We're All in This Together

Tip Jar

Change is good

Tip Jar

Learn More

Full disclosure dept.

Blog powered by Typepad

Idaho food and beverage

We can do MUCH better

« Presidential straw poll at Kos | Main | What's the deal with Denney? »


Jim Hopf


With respect to the article you quote concerning BEIR VII, note the words "may" (in the title) and the words "likely" and "potential" in the 1st paragraph. No, they did not say that they were sure of a linear dose response. The just don't believe there is enough evidence to the contrary to change decades of regulatory policy that conservatively assumes LNT. There is no concensus behind LNT, and in fact most scientists/engineers working in radiation protection disagree with (or at least question) it.

All I have to say is that I'm still waiting for a clear correlation between natural background dose rate and cancer incidence to be demontrated. If the effect of exposures 100 to 1000 times as high as those received by people living near nukes is too small to measure, than the effetcs of nuke plant doses are too small to care about, whether they are actually non-zero or not.

The statement that nuclear has negligible enviromnetal costs/risks does NOT rely on whether or not LNT is true, nor do any of my earlier points. Once again, nuclear's risks are known to be negligible even assuming LNT, due to a negligible collective public exposure, several orders of magnitude lower than the collective exposure routinely received from nature. Even assuming LNT, nuclear is orders of magnitude better than fossil fuels, in terms of public health risk/effect. On top of that, it does not contribute to global warming. Heck, fossil plant even emit far more radiation into the environment than nuclear plants, along with a host of far more serious pollutants.

The estimates of ~4000-9000 eventual cancer deaths from Chernobyl are based on theroretical calculations that conservatively assume LNT. With the possible exception of ~2000 mostly-treatable thyroid cancers (from which there were a handful of deaths), they haven't actually observed any health effects.

Anyway, let's assume LNT, and ~4000-9000 eventual deaths. Fossil fuel plants, meanwhile, cause hundreds of thousands of deaths every single year, under normal operations (25,000 in the US alone). And they cause ~40% of all global warming, on top of that. When put in perspective Chernobyl is hardly the "ultimate catasrophe". And a worst-case event at any Western plant will be far smaller than that.

Your point about radon vs. plutonium is specious. If you live in a radon-infexted house, you are breathing it in continuously, so there is always radon in your lungs, continually exposing them to radiation (just like plutonium lodged inside). Once again, it all comes down to dose.

And let me make myself clear on what I mean when I say radon (and other exposure sources) are not (or hardly) even talked about. I'm not referring to facts published in some EPA reports that almost nobody reads. And I must have missed all those PSA adds. What I'm asking is, why aren't there regulations requiring abatement in all affected houses, almost regardless of cost? Better still, why hasn't a "public health emergency" been declared over the radon issue. Can you imagine the response if nuclear plants ever caused the same amount of collective exposure (which is the equivalent of ~100 severe meltdowns occurring every year)?

One final thing. I'm not sure what makes you conclude that I am a "nuclear businessman". I'm just a lowly engineer. I do not, and will not, have any involvement with this proposed plant. Whether it goes forward or not will never have any impact on my bottom line. I'm here because I care about the tens of thousands of annual deaths from air pollution, about global warming, and about the economic, energy security, and geopolitical costs of foreign energy dependence. Nuclear is a big part of the solution to all of these major problems.

Peter Rickards

Hi Jim,
Yes, I can see you are a true crusader to save the world. Your company, Energy Solutions, probably gave Butch $10,000 for the gosh darn best intentions.
In that long response, you again never admit terrorist strikes can happen, and like Chernobyl, cause thousands of cancers, hundreds of miles away! But you do attempt to dismiss the damage done by Chernobyl stating, "With the possible exception of ~2000 mostly-treatable thyroid cancers (from which there were a handful of deaths), they haven't actually observed any health effects."
PR: Well, the World Health Organization says over 4,000 thyroid cancers were diagnosed there by 2002, but what's a couple thousand kids with thyroid cancer, here or there? Close enough! And after 20 years, some areas that have impounded crops and kept people out, are now calculated to be an acceptable risk. Not all areas, but some. Sweet!
Idaho should not take this risk for Hollywood hot tubs, when we have plenty of renewables.
You also have a problem admitting you incompletely summarized the conclusion of BEIR VII. Please re-read your quote below, where you state "ALL they said was..." Just like the broken DOE promises on removing "ALL" the plutonium waste in Idaho, seems nuclear promoters have a hard time using words correctly.

Previously blogged...
"So let's look at what you just claimed...
Jim: "In terms of what the BEIR committee, all they said was that there is still no clear evidence on whether very low level exposures have health risks OR NOT. "
PR: Well, no, that's not really what they said. Let me quote the authors of BEIR VII, the Nat'l Acad of Sciences, at
"Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation May Cause Harm

WASHINGTON -- A preponderance of scientific evidence shows that even low doses of ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, are likely to pose some risk of adverse health effects, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. "
"Specifically, the committee's thorough review of available biological and biophysical data supports a "linear, no-threshold" (LNT) risk model, which says that the smallest dose of low-level ionizing radiation has the potential to cause an increase in health risks to humans."

Brian Mays


Thank you for sharing your point of view. It is helpful to understand where somebody is coming from. So that we understand each other, please allow me to do the same, and then we can put this to rest.

First, I acknowledge that the US government has done a very poor job managing its sites. It is a history that is very unfortunate, and I understand your frustration and your suspicious hesitation to believe promises from industry and government. Please keep in mind, however, that I am not advocating building a new US laboratory, and I'm not arguing for nuclear warhead production. The topic being discussed here is commercial nuclear plants for the production of electricity, and I prefer to keep it to that. Anything else is comparing apples to oranges.

I am not arguing that this particular plant will or should be built in Idaho. Here, I agree with Jim -- if it is built at all, it will not be built any time in the near future, and it will most very likely not be built if it does not have the majority of local support.

At other places in the country where new reactors have been proposed (always at an existing nuclear plant), there is overwhelming support for the project in the local community. I have been there; I have talked to the people myself. In doing this, I have found that, typically, the most vocal opposition in the local community comes from people who are not originally from the area and who have purchased land there because of the low property value. After all, nuclear power plants tend to be built in the middle of nowhere, and a nuclear plant doesn't do much to increase property value. (Although, the side-effects of the plant can -- for example, an artificial lake built to provide a heat-sink for the plant can increase property value substantially.)

The majority of the residents support an additional reactor, since they have already lived by a nuclear plant for years and thus have developed, firsthand, their own opinions of having a nuclear plant in their backyard. Almost all opposition that I have witnessed has come from outside the local community. It consists of green campaigners who have come from the nearby cities or career activists and professional protesters from Greenpeace, Public Citizen, etc., who have come from their offices in Washington D.C.

I am not trying to push on you anything that I wouldn't be willing to accept myself. Most of my adult life, I have lived within about 30 miles of two nuclear reactors. Today, I live less than 25 miles from four reactors. Am I concerned? No. Am I worried that I might develop cancer? Not really. I have done my homework, and I realize that my chances from getting cancer from the second-hand smoke that I inhaled last night at a restaurant are probably an order of magnitude or more higher than the chance that I will ever get cancer from these nuclear plants.

I am not arguing against conservation, wind farms, solar, etc. Conservation efforts should be encouraged, and needless waste of energy is just stupid. We have been very successful in increasing our efficient use of energy since the early 70's; nevertheless, realistically we are not going to be able to conserve our way out of needing more energy in the future. The population of the US has hit 300 million and it is still increasing. More people require more energy, and we require energy today for things that we did not want, need, or even know about 30 years ago. This very blog is an example of that. Web servers and the internet require energy (a great deal of energy) 24 hours a day / 7 days a week, and I don't see even the most staunch conservation supporters advocating giving up that (at least not on their blogs).

The debate of wind farms and solar versus nuclear energy is a red herring. The truth is that these technologies can complement each other quite well, if sufficient effort is taken to make it work. (Sure, there are drawbacks to wind and solar technologies, which I have already pointed out, but that doesn't mean that I am opposed to them.) The argument that new nuclear plants are detrimental to the development on new wind farms is specious. Whether or not new wind farms are built depends on things like production tax credits and government mandates. (Note that I am not saying that I oppose these things.) Experience in the US has demonstrated that whether people place and maintain solar panels on their rooftops depends in general on the incentives provided by government. People with enough money will place them on their roofs to give themselves a warm-fuzzy feeling, and that's okay with me, but without the government incentives, the panels will not pay for themselves, and the feeling is all that they have bought. I consider passive solar a conservation measure, which I have already discussed.

Arguments that nuclear is not needed because renewables can do it all are irrelevant. These arguments are always based on highly speculative estimates of the amount of energy that can be provided by these intermittent sources, and besides, they miss the point. In the US, nuclear provides only about 20% of our electricity. Even with an aggressive program of building new plants, we're not realistically going to reach the level of, say, France, which is almost 80% nuclear, in the near future. Therefore, there is plenty of room left for production by renewables, and it is up to the renewables sector itself to make the technical and economic case to ensure its place in the mix. Bashing nuclear gets them nowhere.

I have now mentioned many things that I am not doing, so why am I here? I am here, because there is so much disinformation out there, which is put out by career activists, whose sole purpose is to spread this disinformation and distract from the real issues. It doesn't matter that none of these professionals has participated in this discussion; their work is already done if their misleading issues, flawed statistics, and dogmatic positions are repeated. The job that I have taken upon myself (which I am not paid for, of course) is to debunk the outright false statements and place the misleading statements in proper perspective.

Unfortunately for me, the anti-nuclear groups have the advantage, because they have fear on their side, and fear often can make irrational arguments sound rational. In fact, the whole purpose of these groups is to manufacture and spread fear to get people to do what they want and to think the way that they want them to. (If this sounds similar to the tactics used by a certain administration -- think about that similarity -- note that they both frequently use terrorism as a trump card.) Because of the irrational nature of fear, confusion works to their advantage, and so one has to be careful not to get tangled up in irrelevant arguments like linear-no-threshold (LNT) versus hormesis. While this is a temptingly interesting topic to discuss, it is completely academic and irrelevant to the issue at hand, because the exposure to the public from commercial reactors is vanishingly small (i.e., much smaller than the exposure that we receive all the time from many different things), and LNT is the standard that is used to determine that this exposure is vanishingly small.

Terrorism feeds fear quite well, and it is often brought up in discussions such as this to provoke an emotional response. Am I worried about terrorists attacking a nuclear plant? Only a very little. I've actually been to nuclear facilities, and I have seen the security firsthand. These are very well defended places. I am more concerned about terrorists hitting the chemical plant at the edge of town, which would release toxic chemicals to kill people just as dead as radiation would, or terrorists hitting a natural gas terminal, which would not only kill many people immediately, but would have serious economic repercussions for the country. If I worked in a tall building, I would be much more concerned about terrorists hitting that, as they have already demonstrated they can do.

The real value of a nuclear power plant for terrorists is not the radiation, it is the fear associated with the power plant ("terror" is part of their name, after all). This fear is fed, for the most part, by the anti-nuclear groups, who I suppose it could be said make the plant an all the more attractive target. This, of course, helps the anti-nuclear group to use terrorism as a source of fear, and the cycle repeats itself in a kind of symbiotic progression.

Well, that sums up my point of view. Like I said, I am not trying to persuade anyone; I only want to set the record straight and counter the misinformation out there. I don't think that we should accept lies, half-truths, and spurious reasoning, whether it is from the government, from professional activists, or from the nuclear industry (I do not claim that they are perfect).

Don't take my word for it, however. Do your own research and decide for yourself. The NEI's information is a good place to start, but I am not asking you to believe them either. They're usually pretty good at providing their sources, so go to the source to get your information. Then look at the other side and check their sources. Finally, start with an open mind and weigh the arguments and evidence on both sides and see where you end up. That's all I ask.

P.S. Sorry for writing a book here. Your patience is appreciated.



Thanks for your insight regarding this company's ability to get this project completed. Your experience in that area carries a lot of weight.


Thanks for sharing your point of view. As I said I will continue to research and become more informed. If I could suggest one thing, and it comes from something you said in your last comment. You said:

"Almost all opposition that I have witnessed has come from outside the local community. It consists of green campaigners who have come from the nearby cities or career activists and professional protesters from Greenpeace, Public Citizen, etc., who have come from their offices in Washington D.C."

It appears that you came into this discussion with that "chip" on your shoulder...expecting that those opposing this plant at this site were those "career activists." Actually those expressing opposition here in this forum *are* all local folks--people who just care about their communities and in my case, I've lived here almost my entire life. It wasn't helpful to your arguments to deliver them with derision and contempt.

Now as you say, I hope we can put this to rest for now. It has been an informative debate.

Brian Mays


Point taken. It was not my intention to bring my chip with me when entering this discussion, but it is easy to get carried away in "blog land." Sorry.

Jim Hopf

Concerning the terrorist attack issue:

The risks from terrorist attack on a nuclear plant are extremely small, much smaller than the risks from numerous other facilities lying all around the country, and much smaller than the risks all of us face in everyday life. Arguments that the attack risks are large or unacceptable largely rely on the (commonly held) notion that a successful attack on a nuclear plant would be “the ultimate catastrophe”. As I show in my previous posts, this is far from the truth. Even a worst-case radiation release from a (very unlikely) completely successful attack on the nuclear plant would have smaller public health consequences than those inflicted ANNUALLY from fossil fuel plants.

NRC basically admitted that they could not PROVE that there was NO chance of a release from a terrorist attack. It is always hard/impossible to prove such things. But the chances of success for such an attack are extremely small, and the potential consequences are far smaller than people have been lead to believe. The nuclear industry’s level of security vs. attack is far better than that of any other commercial industry. Senator Paul Schumer (a Democrat), the democratic Progressive Policy Institute, and Rudy Guliani have all stated that nuclear power plants have the best record of any industry in terms of security vs. attack. Also a study by the Electric Power Research Institute shows that attacking a nuclear power plant with an airliner is basically a futile endeavor, with a very small chance (if any) of causing a significant release.

The terrorists have shown that they generally do not attack hard targets which have a low chance of success. They prefer softer targets and targets where the chances of success are very high. They generally attack us where we are not expecting it, and where we have not prepared robust defenses (the very opposite of a nuclear plant). I would also add that if they ever did (unwisely) decide to attack a nuclear plant, they would attack one in a higher population density region of the country. Thus, the chances of such an attack on a plant in Idaho are essentially nil.

There is an enormous number of sites/facilities in the country that are much better targets for a terrorist attack, which not only have much less protection (making the chance of success much higher) but which also have higher potential consequences. An EPA report said that there are hundreds of chemical plants in this country, with little protection, that would have consequences far higher than worst-case nuclear plant meltdown if they were attacked. Tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of short-term or immediate deaths are predicted, along with who knows how many deaths from long-term cancer risks. Even Chernobyl, which released much more radiation than a Western plant ever could, even under an attack scenario, didn’t cause any short-term or immediate public deaths (~50 workers/responders died). Other facilities like large dams and oil/gas/LNG terminals also represent a much larger risk. Insisting on even more security at nuclear plants, or refusing to build them (over security concerns) when hundreds of much worse targets litter the landscape is absurd. It doesn’t make us any safer.

One final point that must be considered is nuclear plants’ effect on the overall likelihood of terrorism (or an attack) in the first place. The fact is that our dependence on Middle Eastern oil (and soon, Middle Eastern gas as well) is largely responsible for the threat of terrorism. It is the reason for our heavy-handed presence in the region (which is the source for much of the resentment). It leads to resource wars like Iraq. It’s why we can’t apply more pressure on those countries with respect to hateful policies and institutions (e.g., Whabbinism) as we fear a cutoff. And finally, all the money we send to those places for gas and oil is (directly or indirectly) the source of funding for these terrorist groups. Using domestic sources like nuclear, in lieu of gas and oil reduced the over all risk of terrorism, i.e., the chance of attacks occurring in the first place. For the above reasons, the benefits of using more nuclear power with respect to reducing the root causes of terrorism far outweigh any (small) plant attack risks. Note that whereas the plant attack risk is only weakly dependent on the number of plants, if at all (as the terrorists can/will only strike one plant), the benefits from reduced oil/gas imports scales directly with the number of plants.

Peter Rickards

Hi Jim and Brian,
Please note that INL wants multiple commercial nuclear power plants there, as well as plutonium-238 production clustering, plus more. I hope the terrorists and mentally unstable guards all agree with you and Brian, that this is an unworthy target! Disrupting the western power grid cluster, and having radioactive debris float across the country would probably just get laughed out of the terrorist Hall of Fame as small potatoes, eh?
Now that you have addressed terrorism, I'll need to correct and clarify a few of the claims you made.
First you downplay a nuclear meltdown, chosing to compare it to chemical plant disaster, in terms of immediate death figures. Comparing to CHEMICAL plants is not a reasonable comparison, for Idaho's chioce of geothermal and wind vs nuclear power. I have never called a nuclear meltdown "the ultimate disaster," but you beat that straw man soundly!
PLEASE state the source of your claim that a full blown US nuclear meltdown would be much smaller than Chernobyl.
Jim said:"NRC basically admitted that they could not PROVE that there was NO chance of a release from a terrorist attack."
Peter: No, that's not what the NRC press release said! I read that report directly, but an informative report on the NRC statements by nuclear physicists at The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists can be read at
Here are a few quotes...
"Immediately after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the nuclear industry issued statements asserting that U.S. reactor containments were designed to withstand the crash of a fully loaded jumbo jet."
"Ten days later he(NRC spokesman) admitted that "the initial cut we had on that was misleading." In a formal statement, the agency conceded that it "did not specifically contemplate attacks by aircraft such as Boeing 757s and 767s, and nuclear power plants were not designed to withstand such crashes."
"Early on, however, David Kyd, spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was quoted as saying that most nuclear plants, built during the 1960s and 1970s, were designed to withstand only accidental, glancing impacts from the smaller aircraft used at the time. "If you postulate the risk of a jumbo jet full of fuel, it is clear that their design was not conceived to withstand such an impact,'' he said. In reporting Kyd's comments, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed U.S. government official to the effect that a direct hit at high speed by a modern jumbo jet "could create a Chernobyl situation."
"For example, the NRC estimated years ago that a meltdown at one of the San Onofre reactors in Southern California could produce 130,000 "prompt" fatalities, 300,000 latent cancers, and 600,000 genetic defects. Analyses for other reactors performed by Sandia National Laboratories for the NRC estimated damages up to $314 billion in 1980 dollars (the equivalent of about $700 billion today)."
"A typical nuclear power plant contains within its core about 1,000 times the long-lived radioactivity released by the Hiroshima bomb. The spent fuel pools at nuclear power plants typically contain some multiple of that--several Chernobyls' worth (see "What About the Spent Fuel?" page 45). "

G. R. L. Cowan, boron combustion fan

Rickards shows a blind spot a number of commentators here share: quoting US government authorities as if they thought the US government would never mislead one into undue fear of fission.

But if you follow the money, you'll understand why that's EXACTLY what they would do; what that government, and several others, would do.

Does petroleum cost US$60 a barrel? No, actually it costs more in the US$100-US$200 a barrel range, depending where you live. $60 to the supplier, yes, but then there is tax; and fossil fuels are taxed much, much higher than any other large-dollar commodity I know of.

If you wonder why speed limits on the roads are so little enforced, well, don't. Nothing, surely, has ever been less mysterious: we have allowed the authors of those rules to become the biggest oil profiteers in the world, by far -- and speeders burn more oil.

Similarly, when that barrel of fossil oil is replaced by a cubic centimetre of uranium oxide, that mining companies get less than two dollars for, governments feel the sudden absence, not of two dollars, but of roughly 50. They do NOT want to make it up on volume.

The quoted comparison of power reactors' and spent fuel pools' contained long-lived radioactivity to that released by the Hiroshima bomb or the Chernobyl explosion tends to mislead by failing to mention that long-lived radioactivity did not do any of the killing at Hiroshima and only a tiny fraction at Chernobyl. At each of these explosions short-lived radioactivity was much, much more intense; that is what makes it short-lived.

A more honest comparison would be to the long-lived radioactivity in the ocean. There is very little of it: no more than our ancestors could have put there if, seven generations back, they had gone nuclear in a very big way, with many thousands of large reactor, all operating until about 1950, with ALL of the generated radioactivity being dissolved in the sea.

(I don't know how they would get it to dissolve, and stay dissolved. UO2 in nature tends to just lie on the bottom; look up "UO2 placer". Given that fact, a more reasonable estimate of the number of reactors would be millions or tens of millions. That is the number our ancestors would have had to operate between 1800 and 1950 to make the sea as radioactive as it now naturally is.)

G. R. L. Cowan, boron combustion fan

... in, um, the hypothetical case that it had had absolutely zero radioactivity in 1800.

Of course it then had, in fact, the same radioactivity as now, so, just to clarify, the effect, if our ancestors had run all those reactors and dissolved the spent fuel, would be a doubling.

Peter Rickards

Hi G.R.L. Cowan,
RE: "Rickards shows a blind spot a number of commentators here share: quoting US government authorities as if they thought the US government would never mislead one into undue fear of fission.

But if you follow the money, you'll understand why that's EXACTLY what they would do; what that government, and several others, would do. "

Peter: I agree that tax money is a big incentive for government. But please understand that the nuclear power businessmen have been subsidized by the BILLIONS of dollars, since the 50's. From the Price_Anderson Liability Act, to this recent Bush push called Nuclear Power 2010. This program is designed to jump start the commercial nuclear power industry with your tax dollars. That's why Jim oph's company gave Butch $10,000. We taxpayers are funding the associated nuclear power experiments at INL, all to help the commercial businessmen. That includes The Gen IV full scale experiments, the full scale HTGR, and the GNEP (Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) projects.
Google any of those project names, or for general background on regular nuclear subsidies google : nuclear power subsidy ...for starters
I am not sure how you figure I trust the government or expect them to tell the truth, from what I have said above.
I do try to document when the government or businessmen lie or mislead people. How else will "we the people" protect our children's future?
RE: terrorism at spent fuel pools and "A more honest comparison would be to the long-lived radioactivity in the ocean."
Peter: Well, sure there is natural radiation everywhere, but I think you are confusing the long lived natural uranium-238 in the ocean (4.5 BILLION year half-life), and nuclear fuels' nasty cesium-137 (30 year half-life) and moderately long lived man-made plutonium (24,000 year half-life).
These are some of the radioactive products that made areas uninhabitable after Chernobyl, and impounded crops for years.
Please remember a terrorist strike that breaches the nuclear power containment, and causes loss of coolant, will result in a full meltdown, with all the hyper-nasty short lived radionuclides you mentioned, plus ALL the others.
A "dirty bomb" just spews the radioactive material, which still IS a threat to crops and inhalation. But for sure, causing a criticality at the spent fuel pools or storage would be much worse than a simpler dirty bomb.

Jim Hopf

Just because something is not "designed to" withstand something, doesn't mean that it is likely to fail. I know what it means to formally design something to withstand some type of event with full regulatory rigor, as I do such analyses for a living. It means that you have to demonstrate that there is no chance of failure, to an extremely high standard of scientific proof. It means that even under analyses that make extremely conservative assumptions concerning every variable or contingency (to the point of being completely unrealistic) the structure would still not fail. That's how it's done in the nuclear industry, anyway.

The fact is that even if something does not meet such rigorous and overly-conservative criteria, it is still very unlikely to fail. Analyses that make more realistic assumptions, or which consider the actual probability distributions for various assumptions/inputs, such as the EPRI study I referred to, show that there is very little likelihood, of any, from an airplane strike on a reactor.

For there to be any chance at all of penetration, a perfect (normal) strike at very center of the containment at very high speed is required, something that an attacker has a negligible chance of pulling off. Even then, the chance of penetration is small, albeit not proven to be zero.

The studies on accident consequences you refer to are outdated and deeply flawed, and all scientists know it. Subsequent studies which used more recent scientific data, were more detailed, and (therefore) made less overly conservative assumptions yield much smaller potential releases.

Chernobyl basically (and categorically) proved the studies to be totally flawed. Despite releasing a significant fraction of the entire core activity (the theoretical maximum release, basically), nobody living around the plant (or anywhere else) died of acture exposure! Only workers or responders who went right into the plant died. And note that no members of the public died even though nobody was evacuated or instructed to take any mitigating measures in the days during and after the accident when they were exposed to the plume. Even if one assumed the same release, public exposures in the country would be much smaller due to the prompt evacuation and emergency response.

In terms of Western plants not being able to release nearly as much (let alone more) than Chernobyl, all I can say is that it's pretty much obvious.

Chernobyl involved a massive power excursion (to thousands of times rated power). This large amount of energy is what drove the event and the degree of destruction and the degree of dispersion of the contents into the enviroment. Western reactors are inherently stable and incapable of such an excursion. In our worst-case accident scenario, which involves a relatively "gentle" melting of the fuel, the thermal source during the event is vastly smaller, only a few percent of rated power. This would translate into much less dispersal of contents into the environment.

Chernobyl had a flammible graphite core which caught on fire after the initial event. This ongoing, unstoppable fire was also a primary mechanism for transporting core materials far out into the environment. The only things inside a Western containment are non-flammible materials like steel, concrete and water. LOTS of water. There'll be no fire there. None of any significant duration anyway.

Finally, and most obviously, Chernobyl had no containment, whereras Western plants have the core contained within thick layers of steel and concrete. This will "hold in" the great majority of the core material, even in the most severe core damage events. Although complete containment may not be possible in all scenarios, even in worst-case scenarios where there is a containment breach, the presence of the containment will still greatly reduce the amount of radioactivity released.

Every comparison of differences between Chernobyl and a Western plant point in the same direction, i.e., they point to a much lower release from the Western plant. It is not a great leap of logic to therefore assume that the consequences of a Western plant accident would be far lower than those of Chernobyl.

Chernobyl has caused less than 100 clearly-attributable ("short-term") deaths. Conservative theoretical predictions (based on the LNT assumption) predict ~4000-9000 eventual cancer deaths. It is obvious that the maximum possible consequences of a Western plant event will be far smaller than this. Compare this to 25,000 deaths in the US alone (hundreds of thousands worldwide) every single year from coal plants.

Peter Rickards

Hi Jim,
Thanks for another symantical dance-of-denial about what might not happen, but I'll stand by my quote of David Kyd, spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency

Remember Idaho's choice is between renewables, or large merchant nuclear and coal plants. You keep comparing nuclear to coal, and Chernobyl to chemical plants.
But for perusal, here is a 2005 article on the Nat'l Acad of Sciences, criticizing the NRC and Bush over terrorists and spent fuel pools. Here are a few fun quotes... The nuclear part of this report is still classified from my search.

Storage of Nuclear Spent Fuel Criticized
Science Academy Study Points to Risk of Attack

By Shankar Vedantam
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 28, 2005; Page A01

A classified report by nuclear experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences has challenged the decision by federal regulators to allow commercial nuclear facilities to store large quantities of radioactive spent fuel in pools of water.

The report concluded that the government does not fully understand the risks that a terrorist attack could pose to the pools and ought to expedite the removal of the fuel to dry storage casks that are more resilient to attack. The Bush administration has long defended the safety of the pools, and the nuclear industry has warned that moving large amounts of fuel to dry storage would be unnecessary and very expensive."

""There are substantive disagreements between our committee's views and the NRC," he said in an interview. "If someone only reads the NRC report, they would not get a full picture of what we had to say."

Although the commission said it is keeping the report under wraps for security reasons, some officials who have seen the document suggest that the NRC is merely suppressing embarrassing criticism."

Brian M.

Only because my name has been mentioned again, out of politeness, I am responding to say that I am no longer contributing to this discussion. Along with the majority here, I too have moved on.

Besides, Peter is doing such a fine job of making my last couple of points that I really don't think that I have much to add. His own words make my case better than anything else I could say.

So, again, I leave those of you who are still reading with this. Don't believe anything you have read here. Go to the sources and look beyond the spin. Make up your own mind, but to do that, start with an open mind. Although this is a fairly technical issue, it is also a highly political one, and as with anything in politics, there is a lot of salesmanship going on. The rational truth is somewhere between the extremes, but it can only be found by going beyond the hype, beyond the senseless criticism, and discovering for yourself.


Peter Rickards

Howdy sports fans,
RE: World wind power potential- Stanford study
Here is a 2005 article on the physics paper from the "extremists" at Sanford, on how wind power can supply the world's needs (not including geothermal etc). Wind power can make H fuel cells for storage of power, naturally. Please note our own DOE, in 1991, documented that our 12 windiest states could provide double the present electric consumption of the US. Idaho was ranked 13th windiest, so although we can exceed our own consumption, we were not included in the DOE study of the US wind potential!

"A new global wind power map has quantified global wind power and may help planners place turbines in locations that can maximize power from the winds and provide widely available low-cost energy. After analyzing more than 8,000 wind speed measurements in an effort to identify the world's wind power potential for the first time, Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson of Stanford University suggest that wind captured at specific locations, if even partially harnessed, can generate more than enough power to satisfy the world's energy demands. Their report will be published in May in the Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres, a publication of the American Geophysical Union."
"The study also estimated the amount of global wind power that could be harvested at locations with suitably strong winds. The authors found that the locations with sustainable Class 3 winds could produce approximately 72 terawatts and that capturing even a fraction of that energy could provide the 1.6-1.8 terawatts that made up the world's electricity usage in the year 2000. A terawatt is 1 billion watts, a quantity of energy that would otherwise require more than 500 nuclear reactors or thousands of coal-burning plants. "

Peter Rickards

RE: Official geothermal power potential for US is 5 times more...

Another bunch of extremists from the University of Utah! How dare they contradict the nuclear businessmen who focus on comparing nukes to coal as our only real choice?
Key quote: "The Energy and Geosciences Institute of the University of Utah estimates just the thermal aquifers contain 55 x 1018 Joules of energy, which would be roughly equivalent to the energy needed to provide 15.3 Billion kilowatt hours of electric power, or five times the total US electrical production in 1990"
How much energy is geothermal electricity capable of supplying to the U.S. right now?
The USGS assessment (cited above), found 20,000 - 26,000 megawatts of known geothermal sites that exist throughout the United States. Of this, a recent report for the Western Governors’ Association (WGA) estimates that 13,000MW of identified resources are expected to be developable within the next 10-20- years of which 5,600 megawatts can be developed within the next five to ten years at competitive prices with the production tax credit (for details about the WGA estimate, please click the Excel file here).

That report notes: "This is a commercially achievable capacity for new generation and does not include the much larger potential of unknown, undiscovered resources." It also notes that its market and cost assumptions "do not consider advances in technology or any learning curve effects that could reduce costs or expand available production." (WGA Geothermal Task Force Report, pages 4 and 7 respectively, January 2006, available at www.westgov.org).

The total US geothermal resource is estimated to be much larger. The Energy and Geosciences Institute of the University of Utah estimates just the thermal aquifers contain 55 x 1018 Joules of energy, which would be roughly equivalent to the energy needed to provide 15.3 Billion kilowatt hours of electric power, or five times the total US electrical production in 1990. Other geothermal systems -- magmatic systems, geopressurized basins and resources available only with enhanced geothermal techniques -- are estimated to contain significantly even more energy

Rod Adams


The numbers speak for themselves. The current market shares for electrical power production are roughly as follows (in order of decreasing penetration):
Coal - 49.5%
Nuclear - 19.7%
Gas - 18.6%
Hydro - 6.9%
Oil - 3%
Renewables and other (including municipal solid waste) - 2.7%
(source 2004 data from Energy Information Agency)

As a businessman, I am far more interested in working to capture market share from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas than to worry too much about the tiny portion of the market supplied by renewables. Even if those source quadruple their market penetration, they will not not slow our progress.

Any market that can be served by windmills and solar panels can feel safe from our competition.

Fossil fuel suppliers, on the other hand, have something to worry about. Perhaps that is why they are such generous supporters of high profile groups like the Rocky Mountain Institute, the Sierra Club, and even Greenpeace.

Peter Rickards

Hi Ron,
The nuclear industry has also infiltrated Environmental groups. Money can't buy you love, but you sure can find more people willing to fake it for you!
It is irrelevant what percent of the market renewables now supply. Since geothermal can provide 5 times our electric use, and wind can provide double our electric use, why not shut you all down over the next 20 years? If we approached our energy supply as a National Security issue when the 1970's brought us OPEC and gas lines, the job would already be done. We wouldn't be fighting oil wars now, or adding mercury to fish, or risking nuclear meltdowns.

Rod Adams


What is stopping your favorite power sources from expansion? How many more incentives does the industry need in order to encourage more development? If there are such usable sources of renewable energy, why wait?

People often mention the supposed subsidies that nuclear power receives, but they never mention the cost impediments that have been placed in the path by the government. (At the encouragement, I suspect, of fossil fuel interests.)

I am not talking about the cost of complying with regulations, I am talking about up front fees that must be paid before you can even get a license to operate.

For example - the initial application fee is $125,000 and the applicant is responsible for paying NRC reviewers $217 (this year, it is indexed for inflation) for every hour spent on activities related to the license. For the most recently licensed designs, the design license process cost about $60 - $80 million in license fees alone - without counting any time spent by the applicant.

Once a plant is licensed, it must pay the government an annual license fee to operate, currently about $3.7 million per plant. (source - NRC License Fees available at http://www.nrc.gov/reactors/operating/licensing/license-fees.html)

For every kilowatt hour generated the own pays 1 mill into the nuclear waste fund. That does not sound like much, but since nuclear power generates about 780 Terawatt hours each year, the total fee to the government is about 780 million or an average of 7.8 million per plant (some are higher, some are lower.)

That is just a sample. Now, our competitors (the coal, oil and gas industries) get a whole bunch of incentives to encourage mining and drilling, but the most valuable subsidy of all is the fact that their waste handling process mainly consists of an open smoke stack to the common atmosphere that we all must breathe. There are no federal license fees for fossil facilities.

Much is made about the nuclear industry jumping on the global warming bandwagon, but my humble opinion is that the nuclear industry is terribly timid about emphasizing its huge advantages in avoiding NOX, SOX, mercury, and particulate emissions. I have asked NEI and other utility industry PR people for years about this, and the response is rather disheartening - they carefully explain that they are not about to shine a light onto coal, gas or oil since they operate plants using those fuels and those plants are often the majority of their generating capacity.

You can ask around or use Google or visit my web sites and find out that I am not a big fan of the current nuclear industry. I think they do a great job operating large, complex machinery, but they are deaf when it comes to many concerns.

They do not understand how important ugly is; they do not understand that big can be scary and damaging; they do not promote their technology for fear that it might damage other parts of their business or encourage competitors; they operate out of a sense of fear rather than one of confidence.

No, they do not fear their technology, they fear people like you. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, when they were working hard to deploy a terrific new source of energy, they were fought every step of the way. They were challenged on siting, thermal pollution, evacuation plans, waste storage, and emergency cooling. Every time they answered the challenge with a technical solution that was pretty good, someone came up with another reason to stop their progress and add to their cost. A lot of people spent a lot of time on sites where progress was halted by a half a dozen people holding signs and another half a dozen filing legal briefs. There were a few big demonstrations here in the US, but since many protest or canvassing organizations actually pay people to do that, they did it the cheap way.

The nuclear industry is composed of a bunch of dedicated engineers that simply cannot understand why people might question their decisions so they react by pulling in and not explaining themselves. They are very defensive and would much rather spend their days either quietly operating or trying to figure out ways to overcome technical challenges than to figure out ways to communicate and change people's minds.

For example - why does a nuclear meltdown concern you? We did an accidental experiment on Three Mile Island more than 26 years ago and then spent a ton of money analyzing the results. Did you know that more than 40% of the core melted to the bottom of the pressure vessel and then froze there? It did not penetrate that first boundary more than a fraction of an inch - there were six or seven inches remaining before it even escaped from that.

That experiment proves to me that the only risk from a meltdown in a US licensed light water reactor is a serious FINANCIAL risk - there is no risk to the public, but the multi-billion dollar investment can be broken with dumb decisions by operators. There is a reason why companies invest so heavily in operator training!

Did you know that the German AVR, the US EBR II and the Chinese HTR-10 have all conducted worst case accident events without operator action and without any core damage at all? Those plants all provided what is known as passive safety due to inherent material properties like melting points, conduction cooling to surrounding environments, and the negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. (Adams Engines (TM) will use reactors similar to the ones used in the AVR and the HTR-10.)

I will remind you that I am not employed by the nuclear industry. I have a full time job completely outside of the industry that I use to subsidize the development of my atomic enterprises. In fact, other than a small web site development project that I did in 1995, I have never received a dime from a company associated with the nuclear industry.

Sorry about the length - you scratched my passion.

(BTW - you are not the only one who does it, but could you please notice that my name is spelled ROD, not RON. It is short for Rodney.)

Rod Adams


One other thought - you spent a lot of time talking about reports from the US Geological Survey. Do you realize that the vast majority of geologists work for a very small number of industries? They are specialists at looking for stuff underground like coal, oil, gas and mineral. The ones employed by the government are like professionals in many specialties, they rotate in and out through the revolving door.

I do not trust the geological profession to provide unbiased opinions. They may be spot on when it comes to identifying potential sources of heat underground, but their economic computations are suspect.

Peter Rickards

Hi Rod,
RE: "Much is made about the nuclear industry jumping on the global warming bandwagon, but my humble opinion is that the nuclear industry is terribly timid about emphasizing its huge advantages in avoiding NOX, SOX, mercury, and particulate emissions."

Geez, I'd almost believe these shy nuclear businesses are too timid to jump on the global warming bandwagon, ummm, if it weren't for all the FULL PAGE ADS I have seen from NEI!! Like in People magazine, with a picture of an eagle flying over a mountain, bragging on how nukes stop global warming and provide clean air.
The global warming vehicle is the nukers' MAIN means of promotion for a decade. Just look at what all you "amateurs" like Jim Koph wrote above! It's an old recipe. Heat some global warming warnings and flavor with some "gosh shucks". Add some spicy rhetoric about how extremists are using scare tactics. Appeal to the uninformed by comparing to how a healthy diet includes nice portions of both renewables and nukes, then SERVE YOURSELF with a smile.

Rod Adams


Please read my comment again. What I said was that the nuclear industry is terribly timid about talking about all of its advantages over fossil fuel. Preventing CO2 emissions is just one of the possible things that the PR folks COULD emphasize.

Again, the problem is that there really is no "nuclear" industry to speak of (yet).

All major companies with some nuclear operations are either large utilities or energy equipment suppliers that also have HUGE investments in the fossil fuel industry, the wind industry, the solar industry and even the biomass industry.

They do not want to disadvantage all of the other parts of their business in order to help teach people just how magical it is that we can obtain 2 million times as much energy per unit mass from uranium as from oil (6 million if you include the mass of the O2 required for combustion.) That concentration difference also means that the waste problem is proportionally smaller. The only reason that you have heard so much about the waste is that the operators are forced to actually recognize that they have to take care of nuclear waste - with fossil waste they are only forced to build taller smokestacks so that they can dilute their pollution a bit more.

If you want to talk about misleading full page magazine ads, take a look at all of the "Beyond Petroleum" ads from BP or the "Will You Join Us?" ads from Chevron. Those companies talk about their renewable investments when they are less than 1% of their total capital budget (including the magazine ads).


The Bruneau nuclear power plant proposal is still alive and kicking believe it or not. I'm sure those Virginia boys are working very hard to keep it under the radar but...

We have other plans.


The comments to this entry are closed.

Linked in

  • View Julie Fanselow's profile on LinkedIn