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Nuclear Power Liabilities Dwarf Bush's Wall Street Bailout

  1. Sep 23, 2008 #1
    "September 23, 2008
    Price-Anderson's Blank Check
    Nuclear Power Liabilities Dwarf Bush's Wall Street Bailout

    By HARVEY WASSERMAN

    http://www.counterpunch.com/wasserman09232008.html

    Is the author correct that US taxpayers are shoulding the cost of insuring the nuclear power utilities against risk, and should an accident occur, its cost will be at least half a trillion?

    " All atomic reactors are fatally vulnerable to both terror and error. And a catastrophe at any one of them could be happening as you read this.

    If you doubt the financial cost, just add a few sets of zeroes to the numbers being used to bail out Wall Street. Throw in more deaths than you can imagine."

    "Then you’ll have all the reasons you need to demand that no more of these monsters be built. And that the ones that still operate be shut down as fast as possible."

    I do not believe this article belongs in nuclear engineering, but in general, as it is about the economic and environmental impact of nuclear plants.

    The Left is against nuclear power, along with clean coal and fossil fuels.
     
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 23, 2008 #2

    russ_watters

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    That "article" is mostly lies and what isn't lies is wild, baseless exaggerations.

    You're right that the article doesn't belong in nuclear engineering - it has nowhere near the quality we require of scientific discussions. I'll go further: the author and the movement he was a major player in, is largely to blame for the current energy and pollution problems in the US.

    The way vanesch likes to put it goes something like this: TMI is close to the worst possible outcome for a western reactor and there were no casualties. Even assuming a Chernobyl type accident was physically possible in reactors that don't have the same systems that failed at Chernobyl, they would need to occur at a rate of roughly one per year to equal the human casualty cost of coal power.

    Air pollution kills roughly 20,000 people in the US every year and roughly half of the air pollution comes from coal power. This is the legacy of the crackpot anti-nuclear movement of the '60s and '70s.
     
    Last edited: Sep 23, 2008
  4. Sep 24, 2008 #3

    vanesch

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    Ha, I become citable :smile:

    Just to add to what Russ said:
    - in order to have as many victims as usual car traffic, you'd need to have a Chernobyl about every week or so (this again, assuming that a Chernobyl accident were even possible in a western power plant, which it isn't. Accidents are possible of course, but this type of accident is physically excluded - I can go into the details if you want to (*))
    - hypothetical fear mongering doesn't win from facts. There has been one (1) non-problem in the entire western power industry in 30 years, and that was TMI, where... eh, nothing happened apart from damaging the internal parts of the reactor. TMI was about as remote from Chernobyl as your bike having a flat tire is from a 747 crashing.
    So we have a probability of much less than 1/30 years to have a TMI type accident - and given that modern power plants have better security systems than back then, this probability is even lower.

    Now, factor in the probable damage rate between a TMI type accident and a Chernobyl type (at least a factor of 100), and you have a reasonable upper boundary to the effective dangers of nuclear power: a Chernobyl-equivalent once every 3000 years.

    Other activities, like driving cars, have "chernobyl equivalents" of about once every week. That puts things in perspective.

    (*) I will point out one big confusion: TMI was a partial core meltdown of a stopped reactor which didn't get enough cooling at a certain point. Chernobyl was a run-away chain reaction in which the reactor went to a hundred-fold its nominal power. Western reactors can't have run-away chain reactions because of certain physical principles. Anti-nuke hippies like to keep the confusion between "core meltdown" and "reactor runaway" but there's a world of difference. In a core meltdown, the heat comes from remaining radioactive decay at about 5% of the nominal power or less. In a run-away, we have hundreds or thousands of times more power.
    EDIT: of course, a reactor run-away will also be a kind of "core meltdown" although I wouldn't qualify an explosion as "melting". But note the confusion: it is as if I were saying that "disk formatting" erases the content of a hard disk, and of course, putting fire to the disk also erases the content of the disk. But putting fire to the disk can put fire to your house. So if we call both things "disk formatting" then we can say that "disk formatting" is dangerous because it can put fire to your house. And now we are against computers, because they can format disks.
     
    Last edited: Sep 24, 2008
  5. Sep 24, 2008 #4
    The anti nuclear movement is typically groupthink as it was expressed by Irving Janis

    http://www.12manage.com/methods_janis_groupthink.html

    As a consequence, expect a bitter fight, following symptom #4 (Outgroup stereo types) akin AGW, whenever trying to expose the spin.

    Furthermore I thought that the confirmed dead toll of Chernobyl was 56, with worst case secundary cancer to reach about 4000.

    I think that nuclear as primary energy source is the only way ahead, to keep in pace with the demand.
     
  6. Sep 24, 2008 #5

    vanesch

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    The WHO report on Chernobyl (I have the reference somewhere, but I'm too lazy to look it up) was reluctant to make any statements about precise numbers of Chernobyl victims, because of the great uncertainties on it. However, they propose "reasonable estimates" of 3 categories:
    - about 60 immediate casualties (radiation sickness)
    - about 4000 deadly cancers for the next 50 years based upon received dose estimations and the conservative LNT model amongst the citizens from the nearby town, and the 600 000 or so "liquidators" (those who did the cleaning up). These are the only people who ever received doses which were significantly larger than normal background radiation doses.
    - about 5000 more deadly cancers for the next 50 years based upon received dose estimations and the conservative LNT model amongst the people that were exposed to some or other significant fallout of the cloud, although the received doses are very small as compared to normal backgrounds.
    For the last category, we are really stretching the LNT model in its very low dose domain where it is absolutely not certain whether there is an effect, and where it is almost impossible to hope ever to find a statistically significant measure that will discriminate the LNT model from anything else.

    What is not included in this, is the minuscule world-wide background radiation increase, because there, we enter even more in the untested part of the LNT hypothesis.

    For instance, if you stick to this LNT hypothesis for low doses, then you can calculate that the use of radiation for medical diagnosis (like at the dentist's) kills about 300 000 persons worldwide every year.
     
  7. Sep 24, 2008 #6
    I remember a professor telling me once that you get exposed to more radiation if you sleep in the same bed as someone else than if you pitched a tent outside a reactor
     
  8. Sep 24, 2008 #7

    CRGreathouse

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    In a strict LNT model, the risk of cancer *from radiation* is of course proportional to the dose received, thus the name. In such a model, what is the baseline cancer risk -- that not ascribed to radiation? [If it's zero, then a doubling of dose would double cancer deaths.]

    An alternate model with concave risk (positive second derivative) would actually suggest that the risk of cancer death due to radiation exposure to Chernobyl increased more than proportionally. Of course total cancer risk need not rise as much, if baseline risk is high and radiation risk is low at those levels.
     
  9. Sep 24, 2008 #8

    Chi Meson

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    Not all. I've linked this story a few times already, but It is one of the most clear examples of "learning one's lesson" once the facts are known. This is Patrick Moore, the FOUNDER of Greenpeace, trying to get people to understand that nuclear power is actually the best and greenest choice for energy in the near future.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/14/AR2006041401209.html
    His own organization does not agree, alas.

    I strongly urge the spreading of this article to as many anti-nukes as one can find.
     
  10. Sep 25, 2008 #9

    vanesch

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    Ok, here we go. The estimated risk to devellop a deadly cancer in the next 50 years for an adult, or up to 70 years age for a child, for a received dose in the LNT model is 5.6% per received Sievert. This means that if you have received an integrated dose of 1 Sievert, you will run a risk of 5.6% to die of a cancer due to that in the next 50 years.

    EDIT: This number is not arbitrary. It comes about to fit with the relatively high doses, and the cancer incidence rates, that have been observed in exposed populations, the most important being the Japanese nuclear bomb victims, but there have been other series of exposed people, and there have been animal experiments and so on. Regularly this value is improved upon with new studies but it changes by small fractions each time.
    What is also not arbitrary is the fact that there is a more or less linear relationship between received doses and cancer rate at high irradiations: that has also been empirically noted through many observations. What is totally unknown, however, is whether this linear relationship can be extrapolated to low doses, simply because the observed effects, as well as the predicted effects, are so small that they are impossible to verify experimentally in a statistically significant way. The LNT model is the working hypothesis that this model remains valid for low doses.

    Background radiation, worldwide average, is 2.4 millisievert per year, but this varies wildly: from about 1 mSv to over 170 mSv in certain places in Iran or in Brazil - however, that's exceptional: the highest natural doses, apart from these sites, is around 10 mSv per year.

    This means that if we apply the LNT model to the natural background (2.4 mSv/year), that we find over 50 years that one has received an integrated dose of about 120 mSv, which gives you a probability to die of that due to cancer of 0.6% - and that's an over estimation, unless you're going to live for 100 years of course.
    Overall deadly cancer risk is around 13-20%. So it might be that 0.6% of that 13-20% is attribuable to radiation ; in other words, the main cause for cancer in people is not from radiation at all. However, one hasn't seen a noticeable increase in cancer in these high-background regions. So it is not clear if populations adapted to it, or if the LNT model is simply not true.

    Nuclear power, worldwide average apart from Chernobyl, adds about 0.0001 mSv per year to that dose. Chernobyl itself, about 0.002 mSv. medical diagnosis: 0.4 mSv worldwide, and 1.2 mSv in Western countries (we get more x-ray pictures).
    EDIT: I realise that my number of death per year due to diagnosis was wrong: it is not 300 000 per year (that's with the 1.2 mSv dose) but rather 100 000 per year.


    It depends. Because a concave model would still have to agree with the high dose-effect rates which are known, and because of the high variability of the background radiation which doesn't show up in cancer rates, the "rise" must hence occur ABOVE the background rate, and hence the derivative of the curve (which gives you the risk of the added dose) in fact below that of the LNT model.
     
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2008
  11. Sep 26, 2008 #10
    What about a terrorist attack? If a plane crashed into a nuke plant could catastrophe occur?

    I am reasonably certain the possibility of an actual nuclear explosion is equal to zero but I'd be curious to hear from the experts.
     
  12. Sep 26, 2008 #11
    What kind of catastrophy? A nuclear explosion requires to bring a critical mass of fissionable material together. As far as I know, there is nothing imaginable that could cause the required implosion to attain that critical mass in a nuclear reactor.

    It seems that above the nuclear reactor there is a big container with neutron absorption fluid. A plane crashing onto a reactor would merely cause this container to rupture and spill the fluid over the reactor, killing the nuclear chain reaction. Is this still true? Specialists?
     
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