Monday, January 2, 2012

Helen Caldicott--Nuclear Power Plants are Bomb Factories?



This is a screenshot from a televised debate between George Monbiot and Helen Caldicott. I will be linking to parts of that video throughout this article, which I originally started writing to critique an opinion piece by Caldicott that appeared in the New York Times.

If you plan to read any further, read Monbiot's article about this debate and the article he wrote about Caldicott that kicked this debate off.

Click here to enter four minutes into the video when Monbiot is finally allowed to speak.

Click here to see her make the following quotes:
"George, you must listen to me. I'm a pediatrician, I'm a physician, highly trained, I was on the faculty of Harvard Medical School [for one year]. I'm not boasting but I'm a very good doctor. I came in second in my school of medicine. I don't say things that are inaccurate otherwise I would be deregistered ...doctors can't lie."
This is a type of logical fallacy known as a fallacious appeal to authority, or appeal to inappropriate authority. From Wikipedia:
"... arguments from authority are commonly used in a fallacious manner ...This occurs when an inference relies on individuals or groups without relevant expertise or knowledge[3] (e.g. when a doctor of medicine untrained in economics, opines about the state of the economy, many people still will give his opinions on the subject more credence than the opinions of a person of less, or of less imposing, education)."
Note that Caldicott walked away from her career as a pediatrician over thirty years ago to become an anti-nuclear activist. Coincidentally, my wife of 26 years happens to be a practicing pediatrician.

More from the video:
"George, there is no debate about this."
Not true.
"...there is no debate about this."
Not true.
"I talk to doctors all the time in medical schools, in hospitals, in grand rounds, we all understand it, there is no debate."
See fallacious appeal to authority above, and not true.

On the pro-nuclear power side you have NASA climatologist, Jim Hansen, author of Storms of My Grandchildren who (putting his money where his mouth is) has been arrested for protesting outside of a coal-fired power plant. His book makes a strong case for nuclear power.

There is George Monbiot, environmental journalist and author of Heat (reprinted in 2009).

Or James Lovelock, formulator of the Gaia hypothesis.

How about Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog fame?

Steve Kirsch (who received the National Caring Award from the Caring Institute in Washington DC, which celebrates those special individuals who, in transcending self, devote their lives in service to others, especially the disadvantaged, the poor, the disabled and the dying) and on and on.

"The New York Academy of Sciences Report on Chernobyl is absolutely devastating."
There is no "New York Academy of Sciences Report" on Chernobyl. I'll let Monbiot explain:
...a book which claims that 985,000 people have died as a result of the disaster(14). Translated from Russian and published by the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, this is the only document which looks scientific and appears to support the wild claims made by greens about Chernobyl.

A devastating review in the journal Radiation Protection Dosimetry points out that the book achieves its figure by the remarkable method of assuming that all increased deaths from a wide range of diseases – including many which have no known association with radiation – were caused by the accident(15). There is no basis for this assumption, not least because screening in many countries improved dramatically after the disaster and, since 1986, there have been massive changes in the former eastern bloc. The study makes no attempt to correlate exposure to radiation with the incidence of disease(16).

Its publication seems to have arisen from a confusion about whether the Annals was a book publisher or a scientific journal. The academy has given me this statement: “In no sense did Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences or the New York Academy of Sciences commission this work; nor by its publication do we intend to independently validate the claims made in the translation or in the original publications cited in the work. The translated volume has not been peer-reviewed by the New York Academy of Sciences, or by anyone else.”(17)

In a nutshell, it is a collection of junk science found on the internet and other assorted places that was translated into English and bound into a book that you can buy on Amazon for only $239.00, reduced to $142.37.You Save: $96.63!

It was published by the book publishing arm of the New York Academy of Sciences-- but not endorsed by it:

"...The Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences issue “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment”, therefore, does not present new, unpublished work, nor is it a work commissioned by the New York Academy of Sciences. The expressed views of the authors, or by advocacy groups or individuals with specific opinions about the Annals Chernobyl volume, are their own. Although the New York Academy of Sciences believes it has a responsibility to provide open forums for discussion of scientific questions, the Academy has no intent to influence legislation by providing such forums..."

The publisher's description:

"...Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” Volume 1181 of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, published online in November 2009, was authored by Alexey V. Yablokov, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexey V. Nesterenko, of the Institute of Radiation Safety (Belarus), and the late Prof. Vassily B. Nesterenko, former director of the Belarussian Nuclear Center. With a foreword by the Chairman of the Ukranian National Commission on Radiation Protection, Dimitro M. Grodzinsky, the 327-page volume is an English translation of a 2007 publication by the same authors. The earlier volume, “Chernobyl,” published in Russian, presented an analysis of the scientific literature, including more than 1,000 titles and more than 5,000 printed and Internet publications mainly in Slavic languages, on the consequences of the Chernobyl disaster...."

And last time I looked it had two reviews on Amazon.com. A five star by someone who admits they didn't read it and a one star that only says:
"...This book recycles myths, lies, and fallacies from the events that occurred at Chernobyl. Don't waste your money on it. The National Academy of Science does not support this book, and has stated that it contains no new material...."

I begin the parsing of Caldicott's opinion piece in the NYT below:

"An atomic bomb requires a fraction of that amount for fuel, and plutonium remains radioactive for 250,000 years. Therefore every country with a nuclear power plant also has a bomb factory with unlimited potential.The nuclear power industry sets an unforgivable precedent by exporting nuclear technology — bomb factories — to dozens of non-nuclear nations."

World's First Nuclear Reactor

This photo was taken by a tourist (at a museum) of the actual decommissioned nuclear reactor that was used to make plutonium for the first atomic bombs using technology available well over half a century ago--long before the first nuclear power plants were built.

Several countries that don't have nuclear power plants managed to make bombs by constructing "research reactors" similar to the one pictured here.

Nuclear proliferation should be stopped, but you can't stop it by refusing to license new nuclear power plants, especially if those power plants are located in countries that already have nuclear weapons. The reactor in this picture was small, air-cooled, and produced no electricity whatsoever.

It takes tremendous technical capacity to create weapons grade material from nuclear waste and to manufacture the parts for a nuclear weapon. A power plant that uses nuclear energy to generate electricity is no more a "bomb factory" than my garage is.


The nuclear power industry has been resurrected over the past decade by a lobbying campaign that has left many people believing it to be a clean, green, emission-free alternative to fossil fuels.

The decades-old arguments cobbled together by the anti-nuclear lobby are finally unraveling thanks to people finding the truth via the internet, not because of increased "lobbying." Times, they are changing.

Not to mention, compared to any fossil fuel, nuclear energy is without doubt a clean, green (whatever exactly that means) emission free (comparable to solar in lifecycle emissions) source of energy.
These beliefs pose an extraordinary threat to global public health...
Beliefs? Here are some facts. Three thousand Americans die from food poisoning annually. Do we stop eating? Airline accidents have killed twenty thousand people in this decade. Are airlines dangerous? Forty thousand Americans die annually in car accidents. Where is the movement to eliminate cars? A recent study has estimated that close to 200,000 of the world's poorest children suffer nutrition related premature deaths thanks to corn ethanol policy. How many have died this "century" from nuclear power plant accidents?
...and encourage a major financial drain on national economies and taxpayers.
There is no such financial drain on taxpayers. Nuclear generated electricity pays for itself over its lifetime, producing low emissions electricity at very competitive rates. It's one of those rare cases where past government subsidies have paid off royally. I find it bizarre that a former pediatrician goes to so much trouble to protect people from an energy technology that has not killed anyone in a quarter of a century when 40,000 drivers die on our highways each year and a report released last year estimated that biofuels policies which have helped to increase the cost of basic food staples for the poorest may be killing upwards of 200,000 children annually from malnutrition related illnesses.

From a paper published in the spring 2011 issue of the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons--the official journal of the AAPS (Association of American Physicians and Surgeons):

Research by the World Bank indicates that the increase in biofuels production over 2004 levels would push more than 35 million additional people into absolute poverty in 2010 in developing countries. Using statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Indur Goklany estimates that this would lead to at least 192,000 excess deaths per year, plus disease resulting in the loss of 6.7 million disability-adjusted life-years (DALYs) per year.

Read Nuclear Reactors May Kill 192,000 Annually! Oh, wait, I meant corn ethanol reactors.
The commitment to nuclear power as an environmentally safe energy source has also stifled the mass development of alternative ...

It would be great if nuclear energy really had such potential to stifle competing energy sources because fossil fuels sure need to be stifled by something. Odd that nuclear only has the power to stifle solar and wind, but not coal or natural gas ; )

Read Reframing Nuclear Power as an Ally of Renewable Energy
and Dirty, Baseload, Centralized, Renewable Energy

...technologies that are far cheaper, safer and almost emission free — the future for global energy.

I'm a big fan of solar. I have solar panels, but raise your hand if you can afford to replace all of your electricity use by putting solar panels on your roof and if you think you can afford to do so, why haven't you? Add to that cost, your share of the cost of some kind of continental super grid that would allow renewables to scale beyond a maximum of about 30% of our total electric energy production.

When the Fukushima Daiichi reactors suffered meltdowns in March, literally in the backyard of an unsuspecting public, the stark reality that the risks of nuclear power far outweigh any benefits should have become clear to the world. As the old quip states, “Nuclear power is one hell of a way to boil water.”

Ah, no, not literally, there are no reactors in backyards, and how could anyone in Fukushima possibly have been unsuspecting with the lay press having a feeding frenzy over these reactors, which killed nobody, while practically ignoring the 20,000 killed by the quake?

The stark reality is that even after being slammed with a magnitude 9 quake and 30 foot high tsunami, these half-century old reactors caused no fatalities. There is no evidence at all that the risks of nuclear energy outweigh any benefits. And boiling water to make steam to power turbines that spin generators is how 90 percent of all electricity is generated.
Instead, the nuclear industry has used the disaster to increase its already extensive lobbying efforts.
I know of no major industry that does not lobby, so, how would this make the nuclear lobby different from say, the corn ethanol or wind energy lobby?

A few nations vowed to phase out nuclear energy after the disaster.
At gargantuan expense to their taxpayers and by greatly increasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. From the George Monbiot:

As a result of shutting down its nuclear programme in response to green demands, Germany will produce an extra 300m tonnes of carbon dioxide between now and 2020. That's almost as much as all the European savings resulting from the energy efficiency directive. Other countries are now heading the same way. These decisions are the result of an almost medievel misrepresentation of science and technology. For while the greens are right about most things, our views on nuclear power have been shaped by weapons-grade woo.

Not to mention, there would be a lot more carbon in the atmosphere were it not for nuclear power plants, and I strongly suspect that most of these announced phase outs will quietly just not happen.

But many others have remained steadfast in their commitment.

Actually, we are seeing large numbers of people (like me) who had bought the anti-nuclear arguments but are now changing their minds. We are going to need this technology to stand any chance of reducing global warming for our children's futures.

That has left millions of innocent people unaware that they — all of us — may face a medical catastrophe beyond all proportions in the wake of Fukushima and through the continued widespread use of nuclear energy.

Fukushima is being cleaned up. The danger has passed.
The world was warned of the dangers of nuclear accidents 25 years ago, when Chernobyl exploded and lofted radioactive poisons into the atmosphere.
The Chernobyl power plant remained fully staffed and continued to produce power for nearly 14 years after the one reactor was destroyed. It also created Europe's largest wildlife preserve.

The government estimated that it will spend at least $13 billion to clean up contamination.

$13 billion represents only about 5 percent of the total cost of this natural disaster on the rest of the country. As for the claim that there are dangerous hotspots, well, you should know by now to take everything this woman says with a huge grain of salt.

In one of the few studies on human contamination in the months following the accident, over half of the more than 1,000 children whose thyroids were monitored in Fukushima City were found to be contaminated with iodine 131 — condemning many to thyroid cancer years from now.

Translation: some small percentage of roughly 500 children (half of 1000) "may" develop a highly treatable thyroid cancer in the future. They will have to take supplemental thyroid medications after having their thyroid glands removed, as is the case with my neighbor and sister who have dysfunctional thyroids that have nothing to do with Chernobyl or Fukushima. It is probable that none of them will ever develop thyroid cancer.

Children are innately sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of radiation, fetuses even more so. Like Chernobyl, the accident at Fukushima is of global proportions. Unusual levels of radiation have been discovered in British Columbia, along the West Coast and East Coast of the United States and in Europe, and heavy contamination has been found in oceanic waters.

It's true that kids are more sensitive, but it is not true that they are being exposed to dangerous levels, so take the rest of that paragraph with a big grain of salt like all of the others. Oceans quickly disperse radiation to harmless levels.

Fukushima is classified as a grade 7 accident on the International Atomic Energy Agency scale — denoting “widespread health and environmental effects.” That is the same severity as Chernobyl, the only other grade 7 accident in history, but there is no higher number on the agency’s scale.

Fukushima was obviously not nearly as destructive as Chernobyl, which was not nearly as destructive as Caldicott wants you to believe.

Nuclear power has always been the nefarious Trojan horse for the weapons industry, and effective publicity campaigns are a hallmark of both industries. The concept of nuclear electricity was conceived in the early 1950s as a way to make the public more comfortable with the U.S. development of nuclear weapons. “The atomic bomb will be accepted far more readily if at the same time atomic energy is being used for constructive ends,” a consultant to the Defense Department Psychological Strategy Board, Stefan Possony, suggested. The phrase “Atoms for Peace” was popularized by President Dwight Eisenhower in the early 1950s.

Here comes her ubiquitous conflation of nuclear energy with nuclear weapons, mixed in with some conspiracy theories and a few choice quotes from the fifties. The government wanted to quell public fears stemming from the erroneous conflation of nuclear bombs with nuclear energy, a false conflation Caldicott tries to enhance with every opportunity.

Nuclear power quietly, cleanly, and affordably, generates twenty percent of the electricity for the planet's most energy hungry country. Our green house gas contributions from electricity generation for the last half century would have been 20 percent higher without it. The rest comes almost entirely from fossil fuels.

Nuclear power and nuclear weapons are one and the same technology.

That's absurd, but even if it were true, it would be irrelevant. One device makes low emission, affordable electricity for decades on end, the other is a bomb.

A 1,000 megawatt nuclear reactor generates 600 pounds or so of plutonium per year

Sounds like a lot until you realize how much power a 1,000 megawatt power plant produces. Oh, and 600 lbs of plutonium takes up about as much space as your car's spare tire.

Why is nuclear power still viable, after we’ve witnessed catastrophic accidents, enormous financial outlays, weapons proliferation and nuclear-waste induced epidemics of cancers and genetic disease for generations to come?

That's easy. Nuclear power is still viable because of its economics, as well as its health and safety records when compared to any fossil fuel. It is producing gargantuan amounts of affordable, low emission electric power all around the world.

Nuclear power plants are not responsible for weapons proliferation and there are no nuclear waste induced epidemics of cancers and genetic disease.

Catastrophic accidents? 40,000 people are killed on our roads annually. Where is the anti-car lobby?

Simply put, many government and other officials believe the nuclear industry mantra: safe, clean and green. And the public is not educated on the issue.

Thanks to three decades of Caldicott spreading misinformation, the public has been badly misinformed. The real education is now starting to take place thanks to the internet.

True green, clean, nearly emission-free solutions exist for providing energy. They lie in a combination of conservation and renewable energy sources, mainly wind, solar and geothermal, hydropower plants, and biomass from algae. A smart-grid could integrate consuming and producing devices, allowing flexible operation of household appliances. The problem of intermittent power can be solved by storing energy using available technologies.

Sounds wonderful but there is no way we can replace more than a fraction of our electricity use with renewables. Betting our children's futures on an untested hypothesis is not a smart thing to do. We have been generating electricity with nuclear power longer than most readers of Caldicott's fabrications have been alive.

Millions of jobs can be created by replacing nuclear power with nationally integrated, renewable energy systems.

The building of modern modular nuclear power plants integrated into a new grid would also create millions of jobs. Renewable energy alone can't do the job. Caldicott's argument has a big missing link.

In the U.S. alone, the project could be paid for by the $180 billion currently allocated for nuclear weapons programs over the next decade.

Nuclear weapons programs have had nothing to do with nuclear generated electricity for half of a century. I'd be happy to see that money turned over to nuclear energy programs.

There would be no need for new weapons if the Russian and U.S. nuclear arsenals — 95 percent of the estimated 20,500 nuclear weapons globally — were abolished.

Nuclear weapons have nothing to do with nuclear generated electricity.

Nuclear advocates often paint those who oppose them as Luddites who are afraid of, or don’t understand, technology, or as hysterics who exaggerate the dangers of nuclear power.

I would be happy with that sentence if you replace the word "paint" with the word "expose."

One might recall the sustained attack over many decades by the tobacco industry upon the medical profession, a profession that revealed the grave health dangers induced by smoking.

There was no such attack on the medical profession.

"Smoking, broadly speaking, only kills the smoker. Nuclear power bequeaths morbidity and mortality — epidemics of disease — to all future generations."


No it doesn't. Second hand smoke is also dangerous and nuclear power DOES NOT "bequeath morbidity and mortality — epidemics of disease — to all future generations." Hundreds if not thousands of peer-reviewed studies have failed to support that ridiculous statement. We've had a quarter century since Chernobyl, which is more than enough time to statistically detect higher levels of morbidity caused by radiation.

The millions of lives lost to smoking in the era before the health risks of cigarettes were widely exposed will be minuscule compared to the medical catastrophe we face through the continued use of nuclear power.

Blatantly not true

Let’s use this extraordinary moment to convince governments and others to move toward a nuclear-free world. Let’s prove that informed democracies will behave in a responsible fashion.

Instead, let me propose that we use the internet to expose the nut jobs who managed to gain such notoriety using our sensationalist profit-driven print version of the lay press (like the New York Times that published her opinion piece)--a technology about to go the way of the horse and buggy, thank God. And good luck trying to get democracies to behave in a responsible manner.

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4 comments:

Paul said...

Caldicott depends on the lack of knowledge or straight-out closed-mindedness of her listeners. Yes, you can separate Pu out of once-used fuel from a light water reactor, but how do you reduce the concentration of Pu-240 in the mix? Depletedcranium has an excellent description of why Pu-240 is not wanted in a Pu-239 fission weapon
http://depletedcranium.com/why-you-cant-build-a-bomb-from-spent-fuel/

Yes, you can use a reactor to make Pu-239, but the reactor is either a purpose-built weapons reactor (i.e. Hanford), a dual-purpose reactor (i.e. Chernobyl), or a research reactor that allows the operator to remove fuel at will (i.e. India's misuse of a heavy-water research reactor http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/India/IndiaOrigin.html )

This is the problem with Iran, especially now with their recent announcement of being able to produce their own fuel rods. What is that rod really? Is it really just a rod of depleted U, designed to stay in the neutron flux just long enough to produce Pu-239 without too much Pu-240?

Russ Finley said...

Good Points, Paul

I just did a quick search and found that several countries with nuclear weapons do not have nuclear power plants. They got by with "research" reactors similar to the one in the picture above.

Anonymous said...

Russ I have been following events in Japan closely. I am not aware of any children who have been contaminated with I-131 nor would I expect any since proper precautions were taken. Several operators at the plant did receive a dose from internal exposure. The level of exposure was not high enough to cause harm. Plant operators have duties that preclude evacuation unless they would be truly harmed.

Think of it this way. I have worn breathing apparatus because the air was deficient in oxygen and at other times because the air was contaminated with radioactive material. If a coworker had a hear attack, I would respond differently. With a deficient in oxygen atmosphere, I would drag the coworker to safety. If air was contaminated with radioactive material, I would immediately take off my mask and start CPR.

In Japan, when the core damage progressed to the point of hazards from hydrogen were apparent. Operators pulled back. Children had been evacuated and loss of life limiting releases could not be justified.

Kit P

Anonymous said...

Caldicott should be treated as a stand-up comedian, with all that she says answered with howls of laughter.

Discussion seems useless with her, ridicule might work better.

Twominds