Demystifying Nuclear Power Blog:
written by Sue Prent
Two contrasting energy news stories recently crossed my desk. The coincidence is noteworthy for what it reveals about innovation and its relationship to corporate greed.
The first story celebrated a triumph of cooperation between inventors and international funders, which has enabled the first fuel-free flight around the world. Like early fueled flights of circumnavigation, it was slow-going, but on July 26, 2016, Solar Impulse 2 finally completed the last leg of its flight circling the globe and landing in Abu Dahbi where the journey had begun on March 9, 2015. As its name suggests, Solar Impulse successfully derives all of its energy from the sun, lending an ironic twist to the Greek tragedy of Icarus whose flight was cut short by solar rays.
Aircrafts are the CO2 producing behemoths of human travel, so this flight has enormous implications for the future of energy efficiency. Any experimental effort that takes on that challenge is a true cause for celebration!
The second news bulletin that caught my eye was the galling revelation that as far back as the 1960’s, oil companies such as ExxonMobil, appreciating the impact that worsening pollution would ultimately have on their industry, conducted research into reducing carbon emissions and even obtained patents for carbon reducing technologies, while actively lobbying to ensure governmental inaction on climate change.
Here we are in the twenty-first century, and we are faced with an imminent CO2 crisis. The sheer cynicism betrayed in the oil industry’s suppression of this information boggles the mind. As we reflect on their accountability for this shameful deception, we must be reminded that this is by no means an isolated betrayal. Like the oil industry, Big Tobacco placed its own interests ahead of the health of people throughout the world for decades, all the while engaging in its own war of data suppression.
Even as I write this, there is an effort underway in the nuclear power industry to revise the radiation story in order to allow for greater public exposure. Why? Once again, public welfare has less weight in deliberations than the economic benefit for an industry in crisis. A higher exposure threshold translates to the ability to release more radiation during atomic power plant operations, lower insurance costs and more favorable actuarial profiles, and less onerous regulation by the NRC. In short: it’s all about money.
Fracking and Fukushima have undermined the economic feasibility of nuclear power as an energy source, so at this point, the only way to make the math work is to diminish the risk factor by recreating the myth that low-dose radiation does no damage to humans and other species or to the food we eat, the water we drink, or the air we breathe.
Revisionist radiation theory is entering a third generation.
The first generation of the nuclear era began with the dropping of atomic bombs on the Japanese population in 1945. It wasn’t until five years after the bombings that the U.S. authorities began collecting data on the effects of radiation from the blasts. By then, the most vulnerable had already succumbed. The remainder of the exposed population, had already demonstrated a degree of hardiness that set them apart as perhaps unusually resistant. Read Missing Doses in the Life Span Study of Japanese Atomic Bomb Survivors that was funded in part by grant R01-CA117841 from the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health. The authors, David B. Richardson, Steve Wing, Stephen R. Cole, are affiliated with the Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC.
Being an army of occupiers, the U.S. authority was highly motivated to unquestioningly accept any data that minimized the human toll of the bombings. Thus, under the influence of the U.S. Department of Defense, that flawed data became the benchmark for future radiation pathology theory, and it was joined by the atomic power production industry once “Atoms For Peace” began a reclamation of the reputation for nuclear energy.
In the wake of the Chernobyl catastrophe, Soviet authorities were aided in their own attempts to minimize the public relations damage from the Chernobyl meltdown by the weakness of data from Japan’s experience suffering atomic bomb attacks at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to evidence uncovered and testimony by scientists involved in evaluating the human toll from the Chernobyl disaster, it is clear that the Soviets suppressed information about the true magnitude of the human toll.
Now, the legacy of flawed radiation exposure data has entered its third generation, as new cases of thyroid cancer have brought the known total from the Fukushima meltdowns to 131 cases, at present count. The Japanese government, again reflecting its official bias in favor of nuclear power production, dispute the relationship to the meltdowns of three Fukushima Daiichi atomic power reactors for the marked uptick in thyroid cancers among young children; and it cites the flawed Chernobyl data showing negligible thyroid cancers as evidence. Aiding and abetting this narrative is the fact that, since the nuclear bombings in 1945, disease related to radiation exposure has carried a particular stigma in Japan, causing many affected individuals to deny that radiation might have anything to do with their afflictions or illness.
How did this this cultural stigma come into being? One is tempted to suspect that the Japanese government may be deliberately encouraging its adoption and perpetuation, as it has certainly served its financial interests as well as its desire to have and control nuclear weapons.
If we fail to scrutinize not just the data as presented, but the interests behind that data, we lend ourselves to the most cynical of corporate and government proliferation agendas.
We glimpse a hopeful future in the flight of Solar Impulse, where innovation will inevitably lead to better energy storage options and truly clean energy technology that will transform our world. However, it is clear that we also must be ever vigilant against the real manipulation of scientific fact in the service of corporate greed.
Not only is solar energy getting cheaper every day, its installation has become one of the most innovative and forward thinking endeavors worldwide.
Mike and Tawnya Kiernan of Middlebury, Vermont launched a new project this past spring titled “Bee the Change” that uses solar farm locations to plant specific flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees that attract bees, hummingbirds, and other important pollinators. According to Mike Kiernan, statistics data indicates that 44% of the beehives in the United States didn’t make it through last winter and a global decline of honeybees and other pollinators has had a grievous effect on fruit and vegetable crops that are not reaching their full potential. Critics of solar power farms complain that there is severe under-use of property when it is covered in solar panels. The Kiernans’ altruistic work addresses solar criticisms by making use of solar installation land while protecting pollinators and boosting the harvests of surrounding farmers. On top of that, the Kiernan’s “Bee the Change” non-profit is teaching others how to continue these practices. Green Mountain Power (GMP) is so impressed that they are interested in doing a joint project with “Bee the Change” in Addison County, Vermont. “Our take is that this is a wonderful, innovative idea,” said Kristin Carlson, spokeswoman for GMP. “It’s a great way to leverage solar projects to bring more benefit to the environment and the communities, by attracting bees.”
Meanwhile in Germany, Solar Server reports that scientists at Fraunhofer ISE (Freiburg, Germany) together with their partners in the project “APV-Resola” inaugurated an operating agro-photovoltaics (APV) pilot system. Competition between renewable energy producers and farmers for land has inspired researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) to pursue this highly resourceful effort. The pilot project has planted four different crops of wheat, trefoil, potatoes and celeriac underneath ground-mounted photovoltaic arrays. Prof. Dr. Eicke R. Weber, Institute Director at Fraunhofer ISE, remarks on the issue:
“In view of the dynamic worldwide growth of photovoltaic installations over the last decade and the resulting increase in land usage for PV systems, innovative concepts, like agro-photovoltaics which facilitates the dual usage of agricultural land, help to further and accelerate the transformation of the global energy system.”
“We Could Power The Entire World By Harnessing Solar Energy From 1% Of The Sahara” is the Forbes title for the Quora interview of UC Berkeley Professor Mehran Moalem, PhD, an expert on nuclear materials and the nuclear fuel cycle. Prof Moalem makes a powerful argument for a solar powered future when he admits,
“I have taught courses in Nuclear Engineering and a few seminar courses in alternative energies. I also worked for two years starting up six solar factories around the globe. In spite of my personal like for nuclear engineering, I have to admit it is hard to argue for it. Here is the simplified math behind it…”
What follows is an arithmetically sound analysis of total world energy usage and the amount of the Earth’s area necessary for solar panels to fulfill the Earth’s energy needs, which is apparently 43,000 square miles. Prof Moalem then points out that
“The Great Saharan Desert in Africa is 3.6 million square miles and is prime for solar power (more than twelve hours per day). That means 1.2% of the Sahara Desert is sufficient to cover all of the energy needs of the world in solar energy.”
The estimated price of this sort of installation is five trillion dollars- that’s less than the cost of President Obama’s last bank bailout. “There is no way coal, oil, wind, geothermal or nuclear can compete with this,” Prof Moalem concludes.
Japan Nuclear News:
Heavy rain from Typhoon Malakas lifted radioactive groundwater to the surface of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown site. During a torrential downpour, unregulated surface water surrounding the coastal Fukushima atomic plant is likely to pour into the Pacific Ocean. Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), responsible for the cleanup efforts at the destroyed Fukushima reactor site, admitted fears that an out of controlled amount of radioactive water was released into the surrounding seaport. Once again TEPCO has demonstrated its inability to get a handle on a safe cleanup of this atomic catastrophe and Fukushima Daiichi continues to release high levels of radiation into its surrounding environment. Although Typhoon Malakas was later downgraded from a typhoon to an “extratropical depression” as it moved south of the Fukushima Prefecture, its impact was enough to recontaminate the radioactively ravaged meltdown zone.
Southwest of Fukushima, the controversial Monju fast-breeder nuclear reactor sits along the Sea of Japan coast. Finally, after three decades of repeated breakdowns, horrible mismanagement, and billions of dollars of taxpayer money, the Japanese government has decided to decommission the useless facility. Dating back to 1980, Monju was only operational and live for approximately three months…total. Even if the Monju reactor had worked, its fuel would still have to be reprocessed before it could actually be used for reactor fuel.
Fairewinds Chief Engineer Arnie Gundersen has pointed out that the cost of Monju ($10 BILLION!) could have been spent providing solar power to at least 285,000 houses. For those people living in the United States, the US Department of Energy contributed millions of your tax dollars to attempt to make this doomed project succeed.
CCTV – Nuclear Free Future:
Kevin Kamps of Beyond Nuclear sits down with Nuclear Free Future Host Margaret Harrington to discuss why he participated in the Dakota Pipeline Protest and how the new federal proposals for radioactive nuclear waste sites is related to the ongoing oil pipeline protest. This emotional and poignant conversation addresses both oil and nuclear companies’ abhorrent indifference to the destruction of sacred land and water sources due to their corporate greed.
The Department of Energy (DOE), the owner and operator of the leaking and polluted Hanford (Weapons Waste) Site in the state of Washington, has ironically placed the blame for its latest deadline delays on its workers. After months of worker strikes following the toxic leak of vapors from radioactive tanks, the DOE made an agreement with union leaders to supply air respirators for workers not only within but also 200ft beyond the leaking Hanford tank farm. This fulfillment of a basic health and safety requirement is now the basis of the DOE’s claim that they cannot have five leak-prone tanks from a set of 12 emptied by the end of 2020 as promised to a federal judge. In fact, the DOE claims that the work might not be completed until April 20, 2021. The deadline of 2020 was already an extension of a missed deadline and as expressed by State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, “The federal government is offering more excuses… Using the safety of workers as an excuse for missing more deadlines is pathetic.” He continues, “When a federal court imposed a timetable for the cleanup in March, was (the Department of) Energy assuming it could only be met at the expense of workers’ health?”