Friday, September 23, 2005

Nuclear Made Unclear

I have always loved Superman. My fascination for
heroes probably influenced my reaction to the recent
movie “The Incredibles.” Almost any kid, when I was a
kid, could tell you that Superman fought for “Truth,
Justice, and the American Way” (sotto voce thanks to
George Reeves). Now, as an adult, still hanging on to
that spirit, I can totally relate to Mr. Incredible’s
comment that after saving the world he’d “just like it
to STAY SAVED for a few minutes.” I feel like that
sometimes. You would think that the truth would trump
the lies, but sadly that’s just not true

An email crossed my path recently. It was an alarming
notice of the Vermont Public Service Board’s hearing
on Entergy’s proposal about Dry Cask Nuclear Storage.
As is so often the case with “alarmist emails,” the
dire warnings were overstated and frightening
information was false or misleading. Why is it so
hard for activists to tell the truth?

Specifically, this email focuses on Entergy’s use of
the phrase “temporary, passive storage.” The email
objects to calling the facility ‘temporary’ because
“once high level nuclear waste is canned and put in
place, no one can say when it will be removed.” Not
only is this claim illogical, it’s just foolishly
untrue. Because the spent fuel rods are canned, they
CAN be put in place, and because they are PUT in a
place, they CAN be removed. In fact, the reason the
proposal is being made in the first place, is because
the national nuclear waste repository at Yucca
Mountain, Nevada has become politicized. That point
is glossed over in the email, which explains that Sen.
Harry Reid (D-NV) is sponsoring legislation to keep
nuclear waste at the facility where it originated.
The email neglects to say that the issue was decided
in 2002 by both parties in both houses of Congress and
the legislation passed to the President, who signed it
into law.

Politics doesn’t scare people very much, so to gin up
the fear factor, the email raises the specter of
radiation, claiming that “it is, in fact,
self-energized and powered by radioactivity” and
therefore not ‘passive’ as Entergy claims. This
statement is base and misleading. Certainly the spent
fuel rods are radioactive, but the dry cask system
contains the radiation. The email plays fast and
loose with a description of the construction of a dry
cask, specifically suggesting that the irradiated
materials are open to the air, which is patently
untrue.

The email moves into rally mode with “THE BUCK STOPS
HERE...IT IS NOW UP TO US.” and after making the
obligatory “let us demand” call to action, it closes
with a brief paragraph just seething with terror: the
dry casks “will contain...deadly fission products,
such as...Strontium 90...[and] Plutonium 139 which
will remain lethal for 240,000 years and sufficient to
make about 20 nuclear bombs.” What utter ROT!

Nuclear reactors use Uranium 235, which is transformed
into Plutonium 239 (not 139). While it is true that
pure Plutonium 239 is the fuel for nuclear weapons,
what comes out of a reactor is not pure, it includes
isotopes of Plutonium 240, 241, and 242. A nuclear
bomb made with such contaminated Plutonium will not
work and it is not possible to separate the isotopes
out. Granted, the waste is still radioactive and
deadly with even minimal exposure; however the specter
of terrorists making nuclear bombs with this stuff is
just old-fashioned fear-mongering.

Strontium 90 is another, nastier, matter. Strontium
90 not a naturally-occurring isotope. According to
the Nuclear Energy Institute, “there are three sources
for strontium-90 in the environment: fallout from
nuclear weapons testing, releases from the Chernobyl
accident in the Ukraine, and minute releases from
nuclear power reactors.” It is chemically similar to
calcium and thus is easy to test for in bones and
teeth. An adult body differentiates Strontium 90 from
calcium (favoring calcium), but an infant’s body does
not.

The email specifies this isotope to take advantage of
a scare tactic that’s been making the rounds for over
30 years. On July 27, 2005 the Brattleboro Reformer
ran an article titled “Groups to study VY radiation
emissions.” The article opened, “at the behest of
local organizations, the Radiation and Public Health
Project will be examining the levels of Strontium-90
in baby teeth belonging to children living within a
50-mile radius of the Vermont Yankee Nuclear reactor
in Vernon.” The article correctly identifies the
“local organizations” as the Citizens Awareness
Network, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the
Taprock Peace Center and notes that they are activists
in opposition to nuclear weapons and power, but
doesn’t delve much further to reveal their
anti-capitalist nature or socialist agenda (and how
better to achieve that agenda than by undermining the
economy by denying it energy efficiency). However,
the reporter really drops the ball by not identifying
the Radiation and Public Health Project (RPHP).

The RPHP is a national activist group founded in 1985.
Basing their initial research on work performed at
the St. Louis Washington University in 1959, the group
has performed “studies” around the nation finding
Strontium 90 in baby teeth and linking it to nuclear
reactors and cancers, garnering them the nickname:
“the Tooth Fairy Project.” Their reports have been
thoroughly and completely evaluated and dismissed by
such organizations as the National Institute of
Health, the National Cancer Institute, the American
Cancer Society, not to mention, the U.S. Atomic Energy
Commission’s Health and Safety Laboratory. The
American Academy of Pediatrics, hardly unconcerned
with infant health issues, described the RPHP studies
as “unfounded and unsubstantiated.” The Nuclear
Energy Institute describes Strontium 90 releases from
nuclear reactors as “so small they would be
undetectable in comparison with the amount of
strontium-90 already in the environment from weapons
testing. These levels are well below government
limits. No credible scientific study has shown that
the levels of strontium found in the environment pose
a health risk.”

That doesn’t stop the activists. Truth does not trump
activism. They have an agenda and it drives them.
They proffer “renewable energy,” knowing full well
that the ideas they suggest are not viable for large
scale continuing energy production. Even the name
“renewable energy” is a misnomer: biomass is used up
in the production of energy, and solar and wind are
not supplies we have control over so we can’t renew
them - either the wind blows or it doesn’t and either
the sun shines or it’s cloudy, sometimes you produce
power, sometimes you don’t. In fact, the only truly
“renewable energy” source is fissionable nuclear
reactions. So if the activists’ agenda isn’t truly
energy independence and it’s not peace (they don’t
protest North Korea or Iran’s nukes), the only logical
goal left is to keep us energy dependent on fuels that
sap and weaken our economy. History shows that
failing economies often produce more liberal and
socialist governments. It is not a coincidence that
many activist groups label themselves “such-and-such
for Social this-or-that.” They used to have to cloak
that, not so much anymore.

Many European countries derive a substantial amount of
their energy from nuclear reactors and the stockpile
the waste from them not at the reactors, but at
national repositories. PBS’s Frontline did a report
on France’s nuclear program and observed that the
French were uneasy relying on OPEC and looked at the
nuclear option as “no oil, no gas, no coal, no
choice.” What the Europeans have done, that we
consistently fail to do in the U.S., is to educate.
“The French authorities have worked hard to get people
to think of the benefits of nuclear energy as well as
the risks,” Claude Mandil, General Director for Energy
and Raw Materials at France’s Ministry of Industry,
tells Frontline, “Glossy television advertising
campaigns reinforce the link between nuclear power and
the electricity that makes modern life possible.
Nuclear plants solicit people to take tours – an offer
that six million French people have taken up.” In
Finland, Ahti Toivola, a nuclear engineer and
spokesman for TVO, Finland’s nuclear energy operator,
noted that “one of the most crucial factors in
fostering public confidence...was the media’s
reporting of a lot of facts during the four year
debate. This enabled a very open and informed
discussion between stakeholders and the general
public.” Another Finn, Timo Seppala, warns that
“public opinion polls should not be the sole basis for
political decision making...the results are too
dependent on the framing of the question.” He also
notes that “politicians had to be more assertive in
driving the case for nuclear power.” If the French
didn’t make the case eloquently enough perhaps
Professor Risto Tarjanne of Lappeenranta University of
Technology will: “nuclear had the lowest generation
costs of any power source and zero carbon
emissions...nuclear power would ensure the security of
a cheap energy source.”

So, when Sen Harry Reid (D-NV), as the point-man for
the anti-nuke Luddites, defies both the House of
Representatives and the Senate (ostensibly the will of
the people), is he doing his duty as a representative
of the people, or is he politicking for the special
interest groups that line his pockets? With the
strangle-hold that OPEC has, are the Citizens
Awareness Network, Physicians for Social
Responsibility, the Taprock Peace Center, and the
Radiation and Public Health Project really educating
the public or feathering their nests by sowing
irrational fears? Are the media performing their
moral and ethical duty, the one that goes with that
Constitutional freedom they talk about, when they hype
the sexy sci-fi of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl
without putting the science in context with the
fiction, or are they co-conspirators with their
activist friends? There is a reason why Europe is
becoming independent of fossil fuels and the U.S. is
not and it isn’t because, as the email says,
government “muffed its chance to gain even minimal
protections for future generations of area people.”

Please reply to jmstettner@yahoo.com or http://jmstettner.blogspot.com

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