With the current nuclear power plant kerfuffle1 in Japan, people are making comparisons with a TMI-Chernobyl scale, with TMI being a nuclear accident that is not bad at all2 and Chernobyl being the worst case scenario.3 This is actually very reassuring, because Chernobyl was really no big deal.4

The event itself killed dozens of workers and rescue personnel, but the number of people killed in nuclear power plant accidents in total, including Chernobyl and all the other active plant accidents ever, is still far lower in terms of energy produced by that method than the number of people killed falling off their roof putting up solar panels5 (see statistics provided below).6

The radiation from Chernobyl fell over farmland and populated areas, but most of the people affected were children who were fine once their thyroids were removed7, and besides, Chernobyl was one of a handful of events that together brought down the Soviet Union. Those children and their families are much better off now that they are part of their own countries and experiencing full-on democracy.8 Some farmers lost the ability to sell their products for a while, but only in a limited area.9 It is not as though the radiation from Chernobyl fell on the entire planet and made every single acre of farmland unusable, or anything bad like that.10

Worldwide, there are 147 nuclear power plants larger than 1,000 MW in current capacity operating at this time or under construction (source). There are 401 coal powered stations of similar size characteristics (source). There are 87 Natural Gas power stations of 50 MW or larger.11

The total capacity of these nuclear reactors is 375,166 MW. For the coal plants, the total capacity is 812,632 MW and for the natural gas plants the capacity is 116,335 MW.12

There have been about 19 major nuclear power plant accidents since January 1961 resulting directly in 64 deaths, most of which were at one location (53 at Chernobyl).13 That is nothing compared to the number of people who have died in coal mining accidents (source). One single coal mining accident can kill that many people.14

If you stand near a nuclear power plant that is melting down while the engineers are releasing hydrogen gas and steam built up in the reactor, you might not even be exposed.15 But say you are. Just say you are standing down wind, say, three miles from the plant. The total amount of radiation you will be exposed to is16 far less in terms of its influence on your chance of getting cancer than, say, smoking twenty cigarettes a day for thirty years.17 Smoking like that will make you sick. Standing several miles from a nuclear plant during a melt down probably won’t. And if it does, it will probably only affect you years later, and by that time, you’ll probably have already died in a coal mine. If you are a coal miner. If not, a car accident. Cars are far more dangerous than nuclear power plants, and this is something people just need to accept.18

In fact, it could be argued that nuclear power is too safe.19 How can I say that?20 Because it is true! If nuclear power was ten times less safe than it is now, only 600 or so people would have died in the entire history of nuclear power (see statistics provided above).21 That is still a tiny percentage, in terms of death per unit energy production, than windmills or solar panels or any other kind of energy production (source). What would be the advantage of reducing safety in nuclear power? Cost! By reducing safety requirements and letting a reactor go bad every now and then, nuclear power would finally become the cheap, clean energy we all thought it would be when it was first invented.22

And I’m totally down with that.23

_______________________________________
Read . The. Footnotes.

After a day or so of comments (the first 49, above) I’ve decided it is time to add the footnotes. Some people read too fast. Others are just dim. Still others are ornery and mean spirited. For a few, English is not the first language. Yet more are curious and analytical. In all cases, it may be fun, and is certainly necessary, to examine this essay more closely to see the ways in which it is meant to be a biting commentary of uncritical blinder-bearing pro-nuclear apologetics. I had thought about adding footnotes when I first wrote it but thought it would interfere with the flow, and also, not allow for exactly what happened to happen.

The entire essay is based on things I’ve read about nuclear power, but often slightly twisted or re-contextualized, and in a few cases exaggerated. No one who knows me, reads my blog, and read this essay with a modicum of attention could think it is anything other than a satire meant not to amuse but rather to provide a sharp slap across some metaphorical faces. But, not everyone knows me, not everyone reads this blog, and not everyone has the time to slow down and give a blog post they happen across more than a speed read. There have, indeed, been times when I’ve read something I was not sure of, thinking it may have been a parody or a satire, and somewhat frustrated, clicked the browser tab away and into oblivion, lacking the time or patience to deal with it. Satire designed to amuse is always easy to spot. It has to be, or at least, it is better if it is. But that is not what this is. Obviously. If you look.

Thus, the following notes:

1Kerfuffle? A clue. A kerfuffle is not multiple nuclear reactors partly melting down and spent fuel rods bursting randomly into flames and buildings exploding and radiation getting everywhere.

2 If you think this is not an outrageous statement then you’ve been brainwashed by the Nuclear Power Apologists (NPA’s) who really do want everyone to think that nothing happened at TMI. While it may be true that there was not a massive radiation release, the core did melt down, and the reactor had to be dismantled and specially manged over a period of decades. Yes, we are very proud of you, Nuclear Power Industry, and impressed as hell that the TMI plant did not disintegrate or experience a China Syndrome like in that movie that came out about the same time. But the accident at TMI was very costly, very dangerous, and required decades of careful and strategic management. No one thinks it was “not bad at all.” It was bad.

3Chernobyl is not the worst case scenario. It is the worst accident to date.

4Not even nuclear apologists say this. Do let me know if you can find an example, but I don’t think you will.

5There are two things going on here. First, the assumption that we should or could compare energy industries on the basis of death rates is unfounded. People seem to do this all the time but people also jam small rodents into their own anuses, and that’s probably not a good idea either. A power industry that requires mining vs one that does not are not really comparable. The potential cost of a hydroelectric dam breaking or a nuclear plant melting down, in terms of human lives, depends more on external contingencies (where to people live, to be exact) to make cross-industry or even cross-incident comparisons quantitatively meaningful. Second, even if you do want to make these comparisons (and I have yet to seem them made in a valid way) the one given here is an obviously absurd one. This comparison is between nuke plant workers (etc.) and builders of solar panels. The former are operational, the latter construction, the former professional, and I assume in many cases, the latter vocational. It is like comparing the number of astronauts who die in space with the number of people who die carrying out home improvement projects. Absurd.

I don’t want to totally rule out the possibility of comparing the human toll of different industries. I’m simply a) not happy with any of the approaches I’ve seen and b) reject the idea that it is the primary determining criterion for what policy to pursue.

6This is just a dig on the nuclear version of the gish gallop or other “watch the monkey” strategies we see used so often. I had thought of tossing in a short three paragraph essay on neutrinos as well, but didn’t. I could add that later.

7I have actually seen it said that the cancer scare associated with Chernobyl was overplayed because even though there were 5,000 cases or so most of them were children who easily survived the thyroid cancer. Of course, those thyroids were removed, and those people are on medication for the rest of their lives. And not all of them lived. And so on. So this item is an offensive statement plucked pretty much right out of the NPA rhetoric.

8This is what my brain cooked up to replicate and make fun of an imagined chimera combining Anne Coulter and Rush Limbaugh. Then I got a headache and threw up in my mouth a little and had to take a nap. I’m OK now.

9Limited area known as Eastern and Central Europe. Or whatever.

10This is funny. I’m making a major disaster that affected a lot of people and a lot of landscape seem minor by comparing it to the entire planet being blanketed with radiation. I’m not sure that there is a way in which this can not be seen as over the top absurd satire. But just in case: It was.

11Gish Gallop (see above)

12More of the same.

13Did you believe this? It isn’t accurate. It only counts on line in service nuclear reactors, and thus excludes some accidents and probably some deaths. But it was part of the Gish Gallop, so you didn’t question it.

14This is typical of many comments seen in comments on this blog, in the NPA rhetoric, and elsewhere, and was touched on above. It is not valid to compare those working in plants of one industry with those mining in another. If you tried to combine nuclear plant plus mining deaths to coal plant plus mining deaths (per unit power or whatever) you couldn’t because you would not have the data on mining deaths (and illnesses) for uranium from the two or three African countries where miners did or still do work on the mines in utter ignorance of what radiation is and taking no safety precautions at all. The very fact that these number can’t be calculated makes ANY AND ALL ATTEMPTS TO USE SUCH NUMBERS unequivocally and undeniably racist, anti-humanitarian, nefarious, evil and inappropriate.

15Typical example of absurd what-if snarky statement made to make those concerned about nuclear power look like pussyasstreehuggingwimps. Or whatever.

16… is .. unknown. It is not possible to present an example that is realistic in this manner.

17That, folks, is a comparison I’ve seen made in a number of sources, unchanged and unadulterated for your observation. I didn’t have to parodize that one. Unbelievably.

18Frankly, at this point, I had assumed anyone reading this would have caught on by now that this is satire, so I slipped into my Dan Akroyd voice and just made it funny. I mean, this is funny. My bad for thinking everyone would be on board at this point!

19How can I say that?

20Exactly!

21More galloping, and the exact argument so many make for real; Driving is so dangerous that NOTHING including nuclear melt downs, widespread availability of cheap guns, or anything needs to be considered a problem. And yes, as I have noted elsewhere, NPA’s look exactly like NRA’s, don’t they?

22Yes, I totally expect to see this quoted somewhere, some time. But it is a trap. Obviously.

23Not.

I hope you have enjoyed this satire of the rhetorical style of Nuclear Power Apologists. Please note that the above post is not a statement about Fukushima, Nuclear Power, or other sources of energy. It is, more specifically, an indictment (though somewhat tongue in cheek, to a limited extent) of the use of rhetoric to support a position while remaining blind to obvious changes one should really take in regards to that support. My position on energy policy is not represented here. My position is that we should use, rather than burn off, gas from oil wells, convert braking into electricity instead of heat in vehicles, build a smart grid, learn that 24-7 electricity is not a right or even a need, recognize that wind and solar should not be pursued along with nuclear, but rather, the other way round: Nuclear should be kept in mind as an option to pursue along with wind, solar, geothermal, etc. I reject the use of the term “alternative” for what should be “primary, focuses.” The prospect of ocean acidification is worse than the prospect of the occasional nuclear disaster. But, when a nuclear disaster happens, I reject, abhor, and despise the use of that disaster as a platform for arguing in favor of maintaining our current policy. Every disaster seems to be preceded by danger denialism, caused in large part by lack of what should have been necessary preparation and design often, in turn, caused by short term financial interests or the politicization of the process, and followed by post-hoc excuse making by Nuclear Power Apologists. (See comments below for good examples of that.)

For more information and essays about the Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Reactor problems in Japan CLICK HERE. The numbered updates are meant to be a record of headlines over time, showing changing perceptions as well as the dynamic between the press and events (e.g., the death toll in disasters like this usually follows an interesting pattern). Also, those updates include Analiese Miller’s feed, which is mainly from live news from Japan.

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Comments

  1. #1 MadScientist
    March 22, 2011

    I wouldn’t say that removing a gland like the thyroid is no big deal – that screws up a number of metabolic processes. The press enjoyed blowing up the Chernobyl story, but it was a horrible accident (and still far worse than what’s happening in Japan). It looks like things will be brought under control in Japan, but it is not at all unlikely that a few of the people working to control the situation will be exposed to far too much radiation and die in a few years or develop various forms of cancer much later. Most of the general population are expected to be OK though. This might not even be on the scale of Sella Field yet. As if radioisotopes in the air weren’t bad enough, for those who need to go into the building there is a chance of being exposed to neutron bombardment as well as high doses of gamma rays – and there’s no radiation suit which will protect you from that stuff. There’s also the very high energy X-rays which are not necessarily blocked by the suits either.

  2. #2 Rev.Enki
    March 22, 2011

    I imagine you have a high opinion of your readers, and that it’s probably mostly deserved. But if my experience is any guide (and it probably shouldn’t be), this will be too subtle for a good quarter or more. Or maybe that just comes out because of some self selection bias for commenters. Like, apparently, me. ymmv.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    March 22, 2011

    What? Are you implying that this is some kind of Satire or something?

  4. #4 Orac
    March 22, 2011

    What? Are you implying that this is some kind of Satire or something?

    If it is, it’s very clumsy and unclever satire.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    March 22, 2011

    Orac, does my post offend you because you are all for nuclear energy and don’t appreciate me pointing out how absurd many of the blindly pro-nuclear commentaries are by substituting Chernobyl for Fukushima but otherwise making the same points in very similar ways? Or because you are against nuclear power and but can’t differentiate your reaction from your analysis because, well, you’re that kinda guy? Or something else?

  6. #6 Andrew
    March 22, 2011

    Orac, do you seriously have to ask?

    Rev.Enki: apparently the 25% includes some of his fellow sciencebloggers.

  7. #7 soothsayer
    March 22, 2011

    This is a tiny bit dangerous. People will read only the title and maybe the first paragraph. But I suppose that is their problem.

  8. #8 Kristina
    March 22, 2011

    Kerfuffle! Indeed!

    Have you seen this?

    http://tinyurl.com/4hrqtqb

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    March 22, 2011

    Kristina, yes, in fact I included it here: http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2011/03/japan_quake_tsunami_nuke_news_6.php

    Made me spit coffee all over my keyboard.

  10. #10 Garrett
    March 22, 2011

    Ouch. Biting. Nicely done.

    The numbers cited here are of course insane (as pointed out in that post) but this is a good use of them to make the pointhere. I for one am tired of seeing the apologetic gymnastics. It is considered not a big deal that the Fukushima plants have ruined farming for dozens of kilometers around. I can guess that the farmers living there would have objected to this if they were ever given the chance. Most likely, though, the Japanese Nuclear Industry has its own way of getting things done, much like the US power companies.

  11. #12 Clear as a bell
    March 22, 2011

    Satire Confusion Syndrome epidemic exacerbated by nuclear radiation from Japan.

  12. #13 Lew
    March 22, 2011

    That seems like a much smaller number of power plants than must actually exist worldwide.

  13. #14 Kristina
    March 22, 2011

    Yes, actually, that may well be where I first found that link. Doh.

  14. #15 Robert
    March 22, 2011

    I can not escape the image of neighborhoods where every fifth or sixth house has some hapless home owner impaled on the fence or strung on the antennae wire, half-installed solar panels dangling from the roof and tools scattered about the lawn.

  15. #16 Herp N. Derpington
    March 22, 2011

    Chernobyl was one of a handful of events that together brought down the Soviet Union.

    In fact, it could be argued that nuclear power is too safe.

    σ_σ

  16. #17 A. Levins
    March 22, 2011

    An oldie but a goodie: The nuclear charm offensive, and this: Nuclear group spent $460,000 lobbying in 4Q and this: Nuclear Industry Spent Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Over the Last Decade to Sell Public, Congress on New Reactors, New Investigation Finds give pause for thought.

    I wonder how Orac who is so in favor of lobbying for people’s health can be so in favor of nuclear energy.

  17. #18 Joline
    March 22, 2011

    ROFL

    But, it is sad, really.

  18. #19 Henk Paladin
    March 22, 2011

    Unfortunately, Chernobyl is not as bad as it can get. Yet we need nuclear generated electricity at least as a stopgap. Even given the numbers you posted, it is obvious that the nuclear strategy is already part of our game plan in too big a way to walk away from.

  19. #20 Emily
    March 22, 2011

    This looks less like a parody that it should, because the non-parodies are so close to being parodies. Does that make sense?

  20. #21 Emily
    March 22, 2011

    that = than

  21. #22 Ken Yamada
    March 22, 2011

    The crisis shows mostly that it is not in the design of reactors but the placement of power stations and the management of used up fuel waste. Sadly, a lesson learned the hard way.

  22. #23 Carlisle
    March 22, 2011

    Robert [15] FTW

  23. #24 Duane
    March 22, 2011

    Gallows, but appropriate. I am essentially in favor of developing nuclear resources but I agree that the “look everything is fine” attitude and the inappropriate comparisons (with driving, smoking, other activities that are entirely different than energy policy development) are annoying as hell.

  24. #25 Elizabeth
    March 22, 2011

    Ken, there’s a lot of wind in Japan. This could have been a melting down windmill instead of a nuclear power plant.

  25. #26 Vince whirlwind
    March 22, 2011

    “Chernobyl not so bad”? I think your touched far too lightly on the economic effects.

    1,000,000 hectares out of commission is a catastrophe, and the Belarus government continues to spend 20% of its annual budget on Chernobyl-related activities.

    A Catastrophe 10 times as bad may only kill ten times as many people, but take a map of your part of the world and mark out a patch 10,000,000 hectares in size….
    And this is the risk the nuclear industry exposes us to, without even having the decency of getting themselves insured at their own cost.

  26. #27 MikeB
    March 22, 2011

    George Monbiot seems to think that the Japanese accident makes the case for nuclear even stronger – I dont think its satire.

  27. #28 Gav
    March 22, 2011

    Seriously, how bad was Chenobyl anyway? As a lay person I read the official stuff and also things like http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1867971/ and come away very confused

  28. #29 timberwoof
    March 22, 2011

    “the number of people killed falling off their roof putting up solar panels (see statistics provided below).”

    We can count the people killed while installing solar panels and wind turbines as deaths related to solar and wind power if we can also count the number of people killed during the construction of nuclear power plants as nuclear-power deaths.

  29. #30 Greg Laden
    March 22, 2011

    Timberwolf, you wouldn’t by any chance have those stats handy, would you?

  30. #31 Justin F
    March 23, 2011

    I usually enjoy reading your blog, but this really didn’t sound like the satire I take it that you meant it to be. Perhaps I’m just being dense, but could you clear up a couple questions?

    If this is supposed to be satire, I take it that you thought you were presenting clearly bad arguments for using nuclear power. But it wasn’t obvious to me what was supposed to be bad about them. Here are some guesses:

    * Is it that the statistics you quote are inaccurate? If so, it would help the satire to make that more obvious. (It did seem like you were glibly downplaying the costs of thyroidectomy and lost farming potential, but it wasn’t clear (at least to me) that these costs are all that high in comparison to the costs of other technologies, so it would have helped the satire to make more clear that these really were horribly high costs, compared to the costs of alternative energy sources.)

    * Is it that the argument hinges upon the questionable assumption that nuclear disasters will very likely be no worse than Chernobyl? If so, it would help the satire a lot to make more clear the questionability of this assumption.

    * Is it just that any sort of calculus that trades off human lives for electrical output will seem cold and inhumane? I agree that there’s something inhumane about such calculations. But, on the other hand, it seems like we’ve committed ourselves to using electricity that, no matter how it is produced, will predictably have some negative consequences, including human deaths, and it seems like it would be *even*more*inhumane* to ignore the significant differences in expected deathtolls between different energy technologies than it would be to take these expected deaths into account in making policy decisions. So, I guess I’m not seeing the point or usefulness of satirically mocking an argument that (as far as I can tell) sincerely tries to figure out which policy will save the most lives. Do you really think we should ignore the deathtolls of different energy technologies?

    Sorry I’m not getting it…

  31. #32 David Marjanović
    March 23, 2011

    Satire Confusion Syndrome epidemic

    Poe’s Law. Also called Ebert’s Fallacy.

    As comment 20 says! I’ve seen people* making, in seriousness, all the “arguments” in this piece; the only thing that would be a bit over the top for a printed source is the “once their thyroid glands were removed” part, but everything is more extreme on the Internet.

    To be unambiguously recognizable, satire of such things has to be much more blatant. Take Stephen Colbert: “Some say this administration is rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. This administration isn’t sinking, this administration is soaring! If anything, it’s rearranging deck chairs on the Hindenburg!”

    * Most famously and memorably, for someone living in central Europe like me, including the Soviet government while it lasted. “Only 19 people died — that’s how many die in traffic on a weekend. Laaa la laaaaa… we can’t hear you.”

  32. #33 David Marjanović
    March 23, 2011

    To be unambiguously recognizable

    …and I don’t mean “by stupid people”. According to polls, lots of American conservatives believe Colbert is one of their own. <headdesk>

  33. #34 MadScientist
    March 23, 2011

    What’s the percentage of folks like me who hit [enter] then go d’oh! – Damn that Greg Laden – he’s suckered me!

    The big question remains: how do we wean ourselves off fossil-fueled power generation and get onto renewables? Oil is expected to run out in less than 70 years (and we will need to switch to coal to produce our liquid hydrocarbon fuels), gas is expected to run out 50 years or so later, and mineable coal is expected to last only a few hundred years beyond that. If nothing significant is accomplished in the next 30 years, the nuclear option will surely be widely taken up as oil supplies dwindle. At the moment only government intervention of some sort can help – capitalist markets are not forward-looking enough to confront energy issues which are at the moment of concern only to a future generation.

  34. #35 Greg Laden
    March 23, 2011

    Now we’re getting somewhere.

    Mad: They call it a “browser” for a reason! We browse, peruse, often. It is very easy to pick out a message and respond but in a satire or parody it is easy to accidentally read to lightly and make that mistake. Some people do that and get mad and yell at the author. Some people peruse and make a comment that does not take the parody into account and the the author yells at them. But eventually the dust settles and then we might see that there is a point to the satire or parody.

    David: Saying that it would only be bad if radiation blanketed the entire planet and destroyed all farmland, and calling the multiple partly meltdown and the out of control fuel rods and exploding buildings a kerfuffle were my over the top obvious clues. And so are most of the other points, actually, but … and this is the key point for even having done this … people are so accustom to the pro-nuke arguments that it does not seem that way.

    The “thyroid cancer was easily controlled” argument certainly has been made. That was, in fact, the last straw for me. Its part of the standard discourse for Chernobyl.

    The device here is simple: Mainly, I replaced the Japanese situation with Chernobyl to say the same things with some snark added and a couple of OT comments. As the temperature of reactor vessel 1 starts to indicate a more advanced meltdown and Tokyo water is no longer drinkable by infants and it is still the case that engineers and technicians still can’t stay on site for more than several minutes and so on and so forth, the Japan disaster approaches closer to Chernobyl but certainly it veers off in its own direction essentially invalidating the simplistic TMI-Chernobyl one dimensional spectrum. But the arguments that no matter what happens it’s OK because nuclear shall be defended at all costs continues.

    Justin F you’ve overdefined the issue and given me a multiple choice question in which there may be more than one possible answer but none of them are correct. Take what I wrote for what it is (see above in this comment). But, you do make several points of interest about this sort of thing and stnand on their own.

    Those who read this and don’t see absurdity in almost every statement have become far too inured to extant arguments not presented in satire but for real, but that are equally as absurd. Perhaps I’ll provide an annotated version at a later time.

  35. #36 Justin F
    March 23, 2011

    I can’t speak for other readers, but at least for me, the only arguments I’ve been attending to regarding nuclear power are the ones presented here, on Class M, and on Rachel Maddow’s show. I don’t think any of these are the extant arguments you meant to be satirizing, so I don’t think you can be right in thinking that the only reason I didn’t get your satire was that I had already been inured to the absurdity of these arguments.

    I did read your posting as involving an odd tone in places(esp. regarding thyroidectomy, farmland, and in the closing argument that setting nuclear safety standards too high might actually have cost lives by economically incentivizing deadlier alternatives). And I did see that you included a fair number of irrelevant details (e.g., listing numbers of powerplants for no obvious reason, citing Chernobyl’s role in the breakdown of the USSR, and discussing deathtolls of smoking and driving in a way that went beyond their legitimate relevance as a way of putting highly abstract risks into a familiar perspective). But aside from those oddities, which I guess you meant to be “over the top obvious clues”, it seemed like the posting was raising issues that really are morally relevant to energy policy decisions, especially issues involving the human costs of different energy technologies.

    In particular, I don’t see why you expected people to read this and “see absurdity in almost every statement”. The vast majority of the posting reads as legitimate considerations, put in an odd tone of voice and peppered with a few irrelevant sidelines. Just sneering and adding irrelevant asides as you voice a legitimate argument doesn’t make for good satire.

  36. #37 Grit Springer
    March 23, 2011

    “And so are most of the other points, actually, but … and this is the key point for even having done this … people are so accustom to the pro-nuke arguments that it does not seem that way.”

    That is so true!!!

  37. #38 Greg Laden
    March 23, 2011

    Justin, listen to Grit! Regarding being inured to the arguments, I’m not talking about three or four internet sources over the last two weeks. I’m talking about the last 30 years in the arena of public discourse.

  38. #40 Greg Laden
    March 23, 2011

    strange

  39. #41 Justin F
    March 23, 2011

    Probably more productive than debating how successful an Greg’s attempt at satire was, here are some legitimate questions:

    (1) How bad was Chernobyl? At least to a novice like me, it’s not obvious that an extremely rare Chernobyl is worse than the ongoing costs of alternatives, especially coal (which, realistically, will continue to be the primary alternative for a good while to come).

    (2) How much risk is there of a nuclear incident significantly worse than Chernobyl?

    (3) As Timberwolf pointed out, an apples-to-apples comparison would need to count the construction deaths for each alternative (not just for solar). Along a similar vein (no pun intended), if we’re counting coal-mining deaths, we should count the deaths in mining uranium, and in mining the components for wind/solar/etc… How would including these affect the comparisons?

    (4) Nate Silver had a post on fivethirtyeight last year noting that invasive security screenings at airports can actually cost lives by making people more likely to drive instead which is much more deadly than flying. This seems like a reasonable argument, exactly parallel to the argument that setting nuclear safety standards too high costs lives by economically incentivizing alternatives (esp. coal) with much worse human costs. What’s wrong with this sort of argument?

  40. #42 Greg Laden
    March 23, 2011

    Justin. Seriously.

  41. #43 RamblinDude
    March 23, 2011

    Honestly, it sounds exactly like something Ann “radiation is good for you” Coulter would say. Not that it’s been established that she’s not pure satire herself…

  42. #44 the backpacker
    March 23, 2011

    I don’t care about the water in Tokyo or the Farmland in Japan. That is JAPAN! I am for what ever source of power keeps my house at 80 in the winter and 65 in the summer. And I don’t want to hear any lip about turning off lights that I am not using or unplugging my plasma screen when it is not on because of so called “vampire electronics” the thing is off it can’t use any power. And another thing if I want to pay to drive to the store 5 blocks from home that is MY PERSONAL CHOISE! I buy the gas it does not effect you. We live in the land of the free. People died to make sure I had the right to not sweat. Unless I drove to the gym for spin class.

    On a more serious note. I wish I could remember the program that was on NPR in the first days of the nuclear disaster. They had the typical, green peace guy on one side and spokesman for american atomic power on the other, “debate”. The pro nuke guy just kept saying it is a good thing they did not depend on renewable power because it would all be washed away now and the real threat is not having power for water treatment and the Japanese plant solve this “little issue” and be back up and running saving the world in no time. I wish I could remember what show it was or who was the pro-nuke talking head because I would love to call him out by name for being a tool. And maybe e-mail a pic of my middle finger.

  43. #45 phillydoug
    March 23, 2011

    (from :http://english.kyodonews.jp/news/2011/03/80585.html)

    One more thing to add to the list of ‘won’t happen, can’t happen, hasn’t happened”, and of course ‘nothing to worry about’. (and this from Tokyo Electric, mind you):

    “TEPCO said, meanwhile, it had observed neutron beams, a kind of radioactive ray, 13 times on the premises of the Fukushima plant over the three days from March 13, but they were not at a dangerous level.

    The detection of the beams suggests the possibility that uranium and plutonium have leaked from rods in the plant’s reactors or spent nuclear fuel pools and have undergone nuclear fission.”

  44. #46 Ema Nymton
    March 23, 2011

    Yeah, Justin, you miss the point. See, Nuclear power is bad. Full stop. Any argument put forward to defend it is, therefore, bad by definition.

  45. #47 Stephanie Z
    March 23, 2011

    Yes, Ema. It’s all about you. It has nothing to do with the people who were affected by Chernobyl or those who continue to be affected in Japan. It’s really all about telling you, just you and only you and forever you, to sit down and shut up.

  46. #48 MisterX
    March 23, 2011

    That is the worst trash ive ever read, how can this person still be on scienceblogs.com??

    If you drive a car, you can decide if you drive or not, no one can force you to drive.

    Another example: If you are traveling by plane and an accident happens you are for sure 100% dead so are the other people, accidents in a car are different.

    If an nuclear power plant explodes, there is the chance, and maybe, maybe it is very very low..(like you will say), that the complete environment + people will suffer from radiation for thousands of years. If have never seen that from a worker who is falling of a roof or as an consequence of a car accident. You can replace car accident of any other example the autor gives(of course not NPP).

    Its an argument of decision. There are group and single risks.
    ANNND EVEN if im wrong, like you will say, what about atomic waste huh??
    There are a few good reasons for using atomic power, but these you mentioned are surely not !

    Its obvious that you are extremly biased and maybe you get money from nuclear power supporters or whatsoever.

    greets

  47. #49 Ken
    March 23, 2011

    MisterX the article is a biting satire of the pro-nuclear apologists.

  48. Now you must re-read the entire post and see each of the footnotes.

  49. #51 William T
    March 23, 2011

    An interesting photo essay here – http://www.benlovejoy.com/journeys/chernobyl/index.html – gives some insight into the level of destruction to both the environment and people’s lives around Chernobyl.

  50. #52 Drivebyposter
    March 23, 2011

    I feel this is at least somewhat appropriate here:

    http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/archive/permalink/a_modest_proposal/

  51. #53 Greg Laden
    March 23, 2011

    My modest post is not in that league, of course, but that was a great moment in the history of writers annoying people!

  52. #54 Justin F
    March 23, 2011

    Thanks for posting the footnotes. They made it a lot easier to see where you were coming from.

    I wasn’t forming memories yet when 3-mile-island happened and was still a kid for Chernobyl, so, for readers my age and younger, it’s easy not to have a good sense of how bad these incidents were. In contrast, we seem to hear all the time about coal mining disasters and hazards of air pollution, so it’s easy for us to suspect that a rare nuclear mishap might not be as bad as the continuing human costs of coal. That’s probably a large part of the reason that what you meant as satire didn’t leap out as such, at least to me.

    By the way, I totally agree that to simply count expected lives lost would overlook lots of other morally relevant costs, and I agree that making accurate estimates of all these costs is very difficult (especially taking into account effects of global warming, or unknown payoffs of research into alternatives like solar). Still, it seems like the best (only?) way to make these policy decisions is to estimate the various costs as best we can, and act accordingly. So I’m still not sure how helpful it is to satirize people’s attempts to do this, rather than pointing out ways in which current estimates oversimplify things, and ways we might improve these estimates in the future.

  53. #55 Ema Nymton
    March 23, 2011

    Odd. Someone told me to sit down and shut up? I didn’t notice.

    What I did notice was bad arguments being used against Nuclear power. Arguments that quite resemble those of the anti-vax, anti-AGW and anti-evolution crowds.

    I don’t necessarily think that the anti-nuke power argument is hopeless, as those other three most certainly are. I do, however, wonder why the arguments are so bad.

    And, Stephanie, why so quick to point to those affected by Chernobyl and not those affected by the effects of burning fossil fuels for power.

  54. #56 Ana
    March 24, 2011

    Speaking of kurfuffle, our friend PEN just referred to the situation surrounding Fukushima as “hubbub”:
    http://www.plainenglishnuclear.net/2011/03/oil-fire-out/

  55. #57 Lord Setar
    March 24, 2011

    I think it pretty much comes down like this:
    Nuclear power itself is an amazing source of energy that provides relatively little air pollution; furthermore, advances in technology have been made that allow nuclear reactors to use unenriched uranium or even the spent fuel from other reactors. It can be and, if we are to make an attempt at sustaining the society and technology we have, probably is good.

    Old, aging, outdated reactors are not good. Continuing to use the same designs we used 30 years ago is not good. Not improving existing reactors that may be damaged due to natural disasters (especially after you’ve already had the reactor survive one) is not good. Not building new reactors to recycle spent fuel from older reactors is not good.

    Nuclear power is good. The nuclear industry, on the other hand, is horrible — private, profiteering hands are all over something that they shouldn’t be allowed within fifty miles of. The lesson: don’t put a volatile power source in the hands of those who will cut corners to make a buck.

  56. #58 Grit Springer
    March 24, 2011

    I have to admit, my first reaction when reading this was that this is the worst pile of horseshit I’ve ever seen anywhere. Then I went to get some coffee, sat down, read again…it really took a while for me to understand that this article is a satire. Decades of brainwashing just cause initial reactions like the one of Mr. X or JustinF. I guess that just speaks for itself.

    Thank you for the footnotes, by the way. This one in particular

    “There are two things going on here. First, the assumption that we should or could compare energy industries on the basis of death rates is unfounded. People seem to do this all the time but people also jam small rodents into their own anuses, and that’s probably not a good idea either.”

    is just full of win! xD

  57. #59 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    Ana: My comment added.

    Grit: I’m waiting for someone to tell me that it IS a good idea! (Then maybe I get to add another footnote.)

  58. #60 MisterX
    March 24, 2011

    Uhhmm ok, if it is im sorry :)
    but anyway, its not funny -.-

    gruß

  59. #61 MisterX
    March 24, 2011

    Uhhmm ok, if it is im sorry :)
    but anyway, its not funny -.- because there are many people who use the same type of arguments^^ pretty nasty

    gruß

  60. #62 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    Mister X. Read. The. Footnotes.

  61. #63 Ian Kemmish
    March 24, 2011

    Scientists should no more attempt satire, and for the same reasons, than satirists should attempt science.

    Then again, you sound as if you’ve just discovered this for yourself….

  62. #64 Andrew Dodds
    March 24, 2011

    Ema –

    Yes, anti-nuke arguments have an awful lot in common with anti-AGW arguments. Disturbing..

    Greg –

    You reject metrics such as ‘deaths per TWh’, on the highly convincing grounds that it’s equivalent to hamstering. I’m not 100% convinced by this high quality argument. I don’t see any other rational way, as long as the error margins (and other impacts) are respected.

    You also have a dismissive approach to what I would regard as legitimate questions, such as those posed by Justin F. I’m not sure if a worse-then-chernobyl event IS possible given the specifics of that event – certainly I’ve never seen a plausable scenario for one. And if we make the assumption that Chernobyl killed ten times the semi-official figure of 4000 then it still falls well short of a year’s coal-related deaths.

    But I doubt you’ll want to have a serious discussion on the subject. Denialists usually don’t.

    As far as Fukushima goes, it shows

  63. #65 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    Andrew, I reject the numerical comparisons on two specific grounds neither of which has to do with hampstering. When you are prepared to engage in a serious discussion in which you read what I wrote and respond to that, get back to me.

    You also have a dismissive approach to what I would regard as legitimate questions

    At this point you need to convince me that you would know a legitimate question if you saw one. So far you’re not there.

    Are you suggesting that a single event at a nuclear power plant is more dangerous than all of the coal-related deaths combined? Interesting. Had not thought of it that way.

    What you have done, though, is to compare the outcome of two entirely different kinds of events as though that comparison was meaningful or useful. I object to that. For reasons I gave, and that you have chosen to ignore.

    But I doubt you’ll want to have a serious discussion on the subject. Denialists usually don’t.

    Lame.

    As far as Fukushima goes, it shows

    Looks like you got nothing.

    Ian Kemmish: Thanks for your cogent, insightful, and meaningful observation.

  64. #66 P. Locans
    March 24, 2011

    Andrew you are an idiot. You read the number of thousands in Chernobyl from the above post but thought it meant thousands dead, then attempted to lessen the significance of that number (that you got wrong) by comparing one nuclear accident to all of of the coal method of producing electricity. But thousands did not die at Chernobyl, and Professor Laden did not say that they did.

  65. #67 Giliell
    March 24, 2011

    I’m not sure if a worse-then-chernobyl event IS possible given the specifics of that event – certainly I’ve never seen a plausable scenario for one.

    Yes, and if four weeks ago somebody had told you about a scenario 100% like Fukushima, you’d probably have laughed, told the other person that they were a tree-hugging denialist and explained that this is NOT a plausible scenario.
    That’s the problem: Those disasters don’t happen when the scenarios come true that had been thought plausible and have therefore been taken care of, they happen when those scenarios come true that were not thought to be plausible before.

  66. #68 Bill Davidson
    March 24, 2011

    The wife is from Lodz, Poland, so she
    watches the ITVN from Warsaw on
    Dish Network. We have 3 pretty daughters,
    not beautiful, but healthy. We were watching
    a young beautiful girl leaving the home where
    she lives. She was born near Chernobl, without
    2 arms, without 1 leg. She was tapping the
    remaining leg on the floor, propelling her
    wheelchair to visit her mother. So obviousy
    happy to visit ‘Mamushka’.

  67. #69 phillydoug
    March 24, 2011

    Just to muddy the waters a bit:

    (from Physicians for Social Responsibility http://www.psr.org/news-events/press-releases/psr-concerned-about-reports-increased-radioactivity-food-supply.html)

    “While all food contains radionuclides, whether from natural sources, nuclear testing or otherwise, the increased levels found in Japanese spinach and milk pose health risks to the population. PSR also expressed alarm over the level of misinformation circulating in press reports about the degree to which radiation exposure can be considered “safe.”

    According to the National Academy of Sciences, there are no safe doses of radiation. Decades of research show clearly that any dose of radiation increases an individual’s risk for the development of cancer.

    “There is no safe level of radionuclide exposure, whether from food, water or other sources. Period,” said Jeff Patterson, DO, immediate past president of Physicians for Social Responsibility…

    “Consuming food containing radionuclides is particularly dangerous. If an individual ingests or inhales a radioactive particle, it continues to irradiate the body as long as it remains radioactive and stays in the body,”said Alan H. Lockwood, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility…

    …radiation can be concentrated many times in the food chain and any consumption adds to the cumulative risk of cancer and other diseases.

    “Reports indicate that the total radioactive releases from the Fukushima reactor have been relatively small so far. If this is the case, then the health effects to the overall population will be correspondingly small,” said Ira Helfand, MD, a member of the Board of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “But it is not true to say that it is “safe” to release this much radiation; some people will get cancer and die as a result.”

  68. #70 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    The most recent reports seem to indicate that the levels of radiation released at the plant are higher than previously thought and broader in geographic extend than the established safe zone. EG: http://tinyurl.com/66mw4xm

  69. #71 nukulear apollogeest
    March 24, 2011

    I realize the article is satire, but some of the points are valid. A much better analysis is in von Hippel’s NYT piece, which argues for better regulation and better plant design, including passive safety features.

    Chernobyl probably WAS something approaching a worst case of a nuclear accident: an inferior design with no containment vessel, a positive void coefficient resulting in a momentary uncontrolled unstable state, a raging open-air graphite fire, and continuing fission during release. Even so, it killed about 60 people immediately, and will probably not kill more than 10K people prematurely. That’s a lot, but coal pollution kills 10K to 20K or so a year in the USA during NOMINAL operations. That’s almost 1 million people killed by coal during the 40 year nuclear age, in the USA alone. AND NOBODY CARES! And nuclear reactors in the US are much, much safer than Chernobyl.

    Speaking as an average citizen, my risk of being killed by nukes is probably 100x smaller than of being killed by coal. I refuse to be irrational, and view risk emotionally. I will use numbers rather than gut feelings, and, from the numbers, nukes are safer.

    To keep his diatribes risk-proportional, Greg Laden will now have to write a several hundred page screed against coal. And if he doesn’t, why not?

    Why do we fear nuclear but we don’t fear coal? Both subject us to a risk we do not control. Why do we fear radiation, but not global warming? Why did we spend more time discussing the Japanese reactors than the 18000 killed by the tsunami? There is a degree of magical thinking going on among the nuclear fearers, in which nuclear, being mysterious, represents a sort of evil voodoo spell.

  70. #72 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    Apologist:

    None of the points are valid.

    A better analysis than what? My satire? You see, one of the main problems you nuclear apologists have is that you don’t know what to compare to what. This is yet another example, I’m afraid!

    Yes, better regulation and better plant design and passive safety features are a good idea.

    Even so, it killed about 60 people immediately, and will probably not kill more than 10K people prematurely.

    Can I frame that and hang it on my wall?

    Anyway, no, I really don’t think the numerical comparisons are valid even when they are done right, and you definitely did not do your right. And while it may be that Chernobyl was in fact as bad as it can get, what happened at Chernobyl was not said to be possible until it happened. That, you see, is the pattern with every single nuclear accident that has happened before it happened. So, hearing that an anonymous nuclear apologist thinks that something that has not happened can’t happen should reassure no one.

    In any event, it hardly matters. Fukushima is unacceptable.It is happening now. It is happening to reactors that are run of the mill.

    To keep his diatribes risk-proportional, Greg Laden will now have to write a several hundred page screed against coal. And if he doesn’t, why not?

    Let me tell you this: You don’t have my permission or blessing to tell me what to write, what to not write, or to demand an explanation when you think I should write something but didn’t. I’m not sure why you think you have that privilege.

    Having said that, I hate coal. With a passion.

    Why do we fear nuclear but we don’t fear coal?

    I fear coal and so should everybody. Coal (and other fossil fuels) are likely to cause the chemistry of the world’s oceans to change in a way that will significantly reduce the Oxygen level in our atmosphere. Be very afraid of coal.

    But that has nothing to do with the present discussion about nuclear energy. All you’re doing here is waving around a monkey to distract the weak-minded from the argument at hand. Won’t work. We’re a pretty sharp crowd ’round these parts.

    Why did we spend more time discussing the Japanese reactors than the 18000 killed by the tsunami?

    Interesting question. Naturally, your numbers are wrong. There are 9,000 plus bodies and 17,000 plus missing and likely dead, for a grand total of about 27,000 or more. Anyway, I think it is because the tsunami is over and the cleanup eventually gets redundant, but the nuclear crisis is still unfolding with new developments every day.

    There is a degree of magical thinking going on among the nuclear fearers, in which nuclear, being mysterious, represents a sort of evil voodoo spell.

    Nice try, but not true. Well, there could be and has been but I’ve not seen much this time around. Mostly what I see is NPA monkey waving and straw-argument building.

    Interesting, this: People willing to put their names on their pro-nuke comments have mostly disappeared from this blog and elsewhere. The people who are saying that nothing really bad can happen with the Japanese nukes have mostly shut up. The ones who have not continue to hide behind pseudonyms.

    Explain that.

  71. #73 phillydoug
    March 24, 2011

    Greg: “People willing to put their names on their pro-nuke comments have mostly disappeared from this blog and elsewhere. The people who are saying that nothing really bad can happen with the Japanese nukes have mostly shut up.”

    — Is it bad form to repeat your comments? Hopefully it’s not too much of a faux pas. Here’s part of my comment from March 16 (now over a week ago) responding to your ‘hyperbole’ post:

    ‘For nuclear power advocates dispensing mature sounding advice not to allow this isolated incident, or irrational fears, serve as an indictment of the nuclear industry ‘as a whole’, the ongoing downward spiral is somewhat embarrassing, to be sure. It’s getting harder to be dismissive of the questions and concerns raised each time new threshold of ‘can’t get worse than this’ is crossed.

    My suspicion is that long-time supporters of nuclear power generation have to hold onto the fundamental tenet that nuclear reactors are basically safe, manageable, and well-run. To give up this view (that nuclear is a safe and reliable option) would be more cognitive dissonance than they could contain, if they are unwilling to also give up some basic notions about the world, and their own reasonableness and clear-headedness.

    That is, I suspect they are unable to let go of cherished beliefs about themselves

    —even in the face of an utter catastrophe that belies those cherished beliefs. ‘

    I’ve read and heard nothing from nuclear power advocates to change this view.

    The number of dead from Daiichi, the number of children born with birth defects, the number of people who will suffer from cancer but survive– none of this will ever, ever matter to a nuclear power advocate. Gee, more people die from heart attacks, so Daiichi isn’t that bad.

    The only thing more galling is the sense I have that the nuclear advocates sleep well with their convictions, because their world is just as placid today as it was on March 10th; people who comprehend the magnitude of the horror spreading from Daiichi are the ones with nightmares.

    We won’t be waking up from this nightmare for several generations, and the nuclear advocates will still be slumbering peacefully in dreamland.

  72. #74 phillydoug
    March 24, 2011

    And why stop now?

    (from: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20285-fukushima-radioactive-fallout-nears-chernobyl-levels.html?loc=interstitialskip)

    “Japan’s damaged nuclear plant in Fukushima has been emitting radioactive iodine and caesium at levels approaching those seen in the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident in 1986. Austrian researchers have used a worldwide network of radiation detectors – designed to spot clandestine nuclear bomb tests – to show that iodine-131 is being released at daily levels 73 per cent of those seen after the 1986 disaster. The daily amount of caesium-137 released from Fukushima Daiichi is around 60 per cent of the amount released from Chernobyl.

    In the 10 days it burned, Chernobyl put out 1.76 × 1018 becquerels of iodine-131, which amounts to only 50 per cent more per day than has been calculated for Fukushima Daiichi. It is not yet clear how long emissions from the Japanese plant will continue.

    Similarly, says Wotawa, caesium-137 emissions are on the same order of magnitude as at Chernobyl. The Sacramento readings suggest it has emitted 5 × 1015 becquerels of caesium-137 per day; Chernobyl put out 8.5 × 1016 in total – around 70 per cent more per day.

    “This is not surprising,” says Wotawa. “When the fuel is damaged there is no reason for the volatile elements not to escape,” and the measured caesium and iodine are in the right ratios for the fuel used by the Fukushima Daiichi reactors. Also, the Fukushima plant has around 1760 tonnes of fresh and used nuclear fuel on site, and an unknown amount has been damaged. The Chernobyl reactor had only 180 tonnes.

    The Chernobyl accident emitted much more radioactivity and a wider diversity of radioactive elements than Fukushima Daiichi has so far, but it was iodine and caesium that caused most of the health risk – especially outside the immediate area of the Chernobyl plant, says Malcolm Crick, secretary of a United Nations body that has just reviewed the health effects of Chernobyl. Unlike other elements, he says, they were carried far and wide by the wind.

    Moreover the human body absorbs iodine and caesium readily. “Essentially all the iodine or caesium inhaled or swallowed crosses into the blood,” says Keith Baverstock, former head of radiation protection for the World Health Organization’s European office, who has studied Chernobyl’s health effects.

    Iodine is rapidly absorbed by the thyroid, and leaves only as it decays radioactively, with a half-life of eight days. Caesium is absorbed by muscles, where its half-life of 30 years means that it remains until it is excreted by the body. It takes between 10 and 100 days to excrete half of what has been consumed.

    While in the body the isotopes’ radioactive emissions can do significant damage, mainly to DNA. Children who ingest iodine-131 can develop thyroid cancer 10 or more years later; adults seem relatively resistant. A study published in the US last week found that iodine-131 from Chernobyl is still causing new cases of thyroid cancer to appear at an undiminished rate in the most heavily affected regions of Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.

    Caesium-137 lingers in the environment because of its long half-life. Researchers are divided over how much damage environmental exposure to low doses has done since Chernobyl. Some researchers think it could still cause thousands of new cases of cancer across Europe.”

  73. #75 nukulear apollogeest
    March 24, 2011

    >Anyway, no, I really don’t think the numerical comparisons are valid even when they are done right, and you definitely did not do your right.

    That’s the problem. You don’t provide us with an objective way of judging if one source of energy is more dangerous than another. Instead, you use a fair sprinkling of ad hominems and sarcasm, with next to no math. Please, if my methods are so bad, why don’t you do the numbers instead, so we may know how to do it correctly? Or provide us with some formulation, some method, to assess relative risk. What are the inputs? Does emotion play a role? Do math and statistics play any role at all? If so, what is their role?

    In short, what is YOUR way of deciding which sources of energy make sense, and which don’t?

    How would you quantify it? How would you express the tradeoff between risk to human life, and material well being? Is every way of killing people equally bad? If solar ended up killing more people than nuclear, would solar be better or worse? Are non-consensual deaths in a natural gas pipeline explosion equally bad as non-consensual radiation fatalities?

    Don’t just mock. Tell us what do do, and provide us with an objective logical framework for weighing costs and benefits. Lay your logic (not just your mockery) out on the table.

    >Be very afraid of coal.

    Indeed. But coal is taken as a given. Somehow, it does’t attract the same level of colorful rhetoric. Somehow, the 1000000 people coal has killed in the US alone doesn’t carry the same emotional weight as the releases at TMI, or the deaths at Chernobyl.

    The people who are saying that nothing really bad can happen with the Japanese nukes have mostly shut up. The ones who have not continue to hide behind pseudonyms.

    I think that you’ll recognize that what you just made is a form of ad hominem argument, avoiding facts in favor of invective. Some of us simply don’t want to broadcast our names to the world, even if we might have the same academic qualifications as you (of course, the qualifications, and the public naming, matter less the the arguments made).

  74. #76 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    Nuke, all you have to do is read my post and the footnotes to see what I think about the whole numbers thing. It is a bit pathetic that this insane comparison between coal and nuclear death rates, based on bad statistics, presented with no supporting context, and used to support absurd logic, is the best most NPA’s have to offer.

    You pretty much ended your argument in your earlier post, with a statement that I very much agree with. The nuclear power industry is not properly regulated, and the technology is not safely implemented.

    Instead of telling me that I need to change my arguments or my style of arguments, work on those actual problems.

    I think that you’ll recognize that what you just made is a form of ad hominem argument,

    And the problem with calling an ass an ass is … what exactly? You have fallen into the Wikipedia Menagerie of Latin Phrases Fallacy. The fact that an ad hominem statement is not a valid argument about a point being made does NOT mean that it is not a valid statement. I’m calling you out for being a gutless slob. I can do that. Has nothing to do with your vacuous arguments.

    But really, you should focus on our area of agreements. The nuclear power industry has not been properly regulated. Why? Who’s responsible? How to fix that? The technology is not appropriate. What should be done instead? Metal cooled reactors? What kind of passive failure mechanisms would work?

    Stop trying to make people love nuclear more than they love coal. They both suck, and they both suck for qualitatively different reasons. The comparative arguments are not possible because of a lack of key data points, are impossible to make because of these qualitative differences, and are useless in developing future energy policy.

    And we haven’t even touched on cost.

  75. #77 nukulear apollogeest
    March 24, 2011

    And the problem with calling an ass an ass is … what exactly? …. . I’m calling you out for being a gutless slob.

    See, now that’s not terribly grown up, is it? But, OK…

    The comparative arguments are not possible because of a lack of key data points, are impossible to make because of these qualitative differences, and are useless in developing future energy policy.

    I think that this might come from your lack of quantitative background. I’ve looked in vain for your academic publications, and I can’t find any, so I can’t judge objectively whether you are accustomed to using math and statistics. I suspect, given your background as a biological anthropologist, that your strength is not quantitative reasoning, and that you are perhaps averse to this mode of argument.

    But any policy decisions must ultimately based on numbers, not subjective feelings. If you can’t quantify a risk precisely, you at least put bounds on it, using known physics and known failure rates. When I get on an airplane, I don’t think “This plane could crash. There are so many unknown failure modes! I shouldn’t fly!” I think “The odds of a given flight crashing are about 1 in 5 million, which are smaller than my changes of getting a heart attack today, and the same as the risk of being in a car for one hour.”

  76. #78 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    See, now that’s not terribly grown up, is it? But, OK…

    I’m a teacher. I know how to bring the discussion to the level of the student. The point is that yo now understand that you were engaging in a fallacy. And I can tell you understand this because ad hominemed me! You’re catching on!

    I think that this might come from your lack of quantitative background.

    I have a lack of quantitative background? Do you know me? This is the problem with dealing with a pseudo. I’ve taught graduate level stats a few times, does that help?

    No, my argument that the comparisons are invalid is because I have a very quantitative background and I know bullshit when I see it, and this isn’t even full-on bullshit, it’s just bad math. Qualitatively, the systems are different because the kinds of things that can go wrong are not easily compared or matched up, but even if they can be, we simply don’t have the data. When you can enumerate the costs of uranium mining, come back and we’ll talk. When you can figure out the best arguments for how to include the nuclear weapons industry statistics (a great deal of nuclear engineering comes from that field, and in fact a non-trivial amount of fuel comes form that industry) and how to count those costs, come back and we’ll talk.

  77. #79 Andrew
    March 24, 2011

    Why did Mr. Nuclear Apologist run away from the very argument he started, that the problem is not essential to nuclear energy but rather in regulation and the exact technologies applied? I would have reckoned that a pro-nuclear person would be touting the next gen nukes. My guess is that Mr. NPA is a nuclear regulator or engineer, or an economist who has been arguing on behalf on nuclear power for a while and can’t back down from the arguments he’s made, but at the same time is afraid to put his name to what he is saying now. There is still a non-zero possibility of babies having their thyroids cut out and nuclear workers getting burned to a crisp and all sorts of other good stuff to tarnish any out of the closet apologist with actual careers on the line.

  78. #80 Ema Nymton
    March 24, 2011

    No, Greg, he was right. You did make an ad hominem logical fallacy, mostly as you used the attack as support for your argument.

    I’m not the only one to have commented on the low quality of your argument in this post. And Orac’s opinion I’ll take over yours twice a day, and thrice on Sunday, at least on matters of health and related science. Personally, I follow you because you tend to, on most subjects, make good arguments and, also, point out bad ones. One doesn’t have to support the other side to think you’re doing a pretty bad job here, on this particular subject.

    Perhaps you want to figure out why this issue hits your buttons enough to throw you off your game. Perhaps read up what is being written by some of those that actually do a good job making the case against Nuclear. Class M would be a good start.

  79. #81 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    Ema, I read class M, James is a friend and good colleague, and he actually told me he liked this post. Maybe you should take a closer look at both his and my position on this issue because I’m pretty sure that the don’t differ. Most likely you are imagining my position to be something other than it is because a) I don’t write about it much so there is not much to go on and b) you may be confusing the satire thing with the real thing, like NPA has done a couple of times.

    And no, I did not use my very low opinion of nuclear power apologist (‘s in general or this one in particular) to argue my points.

    Like you, I would also generally take Orac over myself as expert in certain areas. But why in this area? Is surgical medicine or vaccination or related fields relevant to nuclear power technology, regulation, politics, and so on? There are arguments being made about health and safety, damage and death, and other public health specific issues, but not here, not by me. As you should know from reading my post and my comments I’ve avoided that discussion (other than satirizing it). I’ve told this twice to NPA and now I’m saying it again. Perhaps I need one of those airplanes with the big banner dragging behind. I’m not convinced at all that Orac would have a more valid or useful take on those topics than anyone else, myself included, but that hardly matters since that is not what is being discussed here. (Nor do I have a clue what Orac’s point in his snarky comment, above, was.)

  80. #82 Greg Laden
    March 24, 2011

    I guess something else should be pointed out that people may be missing because I’ve not foregrounded it sufficiently: This post is a dig on the nuclear power apologists. It is not about nuclear power. I am not against the use of nuclear energy at all. Done right it has its place. The Soviets did not do it right at Chernobyl in a spectacular way, and the Japanese did not do it right at Fukushima, in a (hopefully) less spectacular way. They may be doing it right in Georgia as we speak. The US Navy has done a lot of it amazingly well.

    Lining up the deaths caused by coal (which is nothing, potentially, compared to the outcome of future unfettered use of fossil fuels) to argue in favor of criminal level fuckups and technological incompetence (in design and/or implementation) and politically driven engineering with nuclear energy is absurd, stupid, and insulting. And utterly inappropriate while the current disaster … and it is a fully human made nuclear power driven disaster … is under way.

  81. #83 Andrew Dodds
    March 25, 2011

    Greg –

    Then why bring hamstering up? YOU used the argument.

    A serious discussion would involve the likely rate and impact of nuclear disasters, as compared to the ongoing risks of coal, and developing risks of global warming from all fossil fuels.

    There would also be a discussion of the feasability of renewables making any significant impact into the usage of all of the above. Hydroelectricity is a separate case with significant big accident risks.

    Deaths per TWh is one aspect. Land put beyond use for a few decades is another. The more subtle impact of low energy availability on people’s lives is yet another factor to think of; young and healthy people may consider heating and air conditioning as decadent luxuries, the very young, ill and elderly would regard them as a matter of life and death.

    It is not in bad taste to discuss relative numbers of dead people. It is critical; avoiding the subject for emotive reasons is dangerous.

    I’d also add that the resistance to nuclear power and engineering has put us in the stupid position of relying on old reactor designs (because we have emotive protests against new ones), as well as piling up spent fuel, because of emotive protests against recycling. Had we continued with the ambitions of the 1970s in this field, we could have retired all of the old reactors, and all coal fired plants, and released a lot less radiation into the environment. Emotive arguments have consequences.

    Now, are you prepared to address any of this in a civilized manner, or will you use a stunning and well thought argument such as ‘Lame’?

  82. #84 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2011

    Then why bring hamstering up? YOU used the argument. A serious discussion would involve …

    Read it again, buddy. It. Was. A. Satire. It. Was. Not. A. Serious. Argument. (A satire about a serious issue to make a specific point … a point which is not about nuclear energy … but a satire nonetheless.)

    The question you raise are valid, interesting, and important. The suggestions that I needed to address them i this post misses the point, though.

  83. #85 Carlisle
    March 25, 2011

    nukulear apollogeest, you are a laugh. You are telling Dr. Laden that he is not quantitative enough but you are spouting unadjusted and incorrect statistics to make an argument. Furthermore your argument is not counter to anything said in the OP. Your only purpose here seems to be to make the case for nuclear.Fess up, which nuclear agency or corporation do you work for?

  84. #86 Grit Springer
    March 25, 2011

    >> And nuclear reactors in the US are much, much safer than Chernobyl.

    how can you say that? are there any official, independent investigational reports that prove that?

    After the incident in Fukushima Germany has shut down 7 of their oldest nuclear power plants http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14912184,00.html

    >> Why do we fear nuclear but we don’t fear coal? Both subject us to a risk we do not control.

    there is no “we” in this because I am not with you! I agree with Greg here. You cannot compare coal and nuclear energy. Coal mining started around 1880, the first nuclear power plant went online in 1954. Accidents in coal mines may have cost more lives of workers than in nuclear power plant accidents but because of THAT there have been constant research to improve safety http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080717221913.htm A study by the MSHA later showed that injuries and death have been cut down.

    Being aware of risks and trying to improve safety is certainly not wrong. That goes for every power source, I think.

    >> Why do we fear radiation, but not global warming?

    You put words in people’s mouths they never said. No one said, we don’t fear global warming. But Greg’s articl is not about global warming. It is about ridiculous arguments brought up by the nuclear energy industry to play down what has happened. Seeing those arguments lined up in one post actually shows HOW ridiculous they are, but that doesn’t make them less REAL because they have been used before.

    >> Why did we spend more time discussing the Japanese reactors than the 18000 killed by the tsunami?

    People who are dead, are dead. It is tragic! Very! They were killed by a natural disaster. There is nothing to talk about there, other than express condolence. But maybe you should ask “How can we help those who have survived?” Which is, at least that’s what I think, way more important since we cannot do much for those who have died.

    I would like to quote Lord Setar from a couple of comments earlier on nuclear power…

    >> The lesson: don’t put a volatile power source in the hands of those who will cut corners to make a buck.

    I agree on that and would like to add: Safety should come first. Not just for the people working there but also in regards of WHAT IF scenarios. So if solar and wind energy would provide enough power in safe enough way, then I don’t see any reason WHY we should continue nuclear power plants in the far future.

  85. #87 Laurie
    March 25, 2011

    Ema, there is nothing that makes Orac anything close to an expert on anything having to do with any of this! What is your point?

  86. #88 Giliell
    March 25, 2011

    I’d also add that the resistance to nuclear power and engineering has put us in the stupid position of relying on old reactor designs (because we have emotive protests against new ones)

    What makes you think that they’d stop using the old reactors if they could build new ones? I live near Cattenom, a rather old (40 yrs), rather big, rather unsafe French nuke. There are new nukes planned in France, still the company running it plans to run it for further 60 years.
    Most nukes will always be old nukes because it’s the old nukes you make the money with. You don’t build new ones every 10 years to be at the height of efficiency and safety.

    as well as piling up spent fuel, because of emotive protests against recycling.

    Yes, just paint people with a broad brush. But I remember that 4 weeks ago people protesting against Japanese nukes also were only irrational emotive protesters.

    Had we continued with the ambitions of the 1970s in this field, we could have retired all of the old reactors, and all coal fired plants, and released a lot less radiation into the environment. Emotive arguments have consequences.

    I call it wishful thinking. As mentioned above, it is rather unlikely that the old reactors would have been retired. It could also have meant that some nice landscapes in the middle of Europe would be as uninhabitable as parts of the Ukraine are now. A lot of pro-nuke people have mentioned that everything would be fine if we only switched to thorium reactors. I admit, I had to look up what they are. And I found that we already HAD one. It was so damn unreliable and so unsafe that it had to be dismantled.

  87. #89 Ellen S.
    March 25, 2011

    Greg, if you are going to do satire the you are going to get bit. So let them bite. Kinda the point, eh? Don’t waste your time responding to the NPA-doodles.

  88. #90 phillydoug
    March 25, 2011

    Just so everyone is clear on what is being debated here:

    (from: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fgw-japan-nuclear-plant-20110326,0,5763742.story)

    “Residents within 18 miles of the hobbled Fukushima plant are urged to leave; the previous limit had been 12 miles.

    Nuclear safety agency officials said Friday that they suspected a breach in the reactor core of one unit at the quake-damaged plant. That could mean more radioactive contamination in the environment.

    The uncertain situation halted work at the plant, where dozens had been trying to stop the overheated plant from leaking dangerous radiation.

    The death toll in the disaster crossed 10,000 on Friday, and the number of missing stood at 17,443, the National Police Agency said. More than 200,000 remain in shelters. Prime Minister Naoto Kan was expected to address the nation at 7:30 p.m. local time.

    Two workers at the hobbled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility were hospitalized for radiation exposure Thursday after stepping into contaminated water during repair operations at reactor No. 3, officials at the nation’s nuclear safety agency said. A third exposed worker did not require hospitalization.

    The Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said water in the turbine room where the workers were exposed registered about 10,000 times the level of radiation found in coolant inside a reactor. That could indicate there was damage to the core and a leak through the containment vessel, the agency said.

    “The source of the radiation seems to be the reactor core,” said Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency official Hidehiko Nishiyama. It is “more likely” that the radiation was from the core than from the spent fuel pool, he said.”

    Now, I can’t claim to be the nuclear expert that some of the commenters seem to be, so perhaps I’m misunderstanding the significance of highly technical terms like ‘The source of the radiation seems to be the reactor core’ (and this the reactor that utilized the uranium/plutonium MOX blend, no? But I ain’t the techincal expert on that.)

    Or, it’s one more instance of ‘can’t, won’t, hasn’t yet’ becoming ‘nothing to worry about’. Really, nuclear advocates should make a t-shirt that says that, and say it as their mantra every morning.

    And as we’ve seen, the Japanese government has been hysterical and premature at each step of their response to this, so surely they’re over-reacting now by extending the evacuation zone out to 18 miles.

    Or, and let’s call this a hunch, Tokyo Electric, the Japanese government, and the IAEA saw this coming by March 14. I’ll double down. They had readings that told them containment failed at this core days ago. (Remind me why the NRC chair said people should move at least 50 miles away, a week ago?)

    So how about we play a game of ‘Why wouldn’t this be publicly reported?’ Why has this information been titrated and systematically downplayed since day one (at the cost of lives, in numbers that look to be increasing exponentially)? Who benefits from the echo chamber of ‘not so bad’?

    The other question is, when will the nuclear apologists ever acknowledge they’re being played for chumps (especially those that fancy themselves as having technical expertise)?

    I know, I’ve been given to cite such disreputable sources as The National Academy of Sciences (a bunch of two- bit hacks over there).

    My suspicion is the ‘experts’ who have commented here have no background, or interest, in the health effects of radiocative exposure or epidemiology (nor do they seem to have looked at the quarter century of documented health effects of Chernobyl). I think that’s why they are so fond of telling everyone how levels from Daiichi compare to other sources of radioactive exposure, and declare the whole thing ‘over-hyped’. More people are being exposed, and sickened, everyday.

    But that involves real people suffering, which is much less pleasant than comforting oneself with pronouncements and abstract calculations based on favorable assumptions.

    Let me double down again. The casualties from Daiichi will exceed the numbers from the eartquake and tsunami, once the cancer and birth defect rates are known– thirty years from now.

    Any nuclear advocates care to take that wager?

    The whole episode has reminded of the wisdom of two great writers–

    Upton Sinclair: “It’s hard to make a man understand when his livelihood depends on him not understanding.”

    Saul Bellow: “A lot of intelligence can be invested in ingnorance, when the need for illusion runs deep”.

    Actually, maybe those should be the slogans for nuclear advocates.

  89. #91 Ellen
    March 25, 2011

    There are so many examples of what you are talking about: Just saw a piece (but cannot remember where) about a nuklear engineer who really wanted to help when hearing about Fukushima, so his contribution is going around telling everyone that the chance of significant radiation reaching California is “flat zero”. Prob. true, but how does making and killing a straw man help the people living near the nuclear plants?

  90. #92 Julia
    March 25, 2011

    Is Nuclear Energy renewable (without building Chernobyl-like breeder reactors_?

  91. #93 Henry
    March 25, 2011

    phillydoug, I think a US agency or organization has suggested the evacuation go out to about double what the Japanese set it to.

  92. #94 Atomic
    March 25, 2011

    Its called Nuclear Exceptionalism. Only Nuclear Energy is picked on, everything else is a cuddly baby bunny energy source.

  93. #95 Tom S.
    March 25, 2011

    This has become complicated enough that you could do a satire of it. I have a fiver says you are working on that now.

  94. #96 phillydoug
    March 25, 2011

    Atomic: “Its called Nuclear Exceptionalism. Only Nuclear Energy is picked on, everything else is a cuddly baby bunny energy source.”

    Right. That, and radioactive isotopes kill people. (q.v. the Bellow and Sinclair quotes, above).

    Like that pseudonym, though. Wear it proudly!

  95. #97 Nabawiya
    March 25, 2011

    The Prime Minister of Japan is worried:
    Nuclear situation ‘grave’ Japan PM warns
    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2011/03/2011325112227299174.html

  96. #98 Emily
    March 25, 2011

    All footnotes should be topped with a firm statement to read them. I approve. In fact, I often as not focus on the footnotes rather than the text. Instant subtext!

  97. #99 Dunc
    March 25, 2011

    24-7 electricity is not a right or even a need

    And that is the crux of the matter. People really can’t imagine even the possibility of not being able to turn on the TV and pull a cold beer out of the fridge any time they please, so we get this ridiculous “it’s nukes or coal!” bullshit.

    Seriously people, having to be a bit more careful about your energy use is not the end of the fucking world.

    Funnily enough, the most reliable power I ever had was when I was living off-grid… Sure, there wasn’t a lot of it, but it was enough for what I needed and it worked reliably.

  98. #100 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2011

    …can’t imagine even the possibility of not being able to turn on the TV and pull a cold beer…

    … wait, wait … give me a minute to rethink this …

  99. #101 phillydoug
    March 25, 2011

    Henry: “I think a US agency or organization has suggested the evacuation go out to about double what the Japanese set it to.”
    Thanks for the heads up. Can’t say as I’m surprised.

    One more prediction– the zone will never be expanded to Tokyo, even if the levels of radiation made it necessary— that’s just too much for any government to contemplate.

    Expect endless reassurances that living in Tokyo is, and will forever be, safe.

  100. #102 Giliell
    March 25, 2011

    Seriously people, having to be a bit more careful about your energy use is not the end of the fucking world.

    I’d argue that you don’t even have to relinquish much, but just take a little care. It might be a bit more work NOT to use the f..ing dryer and hang the laundry out to dry. It definetly is not even more work to use a broom instead of a vacuum-cleaner (an awful lot of people use a hoover for floors that are not carpets).

  101. #103 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2011

    Henry, Philly, this just in:

    The Japanese government is urging residents who live between 20 and 30 kilometers from crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to “voluntarily evacuate” the region, citing the difficulties of daily life there and the possibility of more radiation leaks.

    Prior to this, people in these areas had been advised to stay indoors.

    The measure is being seen as a sign that there is little chance the crisis at the power plant will ease anytime soon.

    (By comparison, the U.S. has recommended that its nationals stay at least 80 kilometers away from the plant.)

    source: Prior to this, people in these areas had been advised to stay indoors.

    The measure is being seen as a sign that there is little chance the crisis at the power plant will ease anytime soon.

    (By comparison, the U.S. has recommended that its nationals stay at least 80 kilometers away from the plant.)

    source: http://tinyurl.com/4rt9twq

    Isn’t Tokyo about 400 km away?

  102. #104 phillydoug
    March 25, 2011

    Greg,

    Thanks for the update, and all the work you’ve been doing.

    “Isn’t Tokyo about 400 km away?”

    The Distance between Fukushima (Fukushima) and Tokyo (Tokyo) is :

    238.34 kilometers (km).
    The approximately estimated travel/road distance can be around 274.09 km to 297.92 km

    In Other Units:
    148.1 miles. The approximately estimated travel/road distance can be around 170.31 miles to 185.12 miles
    128.61 nautical miles.

    (source: http://distancecalculator.globefeed.com)

    The question for me is what the aquifer looks like between Fukushima and Tokyo. That’s the ballgame in terms of long term dissemination of the isotopes. Once the longer lived stuff infiltrates the soil, it will percolate for years, and will accumlate in hot spots, some of which will undoubtedly be in large population areas.

  103. #105 daedalus2u
    March 25, 2011

    Julia #92, There is enough thorium and uranium in the average rocks of the Earth’s crust so that those rocks have a higher energy content than coal. 0.5 ppm makes the energy content of rock the same as really good coal.

    There are ~4 ppm U and 12 ppm Th in the average rocks of the Earth’s crust. This is ~30x the energy content of an equal mass of coal.

    This does require breeder reactors and fuel reprocessing but those reactors don’t need to be like Chernobyl (which was designed to produce plutonium for bombs).

    Taking Cs and I out of drinking water is not difficult to do on a large scale. I expect that the Japanese will set up to do that now. It is cheaper than large scale desalination which they might do too.

  104. #106 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2011

    phillydoug: I must have converted kilometers into kilometers in my head, thinking they were miles.

    Daedalus2u: I would not be surprised if Tokyo water filtration plants were already taking all sorts of minerals out of the water, given that terrain like Japan must have a lot of minerals provided to the ground water.

  105. #107 daedalus2u
    March 25, 2011

    Usually they only take out divalent metals like Ca, Mg, Fe and Mn. Systems for taking those out won’t take out Cs or I. Cs is the harder one to take out. It isn’t difficult but you need specialized and dedicated equipment. And then you need to put the waste somewhere. Getting rid of the radioactive stuff is probably the most expensive part of the process.

  106. #108 Giliell
    March 26, 2011

    I would not be surprised if Tokyo water filtration plants were already taking all sorts of minerals out of the water, given that terrain like Japan must have a lot of minerals provided to the ground water.

    From what I’ve heard they’re hardly using the ground water anyway for the Tokio water supply, they use rivers and such (which also requires heavy filtration) but which meant that the current contamination is most likely not due to ground water contamination but due to the contamination in the air that gets picked up by the rivers and such

  107. #109 Johnny Daniel
    April 7, 2011

    Ok, so I have read everything to this point. Coal or Nuclear power, what may have you both are bad and good for different reason and the same reasons etc….

    Living 90 miles away from Fukushima, I sit here in dismay of the current events;

    NHK on March 15th the order was to “shelter in” place to keep yourself safe, for anyone within 50 miles of Tokyo.

    NHK reports that the Japan news government predicated that the radiation would reach as far as 150 miles south, but we not sure if the measurement is correct on March 16th. “It was correct”.

    Both reports have been removed from NHK website.

    If this is the benefits of Nuclear Power, who seems to control everything around me or at least the people reporting the information; SHOOT- SIGN ME UP for another round of this!! I love being lied to!!!

    One the note of Comparisons, I’m really sick and tired of them. I know I get radiation from everything in life. Thanks, I already knew that- What measure should I take at this point? Life insurance or extra Health insurance? Can I get a group discount?

    Just saying-

  108. #110 Johnny Daniel
    April 7, 2011

    Ok, so I have read everything to this point. Coal or Nuclear power, what may have you both are bad and good for different reason and the same reasons etc….

    Living 90 miles away from Fukushima, I sit here in dismay of the current events;

    NHK on March 15th the order was to “shelter in” place to keep yourself safe, for anyone within 50 miles of Tokyo.

    NHK reports that the Japan news government predicated that the radiation would reach as far as 150 miles south, but we not sure if the measurement is correct on March 16th. “It was correct”.

    Both reports have been removed from NHK website.

    If this is the benefits of Nuclear Power, who seems to control everything around me or at least the people reporting the information; SHOOT- SIGN ME UP for another round of this!! I love being lied to!!!

    One the note of Comparisons, I’m really sick and tired of them. I know I get radiation from everything in life. Thanks, I already knew that- What measure should I take at this point? Life insurance or extra Health insurance? Can I get a group discount?

    Just saying-

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