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The Nuclear Disinformation Resource Service

Earlier this week, NEI announced an industry initiative to...
...[E]nhance detection, management and communication about inadvertent radiological releases in groundwater that are below federal standards at nuclear power plants.
The program, of course, was generated in response to the tritium issue we've dealt with from time to time here on NEI Nuclear Notes. Click here for an AP account of the announcement.

I bring all of this up only because last week during an NRC briefing on emergency planning (transcript not yet available online), our old friend Paul Gunter of Nuclear Information and Resource Service decided to go off topic, and include a short statement on the tritium releases at Exelon's Braidwood nuclear power plant. And it was his statement that led to a rather tart response from Commissioner Edward McGaffigan, an appointee of President Clinton [emphasis in bold face --EMc]:
COMMISSIONER MCGAFFIGAN: Okay, Mr. Gunter. We'’re coming back to you. I'm going to stay off the point of the purpose of the meeting because you went off the point. But your last remark in my last round was to get to, tritium passes through the placenta, which I honestly think you specialize in factoids and irrelevant facts. Potassium 40 passes through the placenta. So, again, I ask you a rhetorical question. And it isn't meant to be rhetorical because I guess I'm just trying to understand how extreme your organization is.

Do we tell women who are pregnant to give up Brazil nuts and bananas for fear of -- because potassium 40 is going to end up in their baby, in their fetus, in a far higher dose than anything that they'’d ever get from drinking tritiated water. I mean, factors of 100 higher. So tell me, two millirem a year is what a woman gets from eating a banana a day. Is NIRS'’ position that we give up bananas?

MR. GUNTER: Commissioner McGaffigan, again, our concern is unplanned and unmonitored release paths

COMMISSIONER MCGAFFIGAN: You'’re not answering the question.

MR. GUNTER: What I'’m saying is that we'’re talking about regulatory practices governing unmonitored and unplanned release paths


MR. GUNTER: And the right of the public to be alerted to such events. That'’s the -–-

COMMISSIONER MCGAFFIGAN: Then you go to Illinois and you use factoids or made-up facts or irrelevant facts in order to try to condition the public to -–- and to spur fear in the public. You yourself have done that. I mean, you yourself go and do this placenta thing, and you -–-

MR. GUNTER: It was actually Dr. Arjun Makhajani who made that -–-


MR. GUNTER: And also -–-

COMMISSIONER MCGAFFIGAN: He'’s another person who doesn'’t know anything about radiation.

MR. GUNTER: And also an obstetrician made that statement. It wasn'’t me. I repeated it.

COMMISSIONER MCGAFFIGAN: Yes, well, you'’ll repeat anything that serves to spur -–-


COMMISSIONER MCGAFFIGAN: I have a right to use my time as I see fit, Mr. Jaczko. So I honestly think that you should --– if the Nuclear Disinformation Resource Service wants to produce disinformation, you should, as a matter of consistency, tell pregnant women to avoid air travel, to obviously avoid the Capitol, to avoid bananas, to avoid Brazil nuts, and to do all sorts of other stupid things.
For more from our archives on NIRS and their activities, click here.

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Paul Primavera said…
Good for Commissioner McGaffigan. I am disappointed in Commissioner Jackzo, but what can one expect of a former adviser to Harry Reid and Ed Markey?

Here is the web link to the Letter from Chairman Nils J. Diaz to Congressman Jerry Weller in response to concerns about the tritium contamination identified at the Braidwood and Dresden facilities:

< >
Anonymous said…
NIRS has been around a long time and they do a pathetic job. I view them as placeholders: anti-nuclear activists that are on a list of sources that journalists use to prepare a quick story.

Just watch them and be ready to point out their incompetance to the media.
Paul Primavera said…
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Please see NRC Accession Number M060502 - Briefing on Status of Emergency Planning Activities (PM Session) - in the NRC Adams Library at web page:

< >

This is the transcript of the meeting where Commissioner McGaffigan replied with logic to Paul Gunter.
Paul Primavera said…
Opps, I messed up - sorry.

NRC accession number ML061250212 is for the morning session on Emergency Planning and accession number ML061250215 is for the afternoon session. Accession number ML061220539 is for the slides used in the meeting. McGaffigan and Gunter had their little discussion in the afternoon session.
Gunter said…

Despite McGaffigan's repeated bullying tirades, the fact is that unplanned and unmonitored offsite radioactive releases and groundwater contamination are now a much broader concern to public health and safety than those of expressed by NIRS. Trying to shore up the damaged credibilty with specious arguments like "bananas and brazil nuts" does nothing other than to show the Commissioner can readily parrot NEI rhetoric.

I take the Commissioner's display to be an example of what his staff have to put up with to defend a Differing Professional View or Opinion?

You all have obviously missed McGaffigan's previous tantrums where he has abandoned prepared statements at various NRC Regulatory critics in flares of temper. I've come to expect this behavior of the Commissioner along with the disingenuious arguments.

As for calling us a "disinformation service," well, I suppose its as fair as our reframing of their acronym for an agency that has been repeatedly been caught subordinating public health, safety and security to industry production and profit margins.

The transcript is dry. Go to the Commission Webcast Archive if you want a more entertaining view of the exchange.

Moreover, the fact that his outbreak was followed with the announcement of NEI's proposed groundwater contamination exit strategy and public trust damage control, speaks more to the impact of these disclosures and legitimacy of the issue than further efforts to trivialize underground plumes moving offsite in groundwater.

Brian Mays said…
Mr. Gunter,

So exactly what is NIRS's position on bananas and brazil nuts?

The topic has been brought up several times here, yet I don't think that this point has ever been clarified.

Thank you.
Paul Primavera said…
Paul Gunter,

You have still failed to answer Commissioner McGaffigan's question:

"...Potassium 40 passes through the placenta. So, again, I ask you a rhetorical question...Do we tell women who are pregnant to give up Brazil nuts and bananas for fear of -- because potassium 40 is going to end up in their baby, in their fetus, in a far higher dose than anything that they'd ever get from drinking tritiated water. I mean, factors of 100 higher. So tell me, two millirem a year is what a woman gets from eating a banana a day. Is NIRS' position that we give up bananas?"

In fact, Paul Gunter, IF your concern is indeed "underground plumes moving offsite in groundwater" and "unplanned and unmonitored offsite radioactive releases and groundwater contamination", THEN why does your organization do absolutely NOTHING about the unmonitored radioactive releases to the environment from coal fired power plants that are several orders of magnitude GREATER than any tritiated release from Exelon or Entergy's nuclear power plants?

Radiation from potassium in bananas.

Readiation from tritiated water.

Radiation from uranium, thorium and radium in coal.

What exactly is the difference?

BTW, some of us on a low salt diet use potassium chloride (called NUSALT in your local grocery store) instead - I have for a number of years. I suspect the radiation dose I received from using this is far, far greater than if I had actually drank Exelon's tritiated water. And at 48 years of age (29 years in naval and commercial nuclear power) I can still run a seven minute mile, bicycle 20 miles in an hour, and bench press 200 lbs; nothing great admittedly, but can you?

Maybe there IS an actual hormetic effect to all that radiation exposure that you're sadly missing out on, Paul Gunter?

Lastly, I would indeed be very curious to learn how great are the donations that NIRS / WISE receives from people or groups with a vested interest in fossil fuel power. Sooner or later some bright boy or girl with the time will do the research and publish his or her findings at < > or similar consumer-oriented web site.
Brian Mays said…
Paul Primavera,

Radiation from potassium in bananas and nuts and from uranium, thorium, and radium in coal doesn't have the fear factor that "unplanned and unmonitored offsite radioactive releases" of tritium (which "passes through the placenta" .. ooh ... ah) has.

After all, if your full-time job is to "use factoids or made-up facts or irrelevant facts in order to ... spur fear in the public," you should choose your irrelevant facts carefully. Every effective activist knows that.

Tritium -> scary

Bananas -> not so scary

The "facts" that the folks from NIRS choose to use speak for themselves.

But you are right ... Mr. Gunter should answer the question or shut up.
Gunter said…

Hey, here are a few choice pieces of information or "disinformation," as you all prefer.

Mull it over, anyways.

Cosmogenically generated tritium according to ICRP is 6-24 pCi/L in surface water. Any of you have a problem with that, take it up with the ICRP.

According to the March 2006 rootcause analysis prepared for Exelon by Conestoga-Rovers Associates on the Braidwood spills, which NIRS got hold of, for your "information" it says the Braidwood tritium releases which occur on the average of every 3 days from the radwaste storage tank into the circulating water blowdown pipe at a particular Vacuum Breaker Valve that leaked in November 2000 were averaged for tritium at 1,305,000 pCi/L with maximum tritium levels at 3,103,000 pCi/L. Of course, we've seen tritium levels from Dresden's broken underground pipe break from the radwaste storage tank (August 2004) in excess of 10,000,000 pCi/L in monitoring wells. (Source: FOIA of Illinois EPA)

Now, there's a bunch of bananas and a big pile of brazil nuts for you.

The flowrates for the blowdown pipe run from 8,000 to 25,000 gpm, historically.

That same month, just under 4 million gallons leaked from a busted float (negligence) on a vacuum breaker valve on the blowdown line over an unknown number of days. A neighboring resident reported offsite flooding which then came to the attention of operators.

According to the Conestoga-Rover report, a circulating water blowdown vacuum breaker leak "could occur during a release from the radwaste tank and not become well mixed before entering the ground."
(Page 9)

These are the unplanned and unmonitored radioactive releases that legitimately warrant the current investigation and not just by NIRS, fellas. And, despite Commissioner McGaffigan's livid disagreement, warrants public notification in context of emergency planning.

You all can sing in chorus with the good Commissioner about "bananas and brazil nuts", no one is disputing the presence of naturally occuring radiation in our environment and whatever element of risk that it carries. That's not the point.

These continued attempts to trivalize and obfuscate multiple uncontrolled and ongoing radioactive leaks into groundwater spur on the investigation and as we unravel more accelerate the already crumbling credibility of the same nuclear industry that deliberately sought to hide these radioactive leaks from the public for more than a decade.

Good night,
Brian Mays said…
Oh ... I forgot ... big numbers are scary too. Of course, Mr. Gunter expresses everything in big numbers.

And yet again, he includes more irrelevant facts: the concentration of radioactivity from cosmogenically produced tritium. It is useful to show how rare cosmogenically produced tritium is, but it has nothing to do with the risks associated with tritiated water.

Strangely enough, he leaves out the most important number of all: the number of people harmed by all of this. At the end of the day, that's all that matters; all the rest are just the games that NIRS and other groups play. But zero is not a very scary number, so you won't see it on any NIRS "factsheets."

By the way, he still hasn't answered the question.
Paul Primavera said…
A brief excerpt from the following web page is in order:

< >

"According to the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), the average radioactivity per short ton of coal is 17,100 millicuries/4,000,000 tons, or 0.00427 millicuries/ton. This figure can be used to calculate the average expected radioactivity release from coal combustion. For 1982 the total release of radioactivity from 154 typical coal plants in the United States was, therefore, 2,630,230 millicuries.

"Thus, by combining U.S. coal combustion from 1937 (440 million tons) through 1987 (661 million tons) with an estimated total in the year 2040 (2516 million tons), the total expected U.S. radioactivity release to the environment by 2040 can be determined. That total comes from the expected combustion of 111,716 million tons of coal with the release of 477,027,320 millicuries in the United States. Global releases of radioactivity from the predicted combustion of 637,409 million tons of coal would be 2,721,736,430 millicuries."

Imagine that, Paul Gunter: unmonitored global releases of radioactivity from coal combustion by the year 2040 will be 2,721,736,430 millicuries.

The tritium releases at Byron, Dresdon, Braidwood and IPEC pale in comparison.

Now NO ONE in the nuclear industry is trying to minimize or triviliaze the tritium leaks at Byron, Dresdon, Braidwood or IPEC; the fact of the matter is that you are unable to factually demonstrate that any creature has ever been injured or killed as a result of these tritium leaks.

Yet coal plant pollution (from EPA statistics) kill 30,000 annually in the United States, and according to UN statistics biomass burning world-wide kills 2 million people annually.

Nukes (even with tritium releases) harm ZERO.

Coal plants kill by the tens of thousands.

Biomass burning kills by the millions.

Who exactly, Paul Gunter, is doing the trivialization here? Commissioner Mcgaffigan? Or YOU?

Now kindly answer the Commissioner's question:

"So tell me, two millirem a year is what a woman gets from eating a banana a day. Is NIRS' position that we give up bananas?"

I say that we do give up BANANA heads - Build Anything Not Anywhere Near Anyone. ;-)
gunter said…
FYI... On May 24, 2006, NIRS filed a motion asking Commissioner McGaffigan to recuse himself from any NRC decisions regarding the LES Enrichment Facility currently in a licensing proceeding based on the commissioner's demonstrated bias and prejudice against NIRS and its expert witness in the matter, Dr. Arjun Makhijani. Dr. Makhijani was vetted by the Atomic Safety and Licensing as an expert on the subject of radiation.
Brian Mays said…
Gee .. I think Commissioner McGaffigan hurt their feelings.

Dr. Makhijani? Some expert -- I'll bet he wouldn't answer the Commissioner's question either. But I'm sure he knows a lot of tritium and placenta factoids.
Anonymous said…
I haven't been reading NEI since recently but this gunter fella sounds like a real hypocrite.

If he (they) truly gives a darn about unplanned and/or unmonitored radioactive releases, they need to look no further than their friendly neighborhood coal plant which has been releasing lots and lots of radioactivitry unabated since the dawn of the industrial age.

Well, maybe he does carry on about coal's radiaoctivity on an anti-coal website or somewhere else, I don't know. But his holier than thou attitude here leaves me wondering about his true motivations and true commitment to the cause.

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