Should Australia invest funds and resources in developing Generation IV nuclear reactors?

This article first appeared on Online opinion

Without any fanfare, with no media coverage, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) is presently considering Australia signing up to the International Framework for  Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems (GIF), which will commit this nation to take part in developing new nuclear reactors.

Dr Adi Paterson, CEO of the Australia Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, signed up to this GIF Framework last year. However, that does require confirmation by the Australian government. Hence there was the  need for the JSCOT Committee to at least take a look at it, before the government completes the membership. Apparently there is no need for public discussion, or probably even Parliamentary discussion.

This Committee very quietly invited submissions, and very few were in the know about this. Now the received submissions have been published – at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Treaties/NuclearEnergy/Submissions.

Anyway, it looks as if ANSTO is the driving force behind this process, and judging by the submissions received, the nuclear lobby was in the know, even if the public was not. Fourteen submissions were received. Of these, eleven were strongly pro- nuclear, and three were opposed. The opposing submissions came from Friends of the Earth (FOE), (jointly with the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF ), Medical Association For The Prevention of War (MAPW), and myself, (I came upon the Parliamentary website just by chance).

In assessing these submissions, of course, I have to admit to bias on my part.  Still, I think that any reader would find that there is one submission that stands out for clarity, and a detailed, factual discussion of the GIF plan. That is the one written by Jim Green and Dave Sweeney, for FOE and ACF.

Green and Sweeney respond to assertions made in ANSTO’s National Interest Analysis.They question claims that the new reactors reduce weapons proliferation risks, are economic, efficient, and solve waste problems. They rebuke the claim of ANSTO that “a significant expansion in nuclear power production is underway “, listing the overall decline in nuclear power growth, with the exception of China. They discuss at length the very long time frame expected even by nuclear industry experts, before any Generation IV reactors could be commercially viable.

They go on to discuss each of the six proposed new nuclear reactors, giving a detailed history of the attempts to develop each, and factual information that refutes those claims made by ANSTO.   For all of their statements, Green and Sweeney provide evidence and references.

The Medical Association for Prevention of War  (MAPW)’s submission questions the government’s high subsidising of ANSTO, and points out the poor prospects for private investment in new nuclear power. It refutes the argument that Gen IV reactors would solve the nuclear waste problem, quoting analysis by the US National Academy of Sciences  They discuss the history of attempts to develop Gen IV nuclear reactors,- ” a track record of repeated failure and massive cost”. They discuss the direct and indirect costs, and ANSTO’s secrecy about nuclear costs. Safety and reliability issues, and proliferation risks, are examined. They also point out that the recent Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (NFCRC) was not supportive of new nuclear technology.  The Commission proposed:

“monitoring and reporting” of new designs, not participation in research and active subsidization. The Royal Commission also places emphasis on economic value for nuclear power generation, which is clearly entirely absent from fast reactor operations.”

My own submission also discusses non-proliferation, nuclear waste, and claims about climate change, but it focuses on the lack of public information and discussion. In view of Australia’s laws prohibiting the development of nuclear power in Australia, I find it disturbing that the government is about to put money and resources into developing new nuclear reactors.

Now – to the eleven pro nuclear submissions. In general these faithfully repeat the claims made by ANSTO, stressing the value of Australia participating in an international forum. (e.g: submission from Australian Nuclear Association)

  • Most submissions praise ANSTO and universities ANU and UNSW for their expertise.
  • Then there’s the claim that nuclear power will decarbonise the economy. (submission by The Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE)). (and from Barrie Murphy)
  • Joining GIF willincrease the visibility of Australia’s cutting-edge research (from Nuclear Engineering Research Group, School of Electrical Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, UNSW Sydney)
  • Would increase Australia’s ability to influence international policy – will increase the international status of ANSTO and Australia’s universities. (from Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering)

None of these submissions discussed the proposed reactors or provided any evidence for those claims.

Oscar Archer’s submission did provide some information on reactor types, and even a favourable nod to renewable energy. He concluded, in rather a leap of logic, that

“only these deployable nuclear technologies can enable decarbonisation beyond electricity, by displacing conventional industrial heat sources”

And he recommends the GIF Framework agreement, because:

“it  will serve to build expertise that should be vital when the time comes for Australia to take its next big step with regard to nuclear technology”.

It was a kind of a relief to come upon Ben Heard’s submission. At least he provided some passion and real enthusiasm for the nuclear cause. He expressed his concern that nuclear power is being left out of discussions on sustainable energy.

However, Heard’s enthusiasm is not backed up by evidence. He anticipates:

“near term commercialization and deployment of a range of advanced nuclear technologies. We have estimated such integrated projects may deliver net benefits in the tens of billions of dollars to Australia while advancing international peace and stability and accelerating the deployment of important technologies.”

“The potential improvements in back-end waste management of advanced nuclear technologies are inarguable”

“With the mounting threat of climate change and the immediate and serious problems of poverty and energy-related pollution, a direct substitute for new coal needs the greatest level of support. Modern nuclear energy is that direct substitute.”

I do realise that in this summary of the submissions, I could well be accused of bias. The only way for readers to examine this question is to go to the JSCOT website, and to read the submissions for themselves.

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A radical change in pro nuclear spin

This article first appeared on Michael West’s site as Reactorvated: new nuke push ramps up

We don’t hear much about this, yet. It’s an international nuclear industry plan to develop new nuclear reactors, ones that are still only in the design phase. The Australian Parliament’s  Treaties Committee is holding an Inquiry into the Framework Agreement for International Collaboration on Research and Development of Generation IV Nuclear Energy Systems. Australia already signed up for this in June 2016, without any public discussion.. Now the plan is to extend Australia’s involvement, and the Committee calls, (rather quietly)  for submissions by 28 April 2017.

Anyone would think that the idea of expanding the nuclear industry in Australia was dead and gone, following last year’s debacle of the South Australian government’s attempt to get a nuclear waste import business set up in Australia. However, the latest plan is different.
The South Australian plan was unsuccessfully touted as a bonanza for that state. It was also promoted to the global nuclear corporations as the answer to their problem of where to put radioactive wastes. It would have been a plus for AREVA, Westinghouse, Toshiba, G.E. Hitachi, enabling them to market nuclear reactors to South East Asia, with the promise of having the waste disposal issue solved.

The failed plan was set out in the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission Final Report .  The idea of Australia developing new generation nuclear reactors got the barest mention, in Chapter 10. However, this idea was always quietly a part of the nuclear lobby’s plan for the future.

When it comes to pro nuclear propaganda, what is radically different now, is that Generation IV nuclear energy systems are no longer touted as a helpful solution for those “conventional ” nuclear corporations, (that I will call “Big Nuclear”). In the current climate of financial crisis for AREVA, Westingouse, Toshiba etc, the “new nuclear” companies, Terrestrial Energy, Transatomic, NuScale etc now pitch their products as not a help, but a radically different alternative to the conventional reactors.

This new nuclear propaganda is certainly out there, but is not yet prevalent in Australia. The nuclear lobby’s first step now is to get government commitment in principle, getting Australia in step with USA and the other nations in the campaign. While the government is certainly well aware of the rejuvenated pro nuclear campaign, the soft sell to the Australian public is barely underway, yet

In 2017, the change in both content and style has come about both because of recent developments in the nuclear industry, and also because of the changing media environment. Today’s persuasion campaign is promoting a different product, targeting different audiences, using different media outlets, and above all, has adopted a revitalised style.

The product ? The favoured product is the Small Modular Reactor, (SMR) which does not yet actually exist, except as a design. Some are said to be under construction in China. It’s not at present possible to build them commercially in America or UK: licensing and safety regulations would have to be changed first.

The target audiences? There are several. First, governments have to be won over, particularly because of need to change nuclear regulations, and also because of costs. With the availability of cheap gas and renewable energy, nuclear projects do not currently attract private investment. Even the Bill Gates’ billionaires’ SMR project, Breakthrough Energy Coalition  is seeking tax-payer funding, via the governmental Mission Innovation programme. In Britain, Weinberg Next Nuclear not only informs the government, but has achieved the status of a registered charity.

Secondly, mainstream journals are targeted. Not a week passes without ecstatic articles on SMRs popping up in mainstream media. Almost certainly, these derive from carefully worded handouts from the SMR firms, or better, from journalists like James Conca, who specialises in writing for the SMR lobby.

However, the most important target is the public, and particularly, youth.

Media outlets? You have to hand it to the new nukes lobby. They are way ahead of other industries, and especially of Big Nuclear, in their use of Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, SoundCloud and also of TV, film, radio and podcasts

Style? I think this is what counts, in winning hearts and minds. The media manipulators for the SMR lobby display publicity skills, with a versatility worthy of Joseph Goebbels. Lavishly produced TV series, such as Uranium: Twisting the Dragon’s Tail and the film Pandora’s Promise, carry a very subtle soft sell for new nuclear. A new pro nuclear spin film, The New Fire, is in production.

In fact, quite a small number of individuals produce both wordy technical presentations for government, industry, and mainstream journals, and bright, snappy, easily accessible messages for the young, and for non-technical environmentalists. The best example is Michael Shellenberger who writes extensively, and runs numerous nuclear front groups – Environmental Progress Ecomodernists, etc, – of great appeal to enthusiastic environmentalists.

In Australia, this propaganda genius is shown by Ben Heard, who sends sophisticated submissions to government , tweets incessantly, and also runs a touchy feely nature-loving nuclear front group “Bright New World” 

Especially in the USA, these very appealing groups pop up quickly, to meet changing circumstances. The latest is Generation Atomic, formed in April 2017, specifically to organise a clear pro nuclear presence in the March for Science, an American and international event on 22 April.

Reading back through this, I realise that it shows that, as Marshall McLuhan said,The Medium is the Massage.  What the message IS might matter less than its attractive style.

However, the nuclear propaganda message is always there, though it has evolved over decades.

The decades of nuclear spin from the late 1940s to the 1990s could be called the era of Defensive Spin.  Apart from one ambitiously positive 1950s campaign about Cheap Electricity “too cheap to meter”, pro-nuclear propaganda became mired in the fear, and the support for weapons, that characterised the Cold War period. The defensive themes of the 1970s -80s followed news of nuclear accidents, and could be summarised as Downplaying Radiation Effects, and Assurances of Safety. 

I have skimmed through that Defensive Spin era because the later Positive one is much more interesting, and relevant to today.

1990 The first burst of positive nuclear spin came  at around the time of the first IPCC Climate Report. Already, nuclear corporations like AREVA were talking about Fossil Fuel Depletion and Energy Security: nuclear power was the answerThe industry was reluctant to yet push the low-carbon argument, as many in these corporations did not believe in global warming. However, they could still push the line about nuclear power being Clean and Pollution Free (Nuclear Energy Institute)

2003, The Breakthrough Institute  was the first big foray of a new nuclear front group. They pushed the clean energy line, but courageously in 2004 touted the benefits of nuclear power to combat global warming. While some nuclear lobbyists are still pushing that line, it has also somewhat lost favour, because research is showing that this line has resulted in promotion of renewable energy, rather than nuclear

Over the 2000s, nuclear front groups have sprung up. For a long time they promoted “new nuclear” – Generation IV reactors as Supporting Big Nuclear.    The big selling point was the promise that Generation IV reactors would eat the wastes of conventional reactors. They still push that promise to the world, but are now not keen to be seen as associated with the troubled Big Nuclear   companies.

The message is always a positive and optimistic one.  Even the Fukushima disaster becomes twisted as some sort of evidence for the benefits of new nuclear.

With the more youthful and digitally aware target audience in mind, the Ecomodernism  movemen brought in a new spin angle – Humanitarian and nature loving. It has the feel of an alternative to big corporations, although billionaires are behind it.

The overall message is saving the planet. This encompasses: endless cheap and pollution-free energy for all of humanity, recycling nuclear wastes and thus solving that problem, combatting climate change, and promoting the beneficial uses of ionising radiation, freeing people from irrational fears, and from anti-science.

I am not here interested in scrutinising the claims made by today’s pro nuclear spin. I am in awe of their chutzpah. The Generation IV- SMR lobby has been successful, in gaining the attention of government and media for technologies which do not yet even exist.  In today’s world of “alternative facts”, I guess that this success is not surprising. It remains to be seen if “new nuclear” can win the public approval that it needs.

Chocolates, bananas, ionising radiation and a nuclear waste dump

This article first appeared on Independent Australia

On the matter of ionising radiation and health, Noel Wauchope rebuts five misleading speakers at the Nuclear Citizens’ Jury hearings on Australia’s nuclear waste importation plan.

IN TWO DAYS of 25 Citizens’ Jury sessions in Adelaide (on 25-26 June), about nuclear waste importing, there was minimal coverage of the question of ionising radiation and health.

What little there was, was skimpy, superficial and downright deceptive, in 209 pages of transcripts.

There was not one mention of the world’s authoritative bodies on the subject — The World Health Organisation, U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission or any of the reports on biological effects of ionising radiation.

There was no explanation of the “linear no threshold” (LNT) theory on ionising radiation and health, despite the fact that this theory is the one accepted by all the national and international health bodies, including the Ionising Radiation Safety Institute of Australia who, on this topic, quote the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA).

The LNT theory holds that the long term, biological damage caused by ionising radiation – essentially the cancer risk –increases directly as the radiation dose increases. There is no safe lower level of ionising radiation.

Instead of explaining this basic concept in radiation protection, the slight coverage on radiation and health given to the Jury, was done in a trivial manner as the following examples (listed in the transcript report) illustrate.

First Speaker

Greg Ward, Chief of Staff, Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission, was asked the following question by a juror (p 28):

“Why didn’t the commission report to us the effect of radioactivity in these two [Hiroshima and Nagasaki] populations?”

Greg Ward

That’s just one example … There are lots of studies being undertaken … to look at it from other angles as well … I would have to say that there’s a cloudy area, and that’s largely around the impact of low doses of radiation on humans … You’ve got others who would argue that actually small amounts of radiation actually has a beneficial effect on your immune systems, but there’s certainly no — I would have to say there’s no universal agreement at this point.

Rebuttal

But there IS universal agreement on the Linear No Threshold theory, as explained by the health bodies named above.

Second Speaker

Chad Jacobi, Counsel Assisting, Nuclear Fuel Cycle Royal Commission (p. 31):

Chad Jacobi

the effects that we’re looking at, they are what are known as stochastic effects, they deal with lower doses where you need to do epidemiological studies in order to determine the relationship between radiation and a particular consequence … outstanding evidence, from Geraldine Thomas … She gave excellent evidence on this topic and her evidence is very interesting.  

Rebuttal

Mr Jacobi did not go on to explain any of this evidence, so the jurors were left in the dark here.

However, Professor Geraldine Thomas of the Imperial College London, cited by Jacobi, is well known as a speaker promoting the message that ionising radiation is nothing to worry about. She pops up wherever the nuclear lobby is doing a soft sell and in particular, downplays the health effects of radiation on all species as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. She also claimed (at an international conference on radiation research in Warsaw in 2011):

Following Fukushima I doubt that there’ll be any rise in thyroid cancers in Japan.

Thomas’ views are greatly contested. Screening has shown an abnormal rise in thyroid cancers in Fukushima. Professor Timothy Mousseau has studied the Chernobyl and Fukushima situations extensively, finding ill effects of radiation — including genetic damage and increased mutation rates in many species.

Third Speaker

Nigel McBride, Chief Executive Business SA — the state’s peak business and employer group. Mr McBride had a lot to say — some snatches (p 88):

Nigel McBride

Maralinga atomic experiments … British atomic tests are not linked to this discussion; they’ve got nothing to do with it very subtle way of linking two completely unrelated issues to bring fear and emotion … 60,000 people work directly in the UK nuclear industry and in 60 years there has not been one fatality. Neither has there been a fatality in Canada, France, Germany, India and even the U.S. … Five and a half thousand people we understand die from some level of obesity yet we don’t ban sugar and sugary drinks … education over hysteria.

Rebuttal

On Maralinga, from Keith Thomas, Chief Executive of the South Australian Native Title Services (p 97):

Keith Thomas

For Aboriginal people the past really does shape the present and the future. Significant events like happened at Maralinga very much become a part of that … that’s affected people all the way to the present as there’s people dying young, which shouldn’t be happening … Aboriginal people — “We don’t want that stuff here because we’ve seen what it does to people.”

On nuclear workers’ fatalities:

An investigation in the U.S. last year, revealed at least 33,480 American nuclear workers died as a result of their radiation exposure. International Agency for Research on Cancer, World Health Organisation also reported on nuclear workers’ leukaemia.

Fourth Speaker

Jason Kuchel, Chief Executive South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy. At last, the fun part about bananas and chocolate. He provided these to jurors, as some sort of evidence of the benignness of ionising radiation (p 117):

Jason Kuchel

I took the opportunity during the break to put some bananas and some chocolates on the tables … you will get to see the point of that as we go through. … [the risks of] getting an x-ray, flying in a plane or even eating a bananaAt the Onkalo waste repository in Finland, the worst case radiation dose if someone were to stand on top of the facility for a whole year and there was a defective package, the equivalent radiation would be equal to eating one bite of a banana.  

As the facility is not yet accepting radioactive waste, all that hardly matters. And that was all from Mr Kuchel.

Fifth Speaker

Associate Professor Michael Penniment, Director Royal Adelaide Hospital, went on at length about the present storage of radioactive materials in hospitals and so on in Adelaide. He took a long time to go near the question of health effects of low level radiation but he finally got to talking about radioactive sources (p 124):

Michael Penniment

It may be that you may not want to avoid them anyway … I got the banana association straight up. I didn’t get the Lindt one [the reference is to the Lindt chocolate factory, which is quite near a nuclear power plant]; I didn’t see that coming. But certainly there’s some radioactive potassium.

You can decrease your risk by doing a few things: you can live in a wooden house, that will take per cent house; if you live in a tent, that will take 20 per cent off; if you live in the open, that will take 50 per cent off.  (He goes on to elaborate the benefits of radiation in treating cancer).  And that’s it — end of his presentation.

However, later in the Q and A section, Penniment did return to that subject ( p.132):

I saw an article by … David Webb … in the follow-up to Chernobyl … there were 28 deaths, and those were the radiation workers that were sent in to clean up the initial spill … And then there was something of the order of 1500 people that died from suicide because of their concerns about radiation, which he described as really the fallacy of radiation, that those people were so worried, and beyond that nobody has died form that incident.

There’s even data that suggests, and it’s reassuring to me, there was data from the British Radiology Association a number of years ago that low level exposure that’s above what we’ve set as the community limit actually may have an improvement in health in terms of what’s called radiation hormesis. The study of radiation workers in the 50s and 60s where controls aren’t as tight as 30 they are now suggests that it may actually have a very low level exposure to radiation but above what we would deem safe might actually have an improvement in health.

Rebuttal

On Chernobyl deaths:

Professor Penniment has taken his information from the World Nuclear News. As well as the sources noted above, eminent Russian scientists have put the death toll at 985,000. The most recent study TORCH-2016, an independent scientific evaluation of the health-related effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, explains the difficulty in getting an accurate estimate but suggests a conservative estimate of 30,000.

On nuclear workers’ health: 

As explained above, in rebutting Nigel McBride.

On radioactivity of bananas:  

Bananas, brazil nuts and some other foods contain radioactive potassium-40 — but in extremely low doses. Potassium-40 in bananas has a specific activity of 71 ten millionths of a curie per gram. Compare that to the 88 curies per gram for Cesium-137. This is like comparing a stick of dynamite to an atomic bomb. Our bodies manage the ingested Potassium 40, so that after eating bananas, the excess is quickly excreted and the body’s Potassium-40 level remains unchanged.

The radioactive isotopes that come from nuclear fission (such as strontium -90, cesium -137 and iodine 131) were unknown in nature before atomic fission: our bodies are not adapted to them. And as well as being far more radioactive that Potassium -40, they can accumulate in the body.

I had hoped for something sensible to come out of these Citizens’ Juries. That doesn’t look like happening if the juries continue to be fed this kind of nonsense.

Uranium – Twisting the Public’s Opinion 

This article first appeared on Online opinioin

The documentary “Uranium – Twisting the Dragon’s Tail” is the latest glossy and highly sophisticated soft sell for the nuclear industry. It’s also, if you look at it closely, rather confusing.

I will start from the end, because that’s where the main message of this film comes out clearly   “Just imagine a world where reactors can produce immense amounts of clean, safe, energy. There is no such thing as a future without uranium” These final words are said against a background of soaring celestial choirs.

This seems to be the formula now, in nuclear promotion. The 2013 propaganda film “Pandora’s Promise” carried the same positive message – an ever rocketing energy demand to be met by ever increasing, indeed limitless, electrical energy provided  by new nuclear reactors.

But, like ‘Pandora’s Promise’, this new documentary devotes the first two thirds of its series in discussing the negative aspects of the nuclear industry.  Episode One covers its history, ill effects of radiation, the atomic bomb and its use. Episode Two continues this, with a sympathetic attitude to Australian Aboriginal concerns.

Unlike “Pandora’s Promise” this film does not denigrate anti-nuclear activists, and there is no attempt to ridicule Dr Helen Caldicott, as “Pandora’s Promise” did.

Indeed, the first two episodes are beautifully clear and accurate, as well as entertaining. Really, I couldn’t criticise them.

With the final episode – that’s when the message kicks in, and also when it gets confusing.

Having shown and explained the suffering and death caused by nuclear weapons and ionising radiation, the presenter, physicist DR Derek Muller appears to change course: he “wants to understand whether the benefits are worth the risk . By the end of it all, he implies that they are.

Muller moves on to the biological effects of ionising radiation. He warns about “high doses of radiation” – and here confusion begins. Muller equates the single big dose of radiation he received on a 4 minute visit to Pripyat hospital basement, to the background radiation one receives in year. We learn that the effects of low dose radiation are almost invisible – can’t really be measured – so presumably we can forget about them.

Muller consistently mixes up “natural” radiation with ionising radiation from nuclear fission He talks about background radiation as “natural”. There’s no mention of the increased ionising radiation in the biosphere as a result of the atomic bomb testing in the 1950s and 60s.

In Muller’s previous presentations on his youtube shows Veritasium, he has consistently confused the naturally occurring radioactive potassium K, with the nuclear fission produced radioactive isotopes, such as caesium 137 and strontium 90. As part of this confusion he constantly uses bananas as a comparison https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRL7o2kPqw0.

Cesium-137 is 12 million times more radioactive than potassium-40.   Another highly-radioactive fission product, strontium-90, releases almost 20 million times more radiation per unit mass than does potassium-40.  Muller seems to have no understanding of the way in which bananas are used in the body. The human species has had thousands of years of experience with bananas and other foods containing potassium 40 (K40). We have a natural trace level of K40 in our bodies. When we eat bananas, our bodies excrete the extra cesium, so by the natural process of homeostasis, our K40 level remains the same. This is not the case with the very recently created radioactive isotopes from nuclear fission; they remain, and build up in the body.

Now we get the publicity plug for Australia’s Lucas  Heights nuclear reactor. From this presentation, you’d imagine that the sole purpose of this reactor is to benefit medicine. In fact the original purposes of the reactor were to further the nuclear weapons and nuclear power industries. The first Hifar reactor was built in the 60s as a research reactor. The radio pharmaceuticals facility was literally tacked on at the end of the reactor. In the long term, a linear accelerator would turn out to be more efficient and economic for this purpose, when the full costs of the nuclear reactor, waste disposal included, are counted.

Muller He makes a light and amusing story on the first isotope”Molly 99″ and  the process of obtaining from “her”  – technetium 99 -a “life -saving medicine”. But no, it’s not. It is used to help diagnosecancer – not cure or even treat it.  So he glosses over the nuclear reactor and its waste problems, managing to get a laugh with a suitable ex-footballer cancer patient.

Returning to the theme of low dose radiation, Muller interviews Professor GeraldineThomas. She gives a comforting story about how quickly radioactive iodine disappears from the environment, and she completely ignores other radioactive isotopes.  “More people died from falling out of bed every year in UK, than died from Chernobyl radiation”. Both Muller and Thomas point out the difficulty of detecting causes of cancer, and conclude that there is “no persuasive evidence of any health effects from Chernobyl radiation”.

They are following the nuclear lobby’s spin, in completely ignoring the work of Russian scientists  Alexey V. YablokovVassily B. Nesterenko, and Alexey V. Nesterenko, whose mammoth study on Chernobyl concluded that  “A more accurate number estimates nearly 400 million human beings have been exposed to Chernobyl’s radioactive fallout and, for many generations, they and their descendants will suffer the devastating consequences.” The authors argued that the global death toll by 2004 was closer to 1 million and said health effects included birth defects, pregnancy losses, accelerated aging, brain damage, heart, endocrine, kidney, gastrointestinal and lung diseases.

Professor Thomas reassures us that “a small amount of radiation exposure is OK” “We are extremely well adapted to a low dose radiation environment”.  Apart from Thomas’ dismissive account of exposure to radioactive iodine, there is absolutely no mention of the effects of internal emitters of radiation – that is, the radioactive isotopes breathed in or ingested, that can sit in a body’s organs for years, decades, emitting high dose gamma radiation.

Moving on to the Fukushima nuclear accident, we are told that the psychological effects are the serious ones. What a great piece of spin this is! Of course the psychological effects are extremely serious. Wouldn’t you be worried, if you were a pregnant woman, or if you feared that your child might later get leukaemia, because you decided to return to a radioactive environment?  It is the reality of increased risk of fatal illness that accentuates the other disastrous consequences of that accident.

Prof Thomas assures us “The most important studies will be those on the mental effects”. In the context of this documentary, that just makes me envisage more documentaries like this one – with more spin about how we mustn’t worry about ionising radiation.

The presenter, Derek Muller emphasises and repeats “not one death from Fukushima radiation – not one!” Yet in scholarly articles, we learn that Cancer deaths due to accumulated radiation exposures cannot be ruled out“. Caracappa, Peter F. (28 June 2011), “Fukushima Accident: Radioactive Releases and Potential Dose Consequences” (PDF), ANS Annual Meeting, retrieved 13 September 2011

Inevitably, we move on to the real core of the message – the wonderful new nuclear reactors. We meet the young and personable, Dr Leslie Dewan, who graduated not that long ago in Nuclear Science and Engineering, and now she is CEO of Transatomic  Power, which  plans to build its first demonstration Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor in 2020. (Transatomic Power has probably put in a submission to the South Australian Nuclear Fuel Chain Royal Commission. But we don’t know, because commercial submissions don’t have to be published).

The documentary appeared in Australia at a very convenient time for the South Australian Royal Commission.   Dr Muller often covers his back with remarks about nuclear weapons “the most savage thing that man has ever built” and like his “feeling that renewables are going so fast – perhaps we can use alternatives”. But ultimately, his is a message of confidence in nuclear power. He says “Every year uranium saves more lives than it has ever destroyed” Really? Where are the facts to back up these kinds of statements? And all is spoken with guru like solemnity, and the backing of soaring holy choral music

What Muller and Thomas are doing is following the script from the tobacco and asbestos industries. They know full well that the toll of cancers, heart conditions, birth defects, from persistent exposure to ionising radiation will not become apparent for decades. They would have us believe that it will be impossible to establish ionising radiation as the cause of this toll of suffering and death.

But it’s not impossible. True, fatal mesothelioma from asbestos does leave a ‘smoking gun’ – in that exposure to asbestos is just about the only possible cause – and a person’s history can be tracked.

But  what about tobacco? Early last century, Sir Richard Doll undertook the epidemiological research, that, combined with studies on mice, proved tobacco as the major cause of lung cancer. Such epidemiological studies have been carefully not undertaken by the nuclear governmants and nuclear industries. Where such research has been done, it has been forgotten or ignored. An example is the work of Dr Rosalie Bertell in the Tri State Leukemia Survey — that resulted in much stricter controls over X-raying. I’ve already mentioned Dr Yablokov in Russia. There’s the painstaking 10 year research by Dr Vladimir Wertelecki and the Omni-Net Ukraine Birth DefectsProgram,

We are living in a strange time, where science is valued if it brings a benefit to corporations. Dr Derek Muller and Professor Geraldine Thomas are comfortably ensconced in that world. But there must be some scientists out there who are like Sir Richard Doll, and whose work is motivated by the public good.

And we desperately need those scientists.

This documentary “Uranium – twisting the Dragon’s Tail” is just Series One. I would love to know who helped to fund  Gene Pool Productions for PBS and SBS to produce this. I’m betting that Series Two will follow before long, with a glossy and positive story about Generation IV nuclear reactors.

Robert Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

Robert  Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

The film’s Australian premiere was shown in Melbourne on October 8th, with director Robert Stone answering questions afterwards.

I found myself  liking Robert Stone , for his enthusiasm, and sincere concern about climate change.

I found myself disliking the film, for its sins of omission, and manipulative way of discrediting anti nuclear  people.

“Pandora’s Promise” presents as a documentary about climate change and nuclear power.  It is very stylishly made and interesting, story on the theme that climate change is an urgent danger, and that nuclear power is the major solution to this. It is a very, very good soft sell for the nuclear industry

“Pandora’s Promise” uses the voices of people, mainly from the nuclear power lobby,The Breakthrough Institute, to present its argument.  Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger, Gwyneth Craven, Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes all portray themselves as former anti nuclear activists who have now seen the light, and are pro nuclear.

The film certainly highlights  the reality of climate change, the health hazards of the coal industry, and the need for action on climate change.  Indeed, that’s the background and stated reason for its main premise – that premise being –  the world should now urgently adopt nuclear power.

Continue reading Robert Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

Report on Lowy Institute Post Fukushima panel March 2013

Lowy Institute’s  Nuclear Revivalist Meeting

 New York held a March panel symposium on the effects of the Fukushima nuclear accident  Anything that USA can do, Australia can do better!  Or perhaps worse.

The Lowy Institute ‘s March panel discussion topic was Asia’s nuclear future after Fukushima. The role of nuclear industry. The panel was composed of leaders of Australia’s nuclear industry – Michael AngwinChief Executive Officer, Australian Uranium Association, John Borshoff ,CEO of Paladin Energy and  Dr Selena NgRegional Director South East Asia and Oceanea,AREVA . The chairman was John Carlson, former Director General, Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

I like enthusiasm and optimism.  However, this panel went beyond enthusiasm. I tell you – it was like a religious revival meeting.  And I think that’s just what it was.  Just like a pastor exhorting a tiny remnant congregation, –  there seemed to be a more than  a hint of underlying desperation, combined with that touching faith in the Second Coming.

There was unanimous agreement on the inevitable booming future of nuclear power, especially in South East Asia.  Yet, between the lines, we heard from  Michael Angwin that  “ public perceptions of nuclear industry are now  less confident than before in the short term, but my expectation is that will return to confidence in the long term ”  

“We know that people take a negative view of nuclear industry – see it as remote from them, and as the creature of big government and big industry”John Borshoff  admitted that Fukushima a set-back in public opinion. But it does not in any way undermine the case for nuclear power.”

However, faith in the nuclear industry’s future being a given, all speakers moved on to three secondary themes, which were: 

  • the problem of the media 
  • the need for public education
  • the safety of the nuclear industry

All speakers, even the more restrained Dr Selena Ng emphasised that the big problem for the nuclear industry’s future is the media.

Continue reading Report on Lowy Institute Post Fukushima panel March 2013