Skip to main content

BusinessWeek's False Impressions

Alongside this week's cover story, "The Next Big One," BusinessWeek ran a sidebar called "Sleepless Nights" that details the top 10 risks to America.

Take a look at the chart entry for a dirty bomb, which states that materials for a dirty bomb can be gathered from "power-plant wastes" and that such a threat would cause "immediate deaths in the hundreds [and] long-term cancer deaths in the thousands."

Then take a look at a fact sheet on NEI's Web site called "Used Fuel Secure at Nuclear Power Plants Could Not Be Used to Make a 'Dirty Bomb.'" In particular, this fact sheet notes:
The possibility of utilizing used nuclear fuel for a “dirty bomb” is fraught with practical and logistical obstacles that would render such a scenario essentially impossible. A “dirty bomb” is a bomb made of conventional explosives covered with radioactive material that would be used by terrorists to spread radiation. However, no nuclear reaction occurs. The most significant public health consequences would occur as a result of the explosion—not the radioactivity in the device.

The used fuel at nuclear power plants would be extremely difficult for an outsider to access. Moreover, it would also be extremely difficult to use.
You might also want to read the fact sheet titled "Steps for Public Safety Against a 'Dirty Bomb.'"

We also should point out the final chart entry, on the possibility of a radiation leak. BusinessWeek - relying on the Union of Concerned Scientists for data - states that "coolant loss at a nuclear power plant could send a radioactive cloud over nearby cities," causing "as many as 44,000 immediate deaths." In addition, the magazine claims, "upwards of 500,000 could eventually die from cancer."

Let's go back to the fact sheets. Nearly every one in the Safety and Security and the Radiation Control and Measurement sections will tell you the same thing:
In the unlikely event of a radiation release ... the likelihood of one fatality is less than one chance in 6,000 years—80 times lower than the NRC’s safety standard for nuclear plant operation.

The long-term cancer fatality risk is indistinguishable compared to cancer risks from other causes. The likelihood of one cancer-induced fatality is less than one chance in 3,000 years—1,000 times lower than the NRC safety standard.
The following fact sheets would have been particularly useful to BusinessWeek and the Union of Concerned Scientists as they constructed their chart:

- Nuclear Power Plant Security
- Public Health Risk Low in Unlikely Event of Terrorism at Nuclear Plant, EPRI Study Finds
- Emergency Preparedness Near Nuclear Power Plants
- Use of Potassium Iodide Secondary Measure in the Event of a Radioactive Release

UPDATE: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has already responded to BusinessWeek (thanks to AtomicMatt for pointing this out). Pointing specifically to the recent report on the effects of the Chernobyl accident, the NRC's letter to the editor scathingly reprimands the magazine for sloppy data collection:

Business Week's "Sleepless Nights" chart with the Sept. 19 "Next Big One" article shows unsupportable, misinformed "projections" of the possible effects of a nuclear power plant accident. The numbers quoted in the chart have no basis in reality and do not reflect the most recent information about the effects of the 1986 nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl, the worst the world has seen.

...The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's regulations and ongoing oversight of U.S. nuclear plants focus on preventing accidents and protecting the public if an accident were to occur. Your readers are best served by numbers based on fact and deliberate study, not wildly inaccurate projections meant to grab attention.
UPDATE: BusinessWeek published part of the NRC's letter in its Oct. 17 edition.

Technorati tags: , , , , , , ,


Matthew66 said…
The NRC has already responded to the editor of Business Week on the matters raised in the article, see the
For the Record section of the NRC's website.

Popular posts from this blog

How Nanomaterials Can Make Nuclear Reactors Safer and More Efficient

The following is a guest post from Matt Wald, senior communications advisor at NEI. Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattLWald.

From the batteries in our cell phones to the clothes on our backs, "nanomaterials" that are designed molecule by molecule are working their way into our economy and our lives. Now there’s some promising work on new materials for nuclear reactors.

Reactors are a tough environment. The sub atomic particles that sustain the chain reaction, neutrons, are great for splitting additional uranium atoms, but not all of them hit a uranium atom; some of them end up in various metal components of the reactor. The metal is usually a crystalline structure, meaning it is as orderly as a ladder or a sheet of graph paper, but the neutrons rearrange the atoms, leaving some infinitesimal voids in the structure and some areas of extra density. The components literally grow, getting longer and thicker. The phenomenon is well understood and designers compensate for it with a …

Why America Needs the MOX Facility

If Isaiah had been a nuclear engineer, he’d have loved this project. And the Trump Administration should too, despite the proposal to eliminate it in the FY 2018 budget.

The project is a massive factory near Aiken, S.C., that will take plutonium from the government’s arsenal and turn it into fuel for civilian power reactors. The plutonium, made by the United States during the Cold War in a competition with the Soviet Union, is now surplus, and the United States and the Russian Federation jointly agreed to reduce their stocks, to reduce the chance of its use in weapons. Over two thousand construction workers, technicians and engineers are at work to enable the transformation.

Carrying Isaiah’s “swords into plowshares” vision into the nuclear field did not originate with plutonium. In 1993, the United States and Russia began a 20-year program to take weapons-grade uranium out of the Russian inventory, dilute it to levels appropriate for civilian power plants, and then use it to produce…

Nuclear Is a Long-Term Investment for Ohio that Will Pay Big

With 50 different state legislative calendars, more than half of them adjourn by June, and those still in session throughout the year usually take a recess in the summer. So springtime is prime time for state legislative activity. In the next few weeks, legislatures are hosting hearings and calling for votes on bills that have been battered back and forth in the capital halls.

On Tuesday, The Ohio Public Utilities Committee hosted its third round of hearings on the Zero Emissions Nuclear Resources Program, House Bill 178, and NEI’s Maria Korsnick testified before a jam-packed room of legislators.

Washingtonians parachuting into state debates can be a tricky platform, but in this case, Maria’s remarks provided national perspective that put the Ohio conundrum into context. At the heart of this debate is the impact nuclear plants have on local jobs and the local economy, and that nuclear assets should be viewed as “long-term investments” for the state. Of course, clean air and electrons …