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Live From Vermont: Patrick Moore vs. the Anti-Nukes

Hello from Burlington! I'm at the Society of Environmental Journalists Conference with Melanie Lyons, NEI media relations manager. This morning Patrick Moore spoke on a panel called "Cradle to Grave: New Nukes and Old Radioactive Waste," which focused largely on the safety and economic issues surrounding nuclear power. Patrick was outnumbered on this panel 2-1, as he was joined by Jim Riccio of Greenpeace and former NRC Commissioner Peter Bradford, now of the Union of Concerned Scientists and an adviser to the Grace Energy Initiative. But Patrick held his own and shared a lot of facts about nuclear energy. I'll walk you through the proceedings in case you missed the webcast by Grace Energy Initiative.

Jim Riccio spoke first and painted nuclear power plants as prime targets for terrorism. From where I was sitting, it looked like he was doing a bit of fearmongering, basically saying it's only a matter of time before a plant is hit. Patrick Moore refuted this a bit later, noting that terrorists choose political targets, not industrial targets, and even if they did, nuclear plants are highly regulated and focused on safety. He later claimed that nuclear power plants have never tested their ability to sustain an attack from a commercial airline, but instead just say testing during station blackouts is for this purpose. I really don't know where he got that idea, nor the idea that a nuclear plant caused the Northeast blackout a few years back. For more background on the 2003 blackout and nuclear energy, click here.

Anyway, Dr. Moore talked a bit about his early days at Greenpeace, and why he left--choosing to spend his time being in favor of solutions to problems rather than simply protesting the problems. He made a very important point: Greenpeace is opposed to nuclear energy, as we all know. It is opposed to coal-fired plants and natural gas. And it opposes hydroelectric dams. That leaves the category of "other," which accounts for only 0.8 percent of the world's energy supply. This includes wind, solar, etc. While NEI and savvy environmentalists like Moore recognize that renewable sources of energy should be a part of the solution to climate change, we also know that they simply cannot be expanded enough to be the only solution. And Dr. Moore said repeatedly today that nuclear also is not the only solution--but it should be and will be an important part of it. So he asked how Greenpeace can possibly favor only 0.8 percent of the world's energy supply. If they are so concerned about climate change, shouldn't they be open to more likely possibilities?

Another important point Dr. Moore made: We should not ban the beneficial uses of a technology just because of its potentially dangerous uses. If we did that, we would have to ban machetes and automobiles, among other things.

On to Peter Bradford. He reiterated our own point that nuclear power is not the "magic bullet" answer to climate change. We agree. See above. Then he talked about the wedge theory (PDF), which David Bradish discussed in an earlier post this week. Basically, a wedge from renewable electricity replacing coal-based power is available from a 50-fold expansion of wind by 2054 or a 700-fold expansion of solar power. We would have to triple nuclear power's current capacity. Which even I can understand (after David explained it to me) means that nuclear requires less expansion because it can provide more energy. Bradford's take on the wedges? Nuclear can't be good because it's only one wedge, while renewables are two (solar and wind). That's just semantics.

Then the panel turned to a Q-and-A session. When asked "if no nukes, then what?" Riccio simply did not answer the question. He said the government and taxpayers would get a bigger bang for their buck of they spent it on renewables instead of nuclear, but that's as specific as he got.

Well, that's all from the SEJ conference. Melanie and I are having fun manning our booth and talking to the journalists and other exhibitors about nuclear, the clean air energy!

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rsm said…
Listening to the webcast during lunch, I believe I heard Mr. Bradford say that nuclear is safer than coal or gas, but that it is not the way to go. I guess we need unsafer sources of energy. ;-)
Ruth Sponsler said…
I commend Dr. Moore for his courage in going into a debate stacked 2:1 against him.
t7 said…
Hi, is there a downloadable recoding of that session somewhere? TIA.

btw, great blog :-)
Janice Cane said…
Thanks, t7. I just checked, and it looks like Grace has not posted the webcast as ap permanent link. We'll keep an eye on the Web site and let everyone know if that changes.
Anonymous said…
It's time to leave the age of fossil fuels and move into nuclear energy and renewable sources. I find it astounding that people still fear nuclear power when it has proven itself over the past several decades with minimal incidents. How exactly are wind and solar power expected to be expanded so much in so little time? The technology isn't there to make it viable- too much space is required for too little payback.
gunter said…
What's all this whining about 2 to 1.

While you may not get as much air time, the facts still can speak for themselves.

You all got you lopsided airing on "Action Speaks" October 28 where it was NEI's Lisa Stiles-Shell, former NRC NRR director Harold "Mr. TMI" Denton, and Mike Pintek, Harrisburg radio show host who stumbled onto the accident on the morning of March 28, 1979, and me, Paul Gunter, NIRS.

Lisa, I think you were going to produce some material supposedly refuting the Wing Study finding of significant increases in leukemia and lung cancers downwind following the TMI accident.

I found nothing of substance on the NEI website.

Anonymous said…
Gotta love the internet Gunter:

It took 5 minutes to find this link to the court decision on the TMI cancer incidences. Care to take a look? How long did it take you to dismiss this ruling Gunter?


"Dr. Wing performed a reanalysis. of the Hatch cancer incidence study. In conducting his reanalysis, Dr. Wing presumed that TMI area residents were exposed to levels (doses) of radiation significantly higher than those reported in the government reports discussed previously in this memorandum and the doses assumed by the Hatch study. See supra at 45-54 (discussing the reports and study). Based upon the assumption that residents were exposed to high levels of radiation, Dr. Wing appears t6 have attributed the increases in cancer association found in his study to exposure to high levels of radiation. The following colloquy from the Daubert hearings is illustrative:

Q. Turning to the cancer incidence study, your reanalysis of the Susser/Hatch data, if you assume that the real level of exposures, not the relative units, but the real level of exposures was small or was low as postulated in the Susser/Hatch report, that would affect your interpretation of the data; correct?

A. Let me put it this way: If I assumed that it was not possible that the doses were higher, than assumed by the authors of the Columbia (Susser/Hatch) paper, then it would prohibit making a causal interpretation of the observed association.

(11/21/95 Tr. at 981-82 (testimony of Dr. Wing).) In this same vein, Dr. Wing states in his report "(u)nlike the original reports based on these data, our re-analyses (sic) assumed that absolute accident doses could have been large enough to produce measurable impacts on cancer incidence. . . ." (2/25/95 Wing Report at 9.) The record presently before the court does not support the fundamental assumption made by Dr. Wing -- that doses were significantly higher than originally estimated. In the absence of this assumption, Dr. Wing himself admits that he would be unable to make a causal interpretation based upon his findings. Because Plaintiffs have presented no evidence in support of this assumption, the court finds the Wing cancer incidence study does nothing to assist Plaintiffs in creating a material factual dispute or meeting their burden of proof. Cf. Kearney v. Philip Morris, Inc., 916 F. Supp. 61 (D. Ma. 1996) (finding that premise upon which experts founded their opinions "involves an inferential leap for which no reasoned basis is proffered, and thus does not survive reasoned scrutiny" at summary judgment)." (...)

SYLVIA H. RAMBO, Chief Judge
Middle District of Pennsylvania
Dated: June 7 1996.

Now, could you just stop your fruitless FUD campaign against nuclear power?
Oh I forgot! Thats right - You are paid to do your job.

Right - everyone has to make a living.

Have a nice day Gunter.
Thanks, Paul, for reminding me that I want to blog about the Action Speaks event. I haven't been in the office much since that trip. By the way, NEI had absolutely nothing to do with the selection of speakers on that panel. Marc Levitt told me that one of the other panelists suggested me. When I saw the names I actually assumed that YOU had made the suggestion because I've never met Harold Denton or Mike Pintek.

In any case, I'm working on the Wing stuff (thanks anon for the pointer to the testimony). My health physicist friend can tell me what was in the reports that refuted him, but I want to be able to provide the actual documentation. One of the reports was a rebuttal from the original authors (Hatch, Susser, and Beyea) of a health study that examined 160,000 people living within 10 miles of the TMI plant. It was their study that Wing claimed to "re-examine." I have a summary of the report but I'm trying to track down the original. Mid-90s publications aren't always easy to find.

gunter said…
Thanks "anonymous",

First of all, Rambo's 1996 remarks pre-date the publishing of the Wing study which appeared in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives, January, 1997. So I would not call this a refutation of the study and certainly not a scientifically based refutation. Its a legal determination based on what Rambo allowed into the proceeding rather than a scientific evaluation.

So, no cigar. We can argue more on this later, I'm sure.

As the court states "The record presently before the court does not support the fundamental assumption made by Dr. Wing -- that doses were significantly higher than originally estimated."

Again, its more an issue of what Rambo allowed into the record than what Wing found in the Columbia data and followed up on.

The Wing study observed cytogentic damage in TMI-2 downwinders who experienced erythemia (reddening of the skin associated with radiation exposures), hair loss, vomiting, diarreha, as evidence of radiation doses on the order of 600-900 mGy. It was the Columbia study that first "assumed" that no more radiation got out following the accident to deliver a radiation dose of no more than 1 mGy and that what was then observed could not possibly have been caused that assumed low dose.

You should know that as far as science is concerned, the observed is prefered over the assumed. That's science versus faith or belief, right?

Furhtermore, a big problem with assuming anything about the radiation releases following the accident is that the TMI operators "lost" radiation monitoring data and physical evidence, such as vent stack filters.

This, of course, was not the first time that MetEd "lost" safety records. In fact, as I had to remind both Lisa and Harold Denton (whose memories seem to have failed them on the air, that night), Met Ed, on February 29, 1984 entered into a plea bargin of "guilty" to 1 count of "criminal misconduct" (read criminal coverup)and "no contest" to 6 additional counts of criminal activity for the falisfication and willful destruction of safety reports to a federal agency (Denton's NRC)leading up to the TMI-2 accident on March 28, 1979, namely reactor coolant leak rate test results.

I still look forward to Lisa actually providing the scientific papers which reportedly "refuted" the Wing study findings that actually found the significant increases in leukemia and lung cancers according to the Columbia Study.

We have much to talk about.

Gunter, NIRS
Jim Hopf said…
Speaking of "lost radiation", and observed vs. assumed....

Gunter et al claim that people received ~1000 times the dose that would be possible given the officially estimated radioactivity release. The reason given is that thousands of times as much radiation was actually released, and was somehow not recorded or measured (i.e., it was "lost").

If that amount of radiation were released, the fallout would have been readily measurable, not only right around the plant, but in places much farther away as well. In fact, if such a large release occurred, there would still be significant amounts of remaining fallout (contamination) in the local area that could still be readily measured even today! After all, many of the significant isotopes have ~30 year half-lives (Sr & Cs).

Talk about "lost" radiation! These guys are trying to claim that a huge amount of radiation was released, caused significant health problems in the local area, and then somehow completely vanished without a trace! Apparently, even this large release resulted in no lingering surface contamination that could be measured, even a few days after the accident (let alone now).

If such a large release occurred, we'd know it, beyond a shadow of a doubt, because there would be clear lingering evidence (measurable contamination). If nature were so good at dispersing and washing away radioactivity, we wouldn't be having any troubles around Chernobyl right now.

The real truth is that, through extensive radiation/contamination measurements, we know that nobody around TMI received more than a tiny fraction of annual natural background. As there is no correlation between natural backround dose rate (which varies by factors of several) and cancer incidence, it is known with 100% certainty that TMI could not have had any effect on public health. We don't even have to look at "studies" claiming to show health effects to know that they are completely flawed.
aryatara said…
Ignoring the obviously thugish, bullying tone used by Anonymous (not surprising he or she will not associate their name with this post), I will say one thing regarding the case "ruling" by Rambo. She can say all she wants about dose assumptions. The Columbia study is full of dose assumptions by definition. The difference is Wing's analyses (NOT sic) were based on direct measurement of cytogenetic damage which could only have been caused by a higher level of radiation exposure than judge Rambo allowed to be recognized in the case (an assumption the judge made based on the terms laid out in the original parameters of the health investigation). Anyone actually reading the Wing study rather than merely scoffing at it would have seen this.

If the judge was too impartial to see this or too unwilling to understand it, that is not the study's scientific shortcoming. The "judge" should have been censured and the case brought again. The cytogenetic analyses among those experiencing erythema, pet death, hair loss, vomiting, etc. clearly showed that these people experienced doses of 600-900 Gy. You have the dose, you have the symptoms, you have the damage measure. Again, this is a DIRECT MEASURE of damage. Not some iffy, error-ridden dose reconstruction formula based on faulty and potentially biased assumptions of radiation release and exposure. To argue any differently is scientifically bankrupt. So is ignoring these data to make an insulting and ignorant false point based on a court case where the judge was at best out of her scientific league and at worst biased against the plantiffs.

Just because a court makes a ruling doesn't mean the court is correct. We should all actually read the studies we criticize before we make any conclusions. I know I do. With disingenuous positions and the bullying attitude possessed by anonymous (and unfortunately not limited to him/her), it is no wonder the public doesn't trust the industry.
I honestly have been trying to find the time to write about the Action Speaks show and the evidence to refute the Wing study but now I'm leaving town for several weeks. I've given all of my material to Eric, though, and he'll be compiling and posting it.

But I do want to respond to the most recent post.

The only thing even potentially in dispute is how much radioactive material (i.e. gas) escaped when the accident began. Once there was a problem the radiation dose rates from the plant were even more “continuously monitored” than usual. And dose measurements at the plant can fairly accurately predict the dose rates further away. At the very least, dose rates from the plant are not going to increase as you increase your distance from the plant!

Now, regarding the radioactive gases that escaped, contrary to the writer above, unverifiable stories of hair loss, pet deaths and such are not “DIRECT MEASURE.” Yep, I’ve heard the story about the old goat that died after the accident near the power plant that supposedly proved that copious amounts of radiation escaped. These claims are anecdotal at best and I’ve heard them ONLY from antinuclear groups. The NRC, the EPA, the PA Department of Health, plus the media were all on the scene immediately and no reports filed at the time note these types of symptoms of radiation poisoning. I have friends that lived within the EPZ at the time and they had no such symptoms and know no one who did. In the Action Speaks panel I was on last month, when Paul Gunter of NIRS claimed that many people had symptoms, Mike Pintek (the radio reporter that first broke the story and covered the entire event) indignantly claimed, “No there weren’t!” When Gunter tried to repeat his claims, Pintek said, “I was there!"

"Direct measure" is much closer to what responsible experts did in the aftermath: they conducted whole-body counts (which can tell you what radioactive elements you’ve ingested or are on your skin and the amount of each) on a large portion of the population and tested vast numbers of air, water, and soil samples. Radioactive decay is probably the MOST predictable of natural phenomena and from these measurements they were able to extrapolate backward to determine the amount of material that was released. This is MUCH more accurate than saying “my dog got sick, therefore he must have experienced poisoning from massive amounts of radiation."

You know, every spring my dog gets sick. I used to think it was because she eats the first green grass that appears and I would give her a little pepto-bismal (at the vet's advice). I guess what I should be doing is looking for the REAL culprit. But gosh dang it, the nearest nuclear power plant is a good 45 miles away.

Gunter said…
Lisa et al,

Excuse me, but Mike "I was there" Pintek wasn't the only one, even though he may think so.

People all across Central Pennsylvania did in fact experienced the "metallic taste" following the TMI accident as did many of its residents also experienced erythema, the reddening of the skin like one gets following a radiation exposure treatment, as well as other radiation exposure symptoms.

It is Pintek and NEI's denial of these radiation symptoms following the TMI accident that doesn't have a shred of credibility.

Lisa, helloooo, the Wing study, peer reviewed and published in a National Institute of Health publication, WAS BASED on this identified population sickened by the unmonitored, unreported and then hidden radioactive exhaust from this accident. Again, the data "is" (sic) there, you just have to read it.

I am really surprised the best you could do was trot out Pintek's shameless and unsubstantiated remark?

"And now for something completely different" ...or at least one would have hoped:

Check out NRC Daily Event Report for November 2, 2006 where the control room operators during a reactor trip at TMI unit 1 mistakenly thought that the main steam safety valves were “stuck open” when in fact the operators were clueless for 1 hour and 15 minutes that the valves were operating to designed to release set point pressure. Sound familiar of a similar and earlier operator error at TMI Unit 2?


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