radiation detection systems. This past Earth Day, I gave a talk at my kids’ school advocating the greatly increased use of nuclear power instead of fossil fuels for electricity generation. New Jersey derives about 50% of its power from nuclear energy. If the entire country did the same, we would stop the emission of perhaps 400 million tons of CO2 per year. The entire country of France gets about 75% of its electricity from nuclear power.

Many people who think of themselves as environmentalists oppose nuclear power out of what can only be called a phobia, a wild overestimation of both the risk of accident and the actual level of risk even in the event of an accident. Chernobyl was horrible, yet 20 years later the excess cancers can only be statistically detected in 2 groups. First, there were about 4000 excess childhood thyroid cancers over 10 years, which is particularly shameful because most could have been prevented with potassium iodide prophylaxis had the population been notified promptly. Second, a physician in Scotland has found a statistically detectable increase in cancers among the children of mothers at an early stage of pregnancy, when the developing fetus is known to be highly sensitive to radiation. Spread over the entire population of Europe and 20 years, this is regrettable but hardly the Black Death all over again. The scary numbers you see bandied about are statistical projections over the entire population for its entire lifetime, and undetectable against background cancer rates.

And that was a worst-case accident. New technology makes the loss-of-coolant accident typified by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island impossible, and also makes it much harder to divert the fuel for nuclear weapons. See the article “Heavy Metal Nuclear Power” by Eric Loewen. The technology is also briefly described at http://www.ne.anl.gov/research/ardt/hlmr/, which discusses small reactors for third-world application that don’t need refueling for 15–20 years.

No less an environmental icon than Stewart Brand, author of the Whole Earth Catalog, has turned in favor of nuclear power. See http://www.technologyreview.com/Energy/14406/. Nuclear power is the only technology that has a chance of substituting for a significant fraction of fossil-fuel consumption over the coming decades. China is building one new coal-fired power plant every week. So if you really want psychiatry to help stop global warming, cure our national phobia of nuclear energy![1]

James Hansen on Kool-Aid, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy

Don’t miss the latest dispatch from James Hansen, director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. You will learn that Jim has no patience with the Easter Bunny fable whereby carbon emissions can be eliminated entirely by “renewable” energy sources. Here are a few excerpts (emphasis mine):

(…) people who accept the reality of climate change are not proposing actions that would work. This is important, because as Mother Nature makes climate change more obvious, we need to be moving in directions within a framework that will minimize the impacts and provide young people a fighting chance of stabilizing the situation.

The Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy

The insightful cynic will note: “Now I understand all the fossil fuel ads with windmills and solar panels – fossil fuel moguls know that renewables are no threat to the fossil fuel business.” The tragedy is that many environmentalists line up on the side of the fossil fuel industry, advocating renewables as if they, plus energy efficiency, would solve the global climate change matter.

Can renewable energies provide all of society’s energy needs in the foreseeable future? It is conceivable in a few places, such as New Zealand and Norway. But suggesting that renewables will let us phase rapidly off fossil fuels in the United States, China, India, or the world as a whole is almost the equivalent of believing in the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy.

This Easter Bunny fable is the basis of ‘policy’ thinking of many liberal politicians. Yet when such people are elected to the executive branch and must make real world decisions, they end up approving expanded off-shore drilling and allowing continued mountaintop removal, long-wall coal mining, hydro-fracking, etc. – maybe even a tar sands pipeline. Why the inconsistency?

Because they realize that renewable energies are grossly inadequate for our energy needs now and in the foreseeable future and they have no real plan. They pay homage to the Easter Bunny fantasy, because it is the easy thing to do in politics. They are reluctant to explain what is actually needed to phase out our need for fossil fuels.

(…) Amory Lovins is the most popular person that I know and has received uncountable awards. He deserves them. But I believe his popularity is in part because he says everything people want to hear. He even says there is no need to have a tax on carbon. Thus even fossil fuel companies love him. Fossil fuel companies are happy to support energy efficiency, which places the onus on the public and guarantees fossil fuel dominance far into the future.

(…) Recently I received a mailing on the climate crisis from a large environmental organization. Their request, letters and e-mails to Congress and the President, mentioned only renewable energies (specifically wind and solar power). Such a request offends nobody, and it is worthless.

Jim included comments on nuclear energy in five footnotes – where he concisely dispatches the common anti-nuclear activist talking points. Note that Jim is quite up to speed on the 4th generation IFR (Integral Fast Reactor), including the 1994 cancellation:

Pushker Kharecha and I will write a paper with an objective post-Fukushima assessment of the role of nuclear power, but first we must complete papers 2 and 3 (Energy Imbalance and Case for Young People). However, a few comments on safety5, technology status6, nuclear waste7, fuel supply8,and cost9 are warranted to balance the opportunistic barrage of misinformation from dedicated ‘anti-nukes’ and an undiscerning sensation-minded media.

5 Safety: The lobbying organization Union of Concerned Scientists on 25 July broadcast a request to all citizens to write their governors and congress-people to demand improved nuclear power safety. Huh? The number of people who have died from nuclear power in the U.S. is zero. How to improve on that? The safety record of the nuclear industry is the best of all major industries in the U.S.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the Pennsylvania population exposed to radiation by the Three Mile Island accident may experience one or two resulting cancer deaths; that population will experience about 40,000 cancer deaths due to other causes. However, the estimate of 1-2 deaths is from the “linear no threshold” (LNT) approximation, i.e., an assumption that known radiation effects for large doses continue proportionally for small doses. That assumption is uncertain – there is at least as much anecdotal evidence suggesting that small radiation doses are beneficial to health (some mentioned here: http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=42347) as the contrary. However, no adequate scientific study with proper controls has been made.

Curiously, people seem to ignore the far greater dangers of fossil fuels. Mountain-top removal for coal alone has been linked to 60,000 cancer cases. The United Nations has estimated global deaths due to fossil fuel air and water pollution to be of the order of one million annually.

6 Technology: Fukushima nuclear power plants are a 50-year-old technology. They withstood a powerful earthquake, but were washed over by a 10-meter tsunami that wiped out the power sources used to cool the reactors. Modern 3rd generation light-water reactors can use passive cooling systems that require no power source.

No people died at Fukushima because of the nuclear technology. Four people died from other causes (one fell from a crane, one died of a heart attack, and two were drowned by the tsunami). When a plane crashes and kills 100 people do we choose to terminate the airline industry? No, we take steps to make planes safer. Already nuclear power has the best safety record of any energy technology, and the newest nuclear plants have great improvements.

7 Nuclear “waste”: it is not waste, it is fuel for 4th generation reactors! Current (‘slow’) nuclear reactors are light- water reactors that ‘burn’ less than 1% of the energy in the original uranium ore, leaving a waste pile that is radioactive for more than 10,000 years. The 4th generation reactors can ‘burn’ this waste, as well as excess nuclear weapons material, leaving a much smaller waste pile with radioactive half-life measured in decades rather than millennia, thus minimizing the nuclear waste problem. The economic value of current nuclear waste, if used as a fuel for 4th generation reactors, is trillions of dollars.

Nuclear reactors deployed in the next 1-2 decades would be primarily improved light-water reactors, with passive cooling capability and other safety improvements, because these are ready for commercial use. However, it is important to also deploy the first 4th generation reactors to demonstrate that the nuclear waste problem can be solved and to optimize the 4th generation technology.

8 Fuel supply: anti-nuke environmentalists argue that it takes energy to mine and process uranium, and that the uranium supply is limited. In fact, 4th generation nuclear technology, by using more than 99% of the energy in the fuel, expands the fuel supply by a factor of the order of 100.

China has just announced its first 4th generation nuclear reactor, thus increasing the expected lifespan of their proven uranium reserves from 50 years to more than 3000 years.

The United States was the first country to develop 4th generation nuclear technology. But, when General Electric and Argonne National Laboratory disclosed that they were ready to build a commercial scale reactor in 1994, anti- nuke people persuaded the Clinton administration to terminate the program. The U.S. still has top brainpower in this technology, but, unless there is a change of policy, China will soon leave the United States behind.

9 Cost: the ‘real solution’ to the climate/energy problem allows the market to determine winning technologies. Westinghouse AP-1000 advanced 3rd-generation nuclear power plants are being built in China Although anti-nukes may do everything they can to make nuclear power as expensive as possible in the United States, they are not likely to affect nuclear power development in China.

I was also pleased that Jim referenced Bill Gates’ recent interview with Chris Anderson.

Bill Gates is so distressed by the irrational pusillanimous U.S. energy policy that he is investing a piece of his personal fortune to help develop a specific 4th generation nuclear technology.

Read the whole thing »

LNT: Diagnostic radiologist Bill Sacks on hormesis effect

Dr. Sacks is the author of the BraveNewClimate.com guest post titled “Lessons about nuclear energy from the Japanese quake and tsunami.” I thought his associated comment on the training of US radiologists clarifies why the LNT hypothesis is not more frequently criticized in the literature.

One other point to GCB who had the nuclear medicine imaging study: In the U.S. at least, and I don’t know about Australia, radiologists and nuclear physicians, as well as technologists who take the images, are all trained in the principle ALARA, which stands for as low as reasonably achievable, when it comes to doses of ionizing radiation. I know, because I’m a diagnostic radiologist, and I trained for one year in nuclear medicine, as well. When I first learned of the hormetic effect 8 years ago, from a health physicist, I was already 18 years into my radiology career. I cannot find a single other radiologist who is aware of even the concept of hormesis, never mind whether they believe it. We are all trained in the LNT approach. So if Dr. Karamoskos believes in it, it may be because Australian radiologists and nuclear physicians are also not trained in hormesis.

For me LNT was a case of cognitive dissonance that was dispelled in an instant, when I first heard about hormesis. After all, I knew that the body is capable of developing defense reactions to invasion of germs, chemicals, and other invaders, so it made instantaneous sense that the same would hold for radiation, particularly since humans evolved in a sea of radiation.

Dr. Karamoskos, in short, may be a victim of his training. The best that radiologists and nuclear physicians with that training can do is weigh the assumed risks of radiation against the known probably benefits, and that indeed is adequate for them to advise patients that the radiation will do them more good than harm. For me, it’s simply a distortion of the truth, and without an understanding of hormesis in virtually all chemical and physical influences it is difficult for many people to accept nuclear energy.