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

Radiation Superstition

Robert Hargraves's picture
Chief Marketing Officer ThorCon US

AB Dartmouth College mathematics; PhD Brown University high energy physics. Co-founder ThorCon International. Author "THORIUM: energy cheaper than coal". Chief Information Officer Boston...

  • Member since 2018
  • 225 items added with 44,949 views

Your access to Member Features is limited.

A million people each year die of breathing particulates from burning coal; the climate temperature may increase 2°C this century; more than a billion people have no electricity. Yet within our reach is a solution to these global crises of increasing air pollution deaths, climate change, and the growing populations of nations trapped in energy poverty.

Open Cut Coal Mine

The welcome growth of the global middle class increases energy demand. If the world’s economy prospers enough to allow everyone to enjoy just half of the electricity benefits that Americans now take for granted, world electric power generation will triple. Most electricity will come from coal burning, which grew 8% worldwide in 2011. Germany leads the way, building more coal plants. Wind and solar power are too intermittent and too expensive to displace coal worldwide.

Nuclear power is the solution within reach; it’s safe and affordable, with low environmental impact. Yet opposition to it borders on superstition, defined by Merriam-Webster as a “belief or practice resulting from ignorance, fear of the unknown, trust in magic or chance, or a false conception of causation … a notion maintained despite evidence to the contrary”. Let’s explore evidence.

Chiba refinery burned for 10 days while media focused on Fukushima

People rationally fear possible accidents spreading deadly radioactive materials. Indeed massive doses of radiation did kill 28 emergency workers at Chernobyl, and the fallout of short-lived iodine resulted in 4000 cases of thyroid cancer and 15 deaths. However there is no evidence of the thousands of hypothetical deaths predicted by extrapolation of deadly exposures to lower radiation doses. Opponents of nuclear power have now hyped this death number up to one million, without observable evidence.

Using simplistic mathematical extrapolations from the effects of high-radiation accidents, nuclear power opponents claim that no amount of radiation is safe — not even the low-level natural radiation that comes from the sky and from earth’s radioactive potassium, uranium, and thorium created billions of years ago. Potassium is in our food and our bodies. Rocks contains the thorium and uranium that decays to radon or fuels electric power plants.

Reporting about the Fukushima accident created hysteria without basis. A UN scientific committee charged with investigating the accident’s health effects reported in December that no radiation health effects have been observed among public or workers, and it cautioned against extrapolation to predict health effects of low-level radiation. Radiation superstition causes great harm. Japan is wasting billions of dollars preventing repopulation of radiologically safe areas. Over a thousand have died from evacuation stress. Importing liquified natural gas to replace nuclear power drove Japan’s balance of trade negative.

LNG Tankers at DMSE in S. Korea

People unnecessarily fear low-level radiation from accident-dispersed material, buried waste, or medical procedures. EPA required Yucca Mountain engineers to limit accidental releases to just 1/20th of natural radiation for 10,000 years. Dental X-ray technicians routinely drape lead blankets on patients to protect them, but it would take over 10,000 such X-rays to observe any health effect.

Prolonged radiation exposure is safe at natural environmental levels; each cell rapidly repairs DNA strand breaks: one per second per cell. Early life evolved when the natural radiation rate was 3 times greater than now. Today people living in places where natural radiation is 5 times normal exhibit no more cancers. People living in mile-high Denver get more cosmic radiation, but exhibit no more cancers.

Radiation dose rates are as important as doses. High radiation rates overwhelm natural cellular defenses. Doses deadly to Chernobyl workers would have no effect if spread over a lifetime. Cancers are destroyed by multiple concentrated radiation treatments, allowing time between for less-irradiated tissue to recover. In 2012 MIT radiation researchers discovered no DNA damage from exposure rates 30 times as great as natural radiation, and Lawrence Berkeley Lab scientists actually observed how low-level radiation stimulated repair within cells. Long-term, low-dose radiation is benign.

Nuclear industry and shipyard workers exposed to low-level radiation developed fewer cancers. Accidental contamination of building steel by recycling a medical radiation source exposed 8000 Taiwan residents to radiation 7 times natural levels over 30 years, and cancer rates were dramatically reduced. In 2012 the Dose Response Journal and the American Nuclear Society published compendia of articles evidencing how low-level radiation is benign or healthful.

The vague radiation regulation, “as low as reasonably achievable” encourages ever more costly impediments to affordable nuclear power. This could be fixed with “as high as reasonably safe” limits that are set with evidence, as practiced for other environmental hazards. Nuclear power can solve our energy, climate, and poverty crises. Should we forsake the future of the planet by clinging to a superstition?

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.
More posts from this member

Discussions

Spell checking: Press the CTRL or COMMAND key then click on the underlined misspelled word.
Thorkil Soee's picture
Thorkil Soee on Feb 21, 2018

All of us should know that low levels of radiation are not harmful.
See http://wp.me/p1RKWc-6e
However considering the popular (miss)information you will have no troubles in understanding that you are much more dead if you (may be) die from radiation than if you cuff yourself to death due to pollution.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 21, 2018

Some of the many dubious statements in the post:

… world electric power generation will triple. Most electricity will come from coal burning … Germany leads the way, building more coal plants.

Germany closed even more coal plants! Coal (lignite+coal) decreased significant (absolute and relative) since the Energiewende started:
2000 291TWh Share: 52%
2010 263TWh Share: 42%
2017 242TWh Share: 37%

Worldwide figures of recent years show that renewable expansion overtake expansion of coal. In China coal is now changing from expansion to shrinking, while wind & solar are expanding extremely fast.

Fukushima created a.o. very significant (p=0.0009) upwards jumps of ~16% in the frequency of perinatal deaths in 6 highly contaminated prefectures (~13million people) despite the luck that the wind blew 97% of the time all airborne radiation direct to the ocean.
Note that these upwards jumps don’t vanish soon as they are caused by Cs-137 fall-out which has a half live of ~30years. So the extra tragedies will continue decades.

The WHO expert committee report estimates up to 7% more cancers in later life for the evacuated Fukushima children.

All in all, the IPPNW estimates for Fukushima about 20K deaths due to the increased radiation.

Chernobyl created even in areas 1,000miles away highly significant (P<0.00003) increases of stillbirth and serious congenital malformation. Shown by a.o. this solid study.

All with contamination levels of ~30kBq/m2 (=~0.5mSv/a extra radiation). Normal local background is ~ 1.5mSv/a. So a ~33% radiation increase is enough to cause such serious health havoc to our next generations.

Nuclear power is the solution within reach

Opposite. It’s now farther away than ever as:
– new nuclear became extremely expensive; and
– takes more than a decade to implement.
Especially when compared with much cheaper and faster to implement wind, solar, storage (incl. seasonal storage with PtG).

So with a restricted budget, it’s far more effective to use renewable options which is what the world is choosing now as shown by its accelerating expansion.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 21, 2018

Bas, at its other three reactors, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant continued to generate clean electricity for 13 years after the accident at Unit 4. Employees showed up at the plant every day, worked, ate lunch, worked some more, then drove home – while fearful nuclear activists, hundreds of miles away, suffered more from the effects of their own rabid imaginations.

And no, 30kBq/m2 is not equivalent to .5mSv/a “extra radiation”, not in 1986 and not now. Due to natural decay, added environmental radiation from Chernobyl is ~1,000 times lower than it was after the accident. Significant radiation from the accident has disappeared – unlike the tonnes of toxic mercury being spewed into the air by Germany’s lignite plants. That, Bas, will last forever.

The post’s author, Dr. Robert Hargraves, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics and Physics from Dartmouth University, and a Ph.D in Physics from Brown University. He served as the Vice President of Boston Scientific – a company which makes interventional medical devices which save lives, using nuclear radiation.
Now, you claim Dr. Hargraves’s post above contains “many dubious statements.” Coming from an unqualified source such a claim would be the height of arrogance – so what are the qualifications, Bas, which entitle you to make it?

Mark Heslep's picture
Mark Heslep on Feb 21, 2018

In Germany the last 3-4 years, fossil fuel fired electricty generation is increasing.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 21, 2018

Another dubious statement in the article: “Nuclear power is … affordable, ” If one is prepared to pay multiples over the cost of currently available clean generation then why not chose something without unsolved long term environmental (and financial) legacies?

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 21, 2018

Check AGEB for the real figures:
Year ; generation by all fossil (share of total generation)
2013 ; 389 TWh (61%)
2014 ; 368 TWh (59%)
2015 ; 368 TWh (57%)
2016 ; 376 TWh (58%)
2017 ; 362 TWh (55%)
So in the past 5 years the share of all fossil together reduced 7%.
Seems you confuse a fluctuation for a trend.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 21, 2018

The conversion coefficient from kBq/m2 Cs to mSv/a of 0.0014 is in good agreement with theory (Jacob P, Rosenbaum H, Petoussi N, Zankl M 1990).
To be more precise the 30KBq/m2 Cs-137 equals 0.4mSv/a.

Your idea that the radiation value of the fall-out is now already 1000 times lower is ridiculous considering the half live of 30years of Cs-137.

I’ve a bachelor degree and two different master degrees from two universities.

Donald Osborn's picture
Donald Osborn on Feb 22, 2018

Poor article full outdated claims. Many of these have already been pointed out. Just add one more:
“Wind and solar power are too intermittent and too expensive to displace coal worldwide”. Up to date, real world markets are showing just the opposite. I am not weighing in on the nuke debate but discounting solar and wind this way flies in the face of reality. Even more so with the rapid advances in storage.

greggerritt greggerritt's picture
greggerritt greggerritt on Feb 23, 2018

Until we get rid of nuclear weapons you also have to convince us that the nuclear power industry is not just a cover for nuclear weapons. If it is not, why are people so much on Iran’s case. The hypocrisy is overwhelming and continues to under cut your credibility on this with the public.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 23, 2018

No Bas, to be more precise: the idea that radiation from Chernobyl was ever dangerous in Germany or the Netherlands is what’s ridiculous.

Ever heard of Tomsk 7? Until a few years ago, a 1993 explosion there released far more radiation into the environment than Chernobyl. It wasn’t a big deal in Europe, because it wasn’t a big deal in Tomsk (the facility continued to generate electricity until 2008).

Note: Y-axis is logarithmic. 10,000 days is 27.4 years.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Chernobyl_and_other_radioa...

Stephen Williams's picture
Stephen Williams on Feb 24, 2018

Bass, IPPNW is an anti-nuclear organization. Their “estimate” of 20K deaths inflates the number of expected deaths from established scientific organizations by 20K. And the WHO’s initial estimates did not hold up under the ongoing study by some 80 experts from a couple of dozen countries making up an UNSCEAR committee that has found no credible evidence that the low doses received by the public in Fukushima will have adverse health effects, let alone cause any deaths.

As for wind and solar being faster and cheaper to implement, we have no real world examples of this on a scale that really matters. Solar and wind combined still don’t add up to 1% of primary energy use–and nuclear power doesn’t fair all that better–so it seems to me a bad idea to pit nuclear and solar/wind against each other. As the IPCC has made clear, we need an “all-of-the-above” approach, including carbon capture sequestration.

Now is the time to use every tool we have to mitigate the existential threats of climate change and ocean acidification.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 25, 2018

greggerritt, the Megatons to Megawatts program (1993-2013) converted the equivalent of 20,008 nuclear warheads to clean electricity.

By downblending Soviet-era U-235 of 90+ percent purity to 10% and selling it for use in power plants, Russia worked together with the U.S. to help reduce two of the biggest threats facing humankind: nuclear annihilation and global warming.

Raising the question of whether anti-nuclearism is just a cover for selling solar panels, wind turbines, and natural gas. What evidence to you have to counter that theory?

Ike Bottema's picture
Ike Bottema on Feb 25, 2018

Consider that when a nation starts with nuclear power, it’s very unlikely that nation will develop nuclear weaponry. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2017-11/dc-nep110317.php The perfect example is North vs South Korea. North Korea, denied nuclear power turned to nuclear weaponry juxtaposed with South Korea who developed nuclear power and eschewed nuclear weaponry.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 25, 2018

Gerry, the notion nuclear has “unsolved long term environmental (and financial) legacies” is imaginary.

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 25, 2018

So you find it necessary to fantasize an ongoing study by 80 experts. …
Of course pro-nuclear UNSCEAR repeated the same statement they issued shortly after the start of the disaster; zero deaths due to radiation. While the impact of the disaster still wasn’t known….

They knew that research and real experts would find that the emitted radiation caused significant health damage, incl. deaths, and wanted to set the public mind to minimize the impact….

Considering its high costs and more than 10yrs long implementation time, every $ spent to new nuclear is a waste for the climate as it would bring at least 4 times more GHG reduction if that money was invested in wind, solar and storage (incl. PtG).
That creates also a more reliable grid as the German Energiewende history demonstrates.

Ike Bottema's picture
Ike Bottema on Feb 26, 2018

an ongoing study by 80 experts

I assume you mean the report for German Affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War written by Henrik Paulitz, Winfrid Eisenberg, and Reinhold Thiel? Where are the other 77 “experts” listed?

a more reliable grid as the German Energiewende history demonstrates

The German grid is reliable because of the coal power generation. So reliably high-CO2. Reliably high-cost. In short, reliably dystopic.

Russ Finley's picture
Russ Finley on Feb 26, 2018

If one is prepared to pay multiples over the cost of currently available clean generation

You are confusing LCOE values of components in a grid system with total system cost.

What “unsolved long term environmental (and financial) legacies?”

Stephen Williams's picture
Stephen Williams on Feb 26, 2018

So you find it necessary to fantasize an ongoing study by 80 experts. …

On what basis do you claim the UNSCEAR report on Fukushima to be some fantasy of mine?

Of course pro-nuclear UNSCEAR . . .

On what basis do you claim UNSCEAR is pro-nuclear? All 80 experts reviewing Fukushima studies signed statements that they were not connected to the nuclear industry. Are you claiming they were all lying?

. . . repeated the same statement they issued shortly after the start of the disaster; zero deaths due to radiation. While the impact of the disaster still wasn’t known….

The first UNSCEAR report was presented to the General Assembly 2 years after the Fukushima accident. What statement was made “shortly after the start of the disaster” that you refer to?

They knew that research and real experts would find that the emitted radiation caused significant health damage, incl. deaths, and wanted to set the public mind to minimize the impact….

What is your evidence that the 80-member UNSCEAR group studying Fukushima were not “real experts”? What is your evidence that their goal was to “minimize the impact”?

You’ve made many claims. It would be helpful if you could back them up. I don’t see how you can.

Considering its high costs and more than 10yrs long implementation time, every $ spent to new nuclear is a waste for the climate as it would bring at least 4 times more GHG reduction if that money was invested in wind, solar and storage (incl. PtG).

There are many developments occurring in nuclear energy that should reduce cost and implementation time. Now is not the time to advocate not using any source of low-GHG energy.

Russ Finley's picture
Russ Finley on Feb 27, 2018

…discounting solar and wind this way flies in the face of reality.

The face of reality : )

Bas Gresnigt's picture
Bas Gresnigt on Feb 27, 2018

Ike,
When wind and solar and other distributed generation (e.g. biogas at farms) rollout became significant in the 2004-2010 period, the reliability of the German grid improved significant. Shown by the SAIDI figures.

German grid became significant more reliable than the Dutch grid.
We only recently started with the implementation of more renewable profiting from the lower costs of wind and solar thanks to the pioneer role of Germany and Denmark.

Russ Finley's picture
Russ Finley on Feb 27, 2018

Once Iran dismantled their weapons grade plutonium reactor (which had nothing to do with their nuclear power station) the international authority responsible for non-proliferation had no problem with their use of nuclear energy.

Trump opposes Iran’s use of nuclear energy but I wouldn’t bet the reasoning for that is very sound.

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 »