Skip to main content

Former Frontline Science Advisor Blasts "Nuclear Aftershocks"

I've been perusing some of the comment strings over at Frontline since "Nuclear Aftershocks" aired last night, and I came across this comment from Neil Todreas, a professor at M.I.T who says he worked as a science advisor on last night's program. Todreas also served as co-chair of the Indian Point Independent Safety Evaluation Panel.

To say that his comment is illuminating would be a serious understatement. Please note I've inserted some line breaks in the copy in order to enhance readability:
The portion of the Frontline story which starts with the Fukushima accident is a worthwhile public service. However, as an initial scientific advisor to the team producing this show, I found the lack of accuracy and balance in the second half of the story covering the Indian Point reactor disturbing. The statement that that reactor lies "right on the faults" is not accurate, and the portrayal of the potential activity of the seismic faults by Professor Sykes is not balanced.

In 1972, the first fault was significantly studied when the Indian Point reactors were licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Earthquakes in the region were characterized as of minor magnitude and relatively trivial by the noted seismologist Charles Richter of Cal Tech, the originator of the Richter scale for characterizing earthquakes. The significance of the recently proclaimed second fault also has been disputed, most notably by Prof. Alan Kafka of Boston College. I made the producers aware of this information, but they chose not to disclose these counter opinions and only presented Professor Sykes’ views on the seismic issues.

Additionally, the story dialogue speaks of "the" evacuation route for residents near Indian Point, when in fact there are multiple routes in various directions from the plant. The producers could have balanced the correspondent's incredulous statements about the evacuation route by opinions of the surrounding county emergency response officials who have overseen the evacuation planning effort for the plant and have responsibility for its implementation should a need arise. This is a source of information I also pointed out to them.

Finally, the producers speak of the future of nuclear energy in America only in terms of the relicensing and eventual end of service of existing reactors. Balanced communication to the public would have been achieved by explaining that a new generation of reactors has been designed, certified as safe by the NRC (Westinghouse’s AP1000) and is being built in Georgia and South Carolina. Again, this was information I provided them in response to their request that I review the film prior to its airing.

Neil E. Todreas
KEPCO Professor of Nuclear Science and Engineering and
Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Emeritus)
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Click here for a screen capture of the comment. I wonder what the producers of the program think about this?

Comments

Anonymous said…
'Former' Science Advisor is probably accurate.
Anonymous said…
Your quibble about whether Indian Point is directly on a fault line or not, and what evacuation routes my be employed during an emergency at the facility are hardly relevant to the larger issues dealt with in the FRONTLINE piece.

No doubt, you're opinions on the subject have been influenced by the industry, and as such you provide no service to the public debate whatsoever.

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 …