This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

Post

Just Science: Global Warming and Fission Power

Many people don’t understand the logic behind the concerns that CO2 is heating the planet. Others don’t perceive how nuclear power can safely provide emission free energy to solve the problem. Here are the concise logical arguments, side by side.

Climate Science

CO2 in the atmosphere acts as an insulating blanket.

Sunlight passes through CO2 transparently, heating Earth. Warm objects cool by radiating away heat energy. Earth’s radiated infra-red light is partly absorbed by CO2 in the atmosphere. Adding more CO2 adds more insulation, slowing the cooling and warming Earth a bit to transfer through the atmosphere all the heat absorbed as sunlight energy.

There are also other, varying causes of climate change, but the CO2 insulation effect is consistent and persistent as CO2 dissolves slowly in the ocean over centuries.

The atmosphere already holds 2000 gigatons (Gt) of CO2 insulation. Doubling this will add 1.5°C to world temperatures.

The world is adding 51 Gt/year, set to increase to 59 Gt/y, so CO2 will double by 2050. Thus temperatures will rise by 1.5°C, then continue rising as more CO2 is added.

Limiting the rise to 2°C by 2100 requires big CO2 emissions reductions, from 51 Gt/y now, to 42 Gt/y by 2030, to 25 Gt/y by 2050. The Paris pledges reduce emissions by just
 6 Gt/y, not nearly enough.

Cutting CO2 emissions requires stopping burning carbon fuels, which importantly provide 80% of world energy. Developing nations are rapidly increasing energy use. For electric power they choose burning coal, the most cost-effective route to prosperity. Alternative energy sources must be cheaper than coal to dissuade them.

Alternatives include wind, solar, hydro, and uranium fission. Hydro sources are too limited. Wind and solar sources are too intermittent, and energy storage solutions are way too expensive. We can’t power up our world on 100% renewables.

Fission power is essential for checking CO2 emissions driving global warming.

Fission Energy Science

Nature trapped lots of energy in each uranium atom created when 235 protons and neutrons were compressed together during supernovas 6 billion years ago. Some of that cosmic dust was incorporated into the solar system as it condensed and Earth formed.

Fissioning uranium into two smaller atoms releases that bound-up energy and a few neutrons. Fission power plants use the neutrons to fission even more uranium, making enough heat to make steam to run an electric turbine-generator.

Uranium fuel is a million times more energy dense than coal. So it makes a million times less waste, and it’s energetically cheaper.

Many people fear radiation, though uranium fission is the safest power source in history. Comparing energy produced to lives lost, fission is 2X as safe as solar or hydro, 4X wind, 500X natural gas, 5000X coal.

Moderate levels of radiation are harmless. Radiation fear is a holdover from 1940s science errors and misconduct. The fear arose before scientists understood the human immune system and ongoing cellular repair. Evolution adapted life to assaults from radiation, disease, cancer, and metabolism.

Nobody was hurt by radiation at Fukushima. The max dose to anyone was 40X a year’s typical natural background radiation from rocks and cosmic rays. Cancers have never been observed below such a dose.

Daily radiation at 365X background rate does not overwhelm immune system protection. US nuclear and emergency workers are safely allowed 20X a year’s background dose. People in Ramsar, Iran, live with radiation 100X the typical background rate.

Fear and over-regulation have made building new fission power plants too expensive. New, simpler technologies like liquid fuel fission will provide developing nations with the economic, ample, zero-emission energy they need for prosperity.

 

Many conservatives supporting nuclear power don’t understand the left column science logic. Many liberals concerned about global warming don’t realize the right column science facts. Let’s all use science justly. It’s just science.

Robert Hargraves's picture

Thank Robert for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.

Discussions

Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on Nov 24, 2017 7:44 pm GMT

Sure, a lot of people were hurt at Fukushima.
All of it was due to the evacuations. Some died – some committed suicide.
I dare to ask: “Who are responsible?”
In my opinion you find main part of the answer here. http://wp.me/p1RKWc-mu

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 25, 2017 5:48 pm GMT

Robert, among other qualifications of yours, don’t leave out “PhD Physics, Brown University”. I don’t have any degrees in physics or engineering, but I’m content to heed the advice of those who do. I wish everyone was.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Nov 25, 2017 7:44 pm GMT

Here’s a nice, illustrated article about Ramsar, mentioned above.
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/high-background-radiation-areas-ramsar-co...

Sean OM's picture
Sean OM on Nov 26, 2017 1:02 am GMT

Many people on the left understand the societal benefits as well as the cost structures of the right column. The nicest industry as well as the coal industry wholeheartedly backed solar and wind because they didn’t think it could be done chat effectively and it would raise prices which would ultimately kill the technologies. Leaving more subsidies for their respective industries.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Nov 26, 2017 1:49 am GMT

Robert, the background ionizing radiation level for Denver, CO is often cited as the highest in the U.S., due to both abundant radon in the soil and extraterrestrial gamma radiation at altitude. In 1990, the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements estimated 11.8 mSv/yr as the average natural background dose there.

A chart in the article you cite shows the maximum U.S. level as .88 mSv/yr, over an order of magnitude lower. Any idea why the discrepancy?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Nov 26, 2017 7:56 am GMT

Something about the beaches of Karala and Guarapari would be good too.

Robert Hargraves's picture
Robert Hargraves on Nov 27, 2017 1:40 pm GMT

Yes, Poet is right; my self-challange was to make the arguments concise enough to fit in one column, each.

Bob, I don’t understand why the Denver radon radiation estimate is so high. Here’s a nice article about Kerala radiation. https://academic.oup.com/jrr/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jrr/rrx061/4654...

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Nov 28, 2017 3:17 pm GMT

Contrary to the statement in the post “Nobody was hurt by radiation at Fukushima.”, the (partial future) death estimates due to the emitted radiation of Fukushima by experts range from 1,000 to 20,000.
E.g.
This study found highly significant (P-value 0.0009) increased perinatal deaths in not-evacuated areas covering a major part of Japan’s main island (9 prefectures).
Increase started ~9months after the fall-out came overland (~10months after the tsunami).
Increase bigger/less in areas where the contamination is higher/lower.
No relation found with tsunami damage, etc.

Another study covering 5 prefectures by independent researchers found similar.

– The WHO radiation expert committee report states in its summary regarding the extra lifetime risks for the evacuated Fukushima children:
Leukemia; risks increase up to ~7% over baseline cancer rates in males.
Thyroid cancer; risks increase up to ~70% over baseline rates in females.
Breast cancer; risks increase up to ~6% over baseline rates in females.
Solid cancers; risks increase by up to ~4% over baseline rates in females.
Despite the rather speedy evacuation (compared to Chernobyl)..

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Nov 28, 2017 3:39 pm GMT

The linkedin article states regarding Ramsar: “highest levels of natural background radiation on Earth— about 260 millisieverts per year”.

A dedicated study concluded regarding the radiation level:
“The potential annual effective doses of the public in ELNRA range from 0.6 to 131 mSv with a mean value of 6 mSv”
(ELNRA=Elevated Level Natural Radiation Areas in Ramsar in which ~1200 people live)

Despite the much lower radiation rate another study found significant increased levels of chromosome aberrations for those people.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Nov 29, 2017 4:45 am GMT

Same old junk science from Bas/Bentvels. Anyone can claim to be a scientist and publish a non-peer reviewed paper on the internet. Scherb is a favorite of Bentvels, but mainstream science does not agree with his results.

Bentvels likes to cherry pick a few sentences from the WHO report, which he then mis-represents: the section he’s quoting is not the risk for all of the children, just a very small group that was most effected. Even for this group, the over-all change in their health out-come is predicted to be almost negligible!

“The estimated dose levels in Fukushima prefecture were also too low to affect fetal development or outcome of pregnancy and no increases, as a result of antenatal radiation exposure, in spontaneous abortion, miscarriage, perinatal mortality, congenital defects or cognitive impairment are anticipated. ”

“… represent an upper bound of the risk as methodological options were consciously chosen to avoid underestimation of risks.”

” These percentages represent estimated relative increases over the baseline rates and are not estimated absolute risks for developing such cancers. It is important to note that due to the low baseline rates of thyroid cancer, even a large relative increase represents a small absolute increase in risks. For example, the baseline lifetime risk of thyroid cancer for females is just three-quarters of one percent and the additional lifetime risk estimated in this assessment for a female infant exposed in the
most affected location is one-half of one percent. … The estimated risks are lower for people exposed as children and adults compared to infants.”

So the over-all result from the WHO is that the health impacts of the Fukushima accident are actually very small (opposite of what Bentvels wants us to believe).

The real harm comes from the excessive evacuations, and the increase in fossil fuel use (and resulting air pollution increase) which resulted from the anti-nuclear scare-mongering by activists.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Nov 29, 2017 11:14 pm GMT

The “cherry picked” sentences of the WHO report are the conclusions of the WHO report stated in the Executive Summary (read the report).

The results of the two independent field studies more than confirm those conclusions, as those show significant increased perinatal death rates
in not-evacuated areas. Areas where people would not be harmed by the increased radiation according to the authorities, because the increase was too small.
It’s possible authorities took that position because the 9 affected prefectures had >30million inhabitants.

Jesper Antonsson's picture
Jesper Antonsson on Nov 30, 2017 9:31 am GMT

You keep peddling junk science from Scherb.

Regarding WHO, the general lifetime risk of getting leukemia is some 1.5% afaik. If there are 1000 male children in the most exposed group (I didn’t look it up), 15 of them would have leukemia at some point in life and a 7% increase means Fukushima might pessimistically add one extra case.

At the same time, each nuclear reactor in the world saves on average 200 lives each year due to improved air quality, according to NASA research.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on Nov 30, 2017 2:53 pm GMT

Which NASA research?
Or do you mean James Hansen whose 2013 publication assumed 43 deaths due to Chernobyl in order to show that nuclear killed less than coal, etc?
While UN WHO IARC states >16,000death for Chernobyl
(IARC=International Agency for Research on Cancer)

About 200,000 people were evacuated. So you may assume at least 20,000 children. Solid cancers occur in ~50% of the population. So an increase of 4% implies hundreds of extra deaths in later life. Add the other cancers.

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Dec 1, 2017 3:50 am GMT

Hansen et al refer to the 28 deaths from ARS and more from thyroid cancers with total 43, as these are “conclusively attributable” to the accident, and about which there is no dispute. Hansen references UNSCEAR 2008 about other health effects, which states:

“To date, there has been no persuasive evidence of any other health effect in the general population that be attributed to radiation exposure”

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »