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Why Arnie Gundersen’s Claims on Low Level Radioactive Waste Are Baffling

Over the past few days, plenty of folks have been asking questions about a claim anti-nuclear activist Arnie Gundersen made concerning some soil samples he took during a recent trip to Japan. Gundersen made his claims in a video he posted online last week, and the charge was repeated in an AP story that hit the national wire yesterday with a dateline out of Vermont (more on that later).

Gundersen says that the soil samples he took in Japan were so irradiated, that they would be classified as low level radioactive waste in the U.S. Like a lot of folks, the claim struck me as rather odd given reported radiation levels in Japan, so I dialed up Ralph Andersen, NEI's resident health physicist for his take on Gundersen's claim. Here's what Andersen told me.

In order to classify anything as radioactive waste, it takes more than simply triggering a Geiger counter. When it comes to NRC licensees who need to dispose of items that have become irradiated -- in the case of nuclear power plants we're most often talking about water purification filters and resins, tools, protective clothing and other plant hardware -- there are two options. In the first case, you can ship the waste to a disposal site. However, there are cases where the levels of radioactivity are so low that you can actually petition the NRC to dispose of it in an alternate manner.

However, if someone finds materials that have been irradiated and they're not a licensee, all sorts of different regulations come into play. In the case of Japan, the levels of radiation found beyond Fukushima Prefecture -- and that includes the Tokyo metropolitan area -- are so low that Ralph told me that he can't imagine any criteria that would require the soil there to be disposed of. Furthermore, without seeing the report from the lab that Gundersen used, it would be impossible for any radiation protection professional to completely evaluate his claims.

When you look at it in those terms, it can be easy to see why the fact that the AP reported Gundersen's findings was so alarming. If an actual radiation professional can't properly evaluate Gundersen's statements unless the lab results are available for scrutiny, then how in the world could the reporter who wrote the story?

We'll write more if and when we get updates. In the meantime, click here to read more on our industry deals with low level radioactive waste.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I also have a question about the report that Mr. Gunderson "took the samples in Japan." This seems to imply that he personally collected the samples and then brought them back to the US for analysis. If he thought there was even the slightest possibility that they reached the criteria for rad waste, what was he thinking to carry this material with him on commercial transportation?
kickbundler said…
I haven't read any articles on this or seen the Gunderson videos. My understanding is that the classification of low level radioactive waste (LLRW) is purely regulatory. The term is used in US law to determine acceptable disposal locations for material produced by licensees of the NRC or agreement states. Only licensees can produce LLRW. In theory, a non-licensee could produce extremely radioactive material (i.e. many orders of magnitude more radioactive than any of the soil around Fukushima) which could not be classified as LLRW. If the Fukushima accident had happened in the US, then anything contaminated by radionuclides of plant origin would be considered LLRW. The level of radioactivity has almost no meaning in the context of LLRW. Any articles or claims using this language are meaningless and should be scorned for lack of honesty.
jimwg said…
What REALLY gets to me is how Arnie (and most anti-nukers) get away with being virtually totally unchallenged by any critical reporters, much less pro-nuke professionals, who seem to roll out a red carpet to these media darlings while sealing pro-nuke opinions in the closet. A nuclear truth squad ought be Arnie's back like white on rice before they spread their poison. How about a YouTube video rebutting this, NEI and ANS??

James Greenidge
SteveK9 said…
Gundersen is a professional fear-monger. That is literal ... he earns a living by selling fear. Why he gets any respect is sad/mysterious. Rod Adams has done a fair amount of digging on Gundersen's 'credentials' ... it's appalling (read by going to atomic insights and searching Gundersen).
Atomikrabbit said…
Defamation—also called calumny, vilification, traducement, slander (for transitory statements), and libel (for written, broadcast, or otherwise published words)—is the communication of a statement that makes a claim, expressly stated or implied to be factual, that may give an individual, business, product, group, government, or nation a negative image. This can be also any disparaging statement made by one person about another, which is communicated or published. It is usually a requirement that this claim be false and that the publication is communicated to someone other than the person defamed.
Atomikrabbit said…
So…. Why doesn’t the NEI or a plant or company slandered or libeled by the Gundersens and Caldicotts just haul them into court and demand they either prove their statements or retract them, with damages pending if they can’t or don’t?

I’m serious – use the legal system to bleed them of funds, just as they try to increase the cost of nuclear by litigation at every opportunity.
Brian Mays said…
Are you kidding? You want to give Gundersen and Caldicott a boost in publicity and make martyrs out of them in one badly miscalculated stroke?

Forget about any ideas of "bleeding them of funds" this way. The increased attention that they would get would surely result in increased book sales for Ms. Caldicott and increased business for Fairewinds (Gundersen's gun-for-hire PR firm) that would more than offset any legal costs.

Don't forget that they make their money selling their message of lies and misinformation. The last thing that you want to do is to help promote their product.
Anonymous said…
This blog would be hilarious if it wasn`t so sad. You ignore the dozens of papers and studies that show low level radiation of Chernobyl has lead to massive public health problems. You promote an industry that is a ridiculous monster. Look up what happened in Kiev then and now, at the thousands of sick children. How can you all ignore the thousands of dead in that area? Or the hundreds of thousands of children moving back into the communities around Fukushima?
Brian Mays said…
Anonymous - No. As the reports from the World Health Organization have clearly shown — citing numerous sources in the respected, peer-reviewed scientific literature — irrational fear of low level radiation from Chernobyl has lead to massive public health problems. These problems have manifested themselves as depression, alcoholism, and other types of substance abuse.

Sadly, this irrational fear has been exacerbated, and even actively promoted, by corrupt governments hoping for additional international aid money and corrupt organizations, such as Greenpeace and the various "Green" parties, who promote this fear for their own ideological and political reasons.

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