Well the event was everything it was billed to be (and more) - but the pronuclear people in the audience, at least, did not get in any debate. What event is that? Dr. Judith Johnsrud spoke last night at an event in Charlottesville, Virginia, organized by PACE and the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice.
I don't have time to go over all the topics of Dr. Johnsrud's talk of the evening; I hope to blog some details of it in future posts. Much of the information presented (and there was certainly a lot of it; she spoke for at least an hour and half) was not surprising, considering her background, her audience, and her hosts. (The audience consisted of about two dozen people.)
However (just a few of!) the things that were a surprise may be of interest to readers here.
Dr. Johnsrud is a delightful lady to listen to! She is measured, compassionate, occasionally funny, and personable. She speaks eloquently, with education and with knowledge. Best of all, hers is not the rhetoric of the impassioned emotional roller-coaster to which several speakers resort when they fall short on information. I enjoyed hearing her viewpoint, although I disagreed with many of her assertions.
It was a surprise to me to hear the latter half of Dr. Johnsrud's speech. It must have sounded disheartening to her target audience, the antinuclear crowd. Her remarks are revealing, however - remember that her bio states she intervened in the licensing and restart of Three Mile Island: "It used to be the public could write up and submit contentions and argue, with or without lawyers, and the burden of proof was on the utility... [Now] opportunities for citizens to protect themselves if they do not want a facility are limited."
True colors indeed! It used to be all you had to do was be willing to spend your time raising an argument, and you could be free to fritter away utility, investor, and ratepayer dollars in the legal wrangling, while simultaneously blaming the utility for being powerless to stop the money waste. Dr. Johnsrud admits that the regulations have changed to put the burden of proof up front, and on those who seek to argue with the societal and environmental benefits of a mature, successful industry.
Another exchange as near as I can reproduce it follows. It began in followup to Dr. Donal Day's contention that nuclear energy is "practically dead" for much of Western Europe, while the US insists on resurrecting the dinosaur, in spite of higher infant mortality rates and other negative health impacts. (By "practically dead" I have to assume he does not mean construction in Finland, a future unit in France, or debating future nuclear power in Scotland and the UK.) I thoroughly enjoyed hearing all of it:
Delbert Horn: "I understand the French electric industry gets about 80% of its power from nuclear sources, while the US only gets about 20% of our electricity from nuclear sources. Would you expect cancer rates in France to be about 4 times higher than the cancer rates in the United States?"Kudos to Delbert! He managed to get even the staunch antinuclear activists arguing both sides of an issue among themselves. Here is his understanding of the exchange: "What Dr Johnsrud was implying was that the French reactors are more government-run, (true) so there is less public participation in the licensing process (also true). What Dr. Day implied was that more regulation = lower releases. So one Dr. (Johnsrud) says less public involvement = fewer controls, and higher releases, the other Dr. (Day) says more control (with less public involvement) results in lower releases."
Dr. Johnsrud: "They have a different regulatory environment, so I don't know. But you do bring up a good point that I would like to investigate. [The French reactors are government run, so people didn't get the same opportunity to intervene that we had here in the US. Our impact was to increase the level of safety in the US nuclear industry.]"
Dr. Donal Day: "The per kilowatt-hour cost in France is higher than what we pay here in the United States, so some of that money goes to more regulation."
Abhaya Thiele: "Plus the French used a standard, cookie-cutter design, which we in the US have failed to do."
Dr. Johnsrud: "Yes, in the United States, even when based on several standard designs, each nuclear unit is unique, and that is a major failure on the part of our [regulation and industry business model]."
One could imagine a split in ideology while listening to them speculate in many directions.
Did I really hear two (yes, 2!) staunch antinuclear advocates both imply they're in favor of standardized nuclear reactor design and construction? For this and other reasons, it was a twilight zone experience...
Lest I forget, I should include my thanks to the woman I did not know, who asked Dr. Johnsrud for information on the nuclear fuel cycle (Dr. Johnsrud now calls it the 'nuclear fuel chain') to counter the claims of the "young nuclear engineers" in the area. It is always gratifying to know there is someone listening!
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