Tumblr Icon RSS Icon

Yes, even low levels of radiation cause harm — and coal plants are worse than nuclear plants*

Posted on

"Yes, even low levels of radiation cause harm — and coal plants are worse than nuclear plants*"

Share:

google plus icon

*if the nuke meets government regulations — a big if, as we’ve seen.

http://images-cdn01.associatedcontent.com/image/A9611/96116/300_96116.jpg

The effect of radiation is not a subject I blog on a great deal, although it is a subject I have studied a great deal. Indeed, my uncle, a former nuclear physics professor at MIT, started our family Radon testing business, which was sold off years ago.

I asserted that people should be worried about low doses of radiation, especially cumulatively over time. Charles Barton of The Nuclear Green Revolution commented, “Your low doses over time assertion has been repeatedly falsified by empirical studies.” Quite the reverse is true. As the National Research Council’s Committee to Assess Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation (!) reported definitively three years ago:

A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects, says a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council…..

“The scientific research base shows that there is no threshold of exposure below which low levels of ionizing radiation can be demonstrated to be harmless or beneficial,” said committee chair Richard R. Monson, associate dean for professional education and professor of epidemiology, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. “The health risks — particularly the development of solid cancers in organs — rise proportionally with exposure. At low doses of radiation, the risk of inducing solid cancers is very small. As the overall lifetime exposure increases, so does the risk.”

The research is in fact based on empirical data. You can read the whole NRC report, the seventh in a series on this subject dating back decades, here.

Now to be other interesting question: From a radiation perspective, is it worse to live near a coal plant or a nuclear?

I’m going to have to go with Oak Ridge National Laboratory on this and say “a coal plant.” They actually have a very detailed online analysis, which is a must read for people who don’t like coal:

Former ORNL researchers J. P. McBride, R. E. Moore, J. P. Witherspoon, and R. E. Blanco made this point in their article “Radiological Impact of Airborne Effluents of Coal and Nuclear Plants” in the December 8, 1978, issue of Science magazine. They concluded that Americans living near coal-fired power plants are exposed to higher radiation doses than those living near nuclear power plants that meet government regulations. This ironic situation remains true today and is addressed in this article.

The fact that coal-fired power plants throughout the world are the major sources of radioactive materials released to the environment has several implications. It suggests that coal combustion is more hazardous to health than nuclear power and that it adds to the background radiation burden even more than does nuclear power. It also suggests that if radiation emissions from coal plants were regulated, their capital and operating costs would increase, making coal-fired power less economically competitive.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for such regulations. Unless you live near a coal plant, in which case you should hold your breath.

« »

71 Responses to Yes, even low levels of radiation cause harm — and coal plants are worse than nuclear plants*

  1. Jörg Haas says:

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/main.jhtml?view=DETAILS&grid=&xml=/earth/2008/01/10/scileuk110.xml

    Children living within three miles of nuclear power stations are more than twice as likely to get leukaemia as those who live further away, scientists say.

    A large study commissioned by the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BFS) found clusters of cases of the blood or bone marrow cancer among children aged under five-years-old living near 16 power stations in the country.

    You find the original study at http://cat.inist.fr/?aModele=afficheN&cpsidt=19962061

  2. The research is in fact based on empirical data.

    No. The research is going both ways. You can read the debate right here. And this debate will go on for decades.

    It’s bogus to say any radiation is bad. We live in it every day. We use it for medical treatments and X-rays. We receive it when we fly in planes and live in higher altitudes due to the sun. We do all these things without thinking about it, yet people complain about the amount of radiation from nuclear plants that contribute less than one percent of the total radiation we’re ever exposed to.

    If your life depended on receiving radiation therapy to treat a cancer, would you not receive it because of the “supposed” risk it might pose later in your life? Do you fly in planes? Ever received an x-ray because of a broken bone?

    According to the link you provided above, all these activities will supposedly harm us. So I guess the solution is to live in bubbles to avoid even the smallest amounts of radiation. Yeah, I wonder how many people will go for that.

    [JR: David, nice try. I'll take the U.S. NAS over the French any day. Since my life does not depend upon living near nuclear power plant, or even building a new nuclear power plant, your risk analysis makes no sense. Also, it is much easier to argue that our human bodies have gotten used to the normal background level of radiation than we can deal with human-generated radiation. X-rays are great, when you need them. Again, there is no analogy to nuclear power plants. Your argument is a reductio ad absurdum. The fact that we can avoid any radiation doesn't mean we should pursue activities we know will increase radiation when we don't have to. Anyway, I was talking about exposure to nuclear workers, which is definitely something I would worry about if I or my family were a nuclear worker.]

  3. Joe says:

    Jorg — Important study. Certainly I can’t imagine why anybody would want to live near a nuclear plant. I wonder if they’ve ever done anything like that for a coal plant.

  4. Joe the health studies of nuclear workers do not support the linear hypothesis. Health studies of people who live close to reactors do not provide evidence for it.

    If an individual is offered a job at a power reactor, here are his rational considerations.
    1. There are reports from the National Academy of Science that the preponderance of evidence suggest a non-linear effect, but significant evidence exists against it as well.
    2. Studies of nuclear plant workers health do not support the existence of a linear effect among them.
    3. Nuclear plant workers usually have good health care plans. Even if there is a none linear effect, the health advantage of the nuclear workers health care plan may well outweigh the health disadvantages of radiation exposure.
    4. If there is no linear effect, then there is no risk at all.

    Thus it would be a rational conclusion of the nuclear worker that taking the job would impose little or no risk on him.

    But suppose in rationally evaluating the risks the worker decided that the evidence suggested an increased likelihood of impaired health or premature death. Would he or she automatically refuse the job. There is considerable evidence that people people accept all sorts of augmented risk jobs. They mat be motivated by factors like added pay,or even the excitement entailed by the risk.

    Few workers in the nuclear industry are unaware of the dangers of radiation, or of their risk of radiation exposure incidents. Clearly then they, like public safety officers, construction workers, miners, race car drivers, and people who work in other high risk professions, are aware of what the risks they are taking, an accept them.

    I once had an uncle who worked in a coal mine. He was a good miner, and rose to the level of mine superintendent He was pleased with what he had accomplished, but died at a relatively young age. Perhaps the adverse health effects of his profession shortened his life, or maybe it was his two pack a day habit. At any rate I doubt that the regretted his life, even though his profession might have lead to an early death.

    People choose to accept risk in their lives including you. I am sure you are not going to stop having medical or dental ex-rays just because yo will be exposed to radiation. I suspect you still fly, even though you are exposed to cosmic radiation if you do. You still visit Colorado if you do not live there. Thus you willingly accept the added risk of radiation even though you believe the non-linear hypothesis is true.

    Thus your attack on nuclear power for what is either a very slight risk or a completely non-existence to nuclear workers, is inconsistent with what is in all probability your own way of life.

  5. background level of radiation than we can deal with human-generated radiation

    Um, radiation is radiation no matter where it comes from. If you think it is somehow different coming from nuclear plants then you’re hugely mistaken.

    Anyway, I was talking about exposure to nuclear workers, which is definitely something I would worry about if I or my family were a nuclear worker.

    Why don’t you check out this study on the low-dose gamma radiation effects of nuclear shipyard workers (pdf)? Here’s the conclusion:

    The NSWS is the world’s largest and most rigorously controlled study of radiation workers. Significantly lower total mortality was observed in both groups of nuclear workers. Significantly lower mortality from all causes was observed among the cohort of nuclear workers who were exposed to an average dose rate of 7.59 mGy y–1 and median dose rate of 2.80 mGy y–1 than among unexposed controls. In addition, the cohort had significantly reduced mortality for all cardiovascular disease, arteriosclerotic heart disease, respiratory diseases and cancer. This significantly lower mortality contradicts the linear non-threshold (LNT) model of radiation risk.

    You said:

    Certainly I can’t imagine why anybody would want to live near a nuclear plant.

    I can. There are more than 50,000 people in the U.S. that work at nuclear plants. You think they work their unwillingly? Not only that, the economic benefits of a nuclear plant are huge and the local communities receive great tax benefits because of it. And believe it or not, people (not workers) who live by nuclear plants favor them more than people who don’t live by them.

    Just so you know, the claims in Germany Jorg brings up are currently being investigated by a third party. I wouldn’t start using his claims until someone else actually verifies them. As we’ve experienced in the U.S., there’s a lot of junk science out there.

  6. David B. Benson says:

    Coal smoke is very bad for you. See the latest issue of Scientific American for a study in China.

    Besides the radiation risk, there is mercury, methylmercury, and a whole buncha other nasties.

  7. Joe says:

    Radiation is not radiation no matter where it comes from. I’m rather surprised to see you say that. There are different types of radiation, and there are different exposure rates. There is, of course, internal and external exposure. It is entirely possible that humans have evolved to deal with the background constant rate of radiation, but would have difficulty dealing with repetitive dosing of a localized nature.

    I prefer to rely on the decades long research synthesized by the decades long national academy panel.

    Of course people who live near nuclear plants favor them more than people who don’t. I can’t think of anything more obvious. People who smoke favor smoking more than people who don’t smoke.

  8. [snip]
    Your worry about nuclear workers is selectively neurotic
    [snip]

    [JR: I have grown tired of your incessant name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Find somewhere else to post comments.]

  9. Donald B says:

    Every day each one of us takes risks or avoids them based on both rational and nonrational assumptions, some of which are known to the decision maker and some of which are not known.

    When we suffer pain, many of us take an aspirin, knowing or non knowing that if we take aspirin for a long period of time, we may suffer ulcers. Similarly, if we fall and feel deep pain in the wrist, we go to the doctor for an X-ray of the wrist. For these occurrences, we decide that the removal of discomfort of pain or the risk of not getting the wrist set makes taking the risk of medical attention worth more than the risks of incurring illness from the side effects of the medicine. It does not mean that we should take these risks when there is no benefit.

    People living near a nuclear reactor get the benefit of greatly reduced real estate taxes, and they consider the risks of shortening their lifespans to be small or negligible (so don’t teenage smokers, unfortunately).

    This doesn’t mean that we evaluate the risks correctly, either. That can happen either because we fear flying more than driving a car, or just don’t know what the relative risks are.

    All this comes down to the fact that we shouldn’t do or put up with risks that do not come with some substantial benefit — the old risk/benefit ratio!

    Thus if nuclear is the one technology that must be used to avoid catastrophic global warming (demise of the human species), then it should be used no matter what the costs or risks; but that does not appear to be the case. For milder effects of global warming, lesser nuclear power generation should be used. Right now, it appears that there are available technologies whose adoption should be pushed first and nuclear can be studied at some moderate level based on its likelihood of success so that it would be ready if the first approaches fail.

  10. It’s always a hoot when Joe Romm gets mad at other people for ad hominem attacks…man, you’re blind, Joe.

  11. charlesH says:

    Joe, you said:

    “It is entirely possible that humans have evolved to deal with the background constant rate of radiation, but would have difficulty dealing with repetitive dosing of a localized nature.”

    What do you mean by “background” vs ” repetitive localized”. What distinction are you trying to make?

    What kinds of radiation do you consider dangerous? High voltage power lines? Granite counter tops? Cell phones?

    Do you advise members of your family to take the train rather than fly? Get rid of their cell phones and granite counter tops?

    I’m trying to understand the context of your concerns about radiation from nuclear power plants.

    Thank you

    Charles Hart
    Orem, Utah

  12. John Hollenberg says:

    > All this comes down to the fact that we shouldn’t do or put up with risks that do not come with some substantial benefit — the old risk/benefit ratio!

    > Thus if nuclear is the one technology that must be used to avoid catastrophic global warming (demise of the human species), then it should be used no matter what the costs or risks; but that does not appear to be the case.

    Donald, you summed up my thinking on this matter exactly. Nuclear power is better than coal power in multiple ways, but there are other alternatives that are cheaper/safer/faster to build.

  13. charlesH says:

    Donald,

    What exactly are the “cheaper/safer/faster to build alternatives”?

    Then no one is planning any new coal plants right?

    http://www.forbes.com/opinions/forbes/2 … 1/094.html

    “A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun’s output and currents in the Pacific Ocean. Their theory leaves true believers in carbon catastrophe livid.

    To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.”

  14. John Hollenberg says:

    > A number of influential people in Russia, China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam say the planet is now entering a 30-year cooling period, the second half of a normal cycle driven by cyclical changes in the sun’s output and currents in the Pacific Ocean.

    Debunked here:

    http://skepticalscience.com/solar-activity-sunspots-global-warming.htm

    Please cite published, peer-reviewed literature to back up your claims. We go by data here at Climateprogress.

  15. charlesH says:

    Hello John Hollenberg,

    Ignore the first paragraph. The second is the operative one.

    “To judge by actions, not words, the carbon-warming view hasn’t come close to persuading a political majority even in nations considered far more environmentally enlightened than China and India. Europe’s coal consumption is rising, not falling, and the Continent won’t come close to meeting the Kyoto targets for carbon reduction. Australia is selling coal to all comers.”

    So do you have a plan B? Plan A is not working. All we get is more coal.

  16. wow gold says:

    i am sorry but i don’t know what you are say.
    oh“i’m chinese.
    my english is poor.

  17. Russ says:

    charlesH asks:

    Joe, you said:

    “It is entirely possible that humans have evolved to deal with the background constant rate of radiation, but would have difficulty dealing with repetitive dosing of a localized nature.”

    What do you mean by “background” vs ” repetitive localized”. What distinction are you trying to make?

    It’s simple: Hominids have evolved over millions of years to tolerate the normal levels of radiation which bombard the earth from space (and which get through the atmosphere, though we’ve tried to screw with that as well).

    But that does not mean we’re equipped to sustain chronic supplementary exposures from e.g. proximity to coal or nuclear plants.

  18. The Wreck of the Old 97

    Dear Wayne,

    You report,
    “Vaclav Havel never did choose to stand up and pull the ’stop’ cord on the train!”

    But, Wayne, the colossal train is adding cars and accelerating its speed as it proceeds down the track. There is no engineer on the train. Everyone has gone below to stoke the furnace so that the train goes faster and faster. Where it will stop, or how, nobody knows. Conventional wisdom indicates the track is clear ahead and without an endpoint. Widely shared and consensually validated thinking assures everyone on board this train that we can add more and more cars to the train and continuously stoke its furnace with fossil fuels so that the train can keep going at an increasing speed as long as we have fuel to keep the train going. There are no limits to the speed the train can achieve, no limits to the number of cars the engine can pull, and no end to the railroad track. Everything is going as planned and will continue without interruption indefinitely.

    Wayne, if this train is a metaphor for the ever manmade global political economy, could you help us understand how magical thinking, arrogance, pyramid-type schemes and greed are governing the seemingly endless growth of the global economy and how the unbridled increase of the leviathan-like global economy cannot be sustained much longer by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably frangible planet with the size and make-up of Earth?

    And what of the ’stop’ cord on the train, Wayne? I can see it, but cannot yet see how pulling it will do any good because there is no engineer in control. Do you think Vaclav Havel could see that the engine room must have been empty for a long time?
    Sincerely,

    Steve

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population, established 2001

  19. Eli Rabett says:

    There are significant variations in background dose worldwide depending on location. Radiation comes from the ground up as well as the sky. In short, speculation about how well one deals with background radiation are hard to dig out because there is no large control group living in a radiation free zone. Clearly high doses are not good for your health, but small ones, you can shop the journals for whatever outcome you want.

  20. Larry Coleman says:

    # Kirk Sorensen Says:
    August 1st, 2008 at 9:50 pm

    “It’s always a hoot when Joe Romm gets mad at other people for ad hominem attacks…man, you’re blind, Joe.”

    Many people – usually not scientists – confuse attacking someone’s ideas with attacking the person. I do not see Joe calling people names like Chas. Barton did. There is a world of difference between the two situations. Scientists disagree violently over issues all of the time without personal attacks.

  21. John Hollenberg says:

    > So do you have a plan B? Plan A is not working. All we get is more coal.

    Plan B is written all over this blog:

    –Energy efficiency
    –Wind power
    –Solar thermal
    –Photovoltaics
    –Nuclear (if absolutely necessary)
    –PHEV, then BEV

    If you want to see one example of a plan B, read about California’s plan to cut GHG emissions:

    http://climateprogress.org/2008/07/30/energy-efficiency-part-4-how-does-california-do-it-so-consistently-and-cost-effectively/

    Please spend some time reading Joe’s articles. The fact that coal use is continuing doesn’t mean there aren’t any alternatives.

  22. Johan Simu says:

    Joe you wrote

    “Radiation is not radiation no matter where it comes from. I’m rather surprised to see you say that. There are different types of radiation, and there are different exposure rates. There is, of course, internal and external exposure. It is entirely possible that humans have evolved to deal with the background constant rate of radiation, but would have difficulty dealing with repetitive dosing of a localized nature.”

    The geographic variation in the background radiation is orders of magnitude larger than the extra exposure from industrial activity. Are you realy claming that there is a difference health wise betwen,

    A. Moving to a area where you will recieve 1-2 extra mSv each year from background radiation.

    B. Start to work in let say a hot lab where you recieve 1-2 extra mSv.

    How would the cells in my body be able to notice that in one case the alpha, beta or gamma rays are coming from “man made” sources and in the other its from “natural” source.

  23. Joe says:

    Johan — No, I’m not claiming that. Location means location of the radiation source relative to the human body. For instance, You really want to avoid drinking any radioactive water if possible or being near a very concentrated source — as opposed to the generic background radiation. Next question.

  24. charlesH says:

    Joohn Hollenburg says:

    “Plan B is written all over this blog:

    –Energy efficiency
    –Wind power
    –Solar thermal
    –Photovoltaics
    –Nuclear (if absolutely necessary)
    –PHEV, then BEV”

    Actually what you have above I would have called plan A (without nuclear). But if you want to call it plan B thats fine.

    What we see is that coal usage is still increasing when the world is presented with plan B (without nuclear). So is plan C full support for nuclear? When are you going to conclude that nuclear is “absolutely necessary” and help us replace coal with nuclear?

    I know many are still concerned about the safety, proliferation risk and waste from current nuclear technology. If this includes you I invite you to investigate LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor) technology. LFTR is the “green” nuclear. It is so much better it is almost too good to be true.

    This technology was demonstrate in the 50′s and 60′s but was abandoned because it was much harder to produce weapons grade material (compared to uranium). The military considerations favored the uranium fuel cycle.

    More specifically LFTR compared to uranium reactors burn fuel 100x more efficiently without reprocessing, result in ~100x less waste, the waste storage time is 10-300yrs (vs 10000yrs) and are inherently safer and should cost less to build.

    In addition, since LFTR is a high temp low pressure process it can use water or air cooling. Thus even where water is scarce, could replace it’s coal fired plants with low cost, clean thorium power plants.

    Uranium LWR : Thorium LFTR

    Fuel Reserves (relative) __________________ 1 : 100 (1000s yrs)
    Fuel Mining Waste Volume (relative) ____ 1000 : 1
    Fuel Burning Efficiency _______________ ~1% : >95%
    Radioactive Waste Volume (relative) ______ 40 : 1
    Radioactive Waste Isolation Period __10000yrs : 80% 10yrs, 20% 300yrs

    Plant Cost (relative) _____________________ 1 :

  25. charlesH says:

    cont

    Uranium LWR : Thorium LFTR

    Fuel Reserves (relative) __________________ 1 : 100 (1000s yrs)
    Fuel Mining Waste Volume (relative) ____ 1000 : 1
    Fuel Burning Efficiency _______________ ~1% : >95%
    Radioactive Waste Volume (relative) ______ 40 : 1
    Radioactive Waste Isolation Period __10000yrs : 80% 10yrs, 20% 300yrs

    Plant Cost (relative) _____________________ 1 :

  26. Brad F says:

    Next question? Joe, I don’t think you’ve dealt with the question adequately at all. You’ve suggested that man-made radiation is somehow different, and worse, than natural background radiation. Then you refer to methods of exposure to illustrate your point. Methods of exposure – your example of drinking radioactive water – are independent of the source of the radiation.

  27. Larry, you’re saying Joe Romm doesn’t call names and engage in ad hominem attacks?

    Dude, do you even read this blog?

  28. Larry Coleman says:

    Kirk, I do read it…but you have given no evidence…I don’t think you know ad hominem when you see it. Dude.

  29. The descriptions of Roger Pielke speak for themselves. Dude.

    [JR: So they do!]

  30. Eli Rabett says:

    Last year in Marienbad for example

  31. Re: ad hominem and the conduct of debate on Climate Progress

    Joe does tend to use labeling of people, which is ad hominem. On the other hand, those labels USUALLY are apropos of the central point of the debate and only occasionally veer into areas of that person’s life that are not relevant to the debate. For instance using the word “deniers” is formally ad hominem, even though it is directly related to the argument that is taking place on this blog.

    Barton’s use of the word “neurotic” veers more deeply in the ad hominem territory, in that neurotic is supposed to apply to the whole person, not just their attitudes about global warming and energy use.

    Just as I don’t think that there is a hard and fast distinction between what Joe would like to call “rhetoric” and “fact”; similarly here you can’t distinguish between a potentially clarifying classification of a tendency to engage in particular types of argumentation “denier” and ulterior personal motivations and weaknesses “neurotic”.

    I don’t consider myself to be immune to the attractions of using ad hominem argument as I believe that our ideas come in part from who we are as people. For instance I believe one of the motivations for denial of climate change is a paranoid tendency in some people and a paranoid style in rhetoric that sees a conspiracy or ulterior motives in people who are concerned about climate change. On the other hand, to conduct arguments as purely the clashing of an infinite variety of different personalities or clashing of two personality types will lead to no productive debate whatsoever.

  32. Warren,
    How are Charles Barton’s arguments, based as they are on an ideal, not-yet-realized future technology that is quite unlike our current nuclear power system, more rational than Joe’s which are based on presently existing or simple revisions of current technology? Charles Barton is promoting a complex experimental technology as if it were a present commercialized technology as if it were already safe as milk…that is not rational. I’m not as anti-nuke as Joe is; I think we need to develop better nuclear power plants…but I place priority on renewables over nukes. This may be too complex a position for some but it is in actual fact the position of among others, Sen. Obama.

  33. John Hollenberg says:

    > What we see is that coal usage is still increasing when the world is presented with plan B (without nuclear).

    That’s because the plan has to be followed in order for it to work. This is happening in California (where I live) with new projects for PV and CSP, and a continuing focus on increasing efficiency. Once the actual costs to society are included in the purchase price (cap & trade or carbon tax), I believe the shifts will occur. As Joe says, this is primarily a political problem rather than a technological one.

    I think LFTR is fascinating, but it isn’t ready to be implemented NOW.

  34. Marshall E. Schwartz says:

    I would simply like to point out that the first claim that repeated low-dose radiation causes permanent damage was presented in late 1969 by the late Dr. John Gofman and Arthur Tamplin. I was the first to report on their charges in the lay press, in the San Francisco Chronicle that year. I refer those with greater interest in the subject to two books by Dr. Gofman (and his long-time assistant, Egan O’Connor), “Radiation and Human Health” and “Xrays: Health Effects of Common Exams”.

    – Marshall Schwartz

  35. Finrod says:

    If nuclear reactors cause significant increases in cancer rates or other ills caused by large doses of ionising radiation, then they already would have. Having to dig through oceans of stats to try to find some weak evidence of an effect, and furthermore not actually succeeding, is a great testament to the safety of nuclear power.

  36. Rod Adams says:

    There is a large body evidence showing that the dose response curves for human exposures to radiation are NOT linear and do hit a point at which there is no indication of risk. The threshold dose is several orders of magnitude higher than any exposure from nuclear power plants to the general public and to exposed workers.

    One of the organizations that has been collecting the applicable science is Radiation, Science and Health. If you want to read a summary of what they have found in their 15 plus years of effort, you can read testimony provided by Jim Muckerheide and Ted Rockwell to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in April 2008.

    Here is a sample from that summary, which also refers to the background documents and provides detailed references:

    “A strange and important factor in keeping this situation from resolution lies in the wording of the key policy-setting documents: they all recommend using the LNT model, but generally state that no scientific evidence supports such a requirement. Thus, they try to have it both ways. One can create documents from excerpts of the BEIR reports, or NCRP or ICRP reports, that are quite reasonable: they say the radiation risk is minimal or zero; current procedures are adequate, all’s right with the nuclear world. But applicable policies require that designers and operators of real facilities pursue a phantom goal of decreasing radiation doses, using ever-increasing real resources, toward an unreachable zero. Thus, the framers of these reports accept no responsibility for this unworkable situation, while basking in the glory of favoring a radiation-free world. “

    Though often labeled by many as “conspiracy theory” it is logical to point out that some people involved in the energy debate have made a career out of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt about radiation. Since nuclear power plants have a demonstrated history of taking market share away from fossil fuel, they represent a strong threat to the profits of fossil fuel suppliers and their supporting infrastructure including banks and government agencies.

    Some people even build entire businesses whose income model based on scaring people about radiation so that they can be convinced to spend valuable resources chasing invisible and questionable hazards – like slightly elevated radon levels in their homes that could be eliminated by introducing sufficient air flow.

    In general, I have found that many people will go to great lengths to protect their jobs, reputations and investments. I have also found that industry groups recognize that they can prosper by kneecapping their competition.

    It is no secret at all that many non-profits of all types receive substantial funding from the establishment and that fossil fuel companies, their beneficiaries, and their long established foundations are a huge part of the established economic order.

    It is also an open secret that certain industries have long engaged in staged battles for public consumption while the activities behind the scenes are considerably less combative. Sometimes I get the feeling that the relationships between certain environmental groups and the fossil industry are analogous to the relationships among professional wrestlers or football players.

    Opponents in public view, great friends in private clubs.

    Disclosure: I am the founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc, the publisher of Atomic Insights, and the producer of The Atomic Show Podcast. I have a number of investments in companies that will prosper in the coming Atomic Age and I fully intend to work hard to be a part of that prosperity.
    I earn my current income as a active officer in the US Navy and I am eligible for a pension from that career.

    [JR: I think the National Academy studies are more credible, and they disagreed with your conclusions. I appreciate the tone of your comment.]

  37. “I think the National Academy studies are more credible, and they disagreed with your conclusions.”

    And those studies show what at low doses?

    [JR: NAS studies show linear, no-threshold effect of radiation, as I just posted.]

  38. charlesH says:

    john h says

    “That’s because the plan has to be followed in order for it to work. This is happening in California (where I live) with new projects for PV and CSP, and a continuing focus on increasing efficiency. Once the actual costs to society are included in the purchase price (cap & trade or carbon tax), I believe the shifts will occur. As Joe says, this is primarily a political problem rather than a technological one.”

    Well California may do it but the rest of the world is not going to. That is the point of the Forbes article. Even Europe (e.g. Germany) is planning coal plants after years of wind/solar investments.

    Of course the problem is political. How to get the citizens to accept much higher energy prices.

  39. John Hollenberg says:

    > Of course the problem is political. How to get the citizens to accept much higher energy prices.

    Since nuclear is at the top of the heap price-wise, it certainly isn’t the economic answer to the problem.

  40. Finrod says:

    >Since nuclear is at the top of the heap price-wise, it certainly isn’t the economic answer to the problem.

  41. charlesH says:

    john,

    “Since nuclear is at the top of the heap price-wise, it certainly isn’t the economic answer to the problem.”

    I don’t think everyone agrees that nuclear is as expensive as you think. At any rate, I should think you would hope nuclear is cheaper. Because if its not we have no chance to displace coal.

    If this were true for 24/7 power then no one would be building nuclear plants. Wind and solar is (has been for many years) heavily subsidized in Europe yet they still are planning to build coal/nuclear.

    That’s the trade off in Europe (most of the world). Coal or nuclear for 24/7 power.

    [JR: perhaps you base your energy policy on hope, but I try to base it on fact. The cheapest zero-carbon baseload power -- and by baseload I mean either load following 18 hours a day or able to provide generation or savings around-the-clock -- is efficiency. Right now, solar baseload and nuclear are about tied, but that's only because solar baseload has only recently made its resurgence.]

  42. Rod Adams says:

    JR:

    The National Academy of Sciences study is a bit more complex that the very brief summary that you quoted. It is a densely written scientific document of 424 pages that include language like the following:

    The committee finds the linear no-threshold (LNT) model to be a computationally convenient starting point (emphasis added). Actual risk estimates improve upon this simplified model by using a dose and dose-rate effectiveness factor (DDREF), which is a multiplicative adjustment that results in downward estimation of risk and is roughly equivalent to using the line labeled “Linear No-Threshold” (low dose rate).

    http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11340&page=7

    In other words, in an age where we have exceedingly inexpensive computational cycles, the BEIR VII committee has partially justified their acceptance of the LNT model because it is “computationally simple”. In other words, it is easier to draw straight lines.

    Here is another item from the report that needs to be understood:

    The use of data on persons exposed at low doses and low dose rates merits special mention. Of these studies, the most promising for quantitative risk assessment are the studies of nuclear workers who have been monitored for radiation exposure through the use of personal dosimeters. These studies, which are reviewed in Chapter 8, were not used as the primary source of data for risk modeling principally because of the imprecision of the risk estimates obtained. For example, in a large combined study of nuclear workers in three countries, the estimated relative risk per gray (ERR/Gy) for all cancers other than leukemia was negative, and the confidence interval included negative values and values larger than estimates based on A-bomb survivors (Cardis and others 1995).
    Source: http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11340&page=268

    In other words, carefully monitored exposure records from a large body of nuclear workers revealed relative risk numbers so low as to have a variation larger than the estimates produced from A-bomb survivor studies. Those people with technical educations would recognize that this means that any effect is not measurable since it is in the “noise”. Since the data from those studies demonstrates that risk numbers from the noise are “imprecise” the appointed committee simply decided to ignore the data. Perhaps is is too confusing to accept uncertainty.

    The committee is much more comfortable with the straight lines that can be drawn using atomic bomb survivor dose reconstructions. Those “doses” are at best guesses computed by interviews, location assumptions, etc. Near as I can tell, not a single Hiroshima or Nagasaki survivor was issued a personal dose measuring device before the bombs were dropped.

    There are a couple of GS 15′s in the radiation protection field working for the EPA who have repeated stated that the LNT will remain the assumption no matter what any other studies show until such time as the last of the atomic bomb survivors have passed away so that those studies can be completed.

    Conveniently, that ensures that the studies will continue to be funded until after these gentlemen retire with nice pensions and long bureaucratic careers of being able to dole out the research dollars to those who agree with their assumptions.

    One more thought – the National Academy of Sciences did not actually conduct any studies to produce its report. What they did was more of a literature review that tried to draw conclusions from a large number of other studies.

    [JR: The N.A.S. tends to be quite conservative on most subjects. So you'll understand if I take their conclusions over your various quibbles.]

  43. Assuming LNT is correct is not the “conservative” approach. Rather, it is an approach that has a huge opportunity cost as coal fired power plants are allowed to spew filth (including radiation) into the atmosphere while nuclear plants labor under onerous regulations that do not improve public safety.

    I’m in the middle of a statistics class right now, and one of our professor’s favorite subjects is “how statistics can lie to you, and how to figure it out”. LNT is a textbook case of no signal and a lot of noise.

    Read the book “Calculated Risks” by Gerd Gigerenzer to learn more about how statistics are misused and confuse the public into doing irrational things.

    [JR: By conservative I meant, their analysis does not go farther than the most basic data types them. You are certainly entitled to disagree with a multi-decade analysis by are most prestigious group of scientists, but you will forgive me if I take their analysis over your complaints.]

  44. Finrod says:

    What happened to my last post? The rest of it, after the qoute I inserted, said something like:

    At 1.78 cents per kW.h cost to generate power from a fully amortized second generation plant, it’s difficult to see what could be cheaper than nuclear power.

    [JR: "fully amortized second generation plant" -- yeah, if I didn't have to pay my mortgage, my house would be incredibly cheap to live in.]

  45. Cyril R. says:

    “People living near a nuclear reactor get the benefit of greatly reduced real estate taxes”

    This is true if the nuclear powerplant is already there and you want to move into the area. But for people living in an area with no nuclear plant, those will suffer from what is essentially capital destruction when a nuclear plant does get constructed in their area. If nuclear power projects have to compensate for this, they will be absurdly expensive.

    The solution is to build nuclear powerplants adjecent to existing ones. This also mitigates NIMBY. It costs a bit to construct transmission lines, but it’s not that big a cost really.

  46. charlesH says:

    [JR: perhaps you base your energy policy on hope, but I try to base it on fact. The cheapest zero-carbon baseload power — and by baseload I mean either load following 18 hours a day or able to provide generation or savings around-the-clock — is efficiency. Right now, solar baseload and nuclear are about tied, but that’s only because solar baseload has only recently made its resurgence.]

    I’m still waiting for anyone to provide me with data from any CSP plant (“base load” or not). There are dozens of nuclear plants being built WW. How many CSP plants? A few. But no one can provide cost and output data? They also appear to be only built where there are big subsidies and where the alternative is gas turbines for peak load.

    Your cost analysis does not appear to be consistent with what is being done in the real world so please forgive my skepticism.

    Again, point me to a source of data on the 3-4 most cost effective CSP plants in operation or under construction.

    [JR: And I'm waiting for anybody to provide me with the actual costs of one of the new nuclear plants being built in this country, rather than say, tripled estimates from a year ago that utilities won't even stand behind. Baseload solar is making a major resurgence after 15 years, much as nuclear is making a resurgence. New nuclear is getting massive subsidies that easily surpass anything solar and wind are getting. The solar baseload plants that have been built in the last year or two don't have enough data yet. But the cost projections are based on contracts being let now and material projections. They are at least as good as anything coming out of the nuclear industry today.]

  47. Finrod says:

    JR: “fully amortized second generation plant” — yeah, if I didn’t have to pay my mortgage, my house would be incredibly cheap to live in.

    So it then becomes a matter of what portion of the useful life of a nuclear plant must be spent repaying the capital cost. The figures on that are actually looking pretty good, and the price of electricity during the amortisation period, while occasionaly expensive, isn’t anywhere near as expensive as the cost of ‘renewable’ power (apart from hydro). If people can be induced to pay exhorbitant sums for the rest of history for ‘renewable’ power on the basis that it’s good for the planet, it will be easy to convince them that paying less than that for nuclear power for a couple of decades, after which the price of power will drop even further, is a far better idea.

    This is assumimg that it’s even feasable to generate baseload power from wind and solar to begin with, of course.

  48. charlesH says:

    joe,

    “New nuclear is getting massive subsidies that easily surpass anything solar and wind are getting.”

    Please itemize, compare and contrast subsidies for nuclear vs wind/solar.

    [JR: Already blogged on many times. Please read this blog before making such demands.]

    I guess cost data for CSP is hidden (I wonder why?). I see no CSP being built anywhere except where there is a subsidy or mandate (e.g. CA). However, many nuclear and coal plants are being built WW.

    [JR: I guess cost data for nuclear is hidden (I wonder why?). I see no nuclear being built in this country except where there is a huge subsidy. Solar baseload is being built in more than a dozen countries now, as I have blogged.]

    Europe where solar/wind have been mandated/subsidized for decades is planning to build nuclear/coal. (Spain is building some highly subsidized solar.)

    Bottom line. Coal usage is increasing while we wait around for CSP to become competitive.

    [Bottom line. Coal usage is increasing while we wait around for nuclear to become competitive after 6 decades! Time for a massive shift to efficency, wind, solar baseload, PV, and so on.]

  49. Karen Street says:

    I am posting my answer to the gristmill discussion because JR actually responds on this thread. I will add that, according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Working Group 3, or International Energy Association, nuclear power is expected to contribute more energy between now and 2050 than solar does, yet JR says that solar is currently as cheap as nuclear (and presumably on it’s way to being even cheaper soon). JR, could you provide a source as respectable as IEA or IPCC for your statement on costs? Oh, and I want to add that none of these analyses of the level to be accepted by IPCC get us close to a temperature increase of 2°C, they are all well above. So I find myself confused by people who try to reduce the number of solutions, rather than seeking ways to increase them.

    [JR: If only people who posted comments on my blog actually ever read it. Neither of the sources you cite have a detailed cost analysis of nuclear. I, however, have repeatedly cited several such analyses. Start here and then go here. I spend all of my time trying to increase the number of solutions. My top priority is avoiding catastrophic global warming at the lowest possible net cost. Anybody who bothers to actually read my proposed solution would know that I do expect nuclear to play a part, although it is exceedingly unlikely to play larger than a 10% role.]

    Now some of what I said on gristmill:

    If you’re worried about the amount of radioactivity from a coal power plant, or the amount of radioactivity the most exposed person will ever get from nuclear waste during the time it takes to decay, etc, why aren’t you focusing on living in Denver? Living in areas with naturally high background radiation? Smoking? And, er, some of the larger problems like particulate and ozone pollution from coal, deaths and disease from coal mining, and even more important, climate change?

    The Executive Summary of the report you cite says,

    At doses less than 40 times the average yearly background exposure (100 mSv), statistical limitations make it difficult to evaluate cancer risk in humans.

    So Charles Barton is right on that, you both are right.

    However, the contribution of consumer products, like cigarettes, is significant compared to the nuclear fuel cycle. From Lawrence Berkeley Labs, the nuclear fuel cycle exposes us to 0.05 millirem (mrem), and as noted above this is less than the exposure due to coal.

    From another site, people living near a nuclear power plant have an exposure of 0.009 mrem per year. For each 1,000 miles we fly, the exposure is 1 mrem. A crew member is exposed to about 200 mrem/year. People in the space shuttle receive between 433 and 7,864 mrem, depending on how long they are there. Living in Denver adds 26 mrem/year, compared to living at sea level. Sleeping next to someone for 8 hours adds 2 mrem/year. Oh, and it turns out that inside the granite US Capitol building, radioactivity levels are more than are legally allowed in nuclear power plants.

    Also from LBL, living near a coal power plant, 1 – 4 mrem/year. A 1 cigarette/day habit is 280 mrem/year. Cooking with natural gas, 6 – 9 mrem/year. Porcelain in false teeth, 60,000 mrem/?

    A banana/day is 4 – 5 mrem/year.

    World Health Organization (pdf) in The Global Burden of Disease due to climate change: quantifying the benefits of stabilization for human health estimates that 150,000 died from climate change between the mid-1970s and 2000. It estimates (pdf) the number of deaths in 2000 from climate change as 27.8/million people, or 170,000 in 2000.

    The trend seems to be up.

    Back to the NAS study. 42 people out of 100 are expected to get cancer from a variety of causes. A single exposure to 0.1 Sv (10,000 mrem) above background will cause one more cancer/hundred people. The linear no-threshold model says that a cumulative exposure of 0.1 Sv (above background) will as well. On the other hand, 25,000 or so Americans die yearly from coal pollution (not the radioactivity) and remember the climate change problem? So explain to me again why you are focusing on radioactivity.
    **********
    Comment from the gristmill discussion: yes, but living in Denver is voluntary, and living near a nuclear power plant is not. My response here: it seems to me that we need to educate people–if living near a nuclear power plant is dangerous, perhaps people want to know how much more dangerous it is to eat bananas or sleep with a partner (at least if you are worried more about radioactivity), so we can make informed choices. And maybe we ought to focus on the really large numbers, the ozone, particulates, and climate change.

  50. DLH says:

    re: Backgound vs internal dosing – what about eating bananas, brazil nuts, drinking orange juice… all have low levels of radiation, and nothing to do with fallout, coal plants, or nuclear reactors. Is a diet rich in fruit and nuts risky and to be avoided?

    [JR: People should get as informed as possible on the benefits and risks of all of their major activities. That said, you have provided no such useful information.]

  51. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    The recent nine days’ fuss over granite in houses made me wonder whether our fondness for living close to relatively high-radiation rocks isn’t instinctive.

    If they have any significant tonic or toxic effect, our genes have had millions of generations to learn to steer us towards them or away from them. There is no way the effects could be news to them, even though they might be so to us.

  52. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    … on the other hand, marble is a relatively low-radiation rock, and we like marble construction enough to have made “marmoreal” synonymous with “imposing”.

  53. Karen Street says:

    I appreciate you linking to your own analysis on why nuclear power is too expensive, but I was hoping that you could find a report on the level of IPCC or IEA that expects solar power to be as important as nuclear power between now and 2050.

    I was probably unclear in my question, let me try again. IPCC and IEA expect nuclear power to be a major contributor between now and 2050, more so than solar power. You believe that solar is already as cheap as nuclear power, and presumably will be cheaper than nuclear in a few years. That IPCC and IEA don’t conclude that solar will be more important than nuclear indicates to me that either they disagree with you on pricing assumptions, or that solar has other problems, such as intermittency, or both. So if you could find for me any major report, again, at IEA or IPCC levels, that concludes that solar will be as important as nuclear power, that will help inform my future writing on the subject.

    A different question: do you really feel that people who eat bananas, or work in the US Capitol, should be informed as fully as possible about the radioactivity they will be exposed to? I’m curious, because I haven’t seen such information in any of your writings. In this case, I would be interested in seeing links to your work.

    Thank you for the discussion.

  54. Johan Simu says:

    Joe you wrote
    “Johan — No, I’m not claiming that. Location means location of the radiation source relative to the human body. For instance, You really want to avoid drinking any radioactive water if possible or being near a very concentrated source — as opposed to the generic background radiation. Next question.”

    Well many of us are in fact drinking radioactive water since radon levels in water can be quite high. The dosage from radon is certainly far larger than any dosage due to nuclear power. The bottom line here is that the extra exposure from nuclear power, regardless of exposure route, is orders of magnitude smaller than even the variation in background radiation.

    In sweden for instance the legal limit on dosage to the most exposed part of the population(excluding people working with radioisotopes) due to nuclear power is 0.1 mSv/year(and of course route of exposure is weighted into the Sv unit). In reality the dosage to the most exposed group is less than one tenth of the legal limit. No matter how you twist and turn that you cant claim 0.01mSv is a risk factor.

    Over a lifetime that would increase the risk of cancer with a whopping 0.0035% according to the linear no treshold model. It doesnt really matter if the LNT is right or not, either way the risk is trivially small. Assigning risk to dosage of the same order of magnitude as natural background is sketchy business. There is no reason to assume its harmfull and there is no statistical way to prove it.

  55. Finrod says:

    Bottom line. Coal usage is increasing while we wait around for nuclear to become competitive after 6 decades! Time for a massive shift to efficency, wind, solar baseload, PV, and so on.

    Nuclear power was on a trajectory to completely replace all other forms of major baseload electrical generation in the US by 2000, until the panic-mongers derailed it. Claiming that nuclear power is too expensive while simultaneously doing everythimg in your power to drive up the price is highly suspicious. It is absolutely clear that in the long term, nuclear power is far and away the cheapest power we have. No amount of sophistry and propaganda will alter that. All that the debate on nuclear power in the US is going to do is delay its introduction in the US. And that’s all it can do. Delay it. It cannot stop it completely. And the more successful you are in delaying it, the more coal is burned. But then, I guess that’s what Amory is paid for, isn’t it.

  56. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    Well, natural gas is much more lucrative to government than coal is, and here you can see the recent rates of addition of coal and gas power.

  57. Cyril R. says:

    Karen Street: you appear to be under the impression that credible organisations make for credible predictions. This isn’t true; many major past predictions on energy mixes turned out to be inaccurate, why believe the new ones? In a world so dynamic as ours, why make predictions so far into the future? Extrapolation, an unscientific tool to begin with, is impossible for longer timeframes as technological breakthroughs must be taken into account. Problem is, they cannot be predicted!

    But such organisations as the IPCC, credible as they are, do not recognize this, and in stead will continuously adapt their projections to new developments. As a result, the initial projection ends up more than half bogus.

    I suspect this is because there is significant political pressure from outside groups to demand results. And also because the climate does actually allow fairly preditive modelling. Not so with energy technology and energy market developments…

    Really, predictions should not be weighed too heavily. It makes more sense to analyse the solutions we’ve got today and just do as much as we can to implement them.

  58. Brad F says:

    Joe said: “Radiation is not radiation no matter where it comes from. I’m rather surprised to see you say that. There are different types of radiation, and there are different exposure rates. There is, of course, internal and external exposure. It is entirely possible that humans have evolved to deal with the background constant rate of radiation, but would have difficulty dealing with repetitive dosing of a localized nature.”

    Further, Russ tried to answer CharlesH’s question with

    CharlesH said: “What do you mean by “background” vs ” repetitive localized”. What distinction are you trying to make?

    Russ said: “It’s simple: Hominids have evolved over millions of years to tolerate the normal levels of radiation which bombard the earth from space (and which get through the atmosphere, though we’ve tried to screw with that as well).

    But that does not mean we’re equipped to sustain chronic supplementary exposures from e.g. proximity to coal or nuclear plants.”

    When Johan asked: “How would the cells in my body be able to notice that in one case the alpha, beta or gamma rays are coming from “man made” sources and in the other its from “natural” source.”

    Joe responded: “Johan — No, I’m not claiming that. Location means location of the radiation source relative to the human body. For instance, You really want to avoid drinking any radioactive water if possible or being near a very concentrated source — as opposed to the generic background radiation. Next question.”

    So, Joe, I hope you are still following this thread because I’m going to repeat my question from above and I think it deserves to be answered.

    You have asserted that manmade radiation is somehow different, and worse, than natural background radiation. If this is not what you meant, then please clarify. When challenged on this, you have referred to methods of exposure rather than types of radiation.

    To reiterate, in what ways are manmade alpha, beta and gamma radiation different than natural alpha, beta and gamma radiation?

    [JR: As my lawyer friends would say, asked and answered. There are different types of radiation, and there are different exposure rates. There is, of course, internal and external exposure. It is entirely possible that humans have evolved to deal with the background constant rate of radiation, but would have difficulty dealing with repetitive dosing of a localized nature.]

  59. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    And how is “constant” different from “repetitive”? A constant dose rate implies repeated hits from particles and photons.

    Since this is a subject Romm has studied a great deal, presumably he would expect the internal dose humans have always had to vary little as they move about, but the dose from the terrain they move over to vary; it might be half an mSv per year here, 3 mSv per year there. Not constant.

  60. Brad F says:

    Joe – Once again, you did NOT answer the question that was asked, and no lawyer could claim that you did. I expected better of you.

    The answer to the question is that there is essentially NO DIFFERENCE between manmade and natural ionizing radiation. What you keep repeating is that there can be a difference in the dose or exposure. Surely you see the logical distinction?

    You keep referring to “repetitive dosing of a localized nature” without being any more specific. Are you thinking of alpha particle emissions in the soft tissue of the lungs perhaps? Something else? How would this be considered to be solely from manmade isotopes rather than natural isotopes?

  61. Cyril R. says:

    “The answer to the question is that there is essentially NO DIFFERENCE between manmade and natural ionizing radiation. ”

    That is just not true. You cannot talk about radiation in general, there’s eg alpha, beta, gamma radiation, decay energy… It’s a very complex issue.

  62. G.R.L. Cowan says:

    It is true, because both manmade and natural ionizing radiation includes all of the above: all of alpha, beta, and gamma.

    The claim that they are different is like claiming falling rocks are different if someone pushed them versus if they came free through erosion.

    Expect better of Romm? I for one did not.

  63. Brad F says:

    Cyril – I agree that the issue is complex. To extend Cowan’s analogy a bit, some rocks are big (alphas) and some are small (betas). I don’t know if there is a gamma in the analogy, though. And each of the rocks fall from different heights (decay energy). My point is that none of this has anything to do with whether the isotope was manmade or natural, unless someone can demonstrate that manmade radiation is somehow different. I’ve asked for an explanation, and not gotten a satisfactory answer.

    What Joe keeps coming back with is that the dose and exposure are what is important. I agree with him wholeheartedly on that point. Your probability of getting hurt by falling rocks depends on how close you are to where they are falling and how many are falling and from what height. But the dose and exposure are independent of the whether the isotope was natural or manmade. It doesn’t matter if the rocks were pushed or fell on their own. In this respect, radiation IS radiation is radiation, and David Bradish was correct on this point.

    Claiming that manmade radiation is bad, but natural radiation is not-all- that-bad, as Joe has done, is disingenuous from someone who claims to have studied the topic a great deal, but cannot explain why they are different. I’m willing to be corrected, if there is a lesson to be learned here. But for now I think the lesson is for Joe to be more careful in what he say

  64. Rod Adams says:

    Joe:

    I am going back and reading your blog entries on nuclear subsidies as you recommended.

    There are several questions so far that do not seem to be addressed.

    1. You point to the 2003 MIT study and make the point that projected nuclear capital costs have increased substantially. However, you do not seem to notice that the cost of both natural gas and coal per unit heat are close to 3 times the “high cost case” from that study.

    2. Your paper about the self-limiting nature of nuclear power talks a good deal about water uses, but you have also indicated on a number of occasions that you are a fan of concentrating solar power systems. Can you explain to me the difference in water use between a nuclear steam plant and a solar thermal steam plant? Since solar thermal plants will preferentially be located in areas with little rainfall and little natural water supply, while nuclear plants can be built close to water, isn’t this an issue worth discussing?

    3. Finally, where did you get your definition of “baseload”? I used to run a factory that met its demand surges by moving to 3 shift production. With high energy use all hours – machines that melt and inject plastic at high pressure do not do well with interrupted power. I am pretty sure that steel mills, aluminum smelters, chemical processing plants, and other 24 x 7 enterprises would not agree that “baseload” is served if there is a power system that can run for 18 hours.

    Nuclear plants have demonstrated that they can provide reliable power nearly 8000 hours per year and the few hours that they spend shut down are almost all planned.

    Oh yeah, one more question – if the previous generation of nuclear plants cost so much and had such huge overruns, how in the world did they achieve a condition where they are nearly all paid off with a good 20-40 years of life remaining?

  65. Cyril R. says:

    “It is true, because both manmade and natural ionizing radiation includes all of the above: all of alpha, beta, and gamma.”

    That’s not all of it. Different ratio’s of the above, different decay energies; some elements do not exist in nature because they are not part of the natural decay chain.

  66. Cyril R. says:

    For example, we can clearly see that the radiation effects in and around Chernobyl are very different than even concentrated natural sources. Plutonium isotopes do not exist in nature and it’s decay ideosyncrasies are different from uranium isotopes. It is not correct to say that the effects are similar.

  67. Cyril R. says:

    “Oh yeah, one more question – if the previous generation of nuclear plants cost so much and had such huge overruns, how in the world did they achieve a condition where they are nearly all paid off with a good 20-40 years of life remaining?”

    Increase consumer bills. Duh.

  68. victim of radiation says:

    well…hmm well radiation is still a radiation no matter what happen radiation is exist in our country not just in our country but the whole world are exposed in radiation…bye!! conserved radiation

  69. msn nickleri says:

    “Oh yeah, one more question – if the previous generation of nuclear plants cost so much and had such huge overruns, how in the world did they achieve a condition where they are nearly all paid off with a good 20-40 years of life remaining?”

  70. erotik says:

    For example, we can clearly see that the radiation effects in and around Chernobyl are very different than even concentrated natural sources. Plutonium isotopes do not exist in nature and it’s decay ideosyncrasies are different from uranium isotopes. It is not correct to say that the effects are similar.

  71. sikiş says:

    Donald, you summed up my thinking on this matter exactly. Nuclear power is better than coal power in multiple ways, but there are other alternatives that are cheaper/safer/faster to build.