Nuclear Risk and Reason - David Brenner and David Ropeik

April 11, 2011

When the devastating earthquake and tsunami struck Japan last month, it left behind not only mass destruction, but also a nuclear crisis that was covered 24-7 by the international media. 

Since then, we've been embroiled in a huge debate about nuclear policy—should there be a "Nuclear Renaissance" in the United States, or should we put it on hold?

A central issue underlying all this is the scientific question of risk. How dangerous is radiation, anyway? Do we overreact to reactors? 

To tackle that question, we turned to two different guests. One is one of the world's foremost experts on radiation exposure and its health consequences; the other is a journalist who's done a new book about why we often misperceive risk, to our own detriment.

David Brenner is the director of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. His research focuses on understanding the effects of radiation, at both high and low doses, on living systems, and he has published more than 200 papers in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Dr. Brenner was the recipient of the 1991 Radiation Research Society Annual Research Award, and the 1992 National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements Award for Radiation Protection in Medicine. 

David Ropeik is an author, consultant, and speaker on phorisk communication and risk perception, and an instructor in the Harvard University School of Education, Environmental Management program. He's the author of the 2010 book How Risky is it Really? Why Our Fears Don't Always Match the Facts.

Books Mentioned in This Episode:


Comments from the CFI Forums

If you would like to leave a comment about this episode of Point of Inquiry please visit the related thread on the CFI discussion forums

I’ve just listened to the podcast, and I think that we should reset the starting points of the discussion. I am a retired Boeing computer scientist and expert about automation, logic, philosophy and religion. I learned in Junction City Oregon High School physics and biology classes in 1967 that radioactive atoms emit three things: alpha, beta and gamma. I learned that when such a particle is inside an organic body, then the subatomic particles can damage DNA, thereby eventually causing a rogue cell. Lots of rogue cells are cancerous. I only mention these facts because one of the guests said that he did not know enough science, perhaps in order to discuss risks of radioactive particles inside of a body?

At this point in my discussion, risks have not come into it nor must they. In 1800 there was not a lot of circulation of radioactive particles entering into human bodies. We evolved as humans mostly without such influences. Obviously since then, some people have artificially introduced such particles into environments and bodies. But the USA has long ago signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This treaty is a law in the USA, and in the other countries that have ratified it. This treaty does not say that profit or politics should interfere with enforcement. All officials that do not enforce this treaty should be prosecuted. The ratifying countries are supposed to continually work for human life and health .

For decades we have recognized that radioactive waste must be stored for ten times the half-life. The nuclear corporations have never tried to shoulder the future costs. Again, risks have not come into this statement.

About the second guest: I find his statements to be speculative. I am insulted by anyone that thinks that there have not been enough discussed logical propositions, consisting of actual facts, testable hypotheses and verifiable theories. There is a false dichotomy between coal and nuclear power. The USA must radically change our way of life: phasing out personal cars, industrial agriculture and central power stations.

Every day, I test myself for assumptions, logical thoughts and meaningful dreams. I find no personal attachments to any family, tribe, region or nation. I am born and belong to our planet.

Neither risks nor emotions come into this statement.

Posted on Apr 12, 2011 at 11:00pm by LKSalmonson Comment #1

When folks think that something like wind energy is clean, they are wrong. ... Most of us here pride ourselves on looking to the facts regarding matters of faith.

It would be good if you could provide some facts and evidence for that extraordinary claim. Wind energy is effectively the lowest CO2 / kWh generator. It creates no pollution. It creates no highly toxic waste that needs storing for 100,000 years. Most of the components of a wind turbine can be recycled at end of life. Wind is the cleanest energy source we have.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 5:17am by Davito Comment #2

There is a false dichotomy between coal and nuclear power..

This needs to be stated clearly and often. It’s spread like a cancer over the last few weeks. The choice is not between the lesser of two evils. It’s not a choice between being poisoned by coal or being being poisoned less by nuclear (assuming a reactor does not meltdown).

The choice is between being poisoned by nukes or not being poisoned by clean, safe renewable energy. I know which one I choose.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 5:21am by Davito Comment #3

In the beginning of the show someone mentioned a growing body of evidence that radiation in excess of permissible doses is actually beneficial to health. The host then declared this as “clearly overboard”. I guess the quote was taken out of context, I guess what was meant was not just any amount of radiation but small “hormetic” doses of radiation, that, as far as evidence goes, are indeed beneficial. See “radiation hormesis” and http://www.dose-response.org. The current practice of radiation risk assessment (as well as chemical risk assessment) follows the assumption that any amount of radiation is harmful. However, there is no evidence to support that claim. But there is a growing body of evidence that supports hormesis. For example, the natural background radiation is not constant across the globe, it varies more than 10-fold, and the incidence of cancers has been found to be lower in regions with high natural radiation compared to regions with low natural radiation. When asked what’s the basic science behind low dose exposure risk Dr. Brenner replied: “I do believe that in fact there is no level of exposure to radiation that we can say is absolutely safe…” Then he went to great lengths in explaining the philosophy but admitted that it is very difficult to prove. I thought the point of this inquiry was not to blindly believe :) Some things about low dose radiation risks are indeed known. Or let’s say proven. Linear dose-response is not one of them. In fact, it is not difficult, but impossible to prove. And science (or so I thought) is about things that can be proven. For some reason the regulators are not ready to accept the evidence based approach in (radiation) risk assessment and Dr. Brenner clearly likes to be in agreement with them. It was not less astonishing to hear Dr. Brenner say that he is not qualified to assess the risks of nuclear energy. If not him, then who?
There is a good science program/podcast from BBC called Science in Action. In one of the latest episodes Professor Gerry A Thomas from Imperial College London explains some of the Chernobyl studies and concludes that the incidence of leukemia did not increase due to the accident (Dr. Brenner said it did). Listen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00fvjg1#synopsis
And if you are in US and worried about Fukushima then calculate how much Uranium is there in the Pacific ocean. The volume of the Pacific is more than 500 million cubic kilometers, each cubic meter contains about 3.3mg of U which means altogether about 1.5 billion tons. Now compare that to the leak and be happy!

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 10:12am by Villem Comment #4

...small “hormetic” doses of radiation, that, as far as evidence goes, are indeed beneficial.

Nonsense. Radiation hormesis is a fringe hypothesis with no credible support.

* The National Academy of Sciences: “The committee concludes that the assumption that any stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation will have a significant health benefit to humans that exceeds potential detrimental effects from the radiation exposure is unwarranted at this time.” http://dels-old.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/beir_vii_final.pdf

...some of the Chernobyl studies and concludes that the incidence of leukemia did not increase due to the accident…

It’s amazing what “some” studies declared - especially the ones published or controlled by the IAEA whose stated purpose is to “seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy”. And the IAEA admitted that it was difficult to determine if there had been an increase in leukemia.

Also, why did you mention only leukemia? What about thyroid cancer - which even the IAEA admits showed significant increase. What about birth defects and miscarriages? What about deaths? 9000 excess deaths according to the IAEA. Credible estimates are higher.

...calculate how much Uranium is there in the Pacific ocean.

The rather fundamental point you are missing is that the uranium in the oceans is not highly toxic and is massively dilute. The caesium, plutonium, strontium and other fissile materials pumping out of Fukushima right now is highly toxic and highly concentrated around the power plant.

It’s almost as if you’re attempting to whitewash Chernobyl and, by extension, Fukushima.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 10:37am by Davito Comment #5

I mentioned leukemia because the guest in the show mentioned it. Thyroid cancer is also discussed in the BBC show. Thyroid cancer is rarely lethal, by the way. I will try to reply more thoroughly later.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 10:44am by Villem Comment #6

Ok, lets soften my statement, let’s say the evidence suggests it is beneficial. I am not sure about the quality of the studies demonstrating radiation hormesis in humans, however, the in-vitro and animal studies are surely worth mentioning. See this reveiw (and references within) http://www.allenpress.com/pdf/ENTC-27.7-final-article.pdf
My point is that there is even less evidence in favour of the linear dose-response. No matter what the committees may say, show me the studies first. If you trust authority (National Academy of Sciences) then why not IAEA? If you talk about birth defects and miscarriages and deaths then show me the calculation.
My intention is not to whitewash anything but I think radiation hazard is often painted black based on irrational fear.
What I really wanted to critisize was the lack of argumentation by the guest. When asked about science he provided none. If there is no knowledge about low dose effects then why should we worry about doses lower than the background? And finally, my uranium example was for those across the ocean. Just to illustrate what the final concentration will be like once it mixes in.

I guess I am spoiled, usually there are much more convincing guests in this show.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 12:55pm by Villem Comment #7

Ok, lets soften my statement, let’s say the evidence suggests it is beneficial.

Again: * The National Academy of Sciences: “The committee concludes that the assumption that any stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation will have a significant health benefit to humans that exceeds potential detrimental effects from the radiation exposure is unwarranted at this time.” http://dels-old.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/beir_vii_final.pdf

No amount of “softening” will make your claim less wrong.

If you trust authority (National Academy of Sciences) then why not IAEA? If you talk about birth defects and miscarriages and deaths then show me the calculation.

Nice try. I don’t blindly trust “authority”. I trust science and credible sources. Why not the IAEA? You don’t appear to be reading what you are responding to. Again: the IAEA’s stated purpose is to “seek to accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy”.

If there is no knowledge about low dose effects then why should we worry about doses lower than the background?

You’ve made the assumption that because this audio interview did not provide you with the science that it doesn’t exist. Can you not see the flaw in that logic? Here are some starters:

* Very high mutation rate in offspring of Chernobyl accident liquidators. “These results indicate that low doses of radiation can induce multiple changes in human germline DNA.” http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/268/1471/1001.abstract?sid=af3557a2-832d-4c32-93f2-f08371862a1d

* There is no firm basis for setting a “safe” level of exposure above background for stochastic effects. http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/understand/health_effects.html

* All Levels of Radiation Confirmed to Cause Cancer. The National Academies of Science ... reconfirmed the previous knowledge that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation — that even very low doses can cause cancer. http://www.nirs.org/press/06-30-2005/1

* “In our opinion, the health risks of 10 cGy (100 mSv) or less in humans may not be accurately estimated by any current mathematical model because of numerous inherent environmental, dietary and biological variables that cannot be accounted for in epidemiologic studies. .... We continue to support the well-established radiobiological concept that no radiation doses can be considered completely safe and that all efforts must be made to reduce both the radiation dose and damage, no matter how small.” K.N. Prasad, W.C. Cole, and G.M. Hasse, “Health Risks of Low Dose Ionizing Radiation in Humans: A Review” Experimental Biology and Medicine, Volume 229, Number 5, pp. 378-382.

* Radiation and mortality of workers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory: positive associations for doses received at older ages. “Positive associations were observed between low-level exposure to external ionizing radiation and mortality.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1566496/

In summary: there is no “safe” dose of radiation - especially when delivered by an *internal* emitter, i.e. you ingest the radiation by inhalation or swallowing drink / food.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 2:42pm by Davito Comment #8

DavidC,
“You’ve made the assumption that because this audio interview did not provide you…”
Indeed, I am talking about the show. He said there is not enough evidence. That the low dose effects are not studied sufficiently or something. And he did not mention “internal” emitters. Who should I believe, him or you?
See the overview of hormesis, is it not credible? Why?
When I will have time I will study your links.
Cheers,
Villem

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 3:16pm by Villem Comment #9

Who should I believe, him or you?

How about neither? Look at the science and the statements of credible scientific organisation. I have already provided links to both.

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 3:36pm by Davito Comment #10

Actually, there is no totally credible source at all. Just because it is called NAS does not mean it only lays golden eggs.
Anyway, please study the article I provided. I read the abstract of the mutation study. Are the mutations harmful?
Good night (it is 1:44 am here)

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 3:44pm by Villem Comment #11

Actually, there is no totally credible source at all. Just because it is called NAS does not mean it only lays golden eggs.

You inserted “totally”. That’s known as a ‘strawman’ and an indication that you’re becoming desperate. EDIT: Actually, a source is either credible or not. So, I don’t know what you’re trying to say with “totally” unless you’re trying to imply that I’m suggesting NAS is infallible. Either way, NAS is a credible source. The marketing site for hormesis that you cite and single paper, not so much.

As for “lays golden eggs”....

Posted on Apr 13, 2011 at 4:42pm by Davito Comment #12

Sorry DavidC if my language causes misunderstanding, English is my third language.
I agree, NAS is credible but not infallible.
This way we could argue endlessly, you would repeat that I am wrong and I would repeat that I am right…
It would be nice to have Edward Calabrese in Point of Inquiry to clarify things.
It is easy to call something marketing but if we are to make any progress here we need to review the evidence. It is a lot of work, I know. Anyway, the single paper I recommend is a review paper. I could cite all the references in that paper or many other papers, but I believe it is a good overwiew. If you think it is not credible, then tell me why do you think that way.

Posted on Apr 14, 2011 at 1:15pm by Villem Comment #13

It’s not a matter of language. The National Academy of Sciences is credible. The International Dose-Response Society is not. It’s the radiation equivalent of The Homeopathic Society.

Radiation hormesis has no credible support. It is a fringe belief.

* There is no firm basis for setting a “safe” level of exposure above background for stochastic effects. http://www.epa.gov/rpdweb00/understand/health_effects.html

* All Levels of Radiation Confirmed to Cause Cancer. The National Academies of Science ... reconfirmed the previous knowledge that there is no safe level of exposure to radiation — that even very low doses can cause cancer. http://www.nirs.org/press/06-30-2005/1

* Very high mutation rate in offspring of Chernobyl accident liquidators. “These results indicate that low doses of radiation can induce multiple changes in human germline DNA.” http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/268/1471/1001.abstract?sid=af3557a2-832d-4c32-93f2-f08371862a1d

You really need to read some basics on radiation to understand what it does to cells and DNA. There is no “safe” level of radiation.

Posted on Apr 14, 2011 at 2:51pm by Davito Comment #14

Like I said, this way the discussion is never going to be productive. Hormesis is not homeopathy. In fact, if you would browse through the article I suggested, you would learn that homeopathy is the reason why hormesis has not been taken seriously for several decades. Scientists get it wrong sometimes. It is not only about basics of radiation and what it does to cells. If the damage is small, cells can repair it without problems. It happens all the time, there is backround radiation everywhere. Let’s elaborate this subject one thing at a time? Take the backround radiation for example, it varies 10-fold depending on location, and if you look at cancer incidence and it’s dependence on the background radiation then what would you conclude?

Posted on Apr 14, 2011 at 11:46pm by Villem Comment #15

OK. Perhaps you are struggling with language. “It’s the radiation equivalent of The Homeopathic Society.” does not mean “Hormesis is homeopathy.”

“Scientists get it wrong sometimes.” I think you’re struggling with science as well. There is no credible scientific support for radiation hormesis. You have simply found a website (anyone can build them) and a single paper that *discusses* the hypothesis.

Here’s an evolutionary biologist:

* Will radiation hormesis protect us from exploding nuclear reactors? “Radiation is *always* harmful — it breaks DNA, for instance, and can produce free radicals that damage cells.” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/will_radiation_hormesis_protec.php

Radiation hormesis is often used by nuclear energy propagandists / apologists to try confuse people in to believing that radiation is not harmful. I’d suggest that you have been fooled by this. Look at the overwhelming scientific evidence and opinion. Don’t base your views on some sideshow website and a cherry-picked paper that doesn’t even prove what you think it does.

P.S. “Scientists get it wrong sometimes.” Yes, they do. You need to consider that ‘they’ have got it wrong about the fringe hypothesis, ‘radiation hormesis’. ;)

Posted on Apr 15, 2011 at 3:00am by Davito Comment #16

Dear DavidC,
I am sorry to see that you are not really interested in a conversation. How about answering my questions too?
Your style is hardly consistent with the spirit of inquiry I was hoping to see in the POI audience. Paradigms shift in science, and we are living a revolution in toxicology at the moment, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19154090 for example. Fringe again? Maybe, but it does not mean it’s wrong. The Copernican Revolution took 200 years, so I guess it is early days.
Please take a brief look at how risk assessment/regulatory toxicology works. Is it in agreement with low-dose studies?
Is it science? Science should be based on evidence, not what most people believe. I guess you are not actively involved in toxicology? In order to have a conversation I suppose you need to learn some.
All the best,
Villem

Posted on Apr 15, 2011 at 3:29am by Villem Comment #17

Did you read the abstract of the next ‘paper’ you provide? “This essay summarises the author’s thoughts on the current paradigm change in toxicology.” An essay on the “author’s thoughts”. You find *that* more persuasive than all the credible, expert science that says otherwise?!

The Copernican Revolution took 200 years, so I guess it is early days.

And the phlogiston theory was pushed for a while and then died for lack of evidence. Guess which the radiation hormesis hypothesis is more like.

Science should be based on evidence, not what most people believe.

Do you really not see the irony of you making that statement?! It’s not an issue of what “most people believe”, it’s very simply that the vast weight of scientific evidence - which leads to scientific consensus - is that there is no “safe” dose of radiation.

It is very common for people to behave as you do. A refusal to accept the overwhelming science and expert consensus in preference for fringe views and cherry-picked papers that do not prove anything, but are just discussions of a hypothesis. As you begin to realise that you are being proved wrong, the ‘polite’ insults begin. Don’t shoot the messenger, dude! :)

Posted on Apr 15, 2011 at 3:59am by Davito Comment #18

Never meant to insult.  I was hoping you stop shooting at the messenger. Shall we review some of the evidence? Background radiation not interesting? You choose!

Posted on Apr 15, 2011 at 4:11am by Villem Comment #19

lol. You can lead people to science, you can’t make them understand it. Good luck!

Posted on Apr 15, 2011 at 4:47am by Davito Comment #20

I can recommend this (unfortunately not very fresh) story in Discover magazine:
Is Radiation Good For You?
“...“You can sense a lot of frustration and some anger here,” Calabrese remarked. Hormesis has been a “marginalized hypothesis” for decades, he said, yet the data suggest that it’s a fundamental, unifying aspect of biology…”

http://discovermagazine.com/2002/dec/featradiation

It may be that radiation hormesis is often used by nuclear energy propagandists to try and confuse people, which I think should be condemned. It could also be that opponents of nuclear energy are refusing to acknowledge its existence. Time will tell.

Posted on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:28am by Villem Comment #21

Can you really not spot the flaw in ‘citing’ another article in another non-scientific source where the exact same person pushes the exact same fringe hypothesis?

You need to look at the weight of credible scientific opinion. Not cherry pick one person who tells you what you want to be true. That’s known as ‘confirmation bias’. Or ‘stupidity’. ;)

* The US National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements states that there is insufficient evidence for radiation hormesis and that radiation protection authorities should continue to apply the LNT model for purposes of risk estimation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis#Controversy

See? You keep referencing one person. I keep providing cites from multiple credible scientific organisations and independent scientists.

Posted on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:43pm by Davito Comment #22

...small “hormetic” doses of radiation, that, as far as evidence goes, are indeed beneficial.

Nonsense. Radiation hormesis is a fringe hypothesis with no credible support.

* The National Academy of Sciences: “The committee concludes that the assumption that any stimulatory hormetic effects from low doses of ionizing radiation will have a significant health benefit to humans that exceeds potential detrimental effects from the radiation exposure is unwarranted at this time.” http://dels-old.nas.edu/dels/rpt_briefs/beir_vii_final.pdf

...

The reference you give doesn’t make the statement you quote.  In fact the only mention of Hormesis does not suggest it to be a “fringe hypothesis” but something worth further investigation. Quoting summary conclusions by a political body like the NAS doesn’t in any way negate studies that indicate evidence for such an effect.

“Continued research is needed to further increase
our understanding of the health risks of low levels of
ionizing radiation. BEIR VII identifies the following
top research needs:
...
“Evaluation of the relevance of adaptation,
low-dose hypersensitivity, bystander effect,
hormesis, and genomic instability for radiation
carcinogenesis”

Posted on Apr 17, 2011 at 4:50pm by cmol Comment #23

Can you really not spot the flaw in ‘citing’ another article in another non-scientific source where the exact same person pushes the exact same fringe hypothesis?

You need to look at the weight of credible scientific opinion. Not cherry pick one person who tells you what you want to be true. That’s known as ‘confirmation bias’. Or ‘stupidity’. ;)

* The US National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements states that there is insufficient evidence for radiation hormesis and that radiation protection authorities should continue to apply the LNT model for purposes of risk estimation. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hormesis#Controversy

See? You keep referencing one person. I keep providing cites from multiple credible scientific organisations and independent scientists.


You can’t seriously be quoting Wikipedia as an authoritative source.  Really?  LOL

Posted on Apr 17, 2011 at 4:54pm by cmol Comment #24

OK. Perhaps you are struggling with language. “It’s the radiation equivalent of The Homeopathic Society.” does not mean “Hormesis is homeopathy.”

“Scientists get it wrong sometimes.” I think you’re struggling with science as well. There is no credible scientific support for radiation hormesis. You have simply found a website (anyone can build them) and a single paper that *discusses* the hypothesis.

Here’s an evolutionary biologist:

* Will radiation hormesis protect us from exploding nuclear reactors? “Radiation is *always* harmful — it breaks DNA, for instance, and can produce free radicals that damage cells.” http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/03/will_radiation_hormesis_protec.php

Quoting from your own citation “The most likely mechanism is an upregulation of cellular defenses that overcompensates for the damage the agent is doing. This is real (I told you there’s a grain of truth to what she wrote), and it’s been observed in multiple situations. I can even give an example from my own work.”

I read that blogger pretty often. 

I think both the pro-nuclear power and the anti-nuclear power both get it wrong.  The pro-nuclear would have us expand building with the current technology when far safer but much less known designs exist that provide solutions by working with the physics (safety, proliferation, cooling, waste) and the anti-nuclear crowd would have you believe that any release radioactive particles into the environment is a crime against humanity and disaster of epic proportions while at the same ignoring the uncontrolled release of hundreds of tons of uranium and other radioactive elements by coal burning power plants every year and blind to the unexpected releases at geothermal plants that happen from time to time.  Every mass power generation method has problems, risks, and waste, has advantages and disadvantages and that includes renewables like solar (copper production has toxic and radioactive wastes) and wind (high inconsistency require substantial backup with natural gas burning).

Posted on Apr 17, 2011 at 5:18pm by cmol Comment #25

The reference you give doesn’t make the statement you quote.

Good catch. I must have added the wrong reference to my notes. However, the quote is 100% accurate and attributed to the National Academies. See http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11340&page=332

Also, the report I did cite states very clearly that “The report concludes that the preponderance of information indicates that there will be some risk, even at low doses, although the risk is small.” QED: radiation hormesis has no credible support.

In fact the only mention of Hormesis does not suggest it to be a “fringe hypothesis” but something worth further investigation.

You clearly did not read the PDF properly. See quote above. Many fringe scientific beliefs are worth further investigation. They are still fringe beliefs without evidence.

Radiation hormesis is a fringe belief with no credible scientific support.

You can’t seriously be quoting Wikipedia as an authoritative source.  Really?  LOL

Someone else doesn’t understand that Wikipedia is not the source - it’s a repository of sources! LOL

Quoting from your own citation…

Which in no way contradicts the clear message: “Radiation is *always* harmful — it breaks DNA, for instance, and can produce free radicals that damage cells. ... So: radiation is bad for you, cellular defense mechanisms are good for you.”

Just because cells have a defence mechanism to radiation does not mean it’s good for them. I could punch you in the face and your face would swell to cope with the damage - doesn’t mean it’s good for you. ;)

...the anti-nuclear crowd would have you believe that any release radioactive particles into the environment is a crime against humanity and disaster of epic proportions…

Ignoring your hyperbolic description, yes - any sane person should view the release of toxins in to the environment as a very bad thing. If you educate yourself on things like species extinction you would understand why.

...while at the same ignoring the uncontrolled release of hundreds of tons of uranium and other radioactive elements by coal burning…

You seem very ignorant about environmental issues. I know of no one who is the least educated that does not realise coal is bad and needs to be phased out ASAP.

...wind (high inconsistency require substantial backup with natural gas burning).

Your ignorance extends far and wide! Here’s one clue to help you:

* Fukushima Nuclear Year-to-Year Reliability and German Wind. German Wind more Stable Year-to-Year than Fukushima Reactors. http://www.wind-works.org/FeedLaws/Japan/FukushimaNuclearYeartoYearReliabilityandGermanWind.html

P.S. Welcome to the forum. Good to see you joined just to comment on this thread.

Posted on Apr 17, 2011 at 5:42pm by Davito Comment #26

* Fukushima Nuclear Year-to-Year Reliability and German Wind. German Wind more Stable Year-to-Year than Fukushima Reactors. http://www.wind-works.org/FeedLaws/Japan/FukushimaNuclearYeartoYearReliabilityandGermanWind.html

Anyone can build these websites, I remember you say :) (and my link was to a peer-reviewed journal, by the way).
This is no longer the topic of this forum, I apologize, but I guess the stability will increase with increasing number of reactors whereas the wind turbines, unless they are very far from each other, will all stop together once the wind calms. It probably boils down to cost since you need double capacity (wind+something else that can be switched on quickly), and probably a different kind of grid. Or why are’n there more windmills?

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 6:35am by Villem Comment #27

No, the link to the hormesis fan website is not peer-reviewed. :)

The more wind turbines that are deployed and over a wider area, the more they become collectively reliable. That is already happening. Nukes are barely being deployed quickly enough to keep up with old ones going offline. This is because they are too expensive, too slow and unreliable to build.

> ...why are’n there more windmills?

Once again you confuse your ignorance with knowledge.

* USA: at 35 Percent of New Capacity, Wind Moves From Alternative to Mainstream. AWEA’s annual report shows that wind represents a third of the nation’s new power and that the industry has had an average annual growth of 35 percent for five years. http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/is-wind-still-an-alternative-energy/

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 6:58am by Davito Comment #28

Thanks for introducing me to the ideas of both of your guests.  I have been concerned about climate for more than twenty years but only in the last several years I have also become a pro nuclear advocate. 

I’m used to referring to independent expert panels such as those from the NAS, the Royal Society, etc., when I want to explain how unified the relevant scientists are about various aspects of climate science, or what it is they are clear about.  It came as a surprise to find this type of panel assessment has such low credibility in the nuclear industry and among pro nuclear advocates.  This goes for both climate science and radiation - pro nuclear types tend to reject climate science).  I was surprised that there is such controversy about the effects radiation causes to human beings.  I studied the NAS NRC BEIR VII “Health Risks From Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation” report and thought this at least would be non-controversial among people who wanted to be taken seriously in this debate.  Dr. Brenner’s ideas are very much in line with the assessment of this report.  But it quickly became apparent that many people who demand to be taken seriously utterly reject what they say is in this report, whether they understand what is in it or not, and their arguments quickly lead them to reject the people who did the report.  Because the people who do reports like this are some of the leading scientists studying radiation in the world, it is hard to see why people think that arguing that they are not scientists, or that they have no idea what the evidence is, or that they have motives other than to assess the science could possibly have credibility, but this is what you hear.  Then everyone finds out that for every PhD there is an equal and opposite PhD and this still does not slow them down.  The other side are criminals, they are stupid, they don’t know what evidence is, or they are only interested in the money they can make enforcing radiation standards that cost billions of dollars and give no protection, etc.  People are so hardened in their positions they hardly pay attention to any words anyone who disagrees with them are using.  Why pro nuclear people think that pretending that radiation is better understood than it is is going to get them anywhere in this debate is very hard to understand. 

I wish you had transcripts for the show - I’m making a partial one myself now to study.  I’m writing on LNT and I found the way Dr. Brenner expressed himself, both when he was at his clearest and when he wasn’t to be very interesting.  If I come up with anything useful I"ll let you know.  One preliminary idea I have is to use the same terms to express the possibly caused harm calculated by LNT so people can compare.  That is, if LNT is correct then it can be said that although no one can conclusively detect them, somewhere around 1,000,000 will die of cancers caused by Chernobyl, what of the introduction of airport scanners?  Usually the compared thing, i.e. the scanners, are stated to be very low risk and the risk is expressed in terms of what the risk is to an individual.  But the Chernobyl casualty list is stated to be to the whole population of the world, says Brenner.  Not always, but that was your question, how can there be such uncertainty where some say a few thousand cases of thyroid cancer mostly cured, and others say one million dead?  OK., then how many are going to die as a result of this one event, i.e. introducing whole body scanners at airports?  I haven’t done the calculations yet.  Stated this way perhaps it would be easier for people to understand what is being talked about.

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 9:22am by David Lewis Comment #29

David_Lewis,

One thing to keep in mind when assessing the claims of the nuke evangelists is that they try to conflate internal and external emitters. An x-ray scan at the airport or dentist is *very* different from ingesting radiation sources from nuclear fission.

The radiation from Chernobyl spread across a massive area of the planet. Fukushima is also depositing its toxic load over a wide area. And Fukushima is pumping very high levels of radiation in to the ocean. That can and will bioaccumulate up the food chain - a very big concern for a nation that relies heavily on seafood. And remember that sea life can feed around Fukushima and travel hundreds or thousands of kms before being caught and eaten by humans.

Fukushima is not close to be brought under control. It’s a different type of disaster to Chernobyl, but it could still match or exceed the cost to humans and the environment.

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 9:50am by Davito Comment #30

No, the link to the hormesis fan website is not peer-reviewed. :)

What do you mean? The website contains a peer reviewed journal, listed in Thomson Reuters web of science: DOSE-RESPONSE
Quarterly ISSN: 1559-3258.

Indeed I don’t know about wind energy too much, nor do I pretend to know. I will try to learn by asking this way: what is the limit, how many % of US electric power could come from wind (based on existing technology)?

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 10:28am by Villem Comment #31

lol. Nice try. The hormesis fan website contains lots of things - but *it* is not “peer-reviewed” as you claimed.

How much wind? 100% is possible - but no one who knows what they’re talking about is suggesting that. A complimentary *portfolio* of renewable technologies is what reality will bring.

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 10:42am by Davito Comment #32

(come on, I wrote “journal”)
So, if wind can solve the problem then why would anyone in their right mind wish for nuclear power?

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 11:04am by Villem Comment #33

No, you did not write “journal” in that comment. You seem perpetually confused. Or is it dishonest. ;)

Some people are confused about nukes. Some people have constructed a fantasy. Some people work in the industry. The usual obvious reasons.

Posted on Apr 18, 2011 at 11:17am by Davito Comment #34

I made a transcript of Dr. David Brenner’s remarks to study them in more detail.

Dr Brenner seems to have contradictory views, or at least he isn’t careful to distinguish between the “good” science he refers us to and his own personal beliefs.

Eg: When answering Chris Mooney’s question about the World Health Organization “low end estimate” of the number of deaths Chernobyl has caused or ultimately will cause, i.e. was it “valid”, Dr. Brenner gave a long answer that at one point included this:  “the bottom line is we don’t have enough science to really come down on one side or the other”.  Chris had said he’s heard 6,000 dead from Chernobyl and up to 1,000,000, and again, Dr. Brenner pronounced himself “agnostic” on the question as to which was number was correct, which is in line with the “we don’t have enough science to… [take] ...one side or the other”.

But read the first thing he said in the interview:  “I do believe that in fact there is no level of exposure to radiation that we can say is absolutely safe, in that the risk is zero”.  He is taking a side.  “I think the more likely scenario is that the lower the dose the lower the risk, the higher the dose the higher the risk.  But the risk never becomes zero…”.  And again, not much further into the interview he says “its not good science to say no risk”. 

Now it may be that its not good science to say no risk, but given what he’s told us about what good science is, i.e. we don’t have enough of it to say one way or the other, it can’t be good science to take the position that there is a tiny risk even with the tiniest exposure.  If we don’t have enough science, it can’t be good science to say that we do. 

I think Dr. Brenner should have started out the interview saying something more precise, like “we don’t know what happens, but because our best assessment of all the evidence we have indicates we can’t rule out harm at very low levels of exposure, we assume, for regulatory purposes, that there is harm. 

When asked about TMI, Chernobyl, and Fukushima, he could say the same thing, instead of subtly varying what he said. 

Eg TMI had him saying “I suspect there probably was [implying:  harm to someone], but I don’t think it was in any way detectable”.  Chernobyl had him say [implying:  in comparison to TMI] “so there we know there were health consequences [implying:  as opposed to none at TMI].  Over Chernobyl he noted “the epidemiological studies have not been done so… ...we have to rely on estimates”, but he followed that a bit later with “you can’t answer it with population studies”, so why complain the studies weren’t done when trying to come up with a figure for dead people that is a calculation based on an assumption rather than on studies?  Chernobyl again,  “I don’t think its been resolved yet”.  Because he started with the “agnostic” line as to 6,000 or 1,000,000 he seem to have left his answer hanging there, but its clear he would agree that we can’t rule out millions will die or have died because of the first statement he made at the top of the show, i.e. any level of radiation causes harm.  He’s in the 1,000,000 dead camp, although he avoided spelling it out for you.  And he isn’t in the 1,000,000 dead camp, but he sure was crystal clear about low risk causing low levels of harm at the top of the show. 

I call that a contradiction. 

And for Fukushima he seemed clear “we don’t have enough science” to say what will happen.  Yet whatever tiny release came out of TMI, applied to the entire world population, its hard to see why no one died.  But he really didn’t want to say that, preferring to say studies would not show harm, but we know that.  It seems he’s just trying to make his position sound better.  We know studies don’t show the 1,000,000 dead people - only the LNT hypothesis Dr. Brenner says he believes allows us to calculate those 1,000,000 dead people.  No one can find them.

I’m researching this topic. 

So far, I’d say the very good simple way to describe what the situation is, is found in the Government Accountability Office report entitled “Radiation Standards:  Scientific Basis Inconclusive EPA and NRC disagree” done in 2000.  Although the title almost says it all, here are some bits of sentences:  “US regulatory standards to protect the public… lack a conclusively verified scientific basis, according to a consensus of recognized scientists.  In the absence of more conclusive data, scientists have assumed that even the smallest radiation exposure carries a risk.  This assumption (called the ‘linear, no threshold hypothesis, or model’) extrapolates better verified high-level radiation effects to lower, less well-verified levels and is the preferred theoretical basis for the current US radiation standards.  However this assumption is controversial among many scientists….  The research evidence is especially lacking at regulated public exposure levels - levels of 100 millirem a year and below from human generated sources.”  - GAO/RCED-00-152 Radiation Standards. 

The situation doesn’t seem to have materially changed.

I posted the transcript of Dr. Brenner’s remarks on this show here http://blowhardwindbag.blogspot.com/2011/04/transcript-of-point-of-inquiry.html

Posted on Apr 19, 2011 at 8:19pm by David Lewis Comment #35

Let me get this straight, Dr Brenner thinks that the health effects to large populations exposed to small doses of radiation are either;
1. Zero
Or
2. So small that they cannot be measured using epidemiological studies
 
And he is not sure whether or not we should move forward with nuclear energy?
 
Does he not realize that without nuclear even more of our energy will be provided by fossil fuels?  The health effects of fossil fuels in normal operation are far larger than nuclear accidents.
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/03/deaths-per-twh-by-energy-source.html
 
It is not valid to consider the risks of nuclear energy in isolation.  They must be considered against those of its alternatives.

Posted on Apr 20, 2011 at 5:11am by Chuck P. Comment #36