Another one (or more) bites the dust …

Coming back yet again to nuclear power, I’ve been arguing for a while that nuclear power can only work (if at all) on the basis of a single standardised design, and that the only plausible candidate for this is the Westinghouse AP1000. One response from nuclear enthusiasts has been to point to possible future advances beyond the Gen III+ approach embodied by the AP1000 (and less promising competitors like EPR). The two most popular have been Small Modular Reactors and Generation IV (fast) reactors. Recent news suggests that both of these options are now dead.

The news on the Small Modular Reactor is that Babcock and Wilcox, the first firm to be selected by the US Department of Energy to develop a prototype, has effectively mothballed the project, sacking the CEO of its SMR subsidiary and drastically scaling back staff. Westinghouse already abandoned its efforts. There is still one firm left pursuing the idea, and trying (so far unsuccessfully) to attract investors, but there’s no reason to expect success any time soon.

As regards Generation IV, the technology road map issued by the Gen IV International Forum in 2002 has just been updated. All the timelines have been pushed out, mostly by 10 years or more. That is, Gen IV is no closer now than it was when the GenIV initiative started. In particular, there’s no chance of work starting on even a prototype before about 2020, which puts commercial availability well past 2035. Allowing for construction time, there’s no prospect of electricity generation on a significant scale before 2050, by which time we will need to have completely decarbonized the economy.

184 thoughts on “Another one (or more) bites the dust …

  1. Rog – if we were expecting the world economy to grow 2% every year for a century but instead got 2% in the first 99 years and then 0% in the last year and as a result income for all subsequent years was down on expectation by 2% it should not be presented as a severe outcome. Depending on your discount rate it would be a problem that can be mostly ignored. If the one year loss of growth (all subsequent years loss of income) is in the first year instead of the last year but the growth trend is otherwise restored it is still not something to get too worked up about. Although obviously more concerning than an event 100 years from now.

    In either case I suspect this is not what Nathan meant by “severe economic risk” and “vast economic hardships” when he invoked the name of the IPCC. I suspect he was just bluffing without actually knowing what the IPCC report actually says on this issue.

  2. Will – You said it all much more eloquently than I could have. I’ve quoted your concluding paragraph below because I think it’s worthy of repeating.

    The bottom line is that staying in the Fukushima evacuation zone during and after the spew would have been much less risky than driving a car or moving to Denver. That raises questions about the wisdom of the mandatory evacuations the government forced on residents, especially since hundreds of sick people died from the stress of relocation. It raises further question marks about the apocalyptic dangers we associate with nuclear power, all the hysteria about mass body counts and uninhabitable dead zones. Those specters have never come true; the objective health risks to civilians from worst-case nuclear accidents like Fukushima, even if they live right at ground zero and do not evacuate, have proven to be modest to nil. A more rational understanding of the risks could help clear away political obstructions that slow the deployment of nuclear power.

  3. @Ronald Brak
    Evidently not all Safstrines are as keen on wind farms as you with the advent of $2k pa ‘good neighbour’ payments
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-19/good-neighbour-payments-on-offer-near-wind-turbines/5166476
    That could be a costly precedent as could be the litigation for 35% loss of resale value for a wind farm neighbouring property owner in NSW.

    British PM David Cameron thinks wind farms are a blight on the landscape. All the new wind turbines for the ACT’s high renewables push will be over the border in NSW. Near me a family installed a 10 kw vertical axis wind turbine in their back yard. Instead of making lots of electricity it blew over in a wind gust and has now been dismantled. While some may think wind farms are a thing of beauty others may not.

  4. @TerjeP

    Will Boisvert has said and TerjeP has supported it; “The bottom line is that staying in the Fukushima evacuation zone during and after the spew would have been much less risky than driving a car or moving to Denver. That raises questions about the wisdom of the mandatory evacuations the government forced on residents…”

    Doesn’t this statement presuppose knowledge of the future? At the time of the accident, and during its progress, the final outcome was unclear. It was unknown at that stage what danger level the incident would reach. It was unknown how much damage the earthquake and Tsunami had done to the plant. In an evolving nuclear accident of this kind current damage is unknown and future events are unpredictable. It is only with aftersight that we know the full progess and extent and thus the dangers of the accident. In addition, a wind change, if it had occurred, from generally easterly to generally westerly could have significantly altered the dangers. Hence, the evacuation was necessary as authorities could not predict the future course of the accident.

    It is these kind of fundamental logical fallacies in Will’s arguments that convince me he does not know what he is talking about.

  5. @ Rog,

    “UNSCEAR claim: “the expected low impact on cancer rates of the population is largely due to prompt protective actions on the part of the Japanese authorities following the accident”

    Rog, the link you gave is to a CNN news article about a different study by Japanese researchers not affiliated with UNSCEAR. The UNSCEAR study is not mentioned in the link, and the quote you cited does not occur in the news article; nor does it appear in the UNSCEAR report, which I have in front of me. It does not appear to be an “UNSCEAR claim.”

    UNSCEAR does have this to say:

    “The evacuations greatly reduced (by up to a factor of 10) the levels of exposure that would otherwise have been received by those living in those areas.” p. 6

    That’s what I was writing about in my comment: How much radiation would evacuees have received had they not evacuated? The UNSCEAR data on that question is tabulated for the first year on pp. 190-1. I used that data to estimate that the lifetime fatal cancer risk from the fallout would have been less than 1 percent in the most contaminated part of the 20 km evacuation zone, lower in the rest of the EZ, and thus lower than the risk of driving a car or the risk from radiation in Denver, Colorado.

    The (different) study in your CNN link supports those conclusions. The researchers found that in heavily contaminated areas on the border of the EZ, lifetime cancer risks are elevated by about 1 percent. Because not everyone dies of cancer, that 1 percent cancer risk would translate into a cancer mortality risk of about 0.4 to 0.5 percent, or about half of the 0.86 percent cancer mortality risk I reckoned above. The researchers also note that that cancer risk is “unlikely to be epidemiologically detectable,” i.e., it’s too small to detect against background noise, as I noted.

    So again, the scientific consensus, expressed both in the UNSCEAR report and in the study you linked to, is that the Fukushima fallout will have no measurable public health impact and would not have even had there been no evacuations.

  6. @Will Boisvert

    Sorry, wrong link. Here it is

    From the UNSCEAR report to the UN

    48. The Committee recognizes that continued research is needed to identify the full scope and expression of the differences in effects, mechanisms and risk from exposure to ionizing radiation for children and for adults. This is necessary because for a number of studies (such as of the atomic bombing survivors, children exposed to radioiodine after the Chernobyl accident and those who have had computed tomography scans), the lifetime results remain incomplete. Future long-term studies following childhood exposure will face significant difficulties owing to unlinked health records, administrative and political barriers and ethical and privacy considerations.

    The upshot of this is that further long term studies are needed and that by their very nature would be unethical.

  7. Ikonoclast – the government should have shared all advice and data in a timely manner. It should have facilitated people evacuating. It should not have forced people out of their homes.

  8. The UNSCEAR report is disputed by expert physicians of the IPPNW. Without further knowledge and data, the average citizen would have to at least note these divergent opinions and consider both the UNSCEAR and IPPNW opinions to be in dispute. The IPPNW statement about the UNSCEAR report is strong, claiming a “… string of bias, inaccuracies and purposeful manipulation of data to achieve a desired outcome”. IPPNW produces a number arguments to support this statement.

    “IPPNW has disputed the accuracy of the new UNSCEAR report on the Fukushima disaster. We reviewed the report last year by UNSCEAR and found a similar string of bias, inaccuracies and purposeful manipulation of data to achieve a desired outcome.

    IPPNW found many issues in this year’s UNSCEAR report including:

    UNSCEAR uses the fact that cancer can not be traced back to an origin to explain away any potential cancers from the Fukushima disaster. This tactic is well known among the tobacco and asbestos industries.

    The source of the data used by UNSCEAR is primarily the IAEA, TEPCO and the Japanese government. Anyone who has been following events in Fukushima knows none of these sources are considered unbiased or accurate. Much dispute about the validity of the data from these entities exists. All of the data from other sources is ignored by UNSCEAR.

    IPPNW also points out that the wide disparity in the actual incidence of thyroid nodules and cancers in Fukushima is so divergent from the data from other areas that they can not excuse the findings as “screening effect”.”

    See this report.

    http://www.ippnw.de/commonFiles/pdfs/Atomenergie/Ausfuehrlicher_Kommentar_zum_UNSCEAR_Fukushima_Bericht_2013__Englisch_.pdf

    At this stage, special pleading for nuclear industry safety seems reminiscent of the special pleading and dishonest propaganda campaigns for tobacco and asbestos.

  9. @ Ikonoclast, on precautionary evacuations,

    The civil defense literature makes clear that “sheltering in place”—that’s emergency-speak for “relaxing at home”—is often a better response to a nuclear accident than mass evacuations. That was certainly the case at Fukushima. The Japanese government ignored the SPEEDI network of sensors they had installed to track radiation plumes, and instead ordered a blanket evacuation of first 3, then 5, 10 and 20 km rings around the plant. The resulting upheaval not only killed hundreds of people, it sometimes resulted in higher radiation exposures when refugees who would have avoided the plume had they stayed at home were steered straight into it by evacuation orders.

    And no, the low radiation exposures at Fukushima were not due to lucky winds. The winds did indeed sometimes blow the plume inland. And UNSCEAR’s maximum first-year dose of 51 msv applies to townships right outside the plant gates, where the plume was not attenuated by distance.

    We can confidently put a cap on the plausible exposures of civilians close to the plant by looking at the exposures of emergency workers at the plant. During the first 19 months after the accident, among the 25,000 workers at the plant, 3700 of them TEPCO staffers, all of 175 of them received a radiation dose greater than 100 msv, the threshold at which elevated cancer risk becomes observable. (The average dose was 12 msv, or two years in Denver.) These are people working full time right at the plant in the throes of the spew and then for a year afterwards, and yet the odds of them accumulating a significant radiation dose over all that time were vanishingly small. Clearly any civilian living off site would have gotten tinier doses by far no matter which way the wind blew.

    So one of the lessons of Fukushima is that hasty mandatory evacuations are generally a bad idea. Radiation is not very dangerous, and there is time during an accident—weeks and months, not hours and days—for people to gather information about likely risks and consider what actions they want to take.

  10. Will and TerjeP, your conclusions based on that report are too simplistic, for a variety of reasons. Although it’s true that evacuation caused more mortality than the disaster (which I think is now well-established in the peer-reviewed literature), that doesn’t mean evacuation wasn’t necessary or inevitable, or that the areas around the plant are livable, or that the liabilities are not real, for several reasons.

    First, at the time of the evacuation there was concern about more dangerous decay products. Currently most exposure is to iodine and cesium, which are relatively safe, but we didn’t know what was happening in the plant or how much material would be released. The evacuation was partly precautionary.

    Second, contra TerjeP’s assertion, most of the evacuation zones were not mandatory and not everyone evacuated solely due to the nuclear accident. We don’t know how many people were already considering leaving due to e.g. loss of electricity and water, and simply expedited that decision. Certainly I know of elderly care homes in the region who initially planned to stay but had to go after more than a week due to loss of power, food and staff. This last point is important: even in the absence of mandatory evacuation zones, many businesses close when young working people take their children out of town, and this cascaded rapidly in the area – again, all compounded by loss of power and infrastructure (this entire sweep of coastline was really seriously damaged by the tsunami).

    Thirdly, in the earliest and largest study conducted on participants between 6 and 12 months after the accident, we found levels of contamination of about 10% in children and 30% in adults (going by memory); these people (especially teh children) had mostly evacuated but still had detectable levels a year later, primarily due ot ongoing environmental exposure. We do still occasionally find people with high-risk levels of contamination, due to eating local food. This has several implications: at the very least, it means that after such an accident nearby farms and fisheries have to close for years, ongoing monitoring is required (the town I visit has two WBC machines taking up 4 staff, and a doctor working part time on radiation health), and food management is necessary. These are obvious liabilities. While the experience of people in the area is that you can live safely in the zone, you cannot live blithely.

    The fact is that we simply don’t know what needs to be done to protect health in such a disaster, and due to the poor research conducted after Chernobyl we are only now learning the details for the first time. So while it might be sufficient for you personally to say it’s safe to stay downwind of a nuclear accident, for a person who is charged with protecting the health of a couple of 100,000 people and for whom there are literally no good quality peer reviewed studies of the risks, you need to be a little more cautious. I think actually the Japanese government was surprisingly laissez faire about all of this – they resisted American calls for a much larger exclusion zone, and many of their evacuation orders were not mandatory.

    It should be noted that some residents do want to return to the “contaminated” towns that have been emptied, but the process of return needs to be a social one not an individual one. A few elderly people returning to a town does not make the town viable, and these towns will not be able to return to farming for years. This is a liability someone has to pay for, as is the closure of fisheries and the disposal of the plant. I don’t think blithely dismissing these issues is a basis for sound energy policy!

  11. @ FaustusNotes,

    Yes, there were all sorts of “concerns” surrounding the spew. They were hugely overblown, as the UNSCEAR and many other studies have demonstrated and as many commentators at the time anticipated. What actually happened at Fukushima was a spew of radioactivity with public health effects too small to measure. We should use that experience to base nuclear policy on science and historical evidence, instead of on hysterical precautionary anxieties.

    Yes, some of the evacuation was due to tsunami damage. But most if it was from the mandatory evacuation orders.

    “we found levels of contamination of about 10% in children and 30% in adults (going by memory); these people (especially teh children) had mostly evacuated but still had detectable levels a year later, primarily due ot ongoing environmental exposure.”

    This statement is meaningless unless you quantify the level of radioactive contamination and assess the dose and health risk it poses. Everyone is “contaminated” with radionuclides both natural and man-made. Scanning equipment can detect tiny quantities of a radio-nuclide that pose absolutely no health risk—virtually all of the incidents of internal “contamination” at Fukushima fall in that category. To cite statistics like 10 percent of children are contaminated with Fukushima radionuclides without explaining that the levels of contamination are innocuous is to obscure the truth and foment unjustified fear; it’s a time-honored tactic of anti-nuclear propaganda.

    “it means that after such an accident nearby farms and fisheries have to close for years”

    Why no, it doesn’t. Average levels of contamination in the Fukushima fishery are far below regulatory limits, which are themselves insanely strict, pegged at levels that can’t possibly cause significant health risk. Contamination levels in food samples from Fukushima, even inside the 20 km zone, are likewise vanishingly small, far below strict regulatory limits on average and undetectable in most samples. Fukushima food is quite safe to eat.

    “While the experience of people in the area is that you can live safely in the zone, you cannot liveblithely.”

    Why not? The place is less radioactive than Denver, the food is perfectly safe, it’s a scenic countryside. It’s only irrational radiophobia that stokes people’s anxieties.

    “So while it might be sufficient for you personally to say it’s safe to stay downwind of a nuclear accident, for a person who is charged with protecting the health of a couple of 100,000 people and for whom there are literally no good quality peer reviewed studies of the risks, you need to be a little more cautious”

    Again, “sheltering in place”—the doctrine that calls for not evacuating after an accident, is prominent in civil defense planning circles. And it’s not just that the government ordered an initial evacuation, though that was unjustified, it’s that it has maintained the ongoing closure of the EZ, long after the spew was over and the emergency past. There are lots of excellent studies proving the scientific consensus that health risks in the Fukushima EZ are tiny and too small to measure; UNSCEAR is one of them. Yet the EZ is still mostly closed. Government officials aren’t paying attention to the science, which is unequivocal, they’re paying attention to politics motivated by irrational phobias.

    “It should be noted that some residents do want to return to the “contaminated” towns that have been emptied, but the process of return needs to be a social one not an individual one. A few elderly people returning to a town does not make the town viable, and these towns will not be able to return to farming for years.”

    Why not just throw the whole zone open, give people radiation maps and inform them of the risk factors, and let them decide whether to move back? It’s quite safe to live there, the data prove it. Adults actually can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them. All the land could return to farming immediately if the crops pass contamination limits—which mostly they do. And it’s only a 20 km zone—it’s not like people are marooned there when they return.

    It’s mainly ongoing evacuation orders and other crazy restrictions—and the radiophobia that the government does everything to stoke and nothing to counter–that are keeping people out.

  12. A Green Road Project reports:

    “Few people realize that the same people who are part of the IAEA, are also members of the UNSCEAR organization and are also members and/or leaders/ of the IAEA and ICRP.

    So when you think you are hearing from three different and individual scientific or international bodies, they are actually all one and the same. So what is the IAEA? The IAEA is a marketing arm of the nuclear industry, with it’s budget paid for by the nuclear industry. …

    So on the one hand, we have the pro nuclear marketing arm of the nuclear industry, represented by the IAEA, WHO, NRC, UNSCEAR and ICRP, plus their allied politicians that receive ‘donations’ from the nuclear industry. They seem to care only about short term profits and protecting the ‘image’ of the nuclear industry, even inside of ‘peer reviewed’ studies.

    On the other hand, we have the pro human rights, pro healthy children medical doctors and pro environmental groups who represent average people and communities and want a green, healthy and sustainable future and are following the ‘true’ science of reporting on actual medical and scientific studies, representing them just as they are, with no industry bias or profit motive. Which one would you listen to?”

    Given the record of TEPCO’s lies and Japanese Govt lies about their nuclear industry, the Fukushima plant’s history and the actual event, how can we have any confidence in the safety of this or any other nuclear plant? If it all was safe and above board why has there been (a now well-documented) history of lying in and about the Japaneses nuclear industry, to name just one country? Ongoing lying and cover-ups powerfully suggest that there is plentt to cover up.

    Physicians and environmental groups have no clear incentive to lie about risks. On the other hand, the nuclear industry has a clear vested interest in lying about risks. Billions of dollars of subsidised investments with profits to the few are involved. Clearly they have an incentive to lie and fabricate.

    We have seen, time and again, the corporations lie, cover up and deny or twist science for profit. We saw (and see) it with tobacco, asbestos and fossil fuels. Now we are to believe that the nuclear industry and lobby is simon-pure and the main players in it are unlike any other large corporations. Sorry Will, I am not so naive as to believe such fabricated lies and propaganda about the safety of the nuclear industry. There is plenty of extant and gathering evidence that the nuclear power industry is extremely dangerous.

  13. Will and Terje

    Luckily for all concerned, the captain of the recently submerged Korean ferry was fully apprised of your arguments about the folly of mandatory evacuation. I’m sure he’ll appreciate your support as he faces life in prison.

  14. For those who like to refer to IPCC to bolster their arguments; this piece (last par page 27) requires careful thought

    Limiting the warming caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions alone with a probability of >33%, >50%, and >66% to less than 2°C since the period 1861–188022, will require cumulative CO2 emissions from all anthropogenic sources to stay between 0 and about 1570 GtC (5760 GtCO2), 0 and about 1210 GtC (4440 GtCO2), and 0 and about 1000 GtC (3670 GtCO2) since that period, respectively23. These upper amounts are reduced to about 900 GtC (3300 GtCO2), 820 GtC (3010 GtCO2), and 790 GtC (2900 GtCO2), respectively, when accounting for non-CO2 forcings as in RCP2.6. An amount of 515 [445 to 585] GtC (1890 [1630 to 2150] GtCO2), was already emitted by 2011.

    In other words to limit warming to 2°C will require no further carbon emissions. The economic costs were calculated for 2°C only, over 2°C is another ball game.

  15. rog – the IPCC section I referenced was for a “global mean average temperature rise of 2.5C”.

  16. Further to my last post. One gets a different picture from pure research science compared to the picture from industry-aligned science.

    “All Levels of Radiation Confirmed to Cause Cancer.

    Washington, DC July 30, 2005 The National Academies of Science released an over 700-page report yesterday on the risks from ionizing radiation. The BEIR VII or seventh Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation report on “Health Risks from Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation” reconfirmed the previous knowledge that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation—that even very low doses can cause cancer. Risks from low dose radiation are equal or greater than previously thought. The committee reviewed some additional ways that radiation causes damage to cells.

    Among the reports conclusions are:

    There is no safe level or threshold of ionizing radiation exposure.

    Even exposure to background radiation causes some cancers. Additional exposures cause additional risks.

    Radiation causes other health effects such as heart disease and stroke, and further study is needed to predict the doses that result in these non-cancer health effects.

    It is possible that children born to parents that have been exposed to radiation could be affected by those exposures.

    The “bystander effect” is an additional, newly recognized method by which radiation injures cells that were not directly hit but are in the vicinity of those that were. “Genomic instability” can be caused by exposure to low doses of radiation and according to the report “might contribute significantly to radiation cancer risk.” These new mechanisms for radiation damage were not included in the risk estimates reported by the BEIR VII report, but were recommended for further study.

    The Linear-No-Threshold model (LNT) for predicting health effects from radiation (dose-response) is retained, meaning that every exposure causes some risk and that risks are generally proportional to dose. The Dose and Dose-Rate Effectiveness Factor or DDREF which had been suggested in the 1990 BEIR V report to be applied at low doses, has been reduced from 2 to 1.5. That means the projected number of health effects at low doses are greater than previously thought. RADIATION RISKIER THAN THOUGHT– RISKS TO PUBLIC and NUCLEAR WORKERS

    The BEIR VII risk numbers indicate that about 1 in 100 members of the public would get cancer if exposed to 100 millirads (1milliGray) per year for a 70-year lifetime. [1] This is essentially the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s allowable radiation dose for members of the public.

    In addition, 1 in about 5 workers [2] would get cancer if exposed to the legally allowable occupational doses [3] over their 50 years in the workforce. These risks are much higher than permitted for other carcinogens.

    Specifically, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows members of the public to get 100 millirems or mr (1 milliSievert or mSv) per year of radiation in addition to background. The BEIR VII report (page 500, Table 12-9) estimates that this level will result in approximately 1 (1.142) cancer in every 100 people exposed at 100 mr/yr which includes 1 fatal cancer in every 175 people so exposed (5.7 in 1000).[4]

    The risk of getting cancer from radiation (in BEIR VII) is increased by about a third from current government risk figures (FGR13): BEIR VII estimates that 11.42 people will get cancer if 10,000 are each exposed to a rem (1,000 millirems or 10 mSv). The US Environmental Protection Agency Federal Guidance Report 13 estimates that 8.46 people will get cancer if 10,000 are each exposed to a rem.

    The Nuclear Information and Resource Service interprets this as further evidence that unnecessary radiation exposures should be avoided.”

  17. @TerjeP
    Well you suspect incorrectly Terje, as I’ve already read quite a lot of the IPCC’s latest report and its abundantly clear you haven’t. Others have made the point, but I’ll repeat it on the off chance you’re still capable of thinking critically about this issue. You correctly point out that modest a rise in temperatures of between 2-3 degrees has only a modest economic impact (though tell that to the impoverished and low lying parts of the world) but completely ignore the fact that the same report makes it clear that avoiding temperature rises larger than this is highly improbable without mitigation measures beginning now, which is what we were actually talking about. If you’re too lazy to be bothered reading the peer reviewed science fine, but stop trying to fake your way through conversations with people who have. To summarise, what the IPCC actually says is: lack of mitigating action leads to temp rises >3 degrees which leads to severe economic consequences.

  18. Will, a few points.

    The Japanese government did use shelter-in-place strategies, for example in Iitate and Tamano. Large numbers of people evacuated from areas that were not “mandatory,” but were “Planned evacuation zones” or “evacuate in case of emergency” zones. The government’s advice was confusing and contradictory and changed rapidly, but you can’t say it was all mandatory evacuation orders, or that this is the reason most people evacuated. The town of Minamisoma, for example, largely does not lie in the mandatory evacuation zone, but most of its inhabitants evacuated. And as I stated above, I know of at least one elderly care home that did not evacuate due to radiation, but due to the collapse of the support services in the town as others evacuated voluntarily. And this happened in a population that is much more reasonable about radiation risks than are, say, Americans or Australians.

    You also can’t ignore the precautionary element of evacuations. In my personal opinion this accident should not have been rated level 7 because it could have been much, much worse. Had they not been able to get fire trucks there, for example, it is possible that the amount of material released – and its composition – would have been much worse. A second tsunami or after-shock that disrupted the already fragile containment baths would have created all sorts of problems. Would you want to be the govt official responsible for telling people to stay home just before the whole thing went fully pear-shaped?

    As I said above, you cannot live blithely in the zone (although, as I also said, you can live safely) because of the risks of food contamination. You are focusing on environmental exposure, but this is not the main source of contamination in the area: it is food. By this I don’t mean food bought at the supermarket, but food farmed locally. No one in the area can safely grow their own mushrooms, for example, or eat fish caught in rivers, or boar they hunt themselves. There are ongoing instances of people getting contaminated by this, but we have a monitoring program in place. This – not using local allotments for food, attending radiation screening assessments annually, checking the content of locally-grown rice, closing some businesses such as commercial bean-sprout growers – is not living “blithely,” it is quite the opposite.

    Now this may not seem like a big imposition to you, but it is still a change. And your insistence that the area is uncontaminated is just straight out wrong. You may think the contamination is not an issue (and I agree with you on this) but the fact is that food consumption habits have had to change because of the contamination risk.

    You ask “Why not just throw the whole zone open, give people radiation maps and inform them of the risk factors, and let them decide whether to move back? ” and i tried to hint at this in my comment about “social” return: if you do this, a few people will return and you will have successfully constructed a couple of unviable towns with a handful of elderly people living in them. Much better not to bother. I wonder if it would be in TePCO’s best interests to just cover the whole Iitate area in solar panels, let the 20km exclusion zone revert to wilderness, and turn the whole thing into a trekking holiday area. At least then they can make some money from land no one will use for years…

    The results of research at Fukushima suggest that people can live safely in the land around a major nuclear accident, but they do not rule out the importance of evacuation, and some changes do need to be made in order to continue living there. With this information it is possible to better manage future disasters (e.g. if you can be sure that there will be no escalation of the accident, and the plume can subside, then you can run a larger shelter-in-place strategy than was run at Fukushima). For me it implies that the liabilities after a nuclear accident may not be as great as previously expected, and that nuclear power can continue to be a viable option in principle. As I stated in my first comment here, the economics of nuclear power largely mean it remains a dumb option in most places, but shutting down existing plants early is, in my opinion, very very bad. However, this blithe kind of nuclear-boosting that you’re throwing around here, that nothing could possible go wrong and everyone should just go about their business, will never convince anyone and is no basis for energy policy.

  19. Nathan – I answered you with quotes and references. You could be polite and reciprocate. Please quote from the IPCC economic analysis the projected losses for warming above 3 degrees. I’m prepared to listen but simply citing the word “severe” doesn’t say a whole lot. The section I quoted earlier specifically said:-

    Little is known about aggregate economics impacts above 3°C.

  20. Ikon you are starting on a vast topic, namely LNT vs hormesis q.v.. I’ve owned a tube of yellowcake for about 20 years and apart from the stringwarts that glow green in the dark my health is good. I’m puzzled how the human race made it this far if all radiation is harmful. Can’t be due to living in caves because that makes it worse.

  21. @TerjeP
    Hang on a minute, I’ll be happy to address your point in a moment but lets not change the subject. The thing that has really raised my ire is that you were championing adaptation-without mitigation strategy, but when challenged, quoted IPCC analysis for a temperature range that applies to their *aggressive* mitigation scenario. Do you agree that this either deeply misunderstands or misrepresents the contents of the report?

  22. You are right that the range for the RCP8.5 scenario (roughly speaking BAU) has a temperature midpoint of 4.0C in 2100. The lower end of the RCP8.5 range seems to be just below 3.0C. So it’s above the 2.5C costing I quoted.

    I quoted the bit that gave economic analysis for 2.5C warming in 2100 and where the IPCC also said they have no good analysis for higher temperatures. And on that basis question your assertion that the economic consequences of unchecked AGW are severe.

  23. @Hermit

    You are really starting to grasp at straws. If I applied the same reasoning I could say;

    (a) I worked in a James Hardie factory as a young man. Think fibro dust / asbestos! (TRUE.)
    (b) Last time my doctor checked me I was in good general health, normal lungs, better than average heart function for my age near 60; albeit I am about 5 kg overweight (TRUE).
    (c) Therefore working with asbestos is good, or at least not deleterious for one’s health. (Highly dubious statement of course.)

    Regarding hormesis;

    “Quoting results from a literature database research, the Académie des Sciences — Académie nationale de Médecine (French Academy of Sciences — National Academy of Medicine) stated in their 2005 report concerning the effects of low-level radiation that many laboratory studies have observed radiation hormesis. However, they cautioned that it is not yet known if radiation hormesis occurs outside the laboratory, or in humans.” – Wikipedia

    “Consensus reports by the United States National Research Council and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) argue[citation needed] that there is no evidence for hormesis in humans and in the case of the National Research Council, that hormesis is outright rejected as a possibility.[citation needed] Therefore, the Linear no-threshold model (LNT) continues to be the model generally used by regulatory agencies for human radiation exposure.” – Wikipedia.

    I am no fan of pro-nuclear UNSCEAR yet even they do not endorse this still highly contentious theory. You are completely clutching at straws. I really don’t understand this desperation to support nuclear power. It is beyond all rationality when it is proven that;

    (a) a nuclear build-out to prevent AGW is now impossible on the necessary timescale;
    (b) proven and reasonably assured reserves of Uranium are insufficient to meet any energy need past 2050.

    Thus your support of nuclear power is not rationally based. Now it could be money based if you have financial interests in nuclear power. If that is not the case then it is emotionally based and one can only wonder why you have this irrational fascination with radioactivity and nuclear power.

  24. @TerjeP
    To answer your question, first of all I should have made clear that the word severe is mine and not a direct IPCC quote. And I certainly wasn’t implying that it’s easy to get quantitative estimates. But let me try and justify my qualitative term “severe”. In the WGII summary for policy makers on page 13 they state”. Extensive biodiversity loss with associated loss of
    ecosystem goods and services results in high risks around 3°C additional warming (high
    confidence). Aggregate economic damages accelerate with increasing temperature (limited
    evidence, high agreement) but few quantitative estimates have been completed for additional
    warming around 3°C or above.”

    More concretely, the studies reported by the IPCC on % effect on GDP warming of 3C or higher, which are to be found in Table 10.B.1 are:

    Nordhaus 94a: -1.3
    Nordhaus 94b: -4.8
    Nordhaus 06: -1
    Nordhaus 08: -2.5
    Roson 2012: -4.6

    Importantly, the report points out that the uncertainty in analysis is not symmetric: “most experts speculate that excluded impacts are on balance negative (Füssel, 2010; Tol, 2008; Yohe, 2008).” So uncertainty is hardly the friend of the “no action” position. Also, on the (admittedly limited) evidence so far there is high agreement that the effects accelerate, i.e. the no mitigation 4 degree warming scenario is likely to be worse than twice the damage of the 2 degrees with mitigation scenario.

    Furthermore, the analysis makes clear that these results actually somewhat mask much more severe localised effects. In other words climate change tends to increase inequality as well as decrease GDP overall. From Section 10.9.2 “Aggregate estimates of costs mask
    significant differences in impacts across sectors, regions, countries and populations. Relative to their income, economic impacts are higher for poorer people.” For example, the Maddison 03 study for 2.5 degrees warming has a global figure of -0.1 but for the worst effected region (South America in their study) they estimate -14.6. These kind of results are pretty horrific and taken with section on food security and declining crop yields. You might also like to read the section on Poverty traps. Having written all this, it occurs to me that when you refer to “us” you may actually intend to discount the developing from your considerations. That viewpoint certainly strengthens the “it won’t be so bad” outlook, but at rather a high moral cost in my view.

  25. A 15% reduction in national income in 85 years time is akin to a reduction in annual economic growth rates of around 0.2%. But for South America only. For other places it would be vastly lower. That’s not a problem to scare the kids with but still a problem worth addressing. But I still go back to my original position that adaptation is the best option. Including technological innovation be it in solar or nuclear or something else. What I don’t think makes sense is large scale economic intervention with inflated taxes or ETS schemes. A low carbon tax would make some sense but I fear that we lack the political discipline to keep it low so I’d probably prefer we don’t have it at all.

  26. Ikonoclast, of course any dose of ionising radiation has SOME non-zero probabilty of triggering a cell transformation, and each transofrmation has some no-zero probability of becoming a cancer. So what? The important fact is that both of these probabilities are tiny.

    In fact the probability of low-dose radiation causing cancer is so small that we can’t even reliably measure it – the whole point of that NAS article. That’s why small radiation exposures are simply not worth worrying about compared to the risks we all run every day – which is the point Tel made at length.

    I still think it a sick joke that world headlines and mass panic were created by Fukushima at a time when Tokyo was blanketed in toxic smoke from a burning oil refinery, when chemical plants up and down the length of northern Japan had had the contents of their storage tanks spread over the landscape, thousands of people were still trapped in rubble, hundreds of thousands homeless in the rain and millions had no light or heat. The meltdown was low on the list of risks to health at that time even for those living near the reactor.

  27. Will Boisvert: “UNSCEAR found that the highest avoided first-year dose in the EZ, in the townships surrounding the nuclear plant, would have been 51 millisieverts.”

    Nonsense. UNSCEAR found that *average avoided* effective dose in Tomioka would have been 51 mSv.

    Likewise, the *average avoided* dose for infants in Tomioka would been 800 mGy.

    Which means a significant percentage of Tomioka’s 15,000 evacuated residents would have received much higher doses of radiation.

    Do you think it would have been sensible for any of Tomioka residents to stay and risk arbitrarily receiving *a much higher than average dose*?

    “Multiplying by three gives a dose for someone living there a whole lifetime of 153 msv.”

    You quoted 51 mSv for one year of radiation exposure. Assuming no clean-up (as UNSCEAR does in its calculations, and because clean-up would be impossible without evacuation), and roughly factoring in Cs-137’s 30 year half-life, the average Tomioka resident would have received some 30 times that dose in their lifetime. Unless I’m missing something blindingly obvious, why on earth would you choose to multiply by 3?

    51 mSv x 30 = 1.53 Sv lifetime dose for the average Tomioka resident.

    “Multiplying that lifetime dose by the BEIR VII risk factor gives a lifetime fatal cancer risk from the radiation of 0.86 percent.”

    For chronic exposure to low-level radiation, the ICRP calculates lifetime risk of contracting fatal cancer at 1 in 20 per sievert. (I don’t know the BEIR VII risk factor, but I assume it is much the same)

    Therefore — had the Tomioka residents decided to stay put, and live out the rest of their lives there — 1 in 13 of them (1150 residents) would have contracted fatal cancer *as a direct result of the Fukushima meltdown*.

    It should be added that nowhere in the UNSCEAR report does it claim that residents ‘shouldn’t have been evacuated’, or that it was safe for them not to do so. And nowhere in the UNSCEAR report does it suggest that it is safe for residents to start returning.

    You are vastly overreaching to make those claims.

  28. Let’s examine current dose rate observations right now in Fukushima:

    http://www.bousai.ne.jp/eng/speedi/pref.php?id=07

    2014/04/23 18:10 Ottozawa Okuma Town = 18290 nG/h

    —> 0.0000183 G/h * 24 * 365 = 160 mG/y * 30 years = 4.8 G/lifetime

    = *1 in 4 residents* would contract fatal cancer in their lifetime due to the Fukushima meltdown.

    Will, do you honestly think that represents safe radiation levels for Okuma’s 11,500 residents to return to and spend the rest of their lives?

  29. @TerjeP

    The end of the universe will either involve maximum entropy heat death or a “big crunch” followed by another big bang. Either way taxes will be abolished at the end of the universe. Sounds like TerjeP Nirv??ato me! 🙂

  30. @Nick

    Yes, when I note how far Will Boisvert overreaches with his claims about the harmlessness of radiation from major nuclear accidents, I realise I am seeing a classic example of Poe’s Law.

  31. Ikonoclast – I think most of us will be forced by circumstance to stop worrying about taxes and global warming and such things long before any Big Crunch.

  32. Ikon, it makes me think Will has a proverbial barrow to push, and is willing to play with people’s lives and well-being (if only theoretically in a harmless blog discussion, thank goodness) in order to push it as far as he can.

    Honestly, “Why not just throw the whole zone open, give people radiation maps and inform them of the risk factors, and let them decide whether to move back? It’s quite safe to live there, the data prove it. Adults actually can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them”.

    Is just loony. Anyway, I might have my figures wrong, or he might have a different interpretation of them…let’s see how Will replies.

  33. @Nick

    I love that line “Adults actually can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them.” Hmm, yeah right. The “giant social process” is called modern civilization.

  34. “Adults actually can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them.”

    One of the more sensible things said around these parts in a long time.

  35. @TerjeP

    It really depends how you define cosseting. Compared to traditional desert aborigines or traditional Inuit peoples we are all extremely cosseted.

  36. You really should retract that statement, Terje, if you don’t have the gumption to say “everyone who is not perfectly healthy and able to look after themselves should be killed”.

  37. BilB – people who are not physically able to look after themselves can still generally make their own decisions and don’t need the government to tell them what to do. And the bit I quote was said in the context of governments mandating decisions about what risks people expose themselves to.

  38. Ikon we and our ancestors have been zapped with cosmic rays and background radiation for millions of years to the point we may actually need small doses to stay healthy. That’s not the case for asbestos. Australia is not going to have a uranium shortage this century. Most of the spent fuel from Gen 3 plant can then be used in Gen 4 plant. Google GE Hitachi PRISM or BN-800.

    As for not being able to build nuclear plants fast enough coal it is then.

  39. Adults actually can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them.

    There’s simply no historical evidence for that as a general proposition. We are social animals. Civilisation is a giant social process cosseting us. Everyone who ‘looks after themself’ does so by resort to the usages of civilised life, which in turn is assured by government. Those without access to good governance suffer badly on all the usual measures of life quality. We call them refugees or displaced persons.

  40. @ Nick, on radiation exposures and risks in the Fukushima evacuation zone.

    Nick, thanks for your polite comments, but I’m afraid you are indeed missing a few things.

    1) Highest averted dose or highest average diverted dose in a settlement?

    Good point, the average effective dose in the most contaminated township, Tomioka, was 51 msv, individuals might have received higher or lower doses. Likewise for the 795 msv thyroid dose to infants. (Although UNSCEAR ignored iodine prophylaxis and allowed that estimated thyroid doses might be 4 to 5 times too high, so it’s unlikely any child would have gotten even the average dose.)

    Average exposure is what counts for my purpose of assessing public health effects.

    “Do you think it would have been sensible for any of Tomioka residents to stay and risk arbitrarily receiving *a much higher than average dose*?”

    Is it sensible for people to smoke and drink? Those habits impose drastically higher health risks than living in Tomioka would, yet people do them voluntarily. Give people the facts and let them decide for themselves whether to incur modest radiation risks or evacuate. I would stay.

    2) “You quoted 51 mSv for one year of radiation exposure. Assuming no clean-up (as UNSCEAR does in its calculations, and because clean-up would be impossible without evacuation), and roughly factoring in Cs-137?s 30 year half-life, the average Tomioka resident would have received some 30 times that dose in their lifetime. Unless I’m missing something blindingly obvious, why on earth would you choose to multiply by 3?”

    Nick, no, there are many mistakes in that paragraph. First of all, even if we wrongly assume, as you do, that the only exposure is from Cs-137 with a 30-year half-life, you don’t get the lifetime dose by multiplying the first year’s by 30; you get it by calculating the integral under the exponential decay curve from t = 0 to t = 80 years.

    But the exposure doesn’t all come from Cs-137. First-year exposures are inflated by fast-decaying radionuclides in the initial plume, particularly Iodine 131 with a half-life of 8 days. Those radionuclides aren’t contributing at all to exposures in subsequent years, which are therefore much smaller than first-year exposures. Half of the initial radio-cesium was Cs-134, with a half-life of 2 years, that exposure drops fast, too.

    Thirdly, there is weathering. Rainfall washes radionuclides down into the ground and into river bottoms and the sea, where they no longer irradiate people because of shielding from soil and water. That process is pretty fast, and makes a major contribution to the effective decay constant for radiation exposures. Radioactivity not only decays away quickly, it is also quickly cleared from the land by weather.

    Because of all these consideration, UNSCEAR used the rule of thumb that you multiply first-year doses by 3 to get lifetime doses, which is accepted in the literature. UNSCEAR says this explicitly in many passages, for example on p. 209:, “Lifetime doses were estimated to be up to a factor of three greater than the doses received in the first year, with the greatest increases in dose being in the areas with the highest levels of deposition density of radionuclides” (That is, the factor of three is an upper bound.) They also clearly apply it in exposure forecasts, as in table C-16 on p. 198.

    (And why on earth do you say “cleanup would be impossible without evacuation”, since much cleanup is being done in settled areas?)

    4) “Let’s examine current dose rate observations right now in Fukushima:
    http://www.bousai.ne.jp/eng/speedi/pref.php?id=07
    2014/04/23 18:10 Ottozawa Okuma Town = 18290 nG/h
    —> 0.0000183 G/h * 24 * 365 = 160 mG/y * 30 years = 4.8 G/lifetime
    = *1 in 4 residents* would contract fatal cancer in their lifetime due to the Fukushima meltdown.
    Will, do you honestly think that represents safe radiation levels for Okuma’s 11,500 residents to return to and spend the rest of their lives?”

    Many mistakes in your calculation Nick, which is off by a factor of at least 15.

    First, the exposure numbers you gave are outdoor air exposure rates, not effective dose rates, which require adjustments for many variables. For example, there’s shielding from the structures that people spend most of their time in, which block most of the external radiation. The Japanese government multiplies air dose rates by 0.6 to account for that. (Dosimeter studies indicate the results are still 30 percent too high.) The air dose rate is 159 millisieverts per year, multiplying by 0.6 gives an effective dose rate of 95 msv per year currently, likely an overestimate.

    Next, to extrapolate that to a lifetime dose, you have to take account of not just radioactive decay attenuating the radiation, but also weathering. UNSCEAR and other data indicate that the combined effects of decay and weathering are reducing radiation levels by about 30 percent per year, year-on-year. That means that the effective environmental half-life of the radioactivity, from decay and weathering combined, is roughly two years.

    To calculate the lifetime dose we therefore have to integrate the exponential decay function, factoring in both physical decay and weathering with an effective half-life of 2 years. Let’s overestimate that with the definite integral to time infinity, which means multiplying the current yearly dose by 2/ln2. The result is a total lifetime radiation dose for someone moving back to your Okuma hotspot today of 275 millisieverts. Applying the BEIR-VII risk factor, that implies a lifetime fatal cancer risk from the Okuma radiation of 1.6 percent, probably too small to show up in epidemiological studies. Some people might fret over that, but I wouldn’t.

    My calculation of radiation exposure and risk here is likely an overestimate because it lowballs the shielding factor and assumes no decontamination measure and that people don’t avoid hotspots.

    But let’s also note, Nick, that your high radiation level definitely does not apply to Okuma’s “11,500 residents.” You cherry-picked the highest of four radiation readings for Okuma and presented it as an average for the whole township; the average of the four radiation readings for Okuma at your link is only half as high. The true average is much lower because radiation sensors have been clustered around hot-spots; in table C-19, p. 204, UNSCEAR pegs the current average radiation dose in Okuma at 4.9 millisievert per year. So no, most Okuma residents would incur nowhere near as high a radiation risk as you have mistakenly estimated here.

  41. Fran, fair enough, but my point is that ordinary people really are competent to assess the risks they run in living in the evacuation zone and to decide for themselves whether it makes sense. They don’t need evacuation decrees to decide for them.

    It’s also true that the current depopulation of the EZ may pose initial hardships for returnees, but let’s not overstate that. The 20-km evacuation zone isn’t Mars; all the comforts of civilization would be just a short drive away. I’m sure there are plenty of rural settlements in Australia that are more isolated. Again, ordinary people are perfectly competent to decide for themselves whether they should brave those hardships.

  42. @Hermit

    To be honest, I had not even heard of Radiation Hormesis until you mentioned it. I have since checked it out a little. Radiation hormesis is an interesting hypothesis. Let it be duly noted that it is currently an hypothesis. There is some laboratory evidence for it but even the proposers admit it is not yet known if radiation hormesis occurs outside the laboratory, or in humans.

    As I quoted before;

    “Consensus reports by the United States National Research Council and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) argue[citation needed] that there is no evidence for hormesis in humans and in the case of the National Research Council, that hormesis is outright rejected as a possibility.[citation needed] Therefore, the Linear no-threshold model (LNT) continues to be the model generally used by regulatory agencies for human radiation exposure.” – Wikipedia.

    I note how nuclear power supporters are always making claims about future developments (commercial Gen IV reactors) or future possible scientific knowledge (proof of Radiation Hormesis in humans) and use this as evidence for current claims and current decision making. This kind of “running ahead of reality” is symptomatic of the pro-nuclear position. This would suggest (among other things) that current verified data is not sufficient for the pro-nuclear case.

    It is one thing to suppose that certain things might be possible one day or be known to be very probably true and thus at that time such knowledge might well be of use to us. It is another thing to presuppose that a future possibility will come true for certain and base current decisions on that presupposition. There is an old fashioned phrase for that. It’s called “living on your expectations”.

  43. @Will Boisvert

    Depending on what you mean by ‘ordinary people’ I’m not convinced that is so either. Ordinary people are not well placed to read and evaluate epidemiological data or assess risk to quality of life years. Regardless if whether returning to the EZ was or was not, by some objective standard the least of all harms for a given person, it would be barely informed guesswork. Until the metaphoric dust settles, who can say?

  44. @Will Boisvert

    Fortunately, it is very unlikely you will ever convince competent, unbiased scientific bodies, most governments and most populations to have the same reckless disregard for nuclear accidents and radiation dangers that you have.

    In addition, the nuclear “renaissance” has stalled and very few new reactors are being built.

    Finally, uranium is a finite resource and reasonably assured resources will run out by about 2050 at current projections for rate of use.

    The nuclear power industry will follow the natural trajectory of all production processes subject to finite resource limits.

  45. Fran Barlow :

    Adults actually can look after themselves without a giant social process to cosset them.

    There’s simply no historical evidence for that as a general proposition. We are social animals. Civilisation is a giant social process cosseting us. Everyone who ‘looks after themself’ does so by resort to the usages of civilised life, which in turn is assured by government. Those without access to good governance suffer badly on all the usual measures of life quality. We call them refugees or displaced persons.

    No, actually, civilised life is not assured by government. For instance, the first time someone tried to kill me, it was the governmental Force Publique that mutinied after the independence of the Belgian Congo and tried to kill all the whites it could reach (which is what I call racial prejudice). Granted, the whites in our town were rescued by a Belgian paratroop drop after a three day siege, but the Belgian government can’t even take any credit of the “first they break your legs, then they give you a crutch” sort for that; they had actually issued orders forbidding that, only the paratroop commander disobeyed those orders. We were saved by his own, personal, civilised response.

    Oh, and I don’t think you can say that the predicament of many “refugees or displaced persons”, say in PNG, is caused by a lack of good governance flowing from the absence of government; it is caused by a lack of good governance flowing from the presence of government.

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