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Mar 29, 2011

Fukushima and rational thinking versus populist panic

The managers and officials involved in Fukushima should face prosecution for their failure to act on earlier warnings, writes Allan Patience, a professor at Sophia University, Tokyo.


It is important to note that the recent 9.0 earthquake off the north-east coast of Honshu, Japan was not responsible for the unfolding catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power generation plant. The structures were designed to withstand the impact of a geological movement of this order. They did so admirably, like nearly all the swaying skyscrapers, housing complexes, railways, bridges, and multistorey freeways across much of Tokyo.

The steadfastness of these structures is clear evidence that a sensible regulatory regime, rigorously enforced, results in reliable construction outcomes and protects life, limb and property.

The Japanese architects and engineers, and the government agencies responsible for supervising them since the Great Hanshin earthquake that hit Kobe in 1995, deserve international acclaim for their outstanding efforts.

It was, of course, the massive tsunami that is the devil in the nuclear pile in this instance. The huge wave knocked out the cooling systems and their back-ups at the Fukushima plant and this led inevitably — and predictably — to the current crisis.

So what critical lessons may be learnt from this “disaster in slow motion” at Fukushima?

First, locating the plant right on the coast, in a geologically unstable zone, was nothing short of stupid.  Experts had warned about this for more than a decade. The placing of the plant right on the coast was mainly about maximising profits for a privately owned and operated corporation, with little regard for public safety and community well-being. To put this kind of operation where it is vulnerable to a post-quake tsunami is evidence of appalling negligence.

Obviously the levels of supervision in regard to planning and operating the plant at Fukushima also demand urgent criminal investigation. They are in stark contrast to the much more scrupulous regulating of building practices in Japan since the Kobe earthquake .

A second lesson that needs highlighting relates to the entrenched culture of “money politics” that has been at the heart of the Japanese political system for decades, resulting in widespread corruption and a scandalous disregard of the public good.

Private corporations offer politicians bribes in return for political favours, such as setting up plants in regions that may be profitable in the medium term but which can have catastrophic consequences for people and whole communities.

So this lesson needs spelling out. Deregulated private enterprise, which thinks it has an unfettered right to pursue its own interests at the expense of people’s lives and livelihoods, is a terrible danger to the public good. This is exactly the same lesson we should have learnt following the 2008-09 global financial crisis. It is a lesson that is still resisted by entrenched CEOs and their cronies who assert that their massive salaries and bonuses are in the public interest. Poppycock!

This lesson is further highlighted by the fact that for years experts have warned that the Fukushima plant had reached its use-by date 10 years ago. Its technology was outmoded and increasingly unsafe. The recommendations of inspectors were mostly overlooked.

Those managers and officials should face prosecution for their failure to act in this instance. Their slothfulness renders them criminally culpable in the nuclear catastrophe that is now occurring on Tokyo’s doorstep.

Another lesson has to do with weak governance. In this respect, Japan is very like contemporary Australia. Politicians prefer populism to sound public policy. Political leaders think that opinion polls rather than ideas and ideals are what gives them legitimacy. Political debates have become puerile slanging matches and grudge competitions. All this when the times require, as never before, inspired and inspiring leadership.

Moreover, Japan’s governance system is grotesquely bureaucratised, in-bred, and in many areas shockingly incompetent. Much the same can be said of contemporary Australia — especially at state government levels. Meanwhile, the people suffer and the public good as measured by good schools and universities, good hospitals and health care systems, good public transport, and well-maintained infrastructure is in serious decline.

Prime Minister Kan is  under immense pressure to address the current crisis with all the urgency and sophistication it demands. But what we have already seen is reminiscent of the government response to the Kobe earthquake. Confusion, dissembling, contorted explanations, outright lies, and excruciatingly slow response times all point to governance ineptitude on a horrifying scale.

Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima. They appear oblivious to the human culpability — mental laziness, moral turpitude, and n-ked greed — that has brought this catastrophe upon the heads of so many innocent Japanese.

Yes, the first thing we must do is think very carefully about nuclear energy. But to use the current crisis in Japan to shut-down a sober, rational debate about all the issues reflects a level of populist ignorance that is frankly very frightening .

We must also address the deep-rooted problems of governance weakness that is bedeviling all the advanced democracies today. These have to do with shockingly low levels of public debate, where the loudest shouting wins, rather than a thoughtful weighing of all the relevant issues.

Japan needs all the help and compassion that a good ally that has benefited from the Japanese economy for more than half a century can offer. It’s time for Australia to step up.

Allan Patience has been a professor at Sophia University, Tokyo, since 2008. Next month he will join the Asia Institute in the University of Melbourne.


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105 thoughts on “Fukushima and rational thinking versus populist panic

  1. David Dowell

    Professor Patience has a point but it may not be the one he meant to make. The very politicians and business leaders he cries out against are the ones that would be responsible for building and regulating nuclear plants built in Australia. I would love to name but won’t for Crikey’s sake, the troop of bottom feeders that would assemble to create an Australian nuclear industry. Or maybe we can.

    Anyone like to start to assemble a possible team to create this industry?

    Oh and by the way can we be spared stuff like this. “Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima.”

  2. syzygium

    Rationality is all well and good, but the problem with the rationalist exercise is that it presumes a perfect world. Or, to be more precise, blames human failing when things don’t work out the way they’re supposed to. Cutting corners, the powerful trying to maintain and hold on to power, greed, laziness, short-sightedness, not seeing the foreseeable – these are all part of the human condition, and have been with us and always will be with us. I think we’d be better off just being honest with ourselves and saying that nuclear power is too dangerous for us. We’re only human, and that ain’t too bad.

  3. syzygium

    >Oh and by the way can we be spared stuff like this. “Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the >opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is >happening in Fukushima.”

    Yar, bit of a low blow, that one.

  4. Bill Parker

    And last night’s dramatic “4 Corners” reflects that same corner cutting I am thinking. No the world isn’t perfect, but no aircrew or passenger should have ever been put in that position. Nor should they in Japan with Fukushima.

    We seem to be too concerned over getting traffic management cones correctly placed.

  5. wayne robinson

    Professor Patience is absolutely correct in what he says. Putting the reactors on the coast, with inadequate tsunami protection, and then putting the emergency generators at the lowest point was a recipe for disaster.

    I agree nuclear should be on the agenda, once the problems of waste disposal are sorted out. Fourth generation nuclear reactors? Thorium reactors?

    It’s an unfortunate fact that nuclear reactors (and also coal powered plants) require a lot of water for cooling. In Australia, nuclear power plants would have to be placed on the coast, since we don’t have any reliable rivers. Excessive heating of European rivers has caused the down powering of reactors just when they’re most needed.

  6. cam

    So the moral of the story, don’t develop nuclear energy within, or sell uranium to, a country where “money politics” or widespread corruption exists or may develop within the lifetime of radioactive material.

  7. Jolyon Wagg

    [Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima.]

    Could the good professor (or anyone else who believes the above) provide some kind of reference for this assertion. I have followed the issue reasonably closely and have not seen any signs of delight at the tragedy in Fukushima.

    On the other hand, I have seem plenty of evidence that proponents of nuclear energy are more concerned about the impact of Fukushima on the nuclear industry than about the well-being of the affected communities.

  8. syzygium

    @ CAM: Precisely. Let that nation that is without sin build the next reactor.

  9. freecountry

    [… beside themselves with delight at the tragedy …]
    No proof required for that point. And no, Syzygium, it’s not below the belt. To me and probably to many others, it’s been self evident in a lot of the media coverage, and nowhere more so than these Crikey blogs.

    The nastiest bit of grave dancing I saw was when someone commented in these forums that the nuclear industry “has been well and truly Fukishima’d.”

    For Patience to point this out is not a “low blow”; it had to be said and I’m grateful someone finally said it in print. I’m not often accused of low blows; I think I have a pretty strong sense of fair play. I say shame on the most radical elements of the anti-nuclear lobby for dancing on the mass graves in such a cheap, sordid way.

  10. Liz45

    As a person who’s been passionately against the whole nuclear industry, I am not delighted over the tragedy in Japan. On the contrary, I feel for all those people who’s lives and health has been put at risk – once again! I’ve listened to many interviews from a variety of people since this horror began, and it seems to be common knowlege in Japan and by observers, that those in charge have a history of lying and falsifying leakages and other problems. This has been one of my concerns all along. Too many people have too much to protect, from those who mine, mill and enrich uranium to those who own, build and operate the reactors – all have a vested interest to lie to the public – and too many of them have done so.

    Today on the World Today, I heard a reporter repeat something a person from this authority in Japan said about the plutonium leaks – that there not enough to be a risk to health???What????
    This is the very nonsense that has been repeated over the 35+ years that I’ve been involved in learning about this subject. There’s no safe level of plutonium – in fact, you don’t need much to make a bomb! It’s the most lethal substance made by humans. Unbelievable!

    What concerns me, is the fact that when they’re “alarmed” I’m terrified! Who knows what the ramifications will be, even for this country. There’s no 3 metre concrete ‘wall’ in the environment that will protect us from pollution via wind etc. I recall the red dust all over my yard from the dust storms – that dust came from the desert in South Australia – Maralinga – I live in the Illawarra???
    I’d like to think that this country’s focus would now be on renewables, which employs people on a permanent basis, improves the air(even for asthmatics etc) and doesn’t pose a threat to the planet, either via polution or terrorism or ‘acts of god’ or incidents and accidents.

    I again pose this question. Why am I the only one who wonders at the alarming increase in the incidence of cancer. The Cancer Council estimates, that one in 2 or 3 people will be diagnosed with cancer. That is a horrific statistic, but nobody seems to give a damn except me – and a few others? Doesn’t anyone wonder if this stat is related to the increasing nuclear industry? I do! I recall 30-40 yrs ago, I hardly even heard of a person with cancer, but these days, I can’t remember the last funeral I went to, where the person died from another cause. And in the last 20 yrs, I could tell you who died from OTHER causes including my sister via a car accident!
    It’s not due to ageing, because kids get cancer in high numbers – even babies? Why is this so?If cancers were found with little ‘tags’ on them, I believe that much of what we manufacture and how we do it would cease! Aren’t those who get filthy rich via filth lucky?

    NO, keep the nuclear industry out of Australia – we don’t need it, and I believe that health wise, we can’t afford to have it. Also, nuclear reactors require lots of water, so the reactors would need to be built along the coast – where most of the population live. How dumb is that? So, we build desalination plants to provide water for reactors – how would they function? Via coal powered electricity? Dumber and dumber!

  11. syzygium

    @Free Country: “Fukashima’d” was an unfortunate comment – I do remember that one. But to paint all those who oppose nuclear power with the same brush is a tad offensive. Maybe more than a tad to some. And why pick on just those who oppose nuclear? The nuclear advocate Barry Brook posted a picture of Godzilla on his bravenewclimate blog – suggesting that fearing nuclear disaster in Japan made as much sense as fearing an attack by Godzilla (and missing the point that Godzilla is a cultural manifestation of nuclear fear). We’re all making hay out the incident, but that’s fair enough because we’re trying to draw lessons from it, and what it means for our lives. That doesn’t mean we rejoice in the tragedy.

    I think the “delight at the tragedy” comment detracted from what was otherwise a good article – but the point I take is that if the requirement for safe nuclear is vigorous oversight, no corner cutting, and no one trying to make a fast buck- for the natural life of the radioactive materials – that indicates that nuclear power is too dangerous for us.

  12. Liz45

    Ooops! WHOSE not “people who’s lives and health!

  13. mobsmith

    The nuclear tragedy and debate aside, Professor Patience sums up our governance problems in a nutshell; weak, with blinkers directed at polls and their own power bases rather than the people they serve. Only at election time are we noticed, and then as voters, not communities ensnared in traffic, crammed into emergency and reduced to cheap and poor nutritional choices to fund our education debts.

  14. twobob

    Private corporations offer politicians bribes in return for political favours. How are you going to stop that? Media controlled interest are going to push for deregulation, how are you going to stop that? And shite happens, you just cannot stop that!

    I agree, nuclear energy is fine with one single proviso, and that is that no human being has anything whatsoever to do with installing, regulating or maintaining it.

  15. nicwalmsley

    Proponents of nuclear power always claim (or insinuate) that opposition to nuclear power is irrational or uneducated. You do yourself no honour, Professor Patience, in making this mistake.

    Our opposition is based on a sound assessment of the costs, benefits and risks. All things measured, we do not accept that the cost is worth it or that the risks are justified. It is not a case of us “shouting” the loudest.

    With cost, long term waste management is the real killer. And by long term, I mean inter-generational. Granted, not everyone cares about how their actions impact future generations, but those of us who do find the cost of nuclear waste management to be too great by far.

    With risk, accidents and mistakes happen, even in facilities run by theoretical scientists untainted by the distractions of capitalism (exhibit A is the Large Hadron Collider). When nuclear accidents happen, we can leave scars on the earth that will remain for generations. Kyshtym, Chernobyl, Fukushima… how long do we want that list to get?

    I hate to break it to you Professor, but we live in a capitalist society. We outsource everything from security for diplomats to teaching our kids ethics. With billions to be made selling electricity, corporate interests would be involved with nuclear power in Australia. We know they would cut corners, underinvest in safety and try to cover up mistakes, because they always do.

    That isn’t shouting Professor Patience. It’s just a cold hard calculation of risk, cost and benefit.

  16. freecountry

    [The nuclear tragedy and debate aside, Professor Patience sums up our governance problems in a nutshell; weak, with blinkers directed at polls and their own power bases rather than the people they serve.]
    I agree. Using the example of the Fukushima emergency, Patience gives a very succinct description of a deep underlying problem in our political structure, which is far too intent on rescuing both businesses and individuals from the consequences of their failures–training them to fail, instead of holding them responsible. The same point has been made recently about the entire western capital markets.

    Some people have a religious zealotry about democracy and people power. What we have to appreciate is that if the people with the least knowledge are the loudest talkers, then democracy becomes the sanctification of ignorance. The blind leading the vapid. When the commentators we listen to are qualified chiefly by the fact that we’ve heard them before … when teachers forget to teach our children that the most important thing to know is the limits of your knowledge … we have a society based on garbage in, garbage out.

  17. twobob


    I am not a fan of your posts as you are most likely all to aware, however, I do believe in credence when deserved and your last post is the best that I have ever read from you. Well said

  18. Syd Walker

    “to use the current crisis in Japan to shut-down a sober, rational debate about all the issues reflects a level of populist ignorance that is frankly very frightening”

    Would the author care to let us all know when it’s OK with him to discuss closing down the nuclear power industry – the most dangerous way yet devised by human minds to boil water?

    In notice Andrew Bolt, Great Hero of the (hoodwinked) People, has fallen strangely silent on the issue of Fukushima – silent that is since his absurd rantings in the days following Japan’s tsunami, when he went out of his way to recommend nuclear power as the safest energy source on earth and laugh like a schoolboy at safety concerns.

    But not everyone has fallen silent, This is what the Union of Concerned Scientists had to say a few days ago: Japan: Squandering the Chance for Orderly Evacuation:

    The six Fukushima reactors, according to the article below by Mike Whitney, contain ~10x the total amount of nuclear fuel compared with Chernobyl.

    However, what is not widely understood is that Chernobyl never really ‘blew’ as per the worst scenario. That was prevented by a military-style operation, coordinated ultimately by Gorbachev, that involved no less than 100,000 troops and 400,000 civilian workers!

    Had that heroic collective effort and eventual containment of the damaged reactors in a vast concrete sarcophagus not happened, there was talk of Europe becoming uninhabitable. Think that’s an exaggeration? Watch this documentary about Chernobyl – a doco that ‘Your’ ABC or SBS might bother to show if they weren’t too busy pumping out war hype.

    So… we can’t afford to price carbon and bring on solar/wind/tidal/geothermal energy?

    Sorry, we can’t afford NOT to develop a safe and sustainable energy system by any sane assessment of costs and risks ASAP. Nuclear energy is obviously not even on the list of options from now on.

    What we truly can’t afford is to waste yet more of our collective ingenuity and resources in yet more wars sold to us by essentially the same bunch of con-artists who sold us the trillion dollar debacles of Afghanistan and Iraq.

  19. Syd Walker

    A couple more important references published recently in Counterpunch:

    What They’re Covering Up at Fukushima
    By Hirose Takashi with introduction by Douglas Lummis (March 22nd)

    Deconstructing Nuclear Experts
    By Chris Busby (March 28th)

    Speaking of the disaster thus far, Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland said:

    “The mechanisms of the accident would be very different than Chernobyl, where there was also a fire, and the mix of radionuclides would be very different. While the quantity of short-lived radionuclides, notably iodine-131, would be much smaller, the consequences for the long term could be more dire due to long-lived radionuclides such as cesium- 137, strontium-90, iodine-129, and plutonium-239. These radionuclides are generally present in much larger quantities in spent fuel pools than in the reactor itself. In light of that, it is remarkable how little has been said by the Japanese authorities about this problem.”

    While we’re talking nuclear, does anyone know if Australia’s chumand and allies are dropping ordinance containing depleted uranium on Libya “to protect civilians”?

    I’ve asked this question of a few supporters of the US/UK/French aerial attacks – folk such as Kevin Rudd and Bob Brown. No answer yet.

    It would make a good question on Q & A next Monday, with Rudd and the American Ambassador both on the panel. After all, I gather DU has been used in cruise missiles in the past. The USA fired 140 at Libya on the first night of the bombardment.

    Sadly, any response one could only be treated with extreme scepticism, as the “US has consistently lied about not using DU” – see http://www.presstv.ir/usdetail/171797.html

  20. michael crook

    Hope everyone has seen “When the dust settles” about the cancer levels among Australian uranium miners.
    It was commissioned by the ETU to explain to union members why the union had banned them from working on uranium mines. The industry is so dangerous at the start of the process and gets more so as it goes along.

  21. rubiginosa

    On what basis do you make the claims that the earthquake was inconsequential, and the culprit was the tsunami?

  22. baal

    Well, if the earthquake wasn’t responsible for the tsunami that swamped Dai-ichi what the hell was? You really can’t dismiss anxiety about nuclear accidents with pap about how the reactor withstood the 9.0 quake because it didn’t. It was built on the sea shore like all Japan’s other nuclear plants are and therefore prone to being swamped by huge waves generated by tsunami. That’s the reality. There can be no theory or speculation about what could or didn’t happen. The Japanese are having to deal with what is happening in real time because of where they built the effing things. So, if you want to have a ‘rational’ debate you have to start from a rational standpoint, which you haven’t. Must try harder. Fail.

  23. freecountry

    Syd Walker – And what would the Union of Concerned Scientists know about the comparative risks of evacuating or not evacuating a capital city? What a pity the Japanese don’t have the Union of Concerned Scientists as their ministerial cabinet. No doubt they would know how to evacuate all of Tokyo, and at the same time keep what’s left of the critical infrastructure running for those people, keep the hospitals running, just write off the 17,000 people still missing, on top of finding homes for the half million who are already homeless, as the autumn snow sets in.

  24. ronin8317

    An important lesson from the Fukushima accident is that spent fuel rods should be stored in a safer place. The ‘NIMBY’ attitude have to change for the greater good.

    The ‘anti-nuclear’ camp is exploiting the situation, however the “pro-nuclear” camp is even worse. It started off with denial that a problem even exist. That is followed by attempts to re-directing the focus to Japan’s humanitarian disaster, claims that ‘only 50 people died from Chernobyl’, and Foxs News even claims that ‘radiation is good for you’.

    For a more balanced perspective, you can follow the daily update from IAEA


    The two workers who suffered from 2000mSv to 3000mSv are not likely to live for long.

    Wall Street Journal published this email exchange between TEPCO workers.


    Why are there so few support for the staff?


    The TEPCO executives delayed injecting sea water to cool the reactor cores because they may want to reuse the reactors. W.T.F.???

    And the CEO of TEPCO simply went AWOL in the middle of the crisis..


    It’s not the ‘supervision’, but the crisis control. The higher management at TEPCO obviously have no idea what they’re doing..

  25. freecountry

    Late-winter/spring snow, that is, for the half of the world that is upside down.

  26. Syd Walker

    Spot on Baal.

    I have enormous sympathy for the Japanese. I love the Japanese people I’ve met. I think it has a remarkable culture. I hold nothing but good wishes for the Japanese. ‘The Japanese’ are not resposnible for this appalling situation. The responsibility ultimately lies with the nuclear industry.

    A few hours after the tsunami hit I happened to be watching CNN when a cheerful presenter explained that Japan’s nuclear reactors were built to the highest of safety standards, and were well able to cope with category 8 earthquakes! I saw him flinch as he read the pre-prepared spiel…

    Sure, this was a horrific natural disaster of rare ferocity. But to claim, as some nuclear apologists do, that it represented the worst bad luck imaginable is simply fluff. The earthquake’s epi-centre could have been situated even closer to reactors. Reactors could have been attacked deliberately. There are all sorts of possible scenarios for catastrophic disaster – not excluding nasty tricks like the computer virus rumoured to have been created by Israeli spooks with the goal of messing up Iranian reactors.

    To say this is the ‘worst’ that could possibly happen, as some kind of defense for the extreme danger of nuclear energy, is simply misleading PR spin.

    We don’t need to take such grave risks to boil water. As for Freecountry, whom I seem to recall being a nuclear power advocatefor some time on Crikey, please don’t shoot the messenger. Look at the message for once. Of course the Japanese authorities are in a terrible dilemma. Ultimately, of course it should and will be their call re evacuations – not a far-away scientific critic. But no government should ever be put in this situation. It got there thanks to bullshit artists who claimed to have semi-divine wisdom and sold them a “nuclear energy solution”. It’s time they stopped getting that message.

    Nuclear power is FINISHED as part of our energy mix for this century. Once we get clarity about that we can ‘move forward’ as the saying goes. It’s time for some people to let go of their pre-Fukushima false ‘expertise’ and for us all to get behind an intelligent, rapid and very ambitious expansion of the renewable energy sector, ASAP.

  27. Matthew Wilson

    What an offfensive post. I, and most people I know against nuclear power in Australia have come to this position based on economics. If you can’t attempt to make your case without resorting to straw-man arguments don’t bother, you’re wasting my time as well as yours.

  28. freeze

    This is real non sense from a nuclear fan-boy. Some people have been predicting these kind of accidents for years , yet we were told to shut up. Well guys, the shoe is on the other foot and they don’t like it one bit.

  29. ButFli

    There’s no safe level of plutonium – in fact, you don’t need much to make a bomb! It’s the most lethal substance made by humans. Unbelievable!

    You see nicwalmsley, this is why we call people opposed to nuclear energy nicwalmsley irrational and uneducated. Plutonium is less lethal than caffeine. Admitedly caffeine is not “made by humans”, but far more lethal substances are – nerve gases, dioxins, etc.

    I also love how Professor Patience criticises the decision to build the Fukushima reactors on the coast because experts have been warning against it for a decade even though they were built over three decades ago. Is PP suggesting the reactors should have been moved?

  30. Bill Parker

    I find it alarming ( and stupidly misleading BUTFLI ) to compare 238Pu oxide to caffeine. Plutonium oxide is IS toxic and does cause cancers. It must be remembered that we are talking about inhalation. The inhalation of caffeine does NOT cause cancer but it IS harmful if swallowed as a pure crystalline substance. It is in fact used in the treatment of shock and heart disease.

    Plutonium releases three types of radiation -alpha, beta, and gamma – all such ionization radiation is regarded as highly toxic.


    It’s difficult to get the Fukushima reactor leakage in perspective when there’s so much misinformation and FUD floating around, (which is possibly more toxic than the actual radiation released).

    In today’s NY Times, a radiation specialist David J. Brenner, director of the Center for Radiological Research says he does not foresee a public health disaster resulting from the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi. But of course all the world’s “experts” in the media would have us believe that it’s a catastrophe of epic proportions.

    Try putting the data for other energy systems against nuclear and then talking about risk. Or should we all just go with our emotional response to hyperbolic descriptions from the press?

    It seems ironic to me that the green left is always bemoaning the right’s denial of the science of climate change in one breath, and then being hysterically unscientific with the next one if the subject of radiation is mentioned.

  32. baal

    The ‘experts’ you trust splace their trust i in theoretical explanations. What could and might (or not) happen rather than what is. One of the worst aspects of the Fukushima ‘debate’ is not the so called panic and hysteria but the belief by these ‘experts’ that because thousands of people haven’t died it must be OK and that those who are expressing alarm are saying they have. I think it would be wiser to assume that people are worried about what might happen and are not reassured by optimistic theorists who claim to know about nuclear science. Indeed, perhaps these are the ‘experts’ who should be ignored.

  33. Bill Parker

    Baal, have a look at Wikipedia on Plutonium. Its a comprehensive review and from my knowledge ( having been associated with people who did the early work on Plutonium effects on living tissues at Harwell UK) its not a bad resume. Its really about inhalation at the core.

    What is happening on the ground and in the air above those nuclear power plants is quite another matter.

  34. Harvey Tarvydas

    Dr Harvey M Tarvydas

    Allan Patience has made a thoughtful and courageous statement about an inevitably complex and paradoxical subject and in the space available for him to demonstrate his wisdom I would like to assume there is a lot more wise and valuable counsel unstated.
    Profit is definitely delicious as is most sin that serves us with pleasure of whatever kind inspiring evil well and truly over good.
    In our market society we have granted it (profit) the honourable status of being a necessity for the operation of society and accepted that it can be neutral between good and evil.
    The rest is up to profit itself.
    I am in a battle with my medical profession (profession bureaucracy) and its governance system where, just as the Professor points out, excellence lives and breaths alongside its opposite. My profession conducts the traffic between life and death so my war with it is just as important as the Professors efforts here and they have murdered my professional reputation already.

    “…….. governance system is grotesquely bureaucratised, in-bred, and in many areas shockingly incompetent. Much the same can be said of contemporary……….” exactly what I have said about my profession but its arrogance and power makes it far more evil when in the self-righteous mode.

    @ SYD WALKER — we also need you, thanks for the input, and @LIZ45
    Cancer research is my cup of tea at the moment and I am getting it right for my poor little old profession. You’re right about causation contribution but it is way more complex than it seems and there is a huge hope shining out of my work.

  35. freecountry

    Ronin8317, Thank you for the excellent links. Well worth reading for everyone here. Especially the emails from the workers.
    [“As you know, most of the workers at 1F and 2F are local residents and victims of the quake. There are many workers whose houses were washed away. I myself have had to stay in the disaster measurement headquarters the entire time ever since the earthquake occurred, and have been fighting alongside my colleagues without any sleep or rest. Personally, my entire hometown, Namie-machi, which is located along the coast, was washed away by the tsunami. My parents were washed away by the tsunami and I still don’t know where they are.”]
    Just one question: where did you get the following from?
    [“The two workers who suffered from 2000mSv to 3000mSv are not likely to live for long.”]
    We know about the two workers without safety boots being treated for leg burns from radioactive water, an extremely distressing situation. But the details you add on the exposure dose and the prognosis are not mentioned in any of those links, or anywhere else I can find. Where did you get that information from?

  36. Scott

    I think people also have to realise that there is no such thing as poisons, only poisonous doses. Yes, radiation can cause cancers via large amounts of exposure, but all three types of radiation are used in a variety of ways in the health industry; in X rays, lasers, even in cancer surgery itself. Some radiation can be protected against easily..alpha radiation (being basically an unstable Helium atom) can be stopped via a piece of paper (it doesn’t penetrate the skin). Beta radiation consists of penetrating electrons, but even clothing provides some protection. Gamma radiation is the real danger, yet we still get exposed to this every day through natural means (the universe is full of gamma radiation), and x-rays (a low power gamma ray) are pretty much a standard diagnostic tool.
    Lets not freak out about the nuclear boogy man. Cancer rates are going up, true, yet over the last 20 years, life expectancies have been increasing and mortality rates declining. If you weigh up the lives saved by nuclear medicine vs lives lost through radiation, I think you will find we are still in positive territory.

  37. ronin8317

    I wish it’s simply worded wrongly, but I read the IAEA report as the workers being exposed to 2000mSv to 3000mSv in total, rather than in water containing 2000mSv to 3000mSv per hour. Now 1000mSv is the threshold for radiation sickness. Anything above 2000mSv and it becomes life threatening. Even if you survive in the short term, you’re very likely to get cancer later on.




  38. freecountry

    Ronin8317 – So you’re a doctor, you’ve made a prognosis on your own about their survival prospects, is that right? Because there’s nothing remotely like that prognosis in any of the IAEA reports or anwhere else.

    Instead, according to this report:
    [Radiated Exposed Workers Discharged from Hospital
    Three workers who were exposed to radiation inside the Fukushima nuclear power plant were discharged today from the National Institute of Radiological Sciences in Chiba Prefecture facility in Chiba east of Tokyo, officials said.
    The men stepped in radioactive water while working to restore power at reactor No. 3 of the plant.
    Two of them were wearing short rubber boots and received an estimated dose of 2,000 to 6,000 millisieverts of radiation below the ankles. Luckily, the exposure was localized and the two men did not develop radiation burns on their feet and required no special treatment, according to officials.
    “Tests have shown evidence of internal radiation,” the official said. “But the readings are not high enough to affect human health.” He added that their conditions were not expected to deteriorate.
    The third man wore long boots and did not have direct contact with the radioactive water.]
    Please see also this review of the health effects of past nuclear incidents, and this interview with Mark Lynas.

  39. Woody

    Down here in Adelaide, courtesy of radio 5aa and Leon Byner, they started the non stop spin that the disaster in Fukushima was still nothing to be concerned about the day after the catastrophy and whilst it was clearly still unfolding. Byner especially has been lobbying for nuclear energy for some time now, whilst rubbishing the “loony left” in the process.

    Then again, that is the radio station that scaremongers about flouride in the water and that smoking a joint is the road to ruin

  40. bobdown

    We like to think that we can design these plants to accommodate all possible mishaps. Generally we do pretty well at it. However, we cannot anticipate all occurances. Ok it may be possible to predict a tsunami, but we couldn’t predict a torrent of floodwater in Tawoomba, or the ferocity of the black saturday bush fires. There will always be things that we can’t predict. While the core reactors in these facilities are well housed, they are reliant on power for cooling and knowledgable people to run them. These cannot be guarenteed.
    The difference between nuclear and other facilities is that the legacy of a nuclear accident can last for a very long time. Large areas of land can be contaminated almost permanently.
    I believe technology can improve our lives, relieve poverty and clean up the environment, but I don’t think nuclear is the answer to these.

  41. Mark Duffett

    Large areas of land can be contaminated almost permanently? How much? Putting the obsolete Chernobyl, Fukushima and whatever else together, less than has been drowned by hydro impoundments. Less than has been removed by coal mining. Less than will go under concrete, steel and glass if solar and wind proponents have their way.


  42. rubiginosa

    Under concrete != contaminated by radioactive elements with half lives of hundreds of thousands of years


  43. Captain Planet

    @ Syd Walker, Tuesday 29th March at 4:02 pm,

    Thanks for the excellent link to the Chernobyl documentary, Syd. I watched it last night and got to bed at 01:00 am because I simply couldn’t tear myself away. Astonishingly compelling and tells a very, very different story to the “only 50 people died from Chernobyl” nonsense repeatedly trotted out by nuclear apologists.

    Amongst other things which really stood out was the compassionate and thoughtful Mikhael Gorbachev pointing out that after Chernobyl, the USSR “stopped building nuclear reactors” and stating that we simply must find new sources of energy “which are truly safe”.

    I would suggest that anyone still advocating for nuclear power and carping on about how safe it is should watch that video. The original footage, of Russian army reservists in their thousands, running onto the roof of the plant with shovels for their allotted 45 seconds maximum exposure, wearing incomplete home made lead suits, is chilling.

  44. freecountry

    Ronin8317 – It seems moderators aren’t going to release my last post. The upshot is, on what basis do you make a prognosis about the mortality of the two workers who got radiation exposure on their legs? News reports on Monday quoted Japanese medical authorities saying the men had not received any radiation burns, and that the internal radiation they were registering was “not high enough to affect human health.”

  45. Captain Planet

    @ BUTFLI,

    Errrr…. I can only assume you are taking the mickey?

    Plutonium is less toxic than caffeine????

    1 microgram of plutonium, ingested, is a lethal dose for a human being. (Reference: Vassily Nestrekno, Nuclear Physicist)

    I consume approximately 4 cups of very strong coffee per day.

    With each containing more than 100 milligrams of caffeine, I estimate my daily caffeine ingestion at 500 milligrams, or 0.5 grams.

    Considering caffeine is “more lethal than plutonium”, either:-

    1. I have actually died of caffeine ingestion more than 500,000 times every day, for the past 20 years, making me dead more than 3,650,000,000 times (and It didn’t even hurt!) or,

    2. You would be happy to eat 500,000 micrograms of plutonium a day, because it’s harmless.

  46. Mark Duffett

    @Rubiginosa, wild critters demonstrably prefer the latter, and nary a mutant monster in sight.

    @Capt Planet, as one targeted by your suggestion, I can tell you that no matter how ghastly the Chernobyl remediation effort may have been, it doesn’t shift my position one iota, because no one is proposing to build Chernobyl-type reactors. As I believe I may have written before, condemning nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like writing off all aviation because of the Hindenburg.

  47. Mark Duffett

    Capt Planet, I don’t know about caffeine (though 4 cups of very strong coffee per day might be the reason you were up until 1 am!), but your plutonium toxicity reference looks way off base. A quick google didn’t turn up any evidence for it, but rather phrases like
    “the danger is inhaling it and if ingested, is about as toxic as lead and other heavy metals”
    “1.4 micrograms for 50 mSv committed effective dose (over 50 years after intake)” (N.B. 50 mSv is way below lethal)
    “Ingestion is not a significant hazard, because plutonium passing through the gastro-intestinal tract is poorly absorbed and is expelled from the body before it can do harm”

    The comparison with caffeine may have originated here: (fortfreedom.org/p22.htm)

  48. Syd Walker

    @ Mark Duffett

    No-one disputes your point – but it’s entirely beside the point. The notion that Chernobyl was the last ‘bad’ reactor to go wrong – and that it’s all good from now on – was gaining currency in the debate over energy futures, as the shock of Chernobyl receded into the past and the pro-nuclear spin doctors wove their web of deceit about that incident and its long-term impacts.

    Now that notion has been dispelled as pure myth.

    If nuclear accidents on this scale aren’t really possible, they shouldn’t be happening. As they continue to happen, the technology clearly isn’t safe. When it goes wrong, it has immediate and long-lasting disastrous potential that far exceeds dangers associated with any other method of energy generation technology (the dangers associated with excessive use of fossil fuels are long-term only).

    To be really blunt, only fools will waste time debating nuclear energy in countries such as Australia that currently don’t use it. It’s a no-brainer.

    Your comparison with the Hindenberg disaster, BTW, is spurious. That spectacular disaster WAS a key factor in the demise of the AIRSHIP industry (more’s the pity IMO – it’s potentially a more benign method of air travel than fuel-guzzling jet airplanes and could well be part of a sustainable global travel system).

    And yes, I do believe you really should watch the Chernobyl documentary. Utter catastrophe was ultimately averted by the outstanding leadership of Gorbachev and the heroism of hundreds of thousands of Soviet citizens. It’s an open question how bad the crisis at Fukushima may yet get – and whether US-occupied Japan in our generation is equally capable of rising to the challenge.

  49. Flower

    Professor Patience – It is highly regrettable that you trashed an otherwise informative article with the following:

    “Meanwhile, in Australia it appears that the opponents of nuclear energy are almost beside themselves with delight at the tragedy that is happening in Fukushima. They appear oblivious to the human culpability — mental laziness, moral turpitude, and n-ked greed — that has brought this catastrophe upon the heads of so many innocent Japanese.”

    The above good Sir is a thoroughly scurrilous attack on well-informed nuclear opponents who were no less dismayed at the tragedies afflicting the Japanese people than anyone else and certainly more dismayed than the nuclear industry who scurried off immediately after the Fukushima disaster to spread its evil propaganda. And nuclear opponents are opposed for the very reasons to which you alluded.

    Nuclear and fossil fuel advocates dismiss renewables with equal vehemence. These are established dirty-tech industries, with strong lobbies, and both receive massive subsidies from “cradle to grave,” from mining and drilling to waste storage and a failure to capture externalities, the massive cost of remediation (if possible) left to taxpayers or a planet in crisis.

    Among scores of revelations, a damning document, written by the UK government’s chief nuclear inspector, Mike Weightman, and released under the Freedom of Information Act in 2009, raised serious questions about the dangers of expanding the industry with a new generation of atomic plants.

    “The report discloses that between 2001-08 there were 1,767 safety incidents across Britain’s nuclear plants. About half were subsequently judged by inspectors as serious enough “to have had the potential to challenge a nuclear safety system”. They were “across all areas of existing nuclear plant”, including Sellafield in Cumbria and Aldermaston and Burghfield in Berkshire.”

    It is an indictment on our education system that academics continue to promote an industry that destroys the environment rather than cures it. This has caused the continuous hazardous behaviours of the climate and an environment beyond our control. In fact we should be limiting the use of technologies that destroy man´s habitat on this planet.

    The grim reality is that man cannot control the atom. Indeed man can’t even control mercury, lead, man-made organochlorines, fossil fuel chemicals or the resulting CO2. It is time for man to live more simply and benefit from the ‘technologies’ that Momma Nature provided – sun, wind and water instead of plundering her hazardous waste repositories.

    The spin that renewables can’t mitigate CO2 emissions is crap. Fifty years of nuclear energy has resulted in a seriously contaminated planet and reactors with an intended life of 30-40 years have been granted an extension of >60 years. And a whole fleet of Gen IV designs remain unproven, often wildly impractical with an ETA 2030-2040. The nuclear industry dupes people into believing that this technology is commercially imminent. Useless crap.

    Meanwhile the nuclear industry continues on rampage contaminating air, soil, water, terrestrial animals, marine life and humans, the facts obscured while the planet cooks and nuclear “incidents” continue with impunity. And a moment’s silence please for the >1 million victims now deceased from the Chernobyl disaster.

  50. baal

    Patience’s piece is a typical example of the culture of ‘scolding’ in this case people who have reacted strongly to possible contamination by the Fukushima nuclear emergency. It seems quite common for the finger waggers, especially those with academic qualifications, to emerge when they detect ‘irrational’ behaviour on the part of poorly informed, lesser educated or ideologically biased people. Patience is an opinionated social scientist (although he is also known as a political scientist which can mean anyone with an opinion and a humanities degree) who often springs into print. he has told Bishops how they should behave (see Catholica http://www.catholica.com.au/gc2/occ/049_occ_010810.php) and has expounded on the nature of federalism, neo-liberalism, Love and ‘leadership’ using the lofty tones of a moral philosopher and the manner of an entrenched opinionator. His knowledge of the nuclear power industry is no deeper than any of those commenting in this thread.

  51. ronin8317

    In response to FreeCountry : the problem doesn’t show up until 1-4 weeks later, and those exposure are on top of what they had already received. To give some perspective on how much 2000mSv is : the US nuclear worker is limited to 50mSv exposure for the entire year.

    The working condition is absolutely horrendous.


    This is how TEPCO is treating the workers who are risking their life at the plant. Words fails me..

    The plutonium level found around the Fukushima nuclear plant is not a major concern at the moment. Inhaling, not eating, is the real danger with plutonium contamination.

  52. Mark Duffett

    @Syd Walker “If nuclear accidents on this scale aren’t really possible, they shouldn’t be happening. As they continue to happen…”

    No they don’t. Fukushima is nothing like the scale of Chernobyl, ‘open question’ notwithstanding.

    The reason for the Hindenburg-Chernobyl analogy is precisely because they both denote technologies that are no longer used. The equivalent of Fukushima would be something like the de Havilland Comet 1, or any other aircraft model that has had a systematic vulnerability to serious failure identified. The model is withdrawn for a few months or years until a fix is determined, and the safety of the whole industry is strengthened in the process. You don’t stop flying jet aircraft altogether.

    I may well watch the doco, but I can tell you in advance it won’t shift my position, for the reasons already given.

  53. nicwalmsley

    All I get from supporters of nuclear power is this: yeah that one went bad, but it wont happen again. Why should we trust that judgement call?

    Decision theory is costs vs benefit vs risk. With risk, you weigh likelihood against outcome. Even though a risk may be very unlikely, if the outcome is extremely bad, then you still avoid the risk.

  54. rubiginosa

    “…but I can tell you in advance it won’t shift my position…”. Concrete, Comets and Chernobyl. Please continue to dazzle us with rigorous, perceptive analogies.

  55. freecountry

    Ronin8317 – OK, so you’re contradicting the health authorities who said those two workers will be OK, and you’re giving a second opinion that they should now put their affairs in order and choose the hymns for their own funerals. I questioned you on this not to trivialize the genuine terrors that those workers (many of them with families and homes swept away by the tsunami) are facing day after day, but to illustrate how easily facts give way to exaggerated rumours where all things nuclear are concerned.

  56. ronin8317

    FreeCountry : The report from 24th March said the workers were exposed to 250mSv, which is safe. The report from 28th March updated the amount to 2000mSv to 3000mSv, which is not safe. I believe this is where the discrepancy comes in. I would love to be proven wrong.

  57. Liz45

    @BUTFLI – Next time you make a bomb out of nerve gas that will kill???people, let me know!

    I recall years ago, that there was radioactive substances found in the soil at Windscale, UK. It was said at the time that plutonium had leeched into the soil of the perimeter of the site. I recall very clearly a scientist saying, that if the plutonium in small amounts had ‘got together’ there could be an explosion – a radioactive bomb! In the attempt to bs the people into thinking they were being responsible, those in charge got rid of the milk from cows in surrounding areas – as if that would ‘fix it’? More bs and spin!

    Plutonium has a half life of how many thousands of years? And then it has a half life of???And then???
    If two workers had to be hospitalized due to ‘burns’ on their feet, what do you estimate is their prognosis? You can nitpick on this and that, the overwhelming reality is, that this ‘stuff’ is extremely dangerous, and small ‘portions’ of some elements can be responsible for more deaths than from other lethal substances such as nerve gases.

    Next week I’ll be 66 – I’ve been following the nuclear industry for some time now – perhaps years more than you have, and I’ve not forgotten all the ‘incidents’ and ‘accidents’ and the absolute lies and bs we were spun – including what was revealed about Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

    I heard Dr Helen Caldicott assert recently, that the numbers who’ve died from Chernobyl are a million. She asserts this figure has been agreed to by a respected nuclear authority.

    We don’t need that stuff here, and as someone correctly stated, it’s a dangerous and inefficent means of boiling water!

  58. John Bennetts

    Firstly, Liz, the day that H Caldicott speaks the unadorned truth is yet to come. Don’t trust her utterances without rock-solid fact checking… which will fail.

    Regarding nuclear power options for the future, I recommend that any decision to adopt nuclear power technologies, either in Australia or elsewhere, should be based first and foremost on an examination of the costs, risks and benefits of all of the available options.

    Many would be surprised and concerned by the true costs and benefits of each of the following technologies, under the following headings:
    Capital cost.
    Safety – both on site and cradle to grave.
    Operating cost.
    End-of-life cost (demolition, etc)

    Current nuclear fission designs – not 50-year old designs in 40-year old plant – come up surprisingly well against all of:
    Solar PV, especially rooftop domestic toys;
    New hydro (the environmental damage has already been done at existing dams);
    Open Cycle Gas Turbine: good for peaking power, to back up the gaps in wind and PV;
    Anything else you care to name;

    and, yes: coal.

    The choice will soon become clear, and is between two options.
    1). Adopt nuclear fission power across the board and phase out fossil fuel power generation; and
    2). Sit in the dark and shiver in the cold as the climate warms and the seas rise.

    Wait. There is a third way. Get rid of humans and their desires to live well. Hand the world to cockroaches and rats.

    Yes, I can provide references to proper studies to support what I have just said… unlike the wishful thinkers who live in a fairy kingdom, free of real constraints.

  59. michael crook

    Well said Liz, I am with you. JB must be reading different set of figures to mine. UK is to pay over 70 billion pounds over 10 years just to decommission. Ok, so that is old plants, but the new ones will have to be decommissioned someday, and there is still the waste issue. Costings are funny things and figures are subject to manipulation, but to suggest that a generation system where the fuel has to be mined and transported and disposed of, not to mention the maintenance costs associated with actually burning or using the fuel, is cheaper compared to a fuel that costs nothing, is stretching the grounds of credibility a bit dont you think?

  60. Syd Walker

    @ Mark Duffett

    Firstly, if “not as bad as Chernobyl” has become the benchmark of success, God help us.

    But is Fukushima ‘worse than Chernobyl?

    That remains an open question. The crisis is not over yet. To repeat the words of Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Maryland said:

    “The mechanisms of the accident would be very different than Chernobyl, where there was also a fire, and the mix of radionuclides would be very different. While the quantity of short-lived radionuclides, notably iodine-131, would be much smaller, the consequences for the long term could be more dire due to long-lived radionuclides such as cesium- 137, strontium-90, iodine-129, and plutonium-239. These radionuclides are generally present in much larger quantities in spent fuel pools than in the reactor itself. In light of that, it is remarkable how little has been said by the Japanese authorities about this problem.”

    Re the Hindenberg, your exact quote was:

    “condemning nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like writing off all aviation because of the Hindenburg.”

    I’ll rephrase that for you so it has a modicum of historical accuracy:

    “condemning nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like writing off all airship technology because of the Hindenburg.”

    The difference is that after the Hindenberg disaster, airship technology WAS largely abandoned – whereas nuclear energy keeps on keeping on, leaving a trail of unsolved nightmares and hideously toxic pollution in its wake.

    One of those unsolved problems is waste disposal. Reactors 5 & 6 at Fukushima are apparently used for storage of spent fuel rods. With loss of coolants, they have now become a major component of the unfolding drama.

    Expanding the nuclear industry would only increase the amount of waste it generates requiring safe disposal – a problem ‘unsolved’ after more than half a century.

    @nicwalmsley says it all really: “Even though a risk may be very unlikely, if the outcome is extremely bad… you still avoid the risk.”

    If we had a dozen planets on which to experiment, there might be a case for keeping this experiment going. But we only have one, and there isn’t.

    @John Bennetts

    Please find another planet for the reckless experiments you advocate.

    Whatever nuclear power had before this catastrophe, it has blown up into the slip-stream along with the toxic spew from Fukushima. Get used to it. Perhaps you need another hobby?

  61. Syd Walker

    There’s a missing word in the last paraqgraph above: “Whatever credibility nuclear power had before this catastrophe…”

  62. John Bennetts


    What’s this crack about my new hobby?

    One of us has a relevant profession. The other I disagree with about the merits and costs of nuclear power.

    I can provide a few references regarding costs, reliability, safety and capacity if you wish. However, the onus is on those who currently are receiving the government handouts. Come on, show us all how cheap, reliable and safe your energy preferences are. I imagine that your primary reference will be the infamous ZCA2020 bull which has been shot down more times than enough.

  63. John Bennetts


    Got a citation for that 70 billion pound figure? Or is it still being manipulated, as you advocate doing?

  64. Syd Walker

    @John Bennetts

    This is from the Wikipedia article on Nuclear decommissioning:

    “Decommissionning is very expensive. The current estimate by the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority is that it will cost at least £70 billion to decommission the 19 existing United Kingdom nuclear sites; this takes no account of what will happen in the future. Also, due to the radioactivity in the reactor structure, decommissioning is a slow process which takes place in stages. The plans of the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority for decommissioning reactors have an average 50 year time frame. The long time frame makes reliable cost estimates extremely difficult. Excessive cost overruns are not uncommon even for projects done in a much shorter time frame.”

    Back in 2005 the BBC ran a story in 2005 headlined “Nuclear clean-up cost up to £56bn”

    You can Google them both if you know how.

    I am glad you have a ‘relevant profession’ John. Good for you. My comment re finding a new hobby was a reference to your stint of ‘service’ as an advocate/apologist for nuclear energy. I presume that’s unpaid work? A hobby, in other words? If not, perhaps you could enlighten us…

  65. freecountry

    Syd Walker:
    [“condemning nuclear power because of Chernobyl is like writing off all airship technology because of the Hindenburg.”]
    OK, let’s go with that. The original blueprint for the Hindenburg used inert He rather than volatile H2 for buoyancy, but America controlled helium extraction, and Roosevelt refused to supply it to Hit-ler in anticipation of the coming war. Zeppelins had proved themselves hopelessly vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire in WWI, and after the burning of the Hindenburg, Hit-ler put an end to the development of zeppelins (which was led by Germany) in favour of more combat-capable aircraft. The die was cast, the war set the path of aviation for the next 50 years.

    In other words, zeppelins were killed by politics and war, not by any hazard inherent in the technology. A great shame, because they are far safer and more fuel efficient than aeroplanes, and would be a wonderful, elegant, cost effective form of medium range public transport. But they will always be remembered for that terrible sight of humans burning in the air.

  66. Syd Walker


    I’ve already said I hold favourable views about airship technology (although unlike you and you chums, I’m merely a layperson, not a priest of the technocracy – so what would I know?)

    I’ve also already said that the Hindenberg/airship story and the Chernobyl/nuclear story are not comparable. That’s why I objected to the comparison.

    In the first case, 36 people were killed and a technology was largely abandoned.

    In the second case, God only knows how many people really were killed, a large area around the reactor remains uninhabitable to this day… and what happened to the nuclear energy industry and its large PR team?

    They suffered a jolt but keep going… and now argue for expansion of nuclear power – even after this latest debacle in Japan.

    The word ‘denial’ has been much in vogue recently. I know of no better example of ‘denial’ than the arrogant and bellicose complacency of nuclear power apologists in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

  67. freecountry

    Yes but the impact of the Hindenburg’s demise was not the number killed but the visual shock value that was seen around the world. After that, many deniers insisted, ignorantly, that dirigibles are inherently flammable, vulnerable to lightning, and so on. (The Hindenburg survived hundreds, maybe thousands of lightning strikes without even noticing; it was protected by a Faraday cage of wire in the skin, the same principle that protects aeroplanes.)

    You have not provided one single argument why the case for dirigibles vs craft that depend on aerofoils for lift is not, as Mark Duffett said, a good analogy for nuclear vs coal power. All you have done is nod in acknowledgement that we abandoned the technology for questionable reasons, and then claim without any supporting logic that it’s not comparable. It is comparable.

  68. Mark Duffett

    @Syd Walker, the aspect of my point that you appear to be missing is that Chernobyl, too, represents an abandoned technology. The RBMK reactor type at Chernobyl was a very different beast to the reactors being built and planned today.

    @ronin8317, I’m not a medico either, but I suspect the reason 2000-3000 mSv has not proven fatal or anything close to it is that it was concentrated in a small part of the body. Therapeutic doses can exceed 20,000 mSv – but this is concentrated in a small volume, and over an extended period of time, so healthy cells can continue to repair themselves.

  69. Mark Duffett

    @Syd Walker, it is exceedingly more likely that the person who wrote the Wikipedia entry on nuclear decommissioning is paid for their efforts, than that John Bennetts has been paid for his.

  70. nicwalmsley

    The opposition to dirigibles was based on one relatively minor accident that could have been avoided but for political interference.

    The opposition to nuclear power on the other hand is based on a series of horrendous disasters that have permanently damaged parts of earth and on the permanent waste legacy that no one can manage (technically, politically or financially), not to mention the unjustified level of risk we have been exposed too, the endless cover-ups, the relationship with the nuclear weapons industry, and the enormous costs of supporting the whole of life cycle for nuclear power.

    Can you see the analogy is a little weak?

  71. Syd Walker

    Thanks Nic. The Hindenberg is a quite absurd comparison – like comparing apples and spent nuclear fuel rods.

    There’s an exclusion zone around Chernobyl. Russia Today (March 3oth) has an article carrying the headline: “Chernobyl to stay deserted forever”. It concludes as follows:

    “…25 years after the fallout, radioactive particles cover the Chernobyl restriction zone and are expected to remain there until the end of time, with the land never to be fit to live on again.”

    Perhaps John Bennetts & co think there’s a similar exclusion zone around the site of the Hindenberg accident?

  72. rubiginosa

    John Bennetts: Please find and understand the meaning of false dichotomy.

  73. John Bennetts

    Hi, Syd.

    I understand that you are frustrated that nuclear power options keep popping up. It’s hard work trying to kill off such a good idea. Safer… yep. Cheaper, cradle to grave… yep. Reliable… yep.

    The current German experience is an indication of even more money than the British numbers you quoted, and all that will come of it will be a couple of percentage points in capacity. If only renewables could do the job, I would revert to being their strong supporter. I still have hopes. However, climate change trumps all the politics and posturing surrounding power generation.

    The world needs power. Perhaps Australia can get by on less than we think, but the remainder of the world’s population do not deserve to be condemned to a low-or-no energy future, just because Westerners beat them to the coal bafore it was outlawed.


    Climate woes rank above energy woes, as far as I am concerned.
    Renewables are only as good as their last performance.
    Nuclear must do much better, probably initially by taking a deep breath and then making safer all the older plants as a priority.
    Fossil fuels must be wound right back.

    While I have long term design, operating and construction as an engineer, especially within the power industry, nobody pays me to think the way I do. Never has, never will.

    Want a couple of references to the extreme waste of money going on in Germany at present as they rush away from nuclear power stations? Just ask. Or Google the key words. There’s plenty out there.

  74. Mark Duffett

    @NicWalmsley, there was more than one ‘relatively minor’ accident that did for dirigibles. Try looking up the R101, for instance.

    Leaving aside for a moment the question of just how ‘horrendous’ Chern0byl was, a “series of horrendous disasters”? Really? A series? (don’t try to bring in Kyshtym again, which was a weapons facility)

    As for “permanently damaged parts of earth”, you never did address my point about relative areas. Why is land alienated by nuclear so much worse than (the greater area of) land alienated by other forms of energy production? (Note sarcasm and ridicule as espoused by @rubiginosa, even garnished with alliteration, won’t cut it). The waste legacy is entirely a political problem, not a technical one.

    Another reason for the comparison with aviation is that, despite over a century of continuous improvement, aviation kills thousands of people every year. Even taking the million premature deaths claimed for Chern0byl (which I don’t accept for a moment), more people are killed on the roads every year. Yet we still fly. We still drive. And the production of electricity is at least as important to civilisation as mobility.

    Are you saying that climate change won’t be ‘extremely bad’? That we don’t really need reliable electricity? That renewable energy is capable of supplying it without incurring mind-bogglingly stupendous (never mind enormous) costs (and, yes, damaging large swathes of Earth)? Why should we trust those judgement calls?

    Can you see that your sense of what constitutes ‘a series of horrendous disasters’ and an ‘unjustified level of risk’ is wildly miscalibrated when it comes to nuclear?

  75. freecountry

    Syd, you’re trying to use a numerical argument to distance nuclear power from dirigibles, based on a grander scale of damage. But on the grandness of scale of damage, and the number of people killed, nuclear does far less damage to life and land than other forms of energy supply. So your argument is self-defeating.

    All we’re left with, then, is emotional shock value. Burning humans falling through the air on film, and invisible silent radiation that brings to mind nuclear warfare, are worth a thousand times their actual hazard value compared to the more mundane horrors of road transport and lung disease.

  76. nicwalmsley

    Mark, I was really just trying to get the thread off the whole airship thing.

    I followed the link and the third dot point said “The wildlife at Chernobyl today is reported to be thriving, despite being radioactive.” I’ll accept my calculations are calibrated differently, for sure.

    Re the damaged land, what I don’t like is the permanency of the damage. I know I am on shaky ground here because I am trying to appeal to a sense of morality that respects the distant future and not everyone cares about that.

    Re “series”, the deeper point is that these facilities will have accidents. If we need to get picky, I guess Fukushima makes it a series. If I include near misses it just reinforces the accidents happen point.

    Mark, just from a “what if” perspective, how bad do you think the worst case scenario is when it comes to a nuclear power plant accident? You can tell me how unlikely it is, but be honest about how bad it could be at the same time.

    If it comes down to coal vs nuclear I like to see the pros and cons of clean coal vs clean nuclear. But more importantly I think it is time we start mega investing in clean energy technology and research. Phase out coal and phase in clean tech, hope we can do this quickly enough, and adapt to climate change in the medium term if we can’t. I’m pretty sure by the end of the century we won’t be warming up uranium to boil water or burning coal to do the same.

    For my home supply, I pay for 100% wind power and it costs me $400 a year. Less chocolate and wine I know, but better than subsiding nuclear power in my humble opinion.

  77. nicwalmsley

    $400 a year extra

  78. rubiginosa

    No matter how badly Zeppelin or de Havilland screwed up, one million people wouldn’t have to find somewhere else to live.
    Critters‘ might live at Chernobyl – do humans? Is it productive land? Is there any way to remediate it? Or are you actually conflating background radiation with contamination from a nuclear reactor?
    I watch how you elide the waste problem, and it only increases my cynicism. Inflexible dichotomous thinking and ludicrous analogies attract ridicule.

  79. Syd Walker

    Re the issue about whether Fukushima will prove to be “worse than Chernobyl”, which some of our resident nuclear apologists graciously conceded is “an open question” when pressed.

    On March 25th Dr. Michio Kaku was interviewed on TV. It’s a short interview but worth watching.

    Google “Japan Nuclear Meltdown could exceed Chernobyl”.

    See also the more recent “Full meltdown in full swing? Japan maximum nuclear alert” (via YouTube, original on Russia Today) where Professor Busby of the European Committee on Radiation Risks is interviewed. He discusses the comparison with Chernobyl at some length.

  80. John Bennetts

    @ Nic Walmsley:

    “But more importantly I think it is time we start mega investing in clean energy technology and research. Phase out coal and phase in clean tech.”

    Nic, until a couple of years ago, I held the same opinion as you on this subject. If only solar and wind and geothermal and tidal and wave power had achieved what they set out to achieve. I haven’t given up hope, but plans must be made to get out of the coal business and, pretty soon after, the oil and gas business.

    With some reluctance, I studied, I bought books, I spent hours and hours on the Web, asking questions and lurking on a dozen sites. I took myself to conferences and lectures, sometimes paying for motels just to be able to be there. Over a period of 3+ years, I have toughened up.

    The Germans are “mega investing in clean energy”. 60 Billion Euros, at last report. They have added a few percent to their generation capacity, and now they are hell-bent on retiring nuclear. Retiring nuclear, in favour of heavier involvement in coal and a range of offsets purchased via a failed carbon abatement market which is full of holes and scams.

    Spain has done the same.

    Both are now revising downwards the Feed in Tarriff – FiT- which underpins their domestic rooftop solar PV industry, as does a similar series of schemes in Australia, each costing other retail customers up to 7 times as much as the market price for the power thus generated.

    So, you are following a path which I once trod and I wish you well. I really do hope that you find a happier ending than the one I see, which involves high cost PV, political scams and schemes, long-term reliance on carbon and nothing but bad news for the climate.

    Sorry, through pessimism, I have become developed a harder head and an acceptance that nuclear power, for all its real and imagined faults, offers a surer, cheaper and safer path than is currently available via renewables and carbon.

    That said, I am still intimately involved in a solar thermal project which is under construction. I am very optimistic that the steam generated from the sun will offset enough coal to be able to enthuse and motivate decision makers, the politicians and captains of industry who make our energy decisions for us all. I am behind renewables as far and as fast as renewables can be developed.

    Right now, that’s not fast enough to save the planet from climate change far more challenging and unpleasant than any out-of-control nuclear power plant has yet to bring.

  81. Flower

    Liz45 – Helen Caldicott has quoted correctly from a book published last year by the New York Academy of Sciences on the 24th anniversary of the Chernobyl meltdown.

    The book, “Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment,” was compiled by authors Alexey Yablokov of the Center for Russian Environmental Policy in Moscow, and Vassily Nesterenko and Alexey Nesterenko of the Institute of Radiation Safety, in Minsk, Belarus.

    Drawing upon extensive data (5,000 published articles and studies, mostly written in Slavic languages and never before available in English), the authors estimated the number of deaths worldwide due to Chernobyl fallout from 1986 through 2004 was 985,000, a number that has since increased.

    By contrast, WHO and the IAEA estimated 9,000 deaths and some 200,000 people sickened in 2005.

    There was a paper written by Rudi Hussbaum PhD and published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health in 2007, titled “Manipulating Public Health Research: The Nuclear and Radiation Health Establishments.”

    “Industry, government, and the military have systematically suppressed or manipulated epidemiologic research showing detrimental effects on human health from accidental or occupational exposures to ionizing radiation. This leads to conflicts of interest and compromised integrity among scientists in the radiation health establishment, it stifles dissemination of “unwelcome” findings and endangers public health.”

    In 2005, a French Court of Appeals ruled that a shipment of 360 spent nuclear fuel rods from Australia’s Lucas Heights reactor in Sydney was considered “radioactive nuclear waste” and was being illegally stored in France by Areva’s wholly owned subsidiary Cogema.

    The court pronounced that Cogema had illegally imported and stored the Australian nuclear waste for the past four years, and ordered the company to pay 10,000 euros (approximately $13,000) in damages to an plaintiff who took legal action against Cogema in 2001 over the environmental risks associated with radioactive waste storage.

    This is an industry that uses humans as cannon fodder. Yet the nuclear club struts its stuff in its new clothes but “it’s not the hat, it’s more than that. It’s manners that maketh man” and this club ain’t got none- that’s for sure!

  82. freecountry

    Yep, just ask those trying to get action on global warming: hyperbole beats science every time.

  83. Mark Duffett

    George Monbiot says what I’ve been trying to say, albeit more articulately, at greater length and with nary an analogy in sight.

    @NicWalmsley on worst case scenarios, please see here, in particular the section on ‘The Worst Possible Accident’. Certainly as far as external influences are concerned, Fukushima pretty much is the worst case scenario.

    On ‘$400/year for 100% wind power’, I’m surprised John Bennetts didn’t point you towards what he himself wrote recently regarding a similar assertion for rooftop solar. In short, what you’re getting is massively cross-subsidised, certainly in energy delivery if not financial terms.

  84. Captain Planet

    Mark Duffett and John Bennetts,

    In the interests of open mindedness, I am willing to be convinced.

    If you can provide a link to a study which outlines a fully engineered and costed plan to supply 100 % of Australia’s energy needs from Nuclear Power by 2020, I would be prepared to review it.

    Note that the study must consider:-

    1. A full project plan for project delivery – importation schedules with timelines from suppliers, estimates of number of skilled personnel required, and locations for plants.
    2. Full engineering for the electrical network transition – independantly reviewed by an engineering consultancy firm.
    3. A fuel supply plan to ensure adequate supplies of reactor fuel – including mining locations, techniques, processing plant locations and plans, tailings dam and environmental management plans, transportation and storage: And demonstrate that the supply can be maintained for at the least a few hundred years.
    4. A thorough and realistic plan to store the waste in a manner and location that will be guaranteed to present no more than a reasonably ACCEPTABLE level of risk for the duration of the time that the waste will present a radioactivity hazard – allowing for ALL geological instability (however unlikely), wars, revolutions, societal collapse, and climatic changes, which might be conceivable during that time:,
    5. Thorough costings for construction, operations and maintenance, decommissioning at end of life, and storage of waste:
    6. A projection of the CO2 emissions footprint of the plan, which demonstrates that nuclear energy can reduce Australia’s CO2 emissions below the per capita level required to reduce and maintain global CO2 concentrations below 350 ppm.
    7. And most importantly, all this must be done with existing technology which is currently commercially available – “off the shelf” as it were.

    If you can show me such a plan, I am willing to look at it and consider with an open mind whether nuclear really can be a solution to CO2 emissions intensity.

    I realise it is an incredibly ambitious idea and would be willing to consider fairly, any assumptions made, which are within the boundaries of possibility.

  85. Captain Planet

    I should point out that in 6. (above) I meant,

    6. A projection of the CO2 emissions footprint of the plan, which demonstrates that nuclear energy can reduce Australia’s CO2 emissions below the per capita level required to reduce and maintain global CO2 concentrations below 350 ppm ….. IF such a per capita level were achieved by all countries in the world (by whatever means).

  86. freecountry

    Captain Planet – No one is going to invest the tens of millions to come up with such a plan until the ALP’s absolute, never-ever, anti nuclear policy is dropped, allowing it to be considered alongside other options and taking all those factors into account. And when that eventually happens, considerations of energy security and population dispersion will probably preclude 100 per cent of energy supply being all the same.

  87. Flower

    Captain Planet – Your questions are indeed pertinent and Free Country’s ‘get out of gaol’ card should be disregarded.

    I would be particularly interested to learn of the nuclear technology that Mark and John are advocating for the immediate future.

    I am able to say with some confidence that nuclear reactors (if any) for Australia would not include the Gen IV technology (that advocates promote with such gusto) since they are unproven and are still on the drawing board.

    The Gen III+ Olkiluoto reactor under construction in Finland now has an operating date of 2013 – ten years after the price was set in 2003. The price has now doubled and litigation abounds. Unqualified welders and badly-mixed concrete are just two among 1,700 “quality deviations” that have dogged the reactor so I don’t imagine they will be coming off the assembly line any time before 2020.

    The World Nuclear Association reported that “reactors built today in China should operate for 50 or 60 years, meaning a large fleet of Gen-II units will still be in operation into the 2070s. The country should be ‘careful’ concerning ‘the volume of second generation units under construction… the scale should not be too large’ to avoid any perception of being below international standards of safety in the future.”

    Indeed, China is building Gen II units today in large numbers, with 57 (53.14 GWe) on the books and as Tony Jones pointed out to George Monbiot last night, China (and the US) experience significant seismic activity. Constructing yester-year’s Gen II reactors in the 21st century exposes the deplorable risk-taking mentality endemic in this industry. The nuclear greed-barons placing profits above safety were described by George Monbiot on last night’s Lateline as “corner-cutting scumbags.”

  88. John Bennetts

    Hi, Flower and Captain Planet.

    I have no doubt about your sincerity as you ponder the twin evils of global climate change and nuclear power options.

    I only ask that you consider the options fairly, as I believe that I have done and will continue to do.

    Rather than cvlog up this thread with many references, diverse arguments and so forth, I refer you to two sources.

    1. George Monbiot. World-recognised author, raconteur and journalist, with a long history of doubt about nuclear power. He has reconsidered his position and somewhat reluctantly has come out in favour of the nuclear option.
    For example, see this week’s articles from the Guardian. Look here and at subsequent articles: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/mar/21/pro-nuclear-japan-fukushima .

    2. I have mentioned it before, but will do so again. In 2010, Prof Barry Brook, climatologist and pro-nuclear advocate contributed 50% of an excellent book published by Pantera Press. The other 50% was provided by Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, President of the Australian Conservation Foundation. They provide their best half dozen arguments in support of their case for or against nuclear power, in a world context as well as an Australian one.

    This book, “Why Vs Why – Nuclear Power”, published last year, is available from your library, or may be purchased for less than $20.

    Both of the above references present both sides of the discussion and both are easy reads.

    I’m happy to accept that some, like Flower and Capt. Planet, disagree with me. I am not the ultimate decision maker and, quite likely, neither are they. That they are questioning and seeking a better way is all I can ask.

    Once the basics have been digested, there are a zillion web sites which address specific issues, pro and con.

    I comment BraveNewClimate as one such web site. Check out the list of T-Case discussions. There is likely to be one specifically presenting and arguing back and forth right now on any climate related topic or energy option that bears on the future of renewables, fossil fuels and nuclear options. Start here: http://bravenewclimate.com/category/tcase/ .

  89. Captain Planet

    Hi John and thanks for the reply.

    Just because George Monbiot now supports nuclear power is not, in my opinion, a game changer. He has considered the options and cast in his lot behind the nuclear industry: That’s his opinion. I respect his opinion and often read his work (I read of his conversion to the pro – nuke cause some days ago) but this, to me, is not a comprehensive study on the practicalities and safety precautions required to convert Australia to Nuclear Power.

    My considered opinion is that it can’t be done, economically, practically, and safely, in the time frame we believe we have to reduce our CO2 emissions.

    My considered opinion is that the alternative (renewables) CAN be achieved, and by now you are fully aware of the specific model behind which I’m throwing my support. My point is that I don’t believe anyone has put the same amount of rigour, analysis and all round hard yards into assessing whether a nuclear conversion can be implemented.

    I am willing to be convinced, however.

    I have previously looked at Brave New Climate, and whilst the arguments they make for the comparitive safety of the Nuclear Industry ( by comparison with existing wholesale baseload coal / gas / oil power) are compelling, I don’t believe they stack up by comparison with the (MUCH safer and cleaner) renewables option.

    I haven’t found anything on Brave New Climate or elsewhere which addresses my (valid, in my opinion) concerns about nuclear waste.

    And most importantly, to reiterate my original point, I don’t believe an engineering and costing feasibility study has been done to propose HOW it could be done, to convert Australia to Nuclear power en masse as a CO2 emissions reduction strategy. The most I’ve been able to find is a whole lot of people saying “Nuclear is the solution cos it’s cheap and safe”, more or less.

    Far more rigour is required of us renewables proponents, and the BZE (there I said it again!) report shows that this has been undertaken (John, see the Garnaut Electricity Reform Thread for my rebuttal of your criticisms of this report. I don’t think you are assessing it with an open mind.)

    I would like to see the same level of scrutiny applied to, and committment shown by, the nuclear lobby. Let’s see the proposal and the costings!

    In the interests of fairness, I will have a look at “Why Vs. Why – Nuclear Power”. Personally my experience has been that Barry Brooks is a little too fervent to make a dispassionate or balanced assessment of the pros and cons of this particular technology, but I’ll have a look at what he has to say.

    Meanwhile, I invite you to consider that no matter how well managed, the potential worst case disaster outcome from Nuclear power is (you would have to agree) unacceptable.

    Please don’t make the mistake of thinking that all anti nuclear campaigners are religiously blind to facts and alternatives. Many of us have, like yourself, considered all the options and done lots of research into the pros as well as cons of nuclear – but come to a different conclusion to yourself.

  90. Captain Planet

    @ John

    Link to the Garnaut thread (to avoid cross posting)


    6 hours later and it’s still stuck in moderation.

  91. Flower

    Thank you for the response John Bennetts. Again, I express my disappointment that the issues of concern in my recent post, as in previous ones, have not been addressed. This ongoing failure exacerbates the industry’s poor record and its lack of transparency.

    One could be surprised to find that nuclear proponents have accused me of being “a bleeding heart for non-humans” and indeed I am. The narcissistic and sadistic traits of Homo-sapiens in their domination over non-humans is responsible for a global biodiversity in crisis.

    The fishing industry is stringently regulated particularly in the crime of illegal catches that threaten the survival of marine species.

    Not so in the nuclear industry where potentially over half of operating nuclear reactors have a once-through cooling technology including around 60 in the US. These reactors can draw in as much as a billion gallons of water per reactor unit a day, nearly a million gallons a minute, in order to dissipate the extraordinary amounts of waste heat generated in the fission process.

    ‘The devastation of marine life and ecosystems stems from the powerful intake of water into the nuclear reactor. Marine life, ranging from endangered sea turtles and manatees down to delicate fish larvae and microscopic planktonic organisms vital to the ocean ecosystem, is sucked irresistibly into the reactor cooling system, a process known as entrainment. Some of these animals are killed, either through impingement (animals are caught and trapped against filters, grates, and other reactor structures), or, in the case of air-breathing animals like turtles, seals, and manatees, drown or suffocate.’

    The US EPA estimated that the Indian Point once-through cooling reactor slaughters an estimated billion marine animals every year.

    New York, California and New Jersey are currently sitting on draft policies which, if enforced, would not allow these reactors to operate unless they construct cooling towers. However, the proposal is to allow these companies to continue operating with a licence to kill until 2022/2024.

    Unfortunately these reactors in the US, Europe, Russia, UK, Canada, Sth Africa, Japan, Korea, China, Sweden and Finland have been allowed to continue their wholesale slaughter for up to forty years with impunity and several will continue to do so for decades, despite warming oceans and climate change.

    These licences to kill are eco-atrocities on a massive scale but you persist with the notion that nuclear energy is essential to prevent global warming and the survival of the species? Which species John? Yours?

  92. John Bennetts

    @ Captain Planet, Posted Friday, 1 April 2011 at 7:34 pm:

    So, Captain, you have decided to go for the futile yet pure option: No actual plan, except to argue against the nly show in town.

    Well done.

    I am sure that your grandchildren will thank you for your non-contribution, as their world crumbles around them and they sit in the cold and dark and ponder just why it is that the world is unable to feed itself, the tides are rising and the refugees just keep on coming. really do hope that your failure to have an opinion does not result in this scenario, bt what, exactly, do you propose as an alternative?

  93. John Bennetts

    @ Flower,

    There are flowers and there are real stinkers.

    This world is threatened by some things that we know about. Unfortunately, it is much more threatened by those who fail to see, to know and to act.

    Purity of mind counts as no excuse for inaction, while the climate changes and the world’s economies and social structures fail around us.

    Your name suggests that you are of the feminine persuasion. Do you really think that your children and their children will understand why their world is so much less hospitable than your own, when your own words are recorded for posterity advocating that my species, humankind, is not your species.

    I find this to be sick and deluded, a sham and an avoidance of the real issue at foot, which is the issue of anthropenic climate change brought to this world by several generations of humans during the past 200 years or so and set to blight all of this small blue sphere’s species for ever.

    Isn’t climate change and the range of possible responses to it a much more worthy topic than your deluded assertion that, by being male, I am somehow not of your own species?

    You, Flower, are both misguided and deeply offensive. Thank goodness that I can now decline to respond to your jibes and ignore this thread of Crikey. You have shown yourself for what you are: determined to play games while the real business of life passes by; an impotent bystander and an outright fool.

  94. Flower

    He’s back. John Bennett’s alter ego – the I, me, myself psycho. And have a butchers at the tirade this time and it’s not even a technological tirade. Just more denial wrapped in an ugly bow and on all sides by the iniquities of nuclear man.

    Death seed blind man’s greed
    Nature starving children bleed
    Nothing he’s got we really need
    Twentieth century schizoid man.

    And here, poor fool, he stands once more. No wiser than he was before.

  95. Mark Duffett

    @Capt P (13:19 1/4), as FreeCountry points out, your demand for fully detailed nuclear plans is unreasonable at this stage of the debate in Australia, and not just for the reasons FC cites. Another is that no-one is proposing Australia to go 100% nuclear, let alone by 2020. I’d settle for something like the French mix (up to 75% nuclear, in partnership with renewables). But even though a fully worked plan would cost tens of millions, I’ll give you some back-of-envelope stabs at some of your points for free.

    1. and 2. I envisage a more or less one-for-one replacement of coal with nuclear (i.e. on the same site). The ‘electrical network transition’ should thus be minimal.

    3. Dozens of mines, planned mines, and prospects (just ask Flower how many), but principally Olympic Dam. See also 5.

    4. See 3. OD is in the middle of a craton that has not seen significant seismic activity for 1500 million years, and isn’t likely to in the geologically foreseeable future. It is also extremely arid, flat (so no groundwater movement) and already has an extensive network of tunnels well over a kilometre below the surface. It could take the entire world’s nuclear waste and barely notice the difference to the volume of other waste rock currently being used as backfill. No one’s going to expose that inadvertently, and anyone doing it deliberately will know exactly what they’re doing. But see also 5.

    5. For likely costs, see The Economic Future of Nuclear Power, also 7. However, the ultimate waste and fuel solution will be Generation IV nuclear technology, which will eliminate all but a minuscule volume of our current nuclear waste, and extend our supply of fissionables for millennia. Contrary to Flower’s misleading characterisation, Gen IV technology has progressed substantially beyond the drawing board, with numerous prototypical components built and tested prior to 1994.

    6. The lifetime CO2 emissions of nuclear are similar to wind and hydro, and considerably less than solar (per MWh). This is not surprising given the many times greater volumes of concrete, sand, glass, steel etc. required for solar and wind, coupled with the extremely high energy density of uranium (and thorium).

    7. Westinghouse will sell you an AP1000 (1000 MW) reactor for anything up to $7 billion (worst case I’ve seen; if we embarked on the crash program that would be required to make a dent by 2020, economies of scale would give significantly less costs). Such a solution would give substantially greater, much more reliable generation capacity for significantly less than the (wildly optimistic) $370 billion demanded by BZE (hint: current Australian peak demand is around 35000 MW).

  96. Flower

    “Contrary to Flower’s misleading characterisation, Gen IV technology has progressed substantially beyond the drawing board, with numerous prototypical components built and tested prior to 1994.”

    True Mark Duffett and the passage of time proves they were duds. I do have the relevant information which I can’t be bothered resurrecting for obvious reasons.

    Despite your accusation that I have misled, I shall adhere to my assertion that Gen IVs’ estimated time for producing any number of commercially operating reactors will not be prior to “2030-2040.”

    An update of the WNA (Dec. 2010) advised that: “An international task force is developing six nuclear reactor technologies for deployment between 2020 and 2030.” The article is pueppered with “likely, envisaged, eventually, pilot plant etc.”

    The Gen IV International Forum is quoted as stating that “the Generation IV systems are expected to become available for commercial introduction in the period between 2015 and 2030 or beyond.” “Beyond?” There is nothing concrete about that assumption.

    You appear once more to be suggesting this technology is imminent. If so, you should have an idea of how many Gen IV reactors will be available commercially by 2020, 2030 or even 2050 and these dates are very relevant since the nuclear club keeps reminding us that time is running out.

    I would suggest that any number below two thousand new reactors is irrelevant. Divide that by say 50 nations = 40 each. Switowski initially suggested 25 reactors for Australia by 2050 to supply just one third of this small nation’s electricity needs and then changed his mind to 50 therefore I believe I am being conservative with a figure of 2000. So will it take nine years to build 2000 new reactors by 2020, 19 years to build 2000 reactors by 2030 or 39 years to build 2000 reactors by 2050 while the planet is cooking? Oops I’ve overlooked the remaining >146 other nations, haven’t I?

    The elevated radioactivity in Olympic Dam tailings is some 200 times natural background levels but clearly you believe it is morally acceptable for the Olympic Dam project to leak 1,000,000 litres of toxic tailings solution into the groundwater every day, breaching regulations with impunity while the nuclear club dupes the masses into believing that “the uranium industry is stringently regulated.”

    The proposed expansion of the OD project is set to increase its monster TSF to some 9 billion tonnes of radioactive tailings, which is dumped on the surface, a radioactive scar forever, to be monitored for the next 10,000 years by future generations. Clearly that meets with your approval too.

    As they say in the flicks: “Not good enough Doris.”

  97. Mark Duffett

    Flower, I haven’t disputed that a Gen IV is not going to start operating commercially tomorrow. What I advocate is a ramp up with Gen III (as the reference to the Gen III AP1000 reactor indicated), with Gen IV to follow to subsequent decades, using the fuel created by the Gen III and earlier reactors (and solving the waste problem in the process), as explained here.

    I gather you’re saying that nuclear can’t be built fast enough. But what you’re expounding with your calculation is one of the classic ‘hypocrisies of the antis’ also pointed to by Monbiot. Of course the magnitude of the task is considerable. But if it’s a big challenge for nuclear, it’s many times greater for the renewable alternatives, which are coming off a much lower base, and have real issues going beyond 20-30% long-term penetration of a grid.

    And nuclear has the runs on the board in this regard. France went from zero to around 75% nuclear power within 20 years, replacing over 80% of its fossil fuel generation.

  98. Flower

    Mark Duffett – Westinghouse’s AP1000 has not yet received certification in the US. In 2009, the NRC sent the design back to the drawing board because the containment “did not meet fundamental engineering standards” as well as other concerns not disclosed to the public.

    Congress was recently informed that “Under current regulations, miles and miles of buried pipes within nuclear reactors have never been inspected and will likely never be inspected.”

    Aging reactors in the US are having the licences renewed for an additional 20-30 years. Political interference in the nuclear industry is widespread.

    China continues to build new Gen II reactors which is indicative of IAEA’s impotence.

    The nuclear club should refrain from referring to its nuclear pin-up man-child as one of excellence. France is a corrupt state and in 2006, the former head of the state-run French body monitoring radiation was charged with “aggravated deceit” over the alleged cover-up of the effects of the Chernobyl disaster on France. There were 500 civil plaintiffs in the case along with the Independent Commission for Research and Information on Radioactivity and the French Association of Victims of Thyroid Cancer. The IAEA’s statistics on Chernobyl are predominantly compliments of France’s radiation agency.

    Last month, Former French President Jacques Chirac faced corruption charges over his alleged misuse of public funds for political gains when he was mayor of Paris. In February the French foreign minister announced her resignation after being under fire for weeks over her contacts with the toppled Tunisian regime.

    In November 2000 the world recognized nuclear power as a dirty, dangerous and unnecessary technology by refusing to give it greenhouse gas credits during the UN Climate Change talks in the Hague. The world dealt nuclear power a further blow when a UN Sustainable Development Conference refused to label nuclear a sustainable technology in April 2001. I repeat, there is widespread political interference in the nuclear industry.

    There is a well-established world-wide pattern of suppression and distortion of scientific findings including in Australia and over many years. Two prominent UWA academics reported in 2007 that all state and federal governments were censoring the release of vital health and environmental information to which the public are entitled. Hundreds of research scientists from seventeen establishments advised they were threatened with withdrawal of funding or dismissal if they released their findings in the public’s interest.

    The nuclear club’s practice of side-stepping the documented criminal negligence of the environment, rampant in the uranium industry (including at OD – your silence is deafening Mark) does not augur well for a nuclear industry in this nation . Environmental justice is the overriding factor in climate change. There is no environmental justice in the nuclear industry. Let the facts speak for themselves. You cannot suppress the data . The nuclear industry, the IAEA and WHO are the hypocrites.

  99. Mark Duffett

    Monbiot skewers Caldicott on Chernobyl and the health effects of radiation generally: ‘The green movement has misled the world about the dangers of radiation.’

  100. Flower

    “They were deliberating among themselves as to how they could give Wings to Death so that it could, in a moment, penetrate everywhere, both near and far.” ( Jan Amos Komensky – Comenius – The Labyrinth of the Worlds 1623)

    1. The Health Effects of the Chernobyl Accident


    2. Deconstructing Nuclear Experts (including self-proclaimed radiation “expert” Monbiot)




    3. Chernobyl – Increases in thyroid cancers, breast cancer, leukemias, birth deformities, cataracts, cardiovascular disease etc:

    “WHO office in the Ukraine, tells The Lancet: “The conclusions of the Chernobyl Forum study were based on the data collected in the Forum’s studies. We found that there would likely be no major effects on birth defects. But our conclusions do not match those of Dr Wertelecki. We are not saying that he is wrong, or that he is right, just that our data was different to his and our conclusions were different. He perhaps had access to data that we did not.”


    http://books.google.com.au/books?id=g34tNlYOB3AC&pg=PA215&lpg=PA215&dq=Congenital+Malformation+and+Stillbirth+chornobyl&source=bl&ots=O15VbUV2ba&sig=d1H0FlrIXRPTAPC4bo1FQFj91sk&hl=en&ei=cOObTc7QEJOEvAPYiY3JBg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CDkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q&f=false Page 35 onward……







    Apologies for any duplications. Papers 4 – 20 on request.

  101. Flower

    Mark Duffett – We know you think George Monbiot a lovely man and he’s certainly the newest bestest buddy of the nuclear industry. But please could we have something more scientific? After all George is to radiobiology what Christopher Monckton is to climate change. Both attention seeking hacks peddling propaganda on behalf the most heinous and foulest industries on the planet.


  102. Mark Duffett

    Flower, all the links you put up in ‘response’ to Monbiot actually predate his post, which is extensively referenced to primary literature and practitioners in the field. Many are the very same sources which he has shown to be discredited. Merely restating them doesn’t make them any more credible.

    Busby appears to be a particular case in point. After getting past the long-winded ranting and name-calling, the little bit of science he cites (his own) has holes you could drive a truck through, in particular his assumption that any increased (insert health effect here) is due to radiation, when other work has shown it was fear itself and consequences from that (alcoholism, depression etc.) that were by far the greatest health effects of Chernobyl.

    And where has Monbiot proclaimed himself to be a ‘radiation expert’? He simply checked out what he was being told and followed the facts to his conclusions, as any good journalist should do.

  103. Flower

    Ah yes Mark – the same old same old IAEA propaganda about radiophobia and hundreds of thousands of alcoholics throughout Europe. And the same old, same old vicious lunge at Busby’s jugular.

    Goodness those alarmingly elevated number of radioactive boars in Germany and other countries in Europe including the sheep in Cumbria and Scotland must have a dose of radiophobia too. I trust the monitoring of these animals, intended for human consumption is stringent since it is costing taxpayers big time.

    Then there are the native birds with birth deformities; the global Chernobyl Children’s programme where seriously ill children in recovery are flown to the US, Chile etc to give them a break from their dreary sick existence. They must have a dose of radiophobia too and they weren’t even born in 1986 when Chernobyl blew up. The excessive number of children with gross birth deformities and institutionalised aren’t so lucky. I guess the deformities were categorically a result of depressed parents getting stuck into the grog too? And what about the grown ups and the children who’ve gone to God after suffering a lingering death from radiation – err…. “alcoholic” poisoning?

    Of course I prefer to glean my information from independent radiology experts and the peer-reviewed literature. And I shall defend my right to say “NO’ to the environmental and human and animal carnage perpetrated on innocent victims by the grim reapers in the nuclear industry. I guess I can also speak on behalf of the millions of people currently waving placards around the globe in protest against nuclear power too?

  104. Flower

    Dear Mark – Would you kindly advise Dr Strangelove over at BNC to cease frightening the children about bananas? I mean what other nonsense will he (a biologist) and his collaborator, Tom Blees, a former fishing boat skipper gleefully dredge up to obscure the hideous radiation impacts of the nuclear industry? After all between the two of them, they have zero credentials in nuclear physics – just like poor old George Monbiot.

    Potassium 40 in bananas do not present a health risk. One would need to eat 810 bananas in a day to get the equivalent dose of radiation that the public received over a 10 mile radius from the Three Mile Island catastrophe. Well according to the “official” figures but we’ve learnt to add some.

    The duplicitous Monbiot was slyly alluding to the “benefits” of the nuclear industry back in 2006 so he’s simply emerged from the closet and bought off through ignorance or avarice. And Blees, Dr Strangelove and the figure fudging ANSTO continue to obscure the groundswell of peer-reviewed literature on the devastating impacts of artificial radiation but we, the public do not Mark Duffett . In fact there is so much literature; one hardly knows where to begin:

    “Since the advent of the nuclear age in the mid-1940s, the mass of radioactive 129I (t1/2 = 15.7 Myr) circulating in the Earth’s hydrosphere has increased nearly fortyfold from its natural background level of 140 kg.

    “Nuclear fuel reprocessing has been by far the major contributor, responsible for releasing 5400 kg of 129I (iodine 129) , primarily into the North Atlantic Ocean. Regional and global trends in the distribution of the 129I inventory are elucidated from an examination of more than 600 determinations of 129I in environmental samples from around the world.

    “Because the major point sources are located in Europe and the United States, more than 99% of the present 129I reservoir is distributed in the Northern Hemisphere, where both 129I concentrations and 129I/I ratios in rivers, lakes, and shallow seawater are several orders of magnitude above the preanthropogenic background.

    “ Downwelling in the North Atlantic presently provides a major sink for marine 129I; however, marine upwelling along the margins of the Pacific will eventually return part of this anthropogenic input to the ocean surface, where it will find its way back into surface waters and the atmosphere.

    “Iodine-129 has a long half-life (15.7 Myr), and consequently, there is also the possibility that climate change will influence the dynamics of iodine transfer in surface reservoirs. We model the effect of a collapse in thermohaline circulation and project a concentration increase of more than 3 orders of magnitude in shallow oceans over the 10,000 years that follow if nuclear reprocessing is to continue at the present rate.”

    doi:10.1029/2009GC002910 [Citation]

    Glen Snyder Department of Earth Science, Rice University, MS-126, P.O. Box 1892, Houston, Texas 77251-1892, USA
    Ala Aldahan Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala University, Villav, 16, SE-75236 Uppsala, Sweden
    Göran Possnert Tandem Laboratory, Uppsala University, Box 529, SE-75120 Uppsala, Sweden

    And what about the cancer epidemics that prevail Mark Duffett?

    There would be some very long Pinocchio noses in the ethics-free and morally bereft nuclear club – destroyers of worlds.

  105. Captain Planet

    This has been an excellent thread containing robust quality debate (well sometimes a little too robust, but still there have been some excellent references produced by both sides).

    I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond, I have been on a business trip.

    @ Mark Duffet 4th April-

    Thank you for taking the time to attempt to address my concerns. Unfortunately your proposal contains way too many assumptions and uncertainties for it to be acceptable.

    Simply saying “Lots of Uranium Mines” doesn’t provide a clear, realistic and planned outline of where the fuel is going to come from, how it will be mined and refined, and the likely environmental impacts of those processes.

    Nor does simply waving a figurative hand in the direction of a geologically stable area constitute a detailed plan for the safe storage of nuclear waste for many thousands of years.

    “However, the ultimate waste and fuel solution will be Generation IV nuclear technology, which will eliminate all but a minuscule volume of our current nuclear waste, and extend our supply of fissionables for millennia.”

    Hmmm. This sounds a lot like the wishful thinking being used to justify new coal fired power stations – ‘We’ll develop clean coal technologies after we build it’. Seeing as there is not a single Generation IV reactor in commercial operation anywhere in the world, and as correctly pointed out by Flower, the vast bulk of new nuclear installations today are Gen II and Gen III, I don’t think relying on Gen IV technology to hopefully one day solve our waste and fuel problems, is a very clever idea.

    An accountant once told me: Hope is not a strategy.

    The Westinghouse AP1000 reactor costs $7 billion. OK. So how many can they produce each year? If we’re to have them all installed by 2020 we would need to have all 35 within the next 10 years. Can Westinghouse meet this time frame?

    Has the AP1000 reactor been approved for installation in Australia (or anywhere else)?

    At $7 billion just to buy the reactor, we’d be up for $245 billion just to buy sufficient generation capacity to meet today’s needs (by your supplied figure of 35,000 MW demand – which seems reasonable). That’s just to buy the reactors….. Then there’s shipping, construction, commissioning and ongoing fuel (mining, refining, transport, storage, disposal) costs. I think you could realistically double that $245 billion before the first watt is produced.

    At those costs, Beyond Zero Emissions’ $370 billion, with no fuel costs ever again, is starting to look pretty attractive.

    And no, as I have outlined in another thread, I do not consider the assumptions by BZE to be anything other than perfectly reasonable. Energy efficiency MUST play a big part in reducing CO2 emissions. In fact, as has been correctly pointed out on this thread, a multi pronged approach is needed, with each technology playing its part – but I am yet to see any evidence that Nuclear power can overcome some of the fundamental (and quite reasonable) objections to its effectiveness as a safe, swift, sustainable and widespread CO2 mitigation strategy.

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