Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Vermont Notes: Films, Fukushima, Statehouse Flaps

Blog posts, podcasts, and letters about Vermont and Vermont Yankee.

An Anti-Nuclear Film, and a Pro-Nuclear Person on the Panel Discussion

Howard Shaffer and I work closely together on Vermont Yankee advocacy. He is head of the Vermont Pilot Project of the American Nuclear Institute.

A film about nuclear power was developed at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics of the University of Vermont. As we expected, this film was anti-nuclear. You can see a trailer for it here. Last week, at University of Vermont, Howard Shaffer and Arnie Gundersen were on a panel discussing the film. Today Shaffer has a blog post at ANS Nuclear Cafe: Transparent Radiation--A Film.

In his post, Howard Shaffer describes the film, the audience questions, and the panel members answers. This film and panel was a Vermont event, but the film will be entered in many film festivals. How it is received will be relevant beyond Vermont.

Fukushima Podcast

People who lived near the Fukushima Power Plants want to go home. What should be the criteria for ending the evacuation? Rod Adams has a podcast: Let Fukushima Residents Go Home. Participants are Rod Adams, me, and Cal Abel. Adams is the blogger at Atomic Insights (and an ex-submarine officer). Abel is an ex-submarine officer and current grad student at George Tech. The conversation includes
  • Why are the local Fukushima cattle dying? (because nobody is feeding them),
  • Is the Linear Non Threshold Theory reasonable?
  • How come people drive cars, smoke, and have dental fillings? Driving, smoking and mercury can be considered "Linear Non-Threshold" activities or substances.
Warning. There are sound quality issues with the podcast. I talk too softly and Rod breathes too loudly.

High Jinks and High Rollers in the Vermont State House

High Jinks: John McClaughry posts in Vermont Tiger: It Takes One to Know One. Tony Klein is chairman of the Vermont Natural Resources Committee in the Vermont House of Representatives. Klein is upset about proposed anti-wind legislation. Klein is a fierce opponent of Vermont Yankee. I was in a committee room when Klein said that the existence of Vermont Yankee on Vermont soil could ruin the Vermont Brand.

Klein is also a proponent of wind turbines, and he is very upset that the proposed legislation could "pocket veto" wind without a vote. McClaughry points out that the Vermont House illegally "pocket vetoed" Vermont Yankee by not voting. (The famous vote was only in the Vermont Senate.) As McClaughry says: It Takes One to Know One.

Full Disclosure: The Energy Education Project that I direct is part of the Ethan Allen Institute that was founded by John McClaughry.

High Rollers: In the Bennington Banner (unfortunately behind a paywall) L.A. Leonard of Rutland wrote a letter to the editor. An excerpt is below:

Vermont recently lost a federal lawsuit trying to prevent companies from selling patient information to pharmaceutical companies. The Supreme Court rejected the law saying it violated free speech of companies and the law lacked coherence. We now learn taxpayers will be responsible for $1. 8 million not counting $600,000 for fighting the court case. This could be just the tip of the iceberg as experts believe there are still more plaintiffs to come.

Leonard then compares this case to the Vermont Yankee case. He predicts similar losses to the taxpayers from that lawsuit, and ends his letter as follows:

The legal fights could go on for years. May one suggest the governor, Attorney General Bill Sorrell and other state officials start picking up the tab rather than continue to burden taxpayers with no end in sight.

An excellent suggestion, which will be ignored. When it comes to Vermont Yankee, our legislators are addicted to Other People's Money.


I decided to illustrate the Leopold letter with a picture of the Vermont Statehouse Dome, captured from Wikipedia. Note that that the dome is covered in gold.


Pete said...

I was thinking that some of the workers at Fukushima Daiichi have probably been displaced from their homes, too. Those workers should understand the risks of radiation exposure better than most people. It would be nice if these nuclear experts, armed with the facts, petitioned the government to allow them to return to their homes.

david lewis said...

I listened to the "Let the Fukushima Residents Go Home" podcast.

Cal Abel advocated that "the only way to create a rational response", presumably from the authorities who set radiation policy and from the general public, is "to continue to put out rational information, to state what the facts are".

He immediately proceeded to get his facts wrong.

When asked by Rod to explain to listeners what a BEIR report is, Cal said "it’s a report that talks about what is the effect of ionizing radiation", and it recommends what regulations or policies should be in effect in order to provide safety for the population"

Neither BEIR V or BEIR VII contained any recommendations as to what policy or regulation should be implemented.

According to "A Summary of BEIR VII", the BEIR committee was specifically charged "NOT to recommend policy decisions related to regulations or radiation protection standards or to conduct cost/benefit analyses".

Now Cal didn't claim to have read BEIR VII, although he implied that he was very familiar with that document. He did claim to have read "cover to cover", BEIR V, a similar study done 21 years ago. Quoting from the BEIR V Executive Summary: "While the BEIR V Committee was asked to summarize radiation risk information in a way that is useful for formulating radiation control decisions, recommendations on standards or guidelines for radiation protection were SPECIFICALLY EXCLUDED under the terms of this study."

This isn't some minor detail. Rod and his guests, i.e. you, have a problem with radiation policy yet you've identified as your target groups that have nothing to do with coming up with policy, i.e. the BEIR committees, and their ultimate overseer, the National Academy of Sciences.

The scientists involved with the BEIR reports were repeatedly attacked on the show. You chimed in right after Cal demonstrated he did not know that BEIR reports don't recommend policy that "what we really need to do" is get some scientists who "know more about radiation" than all the ones who have been involved in BEIR studies so far. Rod explained that what the 'scientists' do who have been involved so far is throw out any study they disagree with.

Ignorant attacks aimed at the wrong target such as these can only undermine your effort which presumably is to educate people about radiation with the goal of establishing sanity in the way civilization deals with it.

david lewis said...

Gwyneth Cravens has a section in her book Power to Save the World, about the leading scientist directly associated with BEIR VII, Dr. Evan Douple, on pages 84-88. It is a section worth reading, if you care about rational debate.

Gwyneth quotes Douple describing radiation as "a relatively weak carcinogen, not a strong one". She quotes Douple saying one of the two greatest shocks in his life was seeing how "Congress can make policy based on so little science".

And there is Dr Bernard Cohen. Rod Adams has published on his blog that Cohen is one of his "heroes".

Cohen has a section in Chapter 1 of his online book, The Nuclear Energy Option, which explains that almost everything in his book is based on science. He describes how scientists arrive at their conclusions, what the National Academy of Science is and how unlikely it is that you and Rod's other guest on that podcast are correct that the NAS could possibly have created a committee such as BEIR, which after listening to the show I'd have to conclude was nothing more than a boatload of scientists who knew nothing who put out a bullshit report that had no relation to what is actually known about radiation.

Cohen even singles out BEIR for comment. He states his opinion about BEIR V in his Chapter 5, How Dangerous is Radiation? chapter, which is also online

He points out that it is under the ultimate auspices of the National Academy that BEIR committees are created, and states: "it [the NAS] is composed of about a thousand of our nation's most distinguished researchers from all branches of science. It appointed the BEIR Committee and reivewed its work. The BEIR Committee itself was composed of about 21 American scientists well recognized in the scientific community as experts in radiation biology; 13 of them were university professors, with lifelong security guaranteed by academic tenure." He points out the tenure bit to counter critiques that somehow pressure is brought to bear on committees like this to make sure some party line is adhered to.

Cohen writes: "to believe that nearly all of these scientists were somehow involved in a sinister plot to deceive the public indeed challenges the imagination.". I'd add: to advocate that everyone should believe that the National Academy could be involved in something such as what so many who are prominent in online debate such as Rod Adams and his guests on this show, i.e. you, say the BEIR studies are, i.e. that they are created by bogus 'scientists' who don't know what they are talking about or who lack integrity to the point they back some corrupt party line on what the existing evidence on radiation for whatever sordid reason, is the opposite of the "rational response" Cal was saying was necessary at the top of the show.

Your problems, i.e. that radiophobia exists in the general population and that anti nukes have exploited that fact which has caused the nuclear industry to face high costs as a result, is the result of what people do with the information in the BEIR reports, as opposed to what that information is.

Meredith Angwin said...


Thank you for the very interesting and thoughtful critique. I didn't listen to the podcast (I hate listening to myself) but the point I remembered making is that we should not fight the LNT theory, we would look like fools going against so many generations of BEIR, even if BEIR's basis of LNT is wrong.

Rather, I thought we should try to get things in perspective. Driving a car can be thought of as LNT. For example, I could have been killed in a car crash when my parents were taking me home from the hospital after I was born! There's no "perfectly safe" small amount of driving. Every time I go get groceries I face LNT. Something could happen while I am driving to the supermarket! But we don't ban cars.

I was making the same point about dental fillings with mercury, and Rod and Cal said that showed my age. I was a little taken aback and I looked it up later. Amalgam fillings are still used routinely. Until 7 years ago, they were the most common type of filling. Now they have lost ground to composite fillings, but amalgam is still acceptable for most uses. Anyhow, mercury is definitely LNT. No amount of mercury is good for you, and more is worse.

I suggested that we should try to come up with things like...returning to Fukushima now is equivalent to smoking one pack a week of cigarettes (or whatever) in terms of cancer risk. In other words, not to fight LNT, but to put Fukushima radiation risk in the same terms as other cancer risks, in ways ordinary people can understand.

I don't remember chiming in to attack BEIR, but if you heard me, I did. I generally don't call people "bogus scientists" at any rate. The main point I was trying to make was not that BEIR and LNT were wrong and stupid and done by bogus scientists, but rather that we should discuss radiation risks in the same terms as other types of risks. In ways people can understand. I was fond of the cigarette-equivalence analogy, because many people in Japan smoke.

By the way, one of my best friends from college and grad school is a member of the NAS, and I cannot imagine (even not having listened to myself on the podcast) that I would have ever said that the NAS was political or bogus or anything of the kind.

david lewis said...

Your attack on all scientists who have ever been involved in creating the BEIR series of reports started at 7:45 in the podcast. Quoting you:

"the BEIR thing, they've gone through revision after revision, and it doesn't seem to get any better. They just go through a revision and say well we're going to stay with the Linear No Threshold, so that's where we are. So if we say, yes you can go back to Fukushima, we're going against like seven iterations of BEIR, and we look like we're careless of people's lives we're careless of people's potential risk of cancer, I mean I think its a very very horrible situation, because what we really need to do is get some people in there who know more about radiation, who can put out BEIR VIII, and say hey you know guys there's actually a threshold. It follows the same kind of rule as pretty much any other toxin or potential toxin in the universe, you know a little bit isn't really that bad for you"

Note the inconsistency in what you've said. The conclusion, "you know a little bit isn't that bad for you", is identical to the BEIR VII conclusion, which is a little bit of radiation isn't that bad for you. They put it a bit differently - a tiny bit of radiation causes a tiny bit of harm.

Yet you dump on all BEIR reports saying they are the result of having people who don't know what they are talking about do them.

I didn't say you said NAS scientists were political or bogus. I'm taking what you say, i.e. the NAS actually created a series of committees over many decades that all came to the wrong conclusion that is horrible, that causes things like thousands of people forced to leave their homes, because they don't know what they are talking about, or to use your precise words, "we need" "to" "get some people in there who know more".

These NAS people must then be bogus. The NAS was created by Congress to be the best source of advice to Congress and the American people on complex scientific matters. The NAS is supposed to be able to pick out the really outstanding individuals who are eminent in their field, and report to Congress about what these people agree the science is.

The ones they got for the BEIR reports, decade after decade, report after report, obviously, if they got it as wrong as you and Rod and Cal say, were bozos. They must not even be scientists. Scientists don't just "ignore" science that contradicts what they believe, a good scientist is trained to seek out contradictory information. These BEIR clowns obviously aren't aware of who knows what in their chosen field.

That is what follows from what you are saying. It isn't true.

It is preposterous to make this case and then say you've got respect for the NAS. Its contradictory. It is an honor to be a member of the NAS. 10% of the members hold the Nobel.

Now I did note that you made the point that it is possible to critique radiation policy without attacking BEIR reports or the scientists who do them. I suggest the entire pro nuclear advocacy community should consider doing exactly that. Their attacks on scientists and their institutions reflect more on themselves, i.e. the pro nuclear types than on the scientists or the NAS.

It is no accident that as various right wing think tanks continue their decades long attack on scientific findings that they don't like, i.e. acid rain, ozone depletion, and climate science, the success they have had in establishing in the public mind that scientists in general are disreputable, corrupt and stupid is seen in the pro nuclear community, who have been taken in because they tend to be sympathetic to right wing values.

Meredith Angwin said...


I thank you for the quote from me. I am not that familiar with BEIR VII. When I meet anti-nuclear activists, they wave BEIR around and say...SEE. THERE IS NO SAFE LEVEL OF RADIATION. So, I do think something in BEIR should change to be a little more reasonable about dose-response. You say it has changed in BEiR VII and I hope you are right. You are certainly more familiar with it than I am. In that case, the people who know about radiation are helping BEIR become more reasonable.

However, jumping from my words to saying I don't respect NAS is not reasonable. Your logic is not scientific. You are reasoning from authority. You are saying that if I disagree with some of the conclusions of a report of a committee set up by NAS...I am calling NAS a bunch of idiots. That is reasoning from authority: if NAS agreed with it, every bit of the report must be correct. And anyone who disagrees with any of the report is showing no respect for science, scientists, or NAS. No. That is not good reasoning.

Also, I cannot imagine that you can find me calling anyone a "bozo". I don't even call the local activists, the ones who shout and interrupt meetings..."bozos" so I don't imagine I called the BEIR scientists any such names.

You have built a case for me saying people are idiots and even distinguished scientists deserve no respect.
I don't buy your conclusion. I have no idea why you say I disrespect NAS, scientists, and the Nobel prize, but I don't disrespect any of them. I also don't agree with the BEIR conclusions, assuming the conclusion is that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. It is possible to be full of respect for scientists, and also disagree with some conclusions of a committee appointed by the NAS.

I spent most of my time in the podcast talking about how we should not be attacking LNT because we are going up against too much. I moved quite quickly (in my memory of the podcast) to saying we shouldn't be fighting BEIR and LNT, but rather showing that LOTS of things are LNT, and we live with them quite well, assessing risks and taking appropriate precautions.

I also don't think we should fight the battle of "LNT is wrong," because it is unnecessary to fight that one. We can accept LNT, even if it is wrong, and still get a handle on radiation risks in a better way.