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Nuclear Energy: Truth vs Fear

germany nuclear energy protest

As I was thinking about what to write this month, I was invited by my dry cleaner to attend a protest in a nearby park against genetically modified food. This somewhat infuriated me as I know without doubt that GMO has helped millions around the world and had never killed anyone (although denial of these foods has), yet, as with nuclear power, opposition remains strong, especially in Europe.

My dry cleaner argued trying to tell me that 500,000 were killed in India due to GMO and, as you can imagine, there was no winning the argument.  Mark Lynas, who I have quoted in previous posts has recently taken a hard stand against those who oppose GMO.  Mark makes his position clear in his talk at Cornell University this past April where he opens with the following: “I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.

It is no mistake that environmentalists like Mark have also changed their views on nuclear power and are now vigorously supporting it.  The simple reason is that Mark and others like Stewart Brand and George Monbiot, are taking positions that are founded in science rather than a set of beliefs that may feel right, but cannot be supported by scientific evidence.

Scientific evidence continues to increase its support while disproving widely held beliefs of many who oppose it.

For example, this past week (on May 23), a new study was reported on by the Canadian regulator (CNSC) looking at cancer rates near Canadian nuclear plants.  Not surprisingly, once again the results were clear.  No indication of any increases in cancer near nuclear stations relative to the rest of the province.  “The most important finding of this study is no evidence of childhood leukemia clusters in the communities within 25 km of the Pickering, Darlington and Bruce NPPs.”

Next I return to the study I wrote about last month published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology by Pushker A. Kharecha and James E. Hansen of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute.  They found that nuclear power has saved an estimated 80,000 lives annually – 1.84 million in all – since widely introduced in the 1970s and could save another 5 million if construction continues at a decent pace due to a reduction in air pollution.  Nuclear power has also reduced carbon emissions by 64 Gt over the same period.

And finally UNSCEAR has now released the results of its latest study on the Fukushima accident.  It clearly concluded “Radiation exposure following the nuclear accident at Fukushima-Daiichi did not cause any immediate health effects. It is unlikely to be able to attribute any health effects in the future among the general public and the vast majority of workers“.  But of even more importance this study also concluded that there are health effects from the Fukushima accident stemming from the stresses of evacuation and unwarranted fear of radiation.

So what does all this tell us?  Looking at these three studies we can confirm that

i) operating nuclear power plants do not cause cancer to the residents of nearby communities from normal operations;

ii) over the past 40 years nuclear power has in fact saved almost 2 million lives through a real reduction in pollution by not burning fossil fuels and its resultant health impacts; and finally

iii) that after the biggest nuclear accident in the last 25 years, radiation has not harmed any of the people of Japan and is unlikely to do so in the future.

Considering these kinds of results, why aren’t we seeing this reported in the main stream media?  With this kind of story there should be universal praise of nuclear power and strong support for its expansion.   Frankly, if it were any technology other than nuclear that was reported to have saved millions of lives we likely would have seen it in the headlines at CNN, BBC  and other mainstream media.  So why are we primarily seeing these nuclear studies reported in trade magazines and blogs?  Why is the world not blown away by this fantastic evidence of the benefits to our lives of nuclear power?  As I was pondering these developments I came upon a chapter title in the book I am currently reading by Ben Goldacre called “Bad Science” (Good book by the way).  The chapter title is “Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things”.  The chapter then goes on to discuss many of the things we have discussed in this blog before such as confirmation bias, seeing patterns where there are none and a host of other standard reasons why people tend stick to their beliefs in light of strong evidence that they should consider alternatives.

The reality is that some people will never change their view of nuclear power and will oppose it no matter what evidence is brought before them.  But for those of us who are frustrated, there is hope.  We are starting to see positive change.  We have well known environmentalists seeing the benefits of nuclear power.  This is now captured in the new documentary “Pandora’s Promise” coming in June.  Filmmaker Robert Stone is quoted as saying “It’s no easy thing for me to have come to the conclusion that the rapid deployment of nuclear power is now the greatest hope we have for saving us from an environmental catastrophe.” Entertainment Weekly says “the film is built around looking at an issue not with orthodoxy, but with open eyes”.  (I know some of you have already seen it.  I haven’t seen it yet but I am looking forward to it).

Our story is strong.  The message is positive and one of hope for the future.  But overcoming fear is no easy task.  Fear is a powerful emotion.  It will take hard work, commitment – and most of all – time.  But if we all persevere, the future is bright. The time has come to get the message out and show how much nuclear power contributes to society, and how necessary it is in a high energy resource intensive world.

Milton Caplan's picture

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Joey Ortiz's picture
Joey Ortiz on Jun 3, 2013 7:59 pm GMT

The failures of science education seen through the eyes of a physicist and engineer. Its something I see every hour, of every day of my life. Its not depressing however. There is real value in having correct ideas that are reflected by data. It comes as an advantage during gambling. Your wagers carry less risk. Often times, the public opinion can diverge from a scientifically sound opinion. Sometimes, the public may severely underestimate something that seems very certain from a physical point of view, or a statistical or economic point of view. That is when you strike.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 4, 2013 1:04 am GMT

I hope you are not saying that we should prefer/accept Hype and Fear Mongering to science and physics?

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Jun 4, 2013 1:12 am GMT

Milton, as usual the ‘devil’s in the detail’.  For year’s many have been led to believe that non-fossil fuel, green energy is ‘affordable and sustainable’.  The question rarely asked is: “compared to what?”  While politically popular wind and solar dominates the media and many green energy agendas, the costs and constraints of these intermediate, non-dispatchable energy power sources is rarely covered.  Wind/solar generally requires 100% backup, peaking natural gas power to ensure power grid reliability.  Today there are only a few alternatives to fossil fuels: hydropower (very unpopular with environmentalists due to reservoir and downstream impacts), nuclear (still plagued with the ‘China Syndrome’ fears of radiation catastrophe risks, and, the issue of dealing with spent fuels), geothermal (a very good alternative, but still somewhat of a niche power source), biofuels (that generally consume almost equal, or greater amounts in many cases, of fossil fuel energy in their overall production-consumption ‘lifecycle’s based on current technologies development/limitations), and industrial scale power storage (other than unpopular hydro pumped storage, a yet-to-be-developed/needed technology that could make wind/solar equivalent to nuclear power performance some day).


Until industrial scale power storage is developed to allow wind/solar to independently displace coal/natural gas power (without putting power grid’s reliabilities at risk), nuclear appears to be the only viable option to (baseload) fossil fuels (power).

I K's picture
I K on Jun 4, 2013 8:48 pm GMT

The biggest problem with nuclear is the misconception that gamma radiation 1: travel vast distances (eg like radio waves) and that they 2: require massive amounts of metal (lead) or concrete ect to shield them.  Both are completely wrong. Gamma is strongly absorbed by air and the inverse square law helps dissipate the energy too.

So as an example imagine a radiation source 1km away from you emitting a billion trillion gamma photons a second which have a half value thickness of 10 meters in air. It would take about 100 billion years for a single photon from that radiation source to hit you all the rest (a billion trillion per second every second) will  have missed you or been absorbed by the air before you.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 5, 2013 4:22 am GMT

I’ve noticed that support for nuclear power seems to vary depending on scientific discipline.  Most (but certainly not all) engineers and physicists seem to support its use. Most biologists and ecologists and others in the life sciences seem to oppose its use – at least among those i have spoken to and as it stands today. I wonder why?

I think the case for nuclear would be bolstered if these scientific fields could hash out their differences somehow.

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 6, 2013 6:38 am GMT

Until industrial scale power storage is developed…”

Thermal energy storage (for overnight use with CSP solar), hydrogen storage (for multi-day with solar or wind), and ammonia synthesis (for seasonal storage) are available today and would work fine, if we were willing to pay the high cost.  There is no particular reason to believe that multi-day storage will get cheaper in the future, nor is there reason to believe that PV with batteries can beat CSP with thermal storage.

As a result, the enormous advantage that PV has over CSP for installed capacity suggests that our renewables strategy is designed to prolong the use of fossil fuels, not replace them.  Simply put, we are not on a path to an all-renewable grid, and we would not like it if we had it.

Mr. Edo's picture
Mr. Edo on Jun 6, 2013 5:25 pm GMT


Being wise enough to understand how dangerous nuclear energy is has nothing to do with fear…it has to do with intelligence and common sense.

(1)  The UNSCEAR report has been counteracted point-by-point here:

(2)  Everyone should watch the presentations at the “Medical and Ecological Consequences of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident” to understand the true ramifications of the Fukushima triple nuclear meltdowns:

(3)  A new GALLUP poll says over 70% of Americans want more WIND and SOLAR energy.

(4)  Regarding renewable versus nuclear energy:

[a]  “Solar Scores a Big Win Over Nuclear”

“The debate over costs is over. Solar power won. Nuclear power lost. If your utility wants to own a new power plant, a utility-grade solar farm is a better deal than a new nuclear power plant. Perhaps that’s why Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) is building the world’s largest solar farm and not a new nuclear power plant.”

[b]  The DOE perfected an energy source decades ago called “HOT DRY ROCK GEOTHERMAL.”

 “Hot dry rock has an almost unlimited potential to supply all the energy needs of the United States and, indeed, all the world.”

[c]   The U.S. could be powered by 100% Renewable Energy.

This book tells how:  

“Carbon-free, Nuclear-free: Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy” By Dr. Arjun Makhijani.

(5)  Nuclear energy only provides 8% of U.S. energy.  That 8% could easily be replaced with CONSERVATION, energy efficiencies, and renewable energy sources.

(6)  Read:  “Nuclear Roulette:  The Truth About the Most Dangerous Energy Source on Earth” by Gar Smith

(7)  Uranium, the fuel used for the nuclear energy process, pollutes land, water and causes countless cases of cancer:

Read one example here:

(8)  More and more children in Japan are showing signs of radiation damage like Thyroid Cancer:

(9)  From the Fukushima meltdowns, the WHO predicts:

* a 70% increase thyroid cancer risk in females exposed as infants
* 6% higher risk in breast cancer in females exposed as infants
* 7% higher leukemia risk in males exposed as infants




Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 6, 2013 7:42 pm GMT

Two Things:

1) Can you further elaborate on “Radiation from cars”. Have I missed something here?

iii) the fact that radiation after accident in Fukushima didn’t harm anyone in Japan has most value in this set of argumnets and is worth mentioning, although it is little bit narrow. Radiation from many sources have been safe, but it does not mean that it is recomended. Radiation form cars also doesnt harm anybody, but it is more dangerous and more expensive to use car then a bicycle (although cars have their adventages)

2) Would you check out the link Jerry Culer provided below on Radiation here it is again:-

Replying to the comment by Krzysztof, the American Council on Science and Health asked me in 2008 to write an article with Dr. Myron Pollycove on the subject of nuclear energy and health that would address the serious issues mentioned by critics.  The article was subjected to a review process by qualified scientists and regulators and was published in the Dose-Response Journal in 2009.  Unfortunately, it did not trigger a “good debate.”   You can find this article at:  Let’s have a good debate.

3) Like Jerry said, “Let’s have a good debate.”

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 6, 2013 10:22 pm GMT

Mr Edo,

Did you really think that a website full of Nuclear Haters doing their expected hating on Nuclear, constitutes a refutal of UNSCEAR?

These haters are emotionally committed to hating Nuclear power and it wouldn’t change anything to them if God himself had written the UNSCEAR report.


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 7, 2013 3:01 am GMT

Mr. Edo, your comment is a perfect example of “confirmation bias”.  The information in your links would only be convincing to someone who was either badly misinformed about alternative energy or firmly committed to the anti-nuclear stance.

I was particularly amused by the article “Solar Scores a Big Win Over Nuclear”, which used these statements to argue that solar was cheaper than nuclear:

  • Nuclear: capex, $6 million per megawatt; production costs, $22 per megawatt-hour.
  • Solar: capex, $4 million per megawatt; production costs, $0 per megawatt-hour.

The author (who apparently specializes in stock tips, not energy) didn’t seem to realize that a nuclear plant will make four times more energy per nameplate Watt than a solar PV plant.  Nor did he seem to know that levelized cost was much more relevant to the discussion than the marginal production costs which he cites.  And he made the very common mistake of ignoring energy storage: with storage PV is too expensive to contemplate; without storage, energy from PV must always be diluted 2:1 with energy from fossil fuel.  So even with a more up to date cost of $2/Watt for solar, it would still never provide more than 20% of the grid’s energy (compared to nuclear supplying 80% in France).  Also the “Big Win” the article describes is in Sunny California, not cloudy Europe or Japan.

(I don’t dispute that in some locations, when policy support is included, solar might be a better choice for investors than nuclear, but nuclear is better for ratepayers, air breathers, and the environment.)

And dry rock geothermal is in the same category as nuclear fusion: maybe someday, but not today.  Geothermal today relies exclusively on hydro-thermal sources (which are extremely rare in nature).  Even in those rare location that today’s geothermal does work, it has the same habitat destruction problem as wind, since it is a dilute energy source that only produces about 1 MW per well.  It’s also similar to natural gas fracking in that improperly sealed wells can contaminate ground water (yes there are naturally occuring toxic chemicals in the ground) and cause earthquakes.

Joe Giambrone's picture
Joe Giambrone on Jun 8, 2013 2:18 am GMT


This is great lowgrade propaganda.

Medical studies on Cesium contamination after Chernobyl:

The Future Children of Fukushima

Nice how your GMO “arguments” rely on unsourced straw men.  Someone claimed 500,000 people died in India huh?  And that’s a great opportunity for you to call all GMO opponents idiots essentially.  Seems there’s no experimental, hazardous corporate product that you don’t find just fabulous.  Your similarly unsourced claims on GMO’s saving the world are as specious.

The scientific community who isn’t on the payroll of UNSCEAR, and sent there to do the budding of the nuclear powers, have quite a different story on Chernoby and what radiation does to humans.  They openly accuse the UN body of deliberately undercounting casualties, which is demonstrated time and again.   But, even if that is true it wouldn’t matter to the autor, as I mentioned, a propagandist.

Since this is more of a religious discussion than a scientifc one,and I don’t expect some x percentage to bother iwth opposing views, I’ll quote from the linked article:

“Dr. Bandashevsky has placed hard numbers on the dangers of internal contamination from radiation, “Chronic Cs-137 levels over 30 Bq/kg body weight is often associated with serious cardiovascular diseases 2.” For children with cesium 137 in excess of 50 Becquerels/kg body weight, “pathological disorders of the vital organs or systems will occur 3.” These levels can produce grotesque malformations in newborn babies and increase the risk of spontaneous abortions.”


“The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) says, “Both 134Cs and 137Cs emit beta particles and gamma rays, which may ionize molecules within cells penetrated by these emissions and result in tissue damage and disruption of cellular function 4.””


“Nature magazine online reported that soil 40km northwest of the plant contained, “Cesium-137 levels of 163,000 becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg) and iodine-131 levels of 1,170,000 Bq/kg, according to Japan’s science ministry 5.”:


“A Swiss documentary team discovered that Dr. Nakajima’s 1995 international conference of “700 experts and physicians” was prevented from publishing its findings on Chernobyl by the IAEA. The 2004 Swiss film Nuclear Controversies documents this battle between doctors and scientists on the scene vs. the IAEA.

Regarding the IAEA, Dr. Nakajima said, “for atomic affairs, military use and civil use, peaceful or civil use they have the authority. They command 7.””


“Fewer than 20% of children in the nation of Belarus can be classified as “healthy,” according to official government studies.

A Ukrainian study found that, “for each case of thyroid cancer there were 29 other thyroid pathologies 8.”


“Dr. Bandashevsky found further health effects at even lower levels of cesium contamination. For “children having 5 Bq/kg more than 80% are healthy, while having 11 Bq/kg only 35% of children are healthy 9.” “











Eric Lane's picture
Eric Lane on Jun 8, 2013 4:08 am GMT

Milton, a few points to consider.  First, I know you are absolutely unbiased in your viewpoint and are just trying to make us ‘little’ people understand some really big, big stuff.  But I also know that car dealers want to sell cars and ministers want to sell Jesus.  So, to listen to a person who has made his living pushing nuclear like you have, I may not believe you’re the brightest person to talk to on the subject.  You have made your living off nuclear.  It doesn’t surprise me that you would be gun ho towards nuclear power.  I may have a tinsie winsie problem with your argument that nuclear is safer than mothers milk.  But, in the spirit of openness,  I have a few questions.  First, if nuclear power is so safe why did Fukushima-Daiichi happen?  Oh, that’s right, it won’t happen again.  It was just an oooopppppsssss.  Second, all that messy nuclear waste.  What do you want to do with it?  Especially once the whole world becomes dependent on nuclear power and the waste problem is 10,000 times what it is today? Shall we just put it under your bed? 

Let me put it another way.  Why would I trust and industry that was born in secrecy, grew up in deceit, and lives on lies?  Because you said so?  Reading your post just feeds into that last part, living on lies.          

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 8, 2013 7:24 am GMT

I think objective readers will see the pattern here.  The pro-nuclear case is based on science and statistics, the anti-nuclear position is based on emotion.  There are too many people on this planet for humans to survive without science; the anti-science path is the road to ruin.

The position of the nuclear scientists has never been that nuclear accidents can’t happen (that’s something only a politician or a 1970s PR guy would say).  The scientific predictions match the past: nuclear accidents will be rare (compared to other energy sources), and the total fatality counts will be less than with other energy sources.

Humans generate a huge amount of waste every year, much of it toxic.  Nuclear is unique that its waste is such a small quantity compared to the value of the energy product, we can afford to handle it carefully.  We can bury it far outside of the biosphere.  This solution won’t work for coal ash, and it won’t work for the toxic waste from solar cell production.

Alain Verbeke's picture
Alain Verbeke on Jun 8, 2013 12:34 pm GMT

” This somewhat infuriated me as I know without doubt that GMO has helped millions around the world and had never killed anyone (although denial of these foods has), yet, as with nuclear power, opposition remains strong, especially in Europe. “

You are a patently gross liar.

1) The GMO are only planted in 5 countries out of the 179 countries spread over our world, USA and Canada being the elephants in this business. The rest of the world does NOT want to plant them, for economical reasons and for biological reasons :  if you use GMO, the spare seeds you grow on your land, cannot be re-used next year for your next harvest, without paying a lot of money to Monsanto or Syngenta in patent protection fees (it is a maffia system). Your Non-GMO seeds are yours, and only yours, allowing you to be a self sustaining farmer not dependent on big Agro businesses. And GMO’s are replacing the biodiversity found in nature, leading to a monolitic agricultural system that reduce food gen diversity to almost zero. Thus making us enormously dependent on a few strain of food plants, leading to possible massive starvation if subsequently weather conditions change dramatically, and the GMO strains prove not adaptable to those new atmospheric conditions. Nature did adapt by giving us millions of different strains fitted for all sorts of environments, and humans for financial benefit are now undoing that process in a few decades. Stay fed by eating your pile of dollars, once the GMO’s will prove to not be able to handle changing weather patterns and you feel very hungry. You idiot…

2) Nuclear power plants are designed by faulty humans, and are a perfect example of the Black Swan risk. They are perfectly safe under normal conditions, until something extra-ordinary happens, and the Oooops  scenarios start to unfold.  If nuclear is that safe, well I have a house to sell you for cheap money around chernobyl and another one around Fukushima, I can guarantee you a harmless stay since the neighbours are located a few dozen clicks away….. Albert Einstein, who knew something about nuclear, once said that after hydrogen, the most common stuff to be found in the universe was human stupidity.

3) For economical reasons, nuclear power is now OBSOLETE. No private company is able to pay 5-10 Billion for a plant that will start earning it’s first money a decade after the first shovel in the ground, producing electricity that is now more expensive than wind power, solar PV power, hydro power, natural gas power, geothermal power and coal power….. JUST LOOK AT THE GEORGIA NEW NUKE PLANT PROJECT: HEAVILY OVER BUDGET, HEAVILY OVER TIME, AND NOT PPA COMPETITIVE ANYMORE.
The New Mexico Public Regulatory Commission has given its blessing to the proposed power purchase agreement (PPA) between First Solar and El Paso Electric Power, for what will be the state’s largest solar power plant (50MW). Then there’s the 25-year PPA itself, which in a rare occurrence
was made publicly available and still are: 5.79 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh).
Germany’s Conergy, a vertically integrated PV manufacturer and developer, is now installing PV systems in Spain that are producing electricity at grid-competitive rates without subsidies. The company said it’s now hit the 1 megawatt mark of such projects. Spain has joined a growing number of countries where solar is becoming as cheap as other electric sources on the grid without subsidies, among them South Africa and 



Wind cheaper than gas, says E&Y

Michael McGovern, Windpower Monthly, 15 October 2012

The net cost of European wind power is up to 50% lower than that of its main conventional power rival, combined cycle gas (CCGT), according to a comparative study by financial group Ernst & Young (E&Y).

In Spain, the costs required to produce 1MWh will generate Eur56 of gross added value from wind, as opposed to Eur16 from CCGT, says the study.

Gas is costlier in countries dependent on imports. But even in gas producing UK, E&Y places wind’s net cost only slightly above gas, at Eur35/MWh against Eur31/MWh, respectively.
Across the six European focus countries (Spain, UK, France, Germany, Portugal and Poland), wind’s net cost is competitive and, extrapolated across the UE26, cheaper. By factoring in returns to GDP, like jobs and local taxes, E&Y’s analysis challenges the power sector’s levelised cost of energy (LCOE) standard, which always places wind costs higher, mainly due to upfront costs.





Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 8, 2013 4:47 pm GMT

We can bury it far outside of the biosphere.”

i wonder if this is a departure from your case based on science and statistics.  Where precisely does the biosphere end?

Joey Ortiz's picture
Joey Ortiz on Jun 8, 2013 6:54 pm GMT

I don’t figure anything we do really changes the fundementals of having a poorly-educated society, so no. What I am saying is that things that get a bad rap are given public “poor odds”. In nuclear, after Fukushima, this primarely meant that public largely viewed nuclear energy as a complete fanatasy. There are many instances throughout human history of something being likely just based on pure physics and economics. In fact, forecastable trends can only be likely upon the consideration of physics and economics. The public opinion has horrible predictive expertise. This means that the public undervalues certain assets that you may realize are quite valuable in the long run. Once you have put your money on a bet like this and it turns out to be a good one, your influence becomes larger, and my plan is to eventually start my own company designing and integrating high-temperature small modular reactors to produce synthetic fuels, fertilizers, desalinate water, and perform other value-added processes utilizing the high temperature heats. In fact, I am not only literally invested in this, but also academically, finishing physics undergrad, starting engineering second major, to go onto applied physics graduate school as I prepare myself to catalyze the breakout of this innevitable technology, nuclear energy.

I K's picture
I K on Jun 8, 2013 8:28 pm GMT

Like most people you don’t understand that gamma radiation is strongly absorbed by all matter including air. So if you encase a radioactive materal you will ensure little radiation escapes.

And by little I am talking about 10^-100 or less

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 8, 2013 8:57 pm GMT

I asked a specific question of a specific person. You  are niether the person I asked the question, nor is  your response an answer to the question I asked.

Would you like to start a seperate discussion instead of hurling blind accusations?

Eric Lane's picture
Eric Lane on Jun 8, 2013 9:50 pm GMT

Nathan, that’s an interesting argument.  You think ‘objective’ readers will support your position because you say it’s based on science and statistics.  But my anti-nuclear position that is based on more than just science and statistics but actual experience and visible consequences is based on emotion.  Then you make the absurd conclusion based on a false assumption that being anti-nuclear equates to being anti-science.  The word moronic comes to mind but I won’t use it here in the spirit of open and honest discussion.

Your second paragraph argues that nuclear scientists have never said that nuclear accidents can’t happen.  If you lived near Fukushmna-Daiichi or in Japan, you probably would give anything to go back to the pre-nuclear power disaster days, days when everything around you hadn’t been turned into shit.  But I really do understand your argument; if it’s not in my backyard, who cares? 

Oh, and yes, one of my favorite arguments is that so little waste is created that we have nothing to worry about.  We can put it someplace nice and tidy and leave it there for, oh, say, 100,000 years.  Try to imagine, if you can, what would happen if the world became dependent on nuclear power.  Think of all the waste created with thousands of nuclear power plants churning out electric power and nuclear waste.  Every once in awhile, a nuclear power plant will pull a Black Swan on us here and there and appear on a computer  as little flashing lights occupying more and more of the screen..   I’m sure human ingenuity will figure out a nice anti-radiation suit to wear maybe even have fashion shows with suits slit up the side of the leg to show a little calf to keep our minds of the hundreds of square miles that will be quarantined that day.  Lovely. 

Now, let’s go back and talk a little about nuclear power as a ‘clean’ source of energy.  Does that take into account uranium mining?  One of the filthiest mining processes known to man?  So, we have crap on the front end and crap on the back end and a possible nuclear explosion in the middle.  I know that doesn’t sound very scientific but I’m just an emotional kind of guy.    


Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 8, 2013 11:09 pm GMT


Glad that you chose not to use the word “moronic”, I myself have had to refrain from the term “Retarded” regarding some knee-jerk Nuclear Haters.

Nathan was saying that even with the unfortunate  accidents that have happened, casualties from Nuclear accidents are clearly fewer than casualties from other sources of fuel and energy production up till today.

Further if you care to note that in the end the Fukushima accident, as regrettable as it was, did not kill anyone, nor did it warrant the evacuations that were done.

This is the science, these are the facts. If you have any contrary evidence, you should produce it, I want to see it too, thank you.

Eric Lane's picture
Eric Lane on Jun 9, 2013 12:26 am GMT

Paul O,

I hear you.  My jaw drops when I hear some of the comments made by pro-nuclear folks.  I try to stay away from using terms such as idiotic, half-witted, ignorant or that might inflame the discussion.  Sometimes, however, the comments are so asinine, so moronic, it’s hard to resist.  Anyway, to answer some of your questions.

First, the Fukushima disaster is not over.  It is ongoing.  Here is a link to a recent article .  You will notice the gray and silver storage tanks holding radioactive waste-water that TEPCO wanted to just dump in the ocean.

Second, here is a peer-reviewed paper that appeared in the International Journal of Health Services.  There is a link at the end.  Let me know what else you need.  I’ll be more than happy to find it for you when I have time.   
An estimated 14,000 excess deaths in the United States are linked to the radioactive fallout from the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan, according to a major new article in the December 2011 edition of the International Journal of Health Services.
   This is the first peer-reviewed study published in a medical journal documenting the health hazards of Fukushima.

Authors Joseph Mangano and Janette Sherman note that their estimate of 14,000 excess U.S. deaths in the 14 weeks after the Fukushima meltdowns is comparable to the 16,500 excess deaths in the 17 weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.  The rise in reported deaths after Fukushima was largest among U.S. infants under age one.  The 2010-2011 increase for infant deaths in the spring was 1.8 percent, compared to a decrease of 8.37 percent in the preceding 14 weeks.

The United States received significant amounts of fallout following the Fukushima disaster. According to the authors:
Just six days after the disastrous meltdowns struck four reactors at Fukushima on March 11, scientists detected the plume of toxic fallout had arrived over American shores.  Subsequent measurements by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found levels of radiation in air, water, and milk hundreds of times above normal across the U.S.  The highest detected levels of Iodine-131 in precipitation in the U.S. were as follows (normal is about 2 picocuries I-131 per liter of water):  Boise, ID (390); Kansas City (200); Salt Lake City (190); Jacksonville, FL (150); Olympia, WA (125); and Boston, MA (92).

According to Dr. Sherman:
“Based on our continuing research, the actual death count here may be as high as 18,000, with influenza and pneumonia, which were up five-fold in the period in question as a cause of death. Deaths are seen across all ages, but we continue to find that infants are hardest hit because their tissues are rapidly multiplying, they have undeveloped immune systems, and the doses of radioisotopes are proportionally greater than for adults.””

 Here’s a link to the press release:–14000-us-deaths-tied-to-fukushima-reactor-disaster-fallout-135859288.html


Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 9, 2013 5:45 am GMT

Ok, I looked at the link to Mr. Mangano’s website.  Comparing it to the nuclear-is-safe material provide in Milton Caplan’s text, it appears that Mr. Mangano is one of a few anti-nuclear researchers who are disputing the scientific mainstream.  It reminds me of the creationists researchers who dispute evolution, and obivously those who dispute CO2’s roll in global warming.

So, how did you come to conclude that Mangano is right and the thousands of other scientists and engineers in the industry are wrong? (my guess is “confirmation bias”, rather than the endorsement of actor Alex Baldwin, or a particular preference for conspiracy theory).

I’m frankly amazed that Mangano got that piece published.  He’s claiming that radioactive fallout that is negligible compared to background radiation has a large health effect.  (note that the 200 pico Curies/liter “contaminated water” equates to 7.4 Bq/liter; and downthread, Alex states that we all have >4000 Bq of internal radiation sources.)  Furthermore, he’s blaming fallout for a flu outbreak?  How on Earth would he eliminate alternative explainations?

Also, I should point out that even using Mangano’s fatality number for Fukushima, nuclear easily beats coal for public health and safety.  Do you acknowledge this, or do you have another source claiming coal is safer? (I know anti-nukes like to pretend that 100% renewables is cheaper and likely to happen, but world-wide, coal is still the foundation of most electrical grids, and with good forecasting and poor nuclear acceptance, coal can remain that way even with >30% renewables.)

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 9, 2013 5:14 am GMT

Don’t celebrate the renewable success stories just yet.  The most important energy cost milestone has not been achieved yet.  Stored renewable energy still costs much more than that from fossil fuel (several times more).  And to this day, there is still no energy storage technology (compatible with PV or wind) which holds the promise of being cheaper than pumped-hydro, which itself is too expensive. 

So far, the variable renewables are simply locking-in another generation of fossil fuel plants.  Ironically, solar PV is helping to kill CSP with thermal storage  (note that the New Mexico solar PPA is for thin-film PV, not concentrated solar with thermal storage.)

Nathan Wilson's picture
Nathan Wilson on Jun 9, 2013 5:29 am GMT

I can’t tell you that, as that is far outside of my field of expertise (electrical engineering/software).  However, I can tell you that the DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, has been disposing of military nuclear waste for over a decade in a salt formation under New Mexico.  I’m sure that the salt formation is not part of the biosphere; it’s been there over a 100 million years with no sunlight or water flow.  Similarly, much of the Earth’s crust sits on top of 1 billion year old crystaline rock which is consider quite safe for permanent nuclear waste disposal.  Furthermore, studies have found that mined repositories and deep bore-holes will both be cost-effective in getting the waste down there.

I won’t attempt to defend Yucca mountain, which was selected by politicians, based on being contaminated already (from cold war nuclear weapons testing).  Unlike other repository suggestions, it is above the water-table, so it’s not disconnected from the biosphere like WIPP.  

Where do you suggest we put waste from coal, gas, and solar PV power plants?

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 9, 2013 11:06 am GMT

Similarly, I won’t attempt (and it was was never my intention) to defend coal, natural gas, oil production or their wastes disposal in any way, but the fact that such extreme isolation measures are even necessary for nuclear waste  at all should tell you something.  It is also a fact that in the short history of nuclear, simply dumping nuclear wastes directly and carelessly well within the biosphere while no one is watching has been the preferred method.  The best laid Rube Goldberg disposal plans of mice and men have been cheerfully circumnavigated towards a better bottom line.


A comparison of nuclear waste to solar waste (on a per kW basis) can be found here:

It is a disheartening comparison for nuclear advocates.


In addition, solar technology is not fully optimized and is evolving at a phenomenal pace that nuclear could not dream of matching.  A new generation of solar will arrive before even Vogtle is up and running. 

Eric Lane's picture
Eric Lane on Jun 9, 2013 4:37 pm GMT

Nathan, here is a lnk to a recent article about a recent study: “Fukushima fallout may be causing illness in American babies: Study.”  You would expect that the first symptoms of nuclear fallout would be seen first in babies thyroids.  One of the problems with nuclear fallout, as you know, is that deniers can say that the cause of this or that may have been the detergent one uses or even the toilet paper with the nice scent.  The reason is that nuclear consequences are not often immediately apparent giving pro-nuclear folks, just the like the tabacco industry, plausible bullshit.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 10, 2013 12:25 am GMT

Had I read all of the previous posts, I would have said that scientific understanding can and does lead to emotional discourse… Clearly, this human type of activity is not warranted within the operational means of the engineered safety required to overcome entropy in systems that must contain water under high pressures in the same vessel containing nuclear fuels…

Aside from machine made renewables, LFTR is a better choice (as far as I can emotionally imagine)!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 10, 2013 12:54 am GMT

I’m sorry, did I hear “waste from solar PV”? Isn’t that recyclable (and non particle emitting). A fossil fueled build up of the hundred or so thousand sq mi of solar would actually displace about 10 times the amount of FF’s needed, otherwise… So 10x fossil fueled waste would be completely eleminated!

However, I like the idea of LFTR because if it breaks down, we don’t have to worry about water, very high pressures and the subsequent radiation. Just as gasoline powered cars will have to be replaced by electric, old LWR systems shall be replaced by LFTR (or similar) which can better power the electrics! Besides, a repository only has to be in isolation for just 300 years for what little wastes a LFTR (or silmilar) creates…

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 10, 2013 1:04 am GMT


Did you actually track down the study to see what it actually says as opposed to what the Bloggers said it said?

Here, Let me help you:-

Elevated airborne beta levels in Pacific/West Coast US States and trends in hypothyroidism among newborns after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown

PDF (Size:150KB) PP. 1-9   DOI10.4236/ojped.2013.31001


Joseph J. Mangano, Janette D. Sherman


Various reports indicate that the incidence of congenital hypothyroidism is increasing in developed nations, and that improved detection and more inclusive criteria for the disease do not explain this trend entirely. One risk factor documented in numerous studies is exposure to radioactive iodine found in nuclear weapons test fallout and nuclear reactor emissions. Large amounts of fallout disseminated worldwide from the meltdowns in four reactors at the Fukushima-Dai-ichi plant in Japan beginning March 11, 2011 included radioiodine isotopes. Just days after the meltdowns, I-131 concentrations in US precipitation was measured up to 211 times above normal. Highest levels of I-131 and airborne gross beta were documented in the five US States on the Pacific Ocean. The number of congenital hypothyroid cases in these five states from March 17-December 31, 2011 was 16% greater than for the same period in 2010, compared to a 3% decline in 36 other US States (p < 0.03). The greatest divergence in these two groups (+28%) occurred in the period March 17-June 30 (p < 0.04). Further analysis, in the US and in other nations, is needed to better understand any association between iodine exposure from Fukushima-Dai-ichi and congenital hypothyroidism risk.

Please refer to the conclussions (inconclusive), bolded and italicised above. Not quite the same as you claim, sir.

Eric Lane's picture
Eric Lane on Jun 10, 2013 1:33 am GMT

Paul, I thought I had made it fairly clear that nuclear fallout isn’t like a bomb going off.  Casualties aren’t immediate unless you are pretty close to the center.  Our entire planet is polluted with non-natural occurring nuclear fallout from tests in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and nuclear accidents, waste, etc in the 80’s, 90’s, 00’s, and 10’s.  100 years ago, cancer was uncommon.  Today, well, it’s not.  The much higher incidence of cancer can be blamed on Mac burgers, DDT, and other chemicals but lurking in the background is non-naturally occurring nuclear radiation.  I know, I know, that’s a purely common sense argument.  That’s not going to fly in this forum.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 10, 2013 2:05 am GMT

Molten salt thermal storage is on the order of 99% eff for days. This is how CSP ‘could’ work full time. However, all the moving parts combined with the much larger heliostat array is just too costly compared to the ease of PV and NG, not to mention the ineff of the generator.

Sometimes, I think… We should just use wind, molten salt and generators anyways! I know this is only about 25% eff but is doable in the face of excess CO2 concerns. Hmmm, isn’t nuclear and coal used to power the SAME type of generator? Yep. So the ‘required’ four X build up of wind or PV would motivate the development of the machine automation necessary to make it cheaper than it is now.

If we extrapolate solar’s growth history, it is clearly evident that it WILL POWER like everything in mere decades, and that’s assuming only half of its historical growth rate (because of withdrawal of subsidies, etc)! The Earth has PLENTY of resources and the technology development for necessary extraction (in an enviro acceptable manner) can only be improved upon.

Whatever safety and proliferation concerns aside, these, I believe, are the reasons why we do not ‘have’ to go all out for nuclear. If we do, I believe LFTR is actually safer from an aging, an efficiency, a containment and the wastes storage standpoint. So, since I am NOT a nuclear physicist, I want to hear about why LFTR has NOT been promoted as it should be in place of the old and  egotistical “man above physics” (engineered safety) LWR.

Paul O's picture
Paul O on Jun 10, 2013 2:26 am GMT

Whatever your intention, I am not making a stement with regard tothe potential of  nuclear power harzards, if I were I’d point out that coal ash has carcinogenic properties as do by-products of solar photovolataic manufacturing.

I much prefer that people should refrain from impying something was stated when it was not in fact stated. I simply refered us to the source article, bypassing the conclusions being made by bolggers, that were absent from the source. 

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 10, 2013 12:57 pm GMT

An LFTR is a machine; a large, complex machine.

The nanotechnologies being developed at an ever accelerating rate, that collect the abundant and ever present energy around us, and that will soon be able to be incorporated directly into whatever we build, are MATERIALS.

I can not emphasize this fundemental difference enough.

– No moving parts.

– No mechanical processes to go awry.

– Inherently safe

This is far closer than most can see.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 10, 2013 1:38 pm GMT

It astounds me that you believe that “There is no particular reason to believe that multi-day storage will get cheaper in the future”, when (a) storage solutions have indeed been growing cheaper and (b) advances are being announced almost weekly.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 10, 2013 2:25 pm GMT

James Hansen is a atmospheric physicist.

 Gwyneth Cravens is a novelist.

It should be obvious to even the untrained eye that human children are nothing at all like Deinococcus Radiodurans, extremophiles that can handle not only radiation, but also extreme cold, dehydration, vacuum, and acid.

it should be noted that all the species you mention use “r-strategies” while humans use a “K-strategy”.  Why is this important?

It should also be noted that evolution has different speeds.  How is this relevant and why is it important?

As far as biologists are concerned, Timothy Mousseau comes to mind.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 10, 2013 3:01 pm GMT

So are you saying that K-40, with a 1.2 billion-year half life, is essencially the same as a substance with a 28 year half life, like Sr-90, a strong analog of potassium?

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 11, 2013 2:12 am GMT

Can you please explain how “toxic waste from solar” is worse… Why is it that many are “either or”.

(Sorry about reading this post so late).

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 11, 2013 2:29 am GMT

If the solar (or whatever nonostructures) take 30 years to make a single GW worth of energy collection, we will fry in our own excess co2. Hell, we can’t even make a space elevator yet…

Meanwhile, we could have built hundreds of thousands of square miles of (real, down to Earth) solar by use of already developed advanced automation by that time…

Better yet, just a few hundred square miles worth of LFTR’s could power even more with much less fossil fueled start up requirements for much less risk than ordinary LWR nuclear…

I’m just saying that this planet’s biosphere will fry as we WAIT to try to make things “easy” instead of doing the right thing… work with what we have already!

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 11, 2013 2:49 am GMT

Do you agree with the concept of LFTR?

Since I only know the basics (if that), it is fairly easy to see why I would want LFTR over the LWR.

Sometimes I think it must be hyped up, since almost no one is going for it. However, I really do believe the story about it not needing water for cooling (because it is already a liquid fuels base reactor), about the wastes being deadlier (but “gone” in just 300 years) and thus, it is inherently safe and cheaper to build (without need for giant pressure containments).


We don’t have time to waste on the politics of mass public fear of conventional… LFTR would be the perfect NEW way for an awesome rebirth of nuclear!

Perhaps, it really IS the least expensive way to the most abundant (almost) clean energy source?

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 11, 2013 2:47 am GMT

How long will it be before we have a single gW from an LFTR?  The fact is that LFTR is as much of an experiment tech as the most cutting edge natetechtechnology.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 11, 2013 3:27 am GMT

I figured wind had a better EROEI than solar, but still think that covering less than 1% of the Earth’s land space with solar could be alright. Might as well put a few million wind turbines out at sea, as well… But I know this is costly and assume that solar will be much cheaper than wind when automation gets fine tuned. I know (somewhat) the inefficiency involved with thermal storage, but isn’t it cheap?

I really want to go all out for LFTR or similar but understand that even this “new” way of doing nuclear will still be objected by the masses. I’m just hoping that something gets done with what we know already.

As for batteries, the machine automation required for all that solar should do the trick… Or at least, to switch over to EV’s, should necessitate that kind of automation. Then what ever is needed to suck the extra co2 out of the air can also become mass produced by machine on an exponential order… at least I’m hoping (I know, we’ll need even more energy to do that, even more than what we should save by increased conservation and efficiency).

But I didn’t know that the ocean acidification threat was already happening… Can we even deal with that without mishaps? Like you said, we’ll need energy for that too (now we REALLY need LFTR or IFR)!

P.S. I didn’t realize that this is all on a second page and so I asked you (and kinda pleaded) about LFTR, not knowing about this post here.


Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 11, 2013 4:33 am GMT


Dr Mousseau is one of the most cited biologist of the last decade. He was cited 858 times last year alone.  He has a 10-index of 88. How many of his more than 90 papers have NOT been peer reviewed.

Eric Lane's picture
Eric Lane on Jun 11, 2013 5:00 am GMT

  This is an extremely interesting piece.

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 11, 2013 6:32 am GMT

Silly politicians make it hard to build out fifty year old technology, thus funding is like impossible (yes, it is fifty year old tech that got bought out by the need to make weapons of the time, search it, it was already in the megawatt capacity way back then. Even a former NASA engineer now promotes LFTR). Business as usual will also make it an uphill battle for nanotech, widespread solar, wind, fusion and anything else that gets in the way.

 I know that we need to implement ALL clean energy solutions that are abundant. But I have no clue as to how humanity can implement all these currently possible solutions within the framework of greed, politics, fear, infighting, disbelief and willful disregard. Therefore, the inability to collectively decide by scientific process, the BEST ways to achieve the non destruction of the only biosphere we know of in the entire universe is fast becoming the most troublesome piece of the puzzle.

I have a hard time getting people on these scientific forums to agree on LFTR (much less hundreds of thousands of sq mi of machine made solar!), how are we to get the other 99% to agree (THEY DON’T CARE). The nasty results of the physics of excess CO2 will occur because of OUR inability to redirect our priorities.

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 11, 2013 11:21 am GMT

yes, it is fifty year old tech that got bought out by the need to make weapons of the time”

Partially true. Yes, the LFTR in Oak Ridge back in the day worked – but if memory serves, it had real maintenance issues and major decommissioning problems that lasted all the way until 2009 – at least – look that up.  China is trying to built an experimental LFTR now (with our help).  If it works, great, but it will still only put out 7mW and scaling up to 1gW will not be trivial. India has tons of thorium and has been trying to make one work for decades. The thorium project in Japan is also going slow.

In addition, ANY nuclear REQUIRES government funding in some form from cradle to grave. Nuclear also requires an expensive, CO2 intensive, grid infrastructure. Look at the Indian grid crisis that cause 3/4 of a billion people to go without power last year. India is not about to spend the trillion or so it would take to modernize its patchwork and haphazard grid. Solar and micro gridding, not nuclear, is a perfect fit solution for India’s grid woes.

Yes, solar requires space – the same space taken up by rooftops anyway. The costs for solar can be incorporated into existing construction costs and it’s a free market solution, meaning the hurdles faced by solar are small in comparison to nuclear.. The main problem with solar is storage. But one look at the numbers and the hard research will show you that great strides are being made on this front. 

I much prefer advanced, next gen nuclear to the high pressure monstrosities currently out there. But on a level playing field, nuclear can’t and wont compete with the solar coming just around that next bend

Stephen Nielsen's picture
Stephen Nielsen on Jun 11, 2013 11:50 am GMT

Recyling nuclear wastes is prohibitively expensive and raises the price of nuclear to almost nonviability when compared to alternatives – and you have to build breeders and run them in burner mode, which is also more expensive. if it wasn’t, everyone would be doing it instead of keeping the stuff in pools.

In addition, the French built all of their nuclear at one time. Which means they will have to decommission it all at one time too. THAT bill is just about to come due. it is said that money has been set aside for such things, but a closer look will show that many of these funds have been raided and or lost big in the global financial crisis of 2008.

The US faces this same problem.

Despite the happy face you wish to place on French nuclear, a closer look reveals a very different picture


I K's picture
I K on Jun 11, 2013 1:48 pm GMT

Nonsense. The reason for cancer increase is because other killers have been iradicated or reduced.

You may see cause of deaths expressed as a number out of 100,000 population. For instance car deaths 50 per 100,000. Heart attacks 100 out of 100,000 ect. Howevee all causes of death must equal 100,000 out of 100,000 are we are not immortal. And as such reduce the death from say flu by having homes heated in the cold months and you must increase other causes of death by exactly the same figure. 

That is the reason cancer per 100,000 is up not your nonsense about hamburgers and nuckear power

I K's picture
I K on Jun 11, 2013 2:08 pm GMT

Feance overbuilt nuclear and can close some 5GW of plants with little to no impact on total nuclear output.

They are likely to extend their nukes by twenty year lives so they will operate for a total of 60 years at which point they may extend them again by 20 years or they could phase them out and replace them with CCGTs or new generation nukes.

The 60 year life of the plants should be congratulated not seen as a negative because they wont last a million years. 


As to what is likely I think they will potentially keep their current plants for 100 years. The only alternative is an expensive and rather pointless process of replacing them qirh new nukes or the fuel expensive alternative of replacing the lot with CCGTs.


I K's picture
I K on Jun 11, 2013 2:24 pm GMT

Nuclear is not dangerous it happens all aroubd us and in your very DNA.

The big mistake of high school science is to twach that gamma teavils far. It sure does compared to alpha or beta but it doesnt in normal dostances of kms.

Let me put it this way as you seem so bent on denying anything put to you. Why are nuclear submarines so hard to find if nuclear is so potent?  In fact there was an incident a few years back where a british nuclear sub collided with a French submarine it wanst able to detect a hundred MWt reactor from a few feet away.


Regarding radio active isotopes priduced in reactors.  Entombing them is cheap and very safe.

Uv from sunshine is considerably more dangrius than the ganma rays from reactirs that never reach you

Robert Bernal's picture
Robert Bernal on Jun 11, 2013 3:24 pm GMT

We have about 100 million housholds. Let’s say that all of them are houses with roofs and that all of them can hold thirty 100 watt panels, which is 20 x 12 feet (give or take). 100,000,000 x 3kW = 300GW capacity divided by about 4 (for actual capacity). Sounds good until I realize that only a fraction of that is in good sunlight areas…

What I am saying is we will HAVE to use more land. Also, when the exponentiation of solar continues into 2040, about 1% of the land may have already have been covered! Following is text about the math in a “freebee” program (that may not work properly, though).


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