Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Nuclear Opponents Need to Get Their Facts Straight and Prove Them with Data

As a king nerd and complete geek, somehow in 1975, at the urging of my high school biology teacher Mr. Howell, I found myself president of my high school science club. Actually, that was alright by me as then, as it is now, all the hot girls are intelligent anyway and they all wear glasses.
O'Jays - Back Stabbers
For my senior thesis, it wouldn't do for the president of that club to write any old dissertation about boring things like the life cycle of turtles or seagulls, I had to write about frightening and earth shattering events like the great coming crisis of that time: Global Climate Change. Namely, the coming of the next ice-age.

Oh, it wasn't just me who worried about such things, the next great ice age that was going to destroy the earth and ruin our food supply and displace tens of millions of people was big news. It was in all the current magazines and opinion leading publications of the day. The one magazine that really turned my opinion and convinced me, as well as a few million other Americans, that the ice age was real and it was coming was Time Magazine

I was so horrified of the coming ice age and how food and fuel prices were going to skyrocket that I was convinced that writing my senior thesis about this coming disaster would surely turn me into a genius student scholar recognized the world over. 

Well, that didn't happen. 

The ice age never came and I never became recognized as a genius scholar excepting upon a purview into a hand held mirror.

Lesson one learned about being skeptical about the news was well learned.

Incredibly, I was one of the few who survived

Time went by and I finally escaped university one day and found myself working - by some miracle and lots of skulduggery - at a broadcasting station. Over the years while working at broadcasting, I became to understand something about hype versus reality when it comes to broadcasting; hype sells. Reality can sell, if it is exciting. If reality isn't exciting, then make it that way. I found the only problem with that method is that the reality, when bent to become exciting, is no longer reality but becomes into the realm of hype.

Many of the episodes of dealing with this hype started for me, if I remember well, in at least 1982 when we were told that HIV/AIDS was going to kill half the population of the world and were also told that some scientists believed that AIDS was transmitted by dirty toilet door handles. 

Another early episode was with the first Gulf War and Saddam Hussein's 4th largest army in the world (which collapsed after a mere four days after the commencement of a land invasion); then there was the bombing of Serbia followed by a plethora of various killer diseases that were going to depopulate the earth (in no particular order: Ebola virus, Dengu fever, Swine flu, Bird flu, SARS, etc.) and, who could forget the next disastrous event that was going to radically change our earth: Man Made Global Warming (AGW).

At first, like everyone else, I believed the polemic about man-made global warming, but, after growing to become skeptical, and from several ridiculous experiences in the mass media, I had learned enough to do some background checking. What I found about AGW soon made me land firmly in the nonbeliever camp.

But saying that back in the early 2000's was pure unadulterated heresy and stupidity as, everyone would soon, and surely, remind you that the science was absolutely decided and 2,500 of the world tops scientists had already agreed. There was nothing more to be discussed.

I wonder where those 2,500 scientists are today?

Still, I didn't buy it. Too many things didn't make sense. 

First off, the absurd idea that the polar ice caps, that are floating on the ocean at the North Pole, upon melting, would cause the sea level to rise. Now that is a completely ridiculous notion. Thank god for my time as president of my high school science club. Any 7th grade student can tell you that ice in a cup of water will displace it's own weight so that when the ice melts, the level of water will not rise. It simply cannot. The weight of the ice has already displaced its own weight. Water is the same weight if it is frozen or if it is liquid, it cannot magically weigh more if it melts.


President of the high school Science Club (back row, fourth from the left) 

The second fact that made me a firm disbeliever in AGW theory was when I was shown data that proved that the surface temperatures on Venus and Mars had risen in conjunction with the rise in temperatures of the earth. Now that was a real head scratcher. Unless Martians and Venusians were driving SUVs on their planets then it doesn't seem possible that green house gases were causing their surface temperatures to rise in parallel with the earth's.

No, I had then become convinced that, as many scientists were beginning to state, that the activity of the sun was responsible for our temperature and climate changes. The case was closed for me when I read that a proponent of AGW had actually made the idiotic claim that the sun's activity had nothing to do with the temperature of the earth. What foolish poppycock. One only need to go outside at night and compare the temperature during the day under the hot sun to be witness as to how much the sun controls temperature on this planet.

AGW, it is usually accompanied by smirks and jokes.

I was absolutely right then and I am proven right now.

Which now brings me to the subject of the day: the nuclear accident at Fukushima and how much this incident is going to change our lives and livelihood. If you talk to one camp, the anti-nuclear crowd (who, incidentally, seems to be the very same crowd who claimed that AGW would destroy the climate and over 50 million of earth's inhabitants would be "Global Warming refugees" by 2010... Which, of course, never happened) you'll hear a shrill and growing shriller prophesy of doom, death and world destruction.

If you listen to what is increasingly being described as the pro-nuclear crowd, you seem to hear a much more level headed debate. At least, that's what it seems like to me.

Perhaps I think this way because I've heard this prophesy of doom are too often and, in too many cases, it seems illogical. contradictory and simply not practical.  

My good friend, Scott M, sends me a recent article from the Guardian UK written by George Monbiot that asks some of the same questions that I ask of the panic and doom crowd. It was the same questions I asked of that crowd concerning AGW, Swine flu, Bird flu and the others. Specifically, "Where is your proof? Show me some facts." 

Here are selected parts from that article entitled, "Nuclear Opponents Have a Moral Duty to Get Their Facts Straight." In this article, George Monbiot takes to task one of the most vocal anti-nuclear activists, Helen Caldicott for making a wide array of unsubstantiated claims:

As governments ponder a disastrous move away from nuclear power, it is vital campaigners don't spread misinformation – but Helen Caldicott fails to interrogate her own claims and sources.
My request to Helen Caldicott was a simple one: I asked her to give me sources for the claims she had made about the effects of radiation. Helen had made a number of startling statements during a television debate, and I wanted to know whether or not they were correct. Scientific claims are only as good as their sources.
Here are three examples of the questions I asked, and the answers she gave me.
At first I asked for general sources for her claims. She sent me nine documents: press releases, newspapers articles and an advertisement. Only one of them was linked to a scientific publication: the BEIR VII report published by the National Academy of Sciences. She urged me to read it. I did so and discovered that, far from supporting her claims, it starkly contradicts them. For example, it says:
• The risk of radiation-induced mutations in sperm and eggs, resulting in heritable disease "is sufficiently small that it has not been detected in humans, even in thoroughly studied irradiated populations such as those of Hiroshima and Nagasaki".
• Regarding transmissible genetic damage from the exposure of future parents, such as "spontaneous abortions, congenital malformations, neonatal mortality, still births and the sex ratio of offspring … there is no consistent evidence of an association of any such outcomes with exposure to environmental sources of radiation."
• "On balance, the existing evidence does not support the conclusion that rates of childhood leukaemia have increased as a result of radiation exposures from the Chernobyl accident".
I began to wonder whether Helen has actually read this report, or was hoping that, at 423 pages, it would scare me away. The PDF costs $46.
She claimed that isotopes of krypton, xenon and argon "can mutate the genes in the eggs and sperm and cause genetic disease". When I asked her for a source, she told me, "This is also described in my book." In fact her book says (p55): "There have never been any epidemiological studies performed on the effects of exposure to the noble gases xenon and krypton." This flatly contradicts her own claim.
When I pressed her for better sources, her publishers wrote to me and said she did not have time to find them. 
Then she appears to suggest that iodine-131 can "continuously irradiate small volumes of cells … over many years". As it has a half life of eight days, this seems unlikely. Again, a source would help to clear the matter up..
Then she makes a remarkable allegation: as a result of a conspiracy hatched with the International Atomic Energy Agency, since 1959 the World Health Organisation has "made no more statements on health and radioactivity". This is completely false, as even the quickest search would have shown her.
Helen has still not provided a shred of evidence for her claim that the recent report by another UN agency – the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation – into the Chernobyl disaster is "a total cover-up". Twice I have asked her to substantiate this allegation; twice she has replied with accusations about the WHO. Is she aware that these are different agencies?
Finally, George Monbiot comes to the crux of the problem and something that I have stated over and over in this very blog: When people are making wild statements using terms such as "if," "perhaps," "maybe" and "possibly" - as they have been doing lavishly when describing what could or might happen at Fukushima, the only thing intelligent and logical people can and should do is to examine only the facts. He continues:
I believe that journalists should not stand by while misinformation is spread. If there is any value in journalism, it lies in trying to winnow fact from fiction, and helping people to form a more accurate view of the world.
This is an especially difficult time to try to make the case for keeping the dangers of nuclear power in perspective. The frightening events at Fukushima are still unfolding, the disaster has been upgraded to category 7, making it one of the two worst such events on record. But it is just when the case is hardest that it most urgently needs to be made, however much anger this generates. If we don't stick to the facts, if we don't subject all claims to the same degree of scepticism, we could make a bad situation worse.

This is an excellent article and I highly recommend that you go to the source and read it in full here.

As for me, I am all too often placed in the pro-nuclear crowd. It is a title of which I would deny. I am firmly in the camp of the anti-government, anti-war and free market crowd. I am also in the camp of the crowd who wants the truth and not so-called "news" that is based upon conjecture, supposition, hypothesis, theory, thesis, speculation, hunches, or guesswork. Those all have their place but they do not have any place in the news; they do have a pace in talk shows or news stand tabloid sensationalism.

I also believe in the miracles of the free market and what it can do to better our lives through unfettered technology. I have seen facts as to what coal mining and burning coal does to our environment and our health. I know also of the well documented dangers to our health that burning oil causes along with the rape and pillage of the people upon whose land that oil rests.

It seems to me that the only safe and logical choice is to continue with nuclear power and to better our technology and create more of the extremely safe fast breeder types of reactors that have already been developed and tested... Why we are still using 40-year-old technology in our current nuclear reactors is a testament to government interference and the confused - and constantly evolving - stand of the environmentalist movement. First rate airlines have all stopped using 30-year-old aircraft, namely Boeing 747, in their fleets as they are aged and becoming increasingly unreliable. Why in the world do first rate economies still use 40-year-old nuclear reactors when third generation breeders which have been shown and tested as an extremely safe alternative is a mystery. 

So called Alternative energy sources such as solar power and wind turbines are fine for refrigerators, heating bathtubs, and running transistor radios and TV sets. But they could never generate enough power to run a steel mill or a mass transit subway line. Frankly speaking, until now, they are massive and expensive failures.

We need to continue to allow technology make our lives better, in spite of the risks, and until the risks are shown to outweigh the benefits. To this end, nuclear power is our only viable source for the near and foreseeable future. We must strive on to develop completely safe nuclear power for the good of our environment and the betterment of our children's and our children's children's future.


Andy "In Japan" said...

I'm interested in hearing facts about the newest nuclear power plants and how their design is safer than the old designs.

From what happened at Fukushima, we know that the back up power system is not adequate and that the older generation of nuke plants really ought to be replaced with something designed better. Something that won't explode if the power goes out.

Anonymous said...

The geeky girls in your class were much better looking than the ones in mine, especially that brooding girl on the lower right, such trouble perhaps?

Oh, and, nice article.
I'm glad I caught the tail end of the global ice age scare I think it helped me to resist the others... I get such venom from People online when I put forth the ideas you mentioned here, it seems it's an uphill slog. I think, while growing up, I hung around too many guys like in your photo to just say ho-hum, go-along to get along.
Looks like it was a half-way fun bunch.

Anonymous said...

I didn't join my high school science club. In fact, there probably wasn't one. I did, however, teach science and ran a science club. I learned early on, that most science information is rather political rather than truly scientific. You cannot trust "research" today.

Don't forget the hype about DDT and the California Condor. That (in)famous online encyclopedia doesn't even mention DDT. The law was passed and the hype was over.


DeMatty in USA said...

Mike I love the ice cube melting in a glass refutation of rising sea levels. It is so simple and true that it may change minds. (I live on the east coast of the US and the local paper still reports that our beaches will disappear...next year...or sometime real soon...)

Regarding nuclear and alternative power, I learned a lot from this guy's website:

http://www.truthaboutenergy.com/The%20Truth%20About%20Energy.htm (Don Lutz, Professional Engineer)

He spent his whole engineering career on nuclear power projects and research. He has great, basic science type info on nuclear power. He was involved with fast breeder reactors and he presents a great comparison of of alternative vs. nuclear/traditional power generation.

Also, I saw an interview with Stewart Brand (of Whole Earth Catalog fame) longtime environmentalist in which he says that alternative energy sources are not "grid-ready". I love that: grid ready.

Keep up the good work.

Praying for the people of Japan.

jonaas17 said...

Thank you for the smart job you do, sending to us valuable informations about the “Higashi Nihon Dai-Shinsai”. We are trying here to start events of solidarity between french oyster farmers and Japanese fishermen/oyster farmer of Tohoku, as it is because importation of japanes oyster from Miyagi-ken in the 70's that the Marennes and french oyster-farmer industry was saved in the 70’s,after the mortalities of Portuguese oyster…,
that will start during the next “Oyster farming trade show” of La Tremblade next May 23th. See:
and following/ related pages.
…And our video “Black water” with testimony of of solidarity helps to evaluate the opportunity of rising solidarity funds…

But I am sorry to say I strongly disagree with your way of thinking about “Nuclear industry” and “Anthropogenic Global Warming”.
(Even if I aggree with your considérations about the “responsability of journalist about crisis” … and the “exagerations seen in -too- many media”…)
Your way of thinking, as written in your post here, ignores some of the smartest advances in Sciences -as Systemic Dynamic Thinking (included S.D.Modelisation)-, and in Philosophy, Epistemology, - as “The Imperative of Responsibility" of Hans Jonas-.
To make it short = It is not because “crisis and collapses” as discribed in “Limits of Growth” of Meadows did not occured in the the 70’s and the following years, that Meadow’s team work is bullshit. Their use of simulation/modelisation was there , is still here to stimulate a managementof the human world and of the planet with more “responsability” , instead of managing it on the basis of non-scientific and dangerous utopy of neo-liberalism.
And the use of their tools of “Systemic Dynamic Thinking” proves their efficiency in the field of trying to foresee the (possible -?-) consequences of “Global warming”. And also to evaluate “profit/dangers” evaluation of Nuclear industry, and to stimulate real democratic debate in the society about it…
“Mieux vaut avoir de bonnes interrogations que de mauvaises certitudes”…” Better having good questions than wrong certainties”…
To know more about it, read and …read again =
1° “Tu n’as rien vu à Fukushima” de Daniel de Roulet (Buchet-Chastel, end of april 2011,
see: http://www.libella.fr/buchet-chastel/auteurs/deroulet/deroulet/
(with possibility to read some pages of this small book)
See my post about it on the page of the (fabulous) radio reports on Japan tsunami in the “Là-bas si j’y suis” website of “France-inter” radio (comments of “Jonaas17” … in French…sorry…):

2°”The Whale and the Reactor: A Search for Limits in an Age of High Technology” of Langdon Winner
3° “The Extraordinary Reign of King Ludd: an historical tease” of Roy Lewis
Again thanks for your smart blog and informations about Japan…

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