After the film was shown, there was a panel discussion. Howard Shaffer was on the panel. Shaffer blogged about the film and his panel experience at the American Nuclear Society's ANS Nuclear Cafe: Transparent Radiation--A Film: The View from the Panel.
Howard and I thought that I might blog at ANS later this month, perhaps my post would be The View from the Audience. In preparation for writing the blog post, I contacted the film director, Hillary Archer, and also a faculty member at the Gund Institute, Gary Flomenhoft, for further information and quotes.
The email conversation didn't go all that well. This was at least partially my fault. I am grateful that Archer obtained all the quotes I wanted. She was very gracious.
The Quote I Wanted
I emailed Archer that I wanted to obtain the quote about the how some nuclear materials had a four billion year half-life, because I loved that quote and I wanted to use it in my blog. She sent me the quote, but she also was very interested in why I loved it. Would I share my opinion of the quote?
After a bit of back and forth, I wrote Archer an email about the quote. Later I thought: Why let a good rant go to waste? I'll put the email on my blog! So here it is. I have edited it a little by removing a short paragraph that referred to earlier emails. I also include the entire quote from the film, as sent to me by Archer.
My Email to Hillary Archer
Thank you for the quote. I appreciate you sharing this and helping me be more accurate!
You wanted my opinion of the quote, and I said that my opinion would be in the blog. I don't have an obligation to share my opinions with you before I even write them. I DO have an obligation to get the quotes right, and I have been working at that..
However. I will share my opinion of this quote, since it seems to be important to you. This quote shows a completely backward understanding of radioactivity and its dangers. It's the most perfect misunderstanding of radioactivity: half-life as scare story. During the film, I giggled during this quote. This whole business about protecting ourselves from U 238, which has been here since the planet was formed! It was very funny. U 238 is all over the place: in rocks, in coal, in the ocean. But these guys are going to hide it away, because it has a long half-life so it must be very dangerous. And somehow, nuclear energy caused it! Nope, the supernova that exploded and made the earth 4 billion years ago...that caused the existence of U 238!
On to a little education about radioactivity. A long half life means an isotope is less dangerous. Think about it. Let's say you have a 100 atoms of an isotope with a half life of ten minutes. You can expect 50 radioactive decays in the first ten minutes. Short half-life, lots of radiation released quickly.
Let's say those 100 atoms are of an isotope with a half-life of ten years. The first ten years will have 50 decays, or one decay every couple of months. Long half-life, very little radiation released at a time.
This is why we can build a building of granite, which contains long-half-life radioactive materials. The long half-life means the granite isn't very radioactive. A 4 billion year half-life means very low radioactivity indeed!
It makes a good scare story, though. Be afraid. Be very afraid. It's gonna be radioactive for billions of years (as it has been already)! But to anyone with a bit of understanding of radioactivity, it's a giggle.
By the way, since you value honesty. Half of the electricity in this country comes from coal. Comparing coal and nuclear is not a "straw man," as Gary called it. You cannot dismiss facts by claiming: "that's a straw man." That is not honesty about energy.
By the way, I just found this today. Might be interesting...
Thank you for sending me the exact quotes. I appreciate the quotes, and I appreciate the time you took to send them. I hope I have answered your questions. I have taken some time about it, and tried my best to answer.
The Quote Itself
First, a note. The exact words in Gary Flomenhoft's email to me were: "I believe nuclear vs coal is a straw man argument." He likes neither nuclear nor coal.
Further, the quote I requested from the film Transparent Radiation. I thank Hillary Archer for providing the full text of the quote.
"Take a look at one of the most toxic wastes we produce: plutonium, one of the most toxic substances know to humans, half life of 23,400 years more or less. And that means half of it will be gone in that long, but it's so toxic we need to wait many many many half lives. There are other nuclear wastes that are extremely dangerous, with a half life of a million years; depleted uranium, a half life of four billion years- the life of the planet. So we have to keep track of these wastes, at the very minimum, many multiples of how long civilization has been around. Most likely for as long as the human species has been around or much longer." Joshua Farley from the film Transparent Radiation, 2011
Composite image of the Crab Nebula Supernova from Wikipedia
Coal image also from Wikipedia.