A Plea for Common Sense

New lessons are beginning to emerge from Fukushima. Each new concern leads to additional safety requirements. But some contradictions are beginning to raise questions: Amid tens of thousands of deaths from non-nuclear causes, not a single life-shortening radiation injury has occurred. Not one! And while some people in the housing area are wearing cumbersome rad-con suits, filtered gas-masks, gloves and booties, there are many people living carefree in other places like Norway, Brazil, Iran, India where folks have lived normal lives for countless generations with radiation levels as much as a hundred times greater than forbidden areas of the Fukushima homes.

At Fukushima this is no abstract issue. People are being told they cannot return home for an indeterminate period – perhaps years. And efforts to decontaminate their home sites may require stripping off all the rich top-soil and calling it RadWaste. People who were evacuated have been reduced to economic poverty, clinical depression, and even suicide.

There is good scientific evidence that, except for some hot spots, the radiation levels at these home-sites are not life-threatening. The current restrictions are based on a desire to be “conservative.” No matter how well intended, this “conservatism” is cruelly destructive. The respected radiation authority Wade Allison, author of Radiation and Reason, has proposed that the current annual radiation dose limit be raised 1000-fold, which he says is still well below the hazard level of clinical data on which he bases his proposal. Other radiation protectionists are beginning to feel unhappy about the harm their rules have caused and are joining in the cry for quick action as the Japanese head into winter.

It’s time that the draconian measures be revoked. A simple declaration of the known health facts about radiation from the proper authorities would be a good first step.


How Are Permissible Radiation Limits Set?

How Much Is Science, How Much “Prudence”?

U.S. Regulatory Report NCRP-136 examined the question of establishing permissible radiation limits. After looking at the data, it concluded that most people who get a small dose of nuclear radiation are not harmed by it, and in fact are benefited. That’s what the science said: Most people would benefit by receiving more radiation.

But curiously, the report’s final conclusion was just the opposite. It recommended that our regulations should be based on the premise that any amount of radiation, no matter how small, should be considered harmful. It made that recommendation just to be “conservative” or “prudent.”

Let’s think about that. Why is it prudent do just the opposite of what the science indicates? Why is exaggerating a panicky situation considered prudent? I’ve never seen a good answer to that question. Whatever the reasoning, that’s where we’ve ended up.

We’ve had three uncontrolled releases of radioactivity from serious malfunctions of nuclear power plants: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima. In each of these, fear of radiation proved to be much more harmful than the effects of radiation itself. And announcing that no amount of radiation is small enough to be harmless was certainly effective in creating and nurturing phobic fear of radiation, when none was justified by the facts.

In addition, the problem is aggravated by the fact that we’ve been told for sixty years (two human generations) that nuclear terror is infinitely more dreadful than any non-nuclear threat, particularly when you blur the distinction between power plants and bombs.

But what Fukushima tells us that this abstract, academic position looks very different when you’re telling people they can’t go home – perhaps for years, because, well, it seems more prudent that way, even though radiation hasn’t actually hurt anyone there.

Radiation expert Professor Wade Allison, author of “Radiation and Reason,” has cast the question in a new light. He suggests, let’s set the permissible radiation limit the same way we set all other safety limits. Not by asking how little radiation we can get by with, but how much can we safely permit? There’s no intention of lowering the safety margin, and it will not be lowered. That’s not the issue. It’s a matter of working with the scientific data, rather than from a generic fear not supported by the science.

Prof. Allison concludes that setting the permissible radiation limit, with a good margin of safety, results in an annual permissible level about 1000 times the current figure.

Above is a brief video of Prof. Allison’s talk to the Japanese people, or click here to watch it on YouTube.

Ted Rockwell


[ The two articles above were written by Dr. Theodore Rockwell and distributed by John A. Shanahan, Dr. Ing., Civil Engineer. We present them here as a public service. ]

Disaster Averted?

Everything I have seen on the Fukashima incident indicates to me that a nuclear disaster was and continues to be successfully avoided despite the plant being subjected to almost the worst conditions conceivable.
Nuclear really is the only way to go for truly long-term sustainability in energy production. To think that we actually have the resources and capability to build and maintain thousands if not millions of wind turbines and acres of solar panels is laughable. Not only would that take up massive areas of land, disrupting/killing wildlife in the process, but the enormous cost in manufacturing/labor/raw materials is staggering. Add to that the cost of retiring and replacing all these turbines in a safe and efficient manner and it really starts to look not attractive at all.

Perspective

I believe more people have been killed by organic sprouts in Germany and cantaloupe from Colorado than from the Fukushima incident. If people were really interested in saving lives, maybe they would demand nuclear irradiation of foods to kill bacteria.

One thing I don't believe people really understand. The units 1-4 at Fukushima were already slated for shutdown and dismantling. Units 5-7 (of which 5 and 6 are built already) were to be built on higher ground of a different reactor design that did not require external power to rid the reactors of decay heat. Units 5 and 6 survived both the quake and the tsunami though they were not operating at the time. Had they been operating, they would have been able to shut down normally.

Had the quake waited only a couple of more weeks, Unit 1 would have been powered down and being prepared for dismantling. It was scheduled for its final shutdown at the end of March. That would have left only units 2 and 3 operating and those units were slated to also be shut down and dismantled over the coming years.

When that site was selected, the concept of plate tectonics was not completely accepted science. They had no idea they were building the plant in a subduction fault "megathrust" zone because at the time there was no such thing known to them. When that did become apparent to them, they made plans to replace the units with newer ones of a safer design on higher ground. But expecting them to be aware of exactly, within a span of say 10 years, the largest quake in recorded history of Japan would strike is an unreasonable expectation. One might expect 10 years to be a reasonable time to shut down those plants.

I wonder how many plants we have that were planned in the 1960's in the Pacific Northwest that are basically in the same circumstance.

Unintended Consequences

One of the harmful side effects of “no nukes” hysteria has been a freeze on the normal renewal of nuclear power plants. Because no new, safer modern plants can be built without decades of delaying law suits, which are the primary driver of soaring cost for nuclear plants, we are stuck with 40-50 year old designs that have been extended well beyond their initial planned lifetimes. The fact is, the anti-nuclear movement has made the likelihood of a nuclear accident more probable by keeping plants on-line that should have been retired years ago. The irrational fear of all things nuclear stems from ignorance and ignorance can be deadly.

Of course, nuclear energy is not the only industry that the neo-Luddite left wishes to kill off. Here in the US, private companies want to build an oil pipeline from Canada to the refineries along the Gulf coast. It has been studied by five different government agencies and found to be a sound design. In fact, the new pipeline would follow the tracks of other, existing pipelines. This pipeline would help free the US from dependence on middle-eastern oil, Canada being a long term friend and the overland route secure from interruption. Pipelines are also a safer form of transport than tankers from an environmental perspective. Yet pressure from eco-activists have caused our spineless chief politician to give in and postpone any decision until after the elections next year.

Canada's response has been understandable, they are making alternate plans to rout the oil to their Pacific coast where it can be loaded on tankers and shipped to China. Make no mistake, the Canadian oil sands will be developed, whether the US buys the oil or not. The companies involved have bent over backwards, even offering to reroute sections of the pipeline to assuage bogus concerns raised by the eco-lobby. At the same time, the oil companies have developed extraction methods that reduce the amount of CO2 released, reportedly bringing emissions into line with production from other sources. The project offers more energy, greater national security, and tens of thousands of jobs all financed by private money—no government handouts needed. All this and President Obama will not let the project go forward, proving he is the most irrational, technology adverse, ignorant, duplicitous fool we have had in the White House since Jimmy Carter.

I normally try to keep this site focused on science and technology but during these sad times it seems that progress itself is under attack. Politicians from both sides of the aisle are treating energy policy and environmental issues as weapons to wield against their opponents, giving little or no consideration to the harm they are doing in the process. The American political class is threatening the continued well-being of our citizens and endangering our children's future with their mindless power games. I say a pox on both their houses—we should vote all the bastards out.

A must read

There is an article from the December 2005 issue of Scientific American that I believe is a must read for all of our government officials at all levels of government:

Smarter Use of Nuclear Waste

One can easily locate it with a search engine.

Radiation Limits

That makes way to much sense. We can't possibly do what makes sense because that pays attention to empirical data. No we must act on emotions first and covering our asses, just in case someone sues us; because we did not overreact to emotions and strictly, perhaps inappropriately, apply the precautionary principal. If modern society is insisting on the nanny state to some extreme and that we must protect everyone from their own stupidity and often self induced ignorance what else can we expect.

Dennis Nikols, P. Geo.