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August 08, 2007



JohnBo said: Can you explain how you can be so bold as to tell for example, Armenia, that they should not build their planned nuclear plant? This is just being arrogant to say its okay for one but not the other country. This telling others what to do is a big problem in your being rational about energy sources.

That's why we need to develop and commercialise alternatives to nuclear power - ones that will not come with unmanageable risks and all the social and geopolitical hoopla that global nuclear fission power has. Evading all ethics issues at the same time.

If all that fails (extremely unlikely) then world wide nuclear is 'plan B'. (Not the other way around) That's why nuclear should be mainly R&D not construction. There's a difference between building a few nukes in the USA and building thousands in all countries around the world.


JohnBo said: Logical people can accept measured risk for measured benefit. They do it every day.

OK then. Tell me how to 'measure' the risk of proliferation, waste management, and trading and diversion of fissile and waste materials around the world in a free market, over the next several hundred years.

I'd actually like to see some studies. I've read one from the Oxford Research group I linked in the other thread. It concluded that such risks are ultimately not manageable.

It's a shame you do not differentiate between risk that individuals actively take themselves and common, passive risk.

Risks taken individually where the benefits fully accrue to the self are not difficult considerations. Driving your car is not comparable to the risks of global nuclear power. Because in the latter, the risks are not actively taken by the self, but must be endured without choice. Things get a little different then.


Oh and Clee - "infinite half life" is incorrect. They do not have a half life, because they are stable. That means they are not radioactive.

Where do you get your fish from? A thermometer company? A landfill mud pool?


Hi Calamity,

Oh yes I do remember your trusty nuclear ship had a melt down. Well by golly, I’m glad it didn’t hurt you although you may have a bit of brain damage from what I can determine. Were you held underwater for a period? :)

Now allow me to address your amusing responses. :)

Point 1: Regarding the “tragedy of the commons”: This is so far off I had to laugh aloud, sorry. There is no “tragedy of commons” situation for countries selecting the clean power source that best fits their needs. Nuclear power generation is in competition with other forms. If it becomes excessively expensive then no one will install it. It’s called free enterprise where the market place will react to supply and demand. It is that simple!

Point 2: On the GHG argument, well sure, I agree this “may” be your business if some day GHG is shown harmful to the folks there on Easter Island. I suspect global warming will probably be a boom to Easter Island. To reiterate my point, you have no business telling others NOT to use clean nuclear power. Your words here are a twisted absurd response that has nothing to do with the point at hand.

Point 3: The Iran threat. This too is completely off subject. I really thought you had more class then to try this old routine… Ha-ha... Again, my point is about nuclear power generation. Got it? Now, if someone threatens Easter Island or one of your friends (like me) with building nuclear weapons then indeed it is your business. This has absolutely nothing to do with the point I made regarding nuclear power generation. I hope you can learn the difference here but I am beginning to wonder about that boat accident affecting your mentality… Ha-ha.

Point 4: You toot about “unmanageable risks and all the social and geopolitical hoopla…..” Okay, get a grip here Calamity. There is none of the above except in the minds of the radical weirdo’s. The world is getting smarter, the technology better, etc. etc. regarding nuclear power. The passive safety systems now being deployed in generation three reactors mean they are intrinsically safe. You have no basis for these comments except the “fear of the future” doomsday syndrome you try to advance to the ignorant.

Point 5: You say in part, “…should be mainly R&D not construction.” Here you go again, telling other folks that they should NOT use clean safe nuclear power just because YOU think they should NOT. This is not your business Calamity. The folks in many countries who are currently planning clean nuclear power have caused you no harm. You are excessively “hung up” on this as if it is a religion for you. Thy shall not burn protons else thy shall go to hell! I can see you at the pulpit. Ha-ha… Nuclear power progress is for the good of humankind the same as solar, wind, and other clean energy sources. I love all the green sustainable sources. Nuclear is the safest and economic right now of course.

Point 6: You say in part. “OK then. Tell me how to 'measure' the risk of proliferation… over the next several hundred years.” You must be confusing nuclear weapons with nuclear power generation since none of this relates to the latter. On the other hand, Calamity, is this is the same old doomsday scenario you are stuck on without basis?

Point 7: You make some foolish argument regarding the difference between an individual’s risks vs. risks in common by many. You use a car as an example of an individual risk vs. a common risk You are wrong. There is no difference. When 1 million people step on the brakes, they expect all 1 million cars to stop. The brakes are all designed by the same engineer(s). The drivers have trust. All 1 million people are taking a common risk. This is the same for a power plant design.

In conclusion, I think this covers all your responses to my points. I look hard for logical reasons NOT to use nuclear power. I can find none. Your tact is to toss out negative writing in hopes some will actually believe there are issues with nuclear power. However, on examination there is nothing. The risk is so small and the potential so large that those who can are pursuing nuclear power. There are presently 32 reactors presently being constructed and 74 more planned. In addition, another 214 have been proposed and are being evaluated by various countries. Unfortunately, there is NONE under construction in the US at this time due to radial alarmists. Therefore, the country where you think it is okay to build, is building none, while the rest of the world moves on. Perhaps it’s time folks stop listening to Easter Island folklore.


Yes, I know mercury doesn't have a half-life, but being stable has the same effect as having an infinite half life, it remains forever toxic. I get my fish from the market. Kit P is right to some extent. I probably don't have to worry about the level of mercury in the fish as long as I'm not a pregnant woman or a small child with a developing body, or a mad hatter. But the fear mongers tell me that all the other fish sold is bad and only their fish is safe, whether it's farmed fish off of New England, or wild fish off the coasts of Chile or Oregon or wherever, they all say the other guy's fish have mercury in them. I don't know who to believe. I'd probably have to take some fish samples to be analyzed, but the results today may differ from the results next month. Of course I maybe already crazy from mercury and don't know it.

I still worry about toxins that are known to have gotten from coal plants into my food, more than I worry about spent fuel stored in sealed containers. I would worry about another Chernobyl, but what nuclear power plant currently runs without a proper containment building?


[The difference is that this waste is unavoidable. Certain industries just produce a bit of heavy metals or other toxins, there is often nothing for it, despite maximum recycling, alternative materials and reuse. The alternative is not producing, which is simply impossible in an advanced economy.
We do actually have more or less of a choice for power generation, or at least I may certainly hope so.]

These two points contradict each other. Coal kills 23,000 people per year while nuclear emits very little toxic material and saves lives in the long run, as Dr. Cohen explains. So your last sentence is correct, we have a choice and have chosen badly, to remain dependent on coal.

[Bringing the waste back into the environment in anything under natural uranium levels would ruin your arguments now wouldn't it?]

No. The toxicity of waste is not the end point of the analysis, just one factor in determining how many people are harmed and how many are benefited by an action. The benefit to risk ratio and the benefit to cost ratio are the important factors.

For example, assume there is one ton of high grade uranium ore under your house releasing radon gas. An atom of radon gas might disintegrate in your lung starting a cancer. Lets assume the odds of that are 1 in 1,000 over a lifetime.

Now consider one ton of ore under 300 feet of mud under 10,000 feet of ancient sea water. The radon half life is 3.8 days, so the odds of any radon atom from that ore killing you or any human is virtually zero. In fact the odds of any radiation from that ore killing someone is nearly zero, lets assume 1 in a trillion. So if these numbers are in the ballpark, the risk from ore buried at sea is one billion times less than ore under your house because it is more isolated.

So if we buried something at sea that is a billion time more toxic than a ton of ore, it would be about as likely to kill somebody as the ton of ore under your house, about the same risk.

Looking at the previously referenced graph we see that fresh spent fuel is only about 4,000 times more toxic than ore, so burying fresh spent fuel at sea is still 250,000 times less likely to kill someone than the ore under your house. That number improves rapidly in geologic time since spent fuel toxicity decays thousands of times faster than the toxicity of ore.

If we bury only fission products the odds are even better.

These numbers are highly speculative and offered only to illustrate the fact that risk is a function of both toxicity and exposure. For realistic numbers I recommend Dr. Cohen’s calculations.

Fission produces a very short term increase in toxicity by a factor of 4,000 which can easily be overcome by a much larger improvement in isolation.

Another example, many cancers are produced by high exposure to a slightly toxic substance, oxygen.

[what happens to the waste reprocessing facilities, the reactor core and other equipment that will be highly radiactive by the end of it's useful lifetime or after dismantling? How is this stored and for how long?]

Reactors are designed to conserve neutrons. The vast majority of neutrons are absorbed in the fuel, and the vast majority of radioactive atoms are created in the fuel. Most radioactive atoms generated in plant equipment have short half lives. That is why used reactor vessels can be transported without much shielding.

These materials are usually buried in geologically suitable landfills that will isolate them long enough for the radioactive atoms to decay to low levels. They could also be buried at sea.

[Monson is guilty of omisson. Of course the health risks rise proportionally with exposure.]

Two teenage boys are home alone. They break into the liquor closet and find a half gallon of tequila. The older boy challenges the younger boy, “Bet you can’t drink the whole bottle”. “Yes I can” says the younger boy, and proceeds to start drinking. He passes out without finishing it, loosing the bet, and within the hour looses his life.

This establishes that 64 oz of tequila is a lethal dose. The Linear No Threshold (LNT) model says that if 64 people each drink one ounce of tequila one of them will be dead within the hour. This is how we calculate the risk of low level radiation.

Remember when the cigarette company executives testified before congress that smoking was risk free? A few years of research proved them wrong, because the effects of smoking are large enough to be easily statistically detected.

60 years of studying the effects of radiation has still not proven low level radiation to be harmful or beneficial. We can say with absolute certainty that the health effects of low level radiation are very small compared to other risks we accept without much thought.

Google “radiation hormesis” for an interesting debate, or try this.


The Chernobyl accident exposed a huge number of people to a small dose of radiation. The estimates of the number of deaths from Chernobyl in the next 40 years range from 4,000 (IAEA), to 100,000 (Greenpeace), based on LNT theory.

If radiation hormesis turns out to be valid the Chernobyl accident may save thousands of lives.

[If all that fails (extremely unlikely) then world wide nuclear is 'plan B'. (Not the other way around) That's why nuclear should be mainly R&D not construction. ]

First you say nuc plants cannot be built fast enough to solve our problem, and now you say don’t start construction until we are sure we need them.

Calamity, you read my paper so you know what I would do. What is your plan A? If George Bush made you the energy czar and gave you $500 billion, what would you do with it?

Identify any existing large scale commercial plants, of your plan A type that are now producing affordable electricity, and can be expanded to meet our growing electricity needs and displace coal at the same time, with acceptable side effects.

What is their construction cost, construction time, O&M cost, cost per kWh. What are their limitations, fuel, land, water, climate, environmental etc.

Kit P.

The CDC monitors heavy metals and other toxins by random sampling blood and hair of Americans. There is no smoking gun for mercury. Claims that about number if pregnant women and children are at risk is a bold face lie. As is Bill’s claims about the number being killed by coal.

The good news is that no one should worry about heath risks from environment
toxins in the living in the US these days.


[Claims that about number if pregnant women and children are at risk is a bold face lie. As is Bill’s claims about the number being killed by coal.]

Kit P. The Clean Air Report appears to be a solid document. If it is wrong I would think the coal industry would have produced a heavyweight report to blow it out of the water by now. That would be big news.

Can you provide links to such reports?


Kit P says: Claims that about number if pregnant women and children are at risk is a bold face lie.

While it's possible that the CDC are bold faced liars, I'd rather trust them than trust you.

"According to the Centers for Disease Control, about 5 percent of women of childbearing age in the United States have levels of mercury in their blood at or exceeding the safety level for fetal exposure...The National Research Council issued a report estimating that as many as 60,000 U.S. newborns a year are now at risk for adverse neurodevelopmental effects from dietary mercury."


Hi Bill,

I read the article you referenced for the 23,000 killed by coal plants. It appeared to be a politically inspired piece. It seemed they searched around to find specific locations to get death statistics to support their point of view rather than taking a large sample of coal plant areas. I have doubts when I read such articles. JohnBo


[I read the article you referenced for the 23,000 killed by coal plants. It appeared to be a politically inspired piece.]

JohnBo. The clean air report agrees with the EPA (Bush administration) on the effects of the Bush plan, they use the same methodology. Do you think bush is anti coal?

The EPA claims the Bush plan will save 14,000 lives per year.


Here is the coal industry’s position on the Bush plan.

The diverse membership of CARE is particularly encouraged by his decision not to impose unreasonable and onerous targets and timetables for emissions reductions, as have been found in some proposals offered in Congress.


The clean air report came out in June 2004.

Since then evidence has surfaced that women are more sensitive to air pollution, so the report may underestimate the damage from coal pollution.

Coal is a multibillion dollar industry. If this report is not scientifically sound, where is their rock solid report documenting the accurate health effects of coal?

The coal industry does not dispute that the Bush plan will save 14,000 lives per year and that is a fraction of the total deaths. Why do you find 23,000 total deaths per year improbable?

Kit P.

Sorry Clee, you are not quoting the CDC. Your quote is among the many examples of the misuse of data for scare mongering.

Bill too has lost the ability to see past political mumbo jumbo. If Bush pulls a drowning child out of the water, I will give him credit for saving a life.

Suggesting that a death toll can be determined by multiplying a very small number (risk) by a large number (population) is scare mongering.

So what does ‘exceeding the safety level for fetal exposure’ really mean? This level is two orders of magnitude below the threshold of harm. Of course safety levels are set very low. It would be more accurate to say ‘60,000 U.S. newborns’ are at risk for being at risk, but zero is the number actually at risk.

Will adding mercury more controls reduce the risk? No!!! The goal of protecting children has been achieved. Do we need to continue to monitor? Yes.

What is the best way to reduce risk do to pollution? Those with breathing problems should stay indoors using air conditioning on very bad days. Cheap electricity makes this more available.


I haven't been able to find the actual CDC report, but "This level is two orders of magnitude below the threshold of harm." appears to be an exaggeration, based on what little I could find.

Maybe I was too optimistic, thinking mercury only affected pregnant women's fetuses. A study found a 2-fold increase in heart attacks and a 2.9-fold increase in death from cardiovascular disease in fishermen with hair mercury content above 2 ppm. Looks like it was a 7-year study of fishermen with no previous history of heart disease. Considering that heart disease is the number one cause of death world wide, it's not a so very small risk number.
A National Academy of Sciences page said of that study, that 2 ppm hair mercury levels is equivalent to eating about 30 grams of fish per day. That's slightly more than an ounce per day.


Hi Bill, I don't have an answer for your comments regarding the 23,000/year death rate. When I read this article it seemed they extrapolated from a small sample using targeted references to make their case. It didn't strike me as being very scientific. It was also full of how Bush was to blame i.e. very political. This is my only comment. I don't know. They may be right. But I sure wouldn't pass laws based on something like this.

I think I will stop here with this posting and hope Jim will add more nuclear articles. I had a lot of fun reading you guys and especially disagreeing with Calamity. JohnBo

Kit P.

“I haven't been able to find the actual CDC report, but "This level is two orders of magnitude below the threshold of harm." appears to be an exaggeration, based on what little I could find.”

Clee, that is standard mythology for setting safety limits and checking to see if additional sampling is needed. Would anybody be surprised to see that old fishermen have higher levels of mercury? Now what are the risk factors for heart disease, smoking, and obesity? Do fishermen have easy access to EMT when they have their attack? Where does the mercury come from, coal plats?

So Clee, you did not establish either a risk or an association with burning coal. Most to the mercury in the environment is natural.


The study compared fishermen with high mercury and fishermen with lower mercury, not with non-fishermen, people with differing access to EMT's, etc.

The study controlled for other risk factors such as "age, ischemic exercise ECG, maximal oxygen uptake, family history of CHD, cigarette-years, mean systolic blood pressure, diabetes, socioeconomic status, place of residence (urban versus rural), dietary iron intake, plasma fibrinogen and serum apolipoprotein B, and HDL2 cholesterol and ferritin (above versus below 200 mg/L) concentrations."


I've been thinking for some days now, that I've gotten off topic and I should stop arguing this line. Now it occurs to me that even if I could convince everyone that mercury from coal plants kills people, it makes no difference.

It doesn't matter if more people die each year or two due to coal power than died from 50 years of nuclear power generation even through a government collapse. Calamity fears the bogeyman in the closet, the spent nuclear fuel in the casks more than actual deaths. So for Calamity it's okay to build more coal plants but not okay to build more nuclear plants.

It makes no difference to Kit P if people die from pollution as long as people can reduce risk by hiding indoors or by eating less fish. The attitude seems to be, go ahead and pollute, don't worry, be happy.

So I'll try hard not to reply to this thread anymore.

Kit P.

“So I'll try hard not to reply to this thread anymore.”

Promise Clee, your last post was pretty insulting. My professional life has been dedicated to producing electricity safely and protecting the environment. If live in the US you can eat as much fish without worrying about mercury from coal fired power plant. US nuke plants are designed with robust containment systems so there is no need to rely on shelter.

So Clee, before you accuse people of a gross disregard for human life or the environment for the sake of winning an argument; do some homework.


Okay, I promise, this is the last one. I was saying that it doesn't matter if I win the argument or not. About pollution, I wasn't talking about nuclear, I was referring to your comment:

"What is the best way to reduce risk do to pollution? Those with breathing problems should stay indoors using air conditioning on very bad days.


"Only one country is really having a go at permenant disposal of spent nuclear fuel and that is Sweden."

Hi, I happen to live in Sweden and I couldn't be more happy if the program got shut down. We shouldn't even be thinking of burrying valuable material that can be stored safely in dry casks until we want to reuse it.

"All the rest are just storing it above ground fervently wishing that it would just go away while saying publicly that this is managing the waste."

No, they are doing the sensible thing of cheaply and safely storing it above ground in a format that is easily ammenable to reuse, extraction of platinum group metals, reprocessing etc.

Charles Bliss

I know why the previous commercial reprocessing plants failed. I worked at one. ( I think it was the only one ever to go hot). Jimmy Carter signed an executive order that banned reporocessing because the of the plutonium in the spent fuel.

Cyril R.

Why do both nuclear power and wind require incentives?

It's quite simple actually. Let's face it guys, coal is still too cheap. But coal is artificially cheap, using the atmosphere as a dumping ground for various pollutants and GhG's. We know what Kit is going to say about that, but for productivity of debate reasons it is probably best if we ignored him altogether.

We could fix the fact that coal is artificially cheap by setting much stricter emissions targets, and by making CCS mandatory.

We're not doing that just yet, so we have to make nuclear and wind artificially cheap in order to level the playing field. As long as there's a reasonable amount of equity between the various alternative energy technologies, and decisions are based mostly on engineering rather than politics, it'll work out OK.

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