Friday, March 30, 2012

Shaffer and Gundersen Debate about Pilgrim Relicensing

The Ballot Initiative

Last night, Howard Shaffer and Arnie Gundersen debated whether the Pilgrim plant relicensing process should continue or the process should be frozen. The idea was to freeze relicensing until all Fukushima fixes were known and made. The non-binding ballot initiative in Plymouth township reads:

“FREEZE PILGRIM”Ballot Question MAY 12 TOWN ELECTION-PLYMOUTH We The People of Plymouth, Massachusetts, direct the Plymouth Board of Selectmen to call upon the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to immediately suspend all further action on the application of the Entergy Corporation for renewal of its license to operate the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station pending the full implementation of all safety improvements recommended by the NRC as a result of lessons learned from the failures of similarly designed reactors in Fukushima, Japan.

I watched the debate last night, and it was a frustrating experience because I could not see the debaters or hear them or see their slides. What I saw was an interactive stream with comments from the moderator, tweets from many people (including myself) and a fair number of advertisements for fast-food muffins.

The Debate

Japan: Many of the tweets were from Japan as shown in the screen shot above.

Cocktail Party: The NRC gave an informational "cocktail party" before the debate (no booze), but the NRC did not participate in the debate itself. Picture of the party here from the Wicked Local Facebook page.

However, the moderator said Entergy and the NRC were invited, Berger notes, but chose not to attend. I think that was an unfair statement. Of course, the NRC could not formally enter into a debate about an on-going license extension, but they were there on an informal basis, and I give them credit!

Gundersen view of the NRC. Gundersen did his usual comments about the NRC: NRC commissioners are vetted by trade organization of nuclear industry NRC and industry, Gundersen says, are too cozy

Note: All quotes are from the moderator's notes. I do not know if the quotes are verbatim.

Fishing boats: Gundersen: If Tim McVeigh had been in the Finnish boat that wandered close to the plant last year, we would have had a real problem.

Nuclear Matters Committee: The Town of Plymouth has a Nuclear Matters Committee (NMC), including educated people. Here's a quote from one of them:
Paul Smith (NMC): there are no lethal amounts of radiation leaking from Fukushima...
-The geology is in our favor
-We are not susceptible to dangerous tsunami

Gundersen's Samples: Gundersen said he took "samples" in Tokyo that were "troubling." Howard asked him to show the numbers. He didn't, of course. Here's are two Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) blog posts on the Gundersen claims. NEI asks questions of AP for reporting these claims. NEI find Gundersen's statement baffling.

Gundersen knows exact number of cancers that will be caused: Okay. I found this shocking, even though I have certainly seen Gundersen in action before.

Gundersen answers a question: When will start to see the cancers?

Gundersen: peer reviewed report of TMI lung cancers, within five year of three mile island, ten or 20% increase.
-In short term thyroiud and lung issues. Over next 25 years, other tissue damage
-new report says 30 years out, they are seeing other cancers from Three Mile Island
-In Fukushima, 1 in 20 young girls exposed to radiation in Fukushima will suffer from cancers related to the event.

Is there a bottom line?

As many have noted, it is hard to debate people who can just say anything that supports their position, whether it is true or not. On the other hand, I think the world-wide interest in this debate was completely legitimate, and I give credit to both men for taking part. There are very few forums in which both sides appear and are willing to answer questions. I congratulate the township of Plymouth for hosting this debate.

And of course, I congratulate Howard for his effective presentation, and his deep and abiding personal honesty.


To see the same thing I saw, but faster (you can scroll through it, instead of waiting in real time), go to this Wicked Local (newspaper) webpage.

Before the forum, Howard Shaffer asked me to put his slides on the web in pdf format. You can see his slides here.

Howard also asked me to put the ANS Fukushima report on the web in a way that is easily accessible. Here's the ANS Fukushima report, and here's the ANS talking point summary.

As I understand it, the debate was also on local community access TV. When I get the link to it as an on-demand show, I will update this post.


Steve From Virginia said...

The nuclear industry suffers from 'Auto Industry Envy'. The car biz routinely kills 40,000 of its own customers give or take every single year in the US of A and nobody breaks a sweat. What can't reactors be allowed to kill as many as firearms (24,000 per year more or less)?

Reactor biz would be in hog heaven if it could kill off 50ok Americans a year like cigs did and peeps would ignore it. One or two measly cancers per year and the peeps like Gunderson cause the suckers to freak out!

How unfair, when there are billions to be borrowed on the accounts and on those of despised electric utility customers.

College loans, government debt, mortgages, medical care, cars, fuel ... doncha think that the customers might be tapped out by the time they have to ante up for reactor 'extensions'?

Nuke dudes seem to assume there will be no more meltdowns. Yr kiddin' right? No more economic depressions: what happens when the reactors start losing money? Board them up w/ plywood and walk away, whistling.

Nuke facilities make great wildlife refuges which is the reason I like reactors. In today's economic clime, when one blows two or three blow along with it. Hard on the birds and bees for awhile but they recover. Humans can't deal with the rads, they feel ill all the time. They exit (and die later), soon enough you have wolves.

You know this, right? Belarus, Ukraine, Kyshtym, Hanford (which might blow up like Kyshtym did), Fernald, Savannah River, Rocky Flats, Simi Valley, Nevada test range, Eniwetok ... Fukushima so far: France, Iran, Armenia, Vermont all to come. 15% deformities of live births is okay for field mice and they are smart enough to know how the feel but not much fun for humanoids, it's an unacceptable level of emotional and physical suffering for humanoids.

Suffering of many for the wealth effect of a small handful. How ... American.

Meredith Angwin said...

As far as I can tell, Mr. Gundersen made up those cancer numbers out of the whole cloth. If you want to refute this statement, just send links to peer-reviewed journals that back him up.

jimwg said...

I really feel sorry for Steve and his ilk who can't see the forest for the trees. What is uncontestable is nuclear power worldwide since the first nuclear pile sixty-years ago has killed far less people than a couple of months of _normal_ oil and gas production -- forget accidents. This is uncontestable fact yet Steve would rather overlook that to slay ultimate meltdown nightmares of what MIGHT be. Well, you had that chance three time in one shot at Fukushima courtesy mother nature and the worst effect was from officials so scared s-less by anti-nuke hype that they grossly overreacted and pretty much needlessly displaced nearly a hundred thousand people. No, the reactors didn't cause an evacuation; feckless uneducated officials did, Steve. Try throwing what Fukushima went through on a oil and gas facility and see how benign an public effect that'd get you. Heck, if I had to pick a worst case industrial accident to be dropped in, I'd take Fukushima hands down! Also, for your info, fat cats don't design nuke plants. Regular hard working people do with brains and sweat thinking safety at each turn. People with families who often live nearby these plants. Are you so pious as to suggest they care less of their familes than you of yours if you have? It's also the height of hubris for you to say those involved in nuclear energy generally don't give a damn about human life. What a hypocrite. You're hot to abolish a power source that doesn't impact the environment and pollute like fossil fuels regularly do every day yet are honkey-dory with seeing that happen just to replace the root of your nightmares. Mister, you better start visiting emphysema and respiratory illness wards and see what REAL LIFE effects non-nuke power can do, not bogus nuke nightmares. There are no renown international health bodies to back up anti-nukers nuclear deformity claims around any plant, yet Steve's claims sputtering about undocumented mutant mice. If there was ANY meat to reports to REAL proof and sightings of massive radiation poisoning around any plant, anti-nuke honchos like the NY Times and AP would've jumped it like white on rice, but there's just no there there -- and even the NY Times, give the devil his due, doesn't pass credence on any anti-nuke group's radiation reports and mutant sightings which are as accurate as UFO reports. Gendersen is the worst of slime because he's a smug media-darling Pied Piper of fear and falsehood who presents "facts" that the gullible swallow hook, line and sinker without EVER back-checking on the guy, as NEI is honorably doing. I really feel that most anti-nukers beef with nuclear energy isn't safety (just can't be what its history unless you're ignorant) but some kind of Hiroshima guilt complex. A need to punish the atom for what unique sin did there. It MUST be something like that. If all the ammo you have against nuclear energy is the Doomsday that MIGHT happen, then there's nothing neither science or God can say to reassure you about anything.

James Greenidge
Queens NY

TMT said...

For those who are interested in tracking the exploits of Mr. Gundersen, the following may be of interest.

In a 2006 federal district court case, Fineman v. Florida Power & Light (reported at 2006 WL 267330 (S.D.Fla.)), the plaintiffs attempted to introduce expert testimony from Gundersen regarding radioactive dose calculations. The Court would not permit the evidence to be admitted. It is worth reviewing the decision. It is typical Gundersen -- no real scientific basis for his conclusions. Here are some selected excerpts from the court's decision:

"A significant defect in the reliability of Gundersen's theory is that a real world “test” of his theory exists in the form of actual sample results completed by government agencies in 1982. Those results refute his theory."

"In addition, Gundersen's theory has not been subjected to peer review and publication, and there is a large potential rate of error if his assumptions are incorrect."

"The Court concludes that Gundersen's Expert Report and Amended Expert Report must be excluded pursuant to the Daubert standard. Gundersen's dose calculations are belied by the contemporaneous reports of the NRC and the FDHRS regarding the amount of radioactive material released at the Glades Cutoff site, and by the state studies of background Sr-90 levels in citrus fruits since before operation of the plant. In addition, Gundersen has no qualifications to testify as to soil or water movement around the site. Finally, the Court notes that his report is rife with conclusory statements that are not supported by attached documentation."

The district court's decision was upheld on appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in 2008. The decision is available at 272 Fed.Appx. 761, 2008 WL 863894 (C.A.11 (Fla.)). The Court of Appeals explained its decision regarding Gundersen's testimony as follows:

"For instance, Gundersen bases his expert conclusions on hypotheticals that begin with the assumption that a truckload of radioactive sewage plant solids shipped from the Plant for disposal in Barnwell, South Carolina, in 1991 is the material that was dug up from the Glades Cutoff site nearly a decade earlier in 1982. There is, however, no evidence to support this assumption that the 828 cubic feet of material, which weighs approximately 100,000 pounds, was from the Glades Cutoff, nor any explanation why the Plant would hold on to such a large amount of material for almost ten years. Yet, Gundersen takes the radiation concentration of the sewage solids in the 1991 shipment and extrapolates backward using decay calculations for radioactive isotopes -- effectively multiplying the radiation measurement for the 1991 shipment -- to conclude that the material dumped in 1982 had an excessive radiation concentration. Simply put, this is “the kind of scientifically unsupported ‘leap of faith’ which is condemned by Daubert.”"

Mike Twomey
White Plains, NY

Anonymous said...

The thing I would like to ask Steve and any other anti-nuclear kook out there is this: Given that no member of the public has ever been harmed by the operation of a nuclear plant in this country, how much safer do you want nuclear energy to be? I mean, we are talking about zero injuries, zero fatalities. You can't get any lower than zero, can you? What more can we do to make nuclear energy safer if the track history shows a risk of zero? Can you really think of any other major industrial activity that has essentially zero risk to the public, based on operational history? I really don't see how anyone looking at the data with a rational eye can ever conclude that the technology is "risky". The data prove the opposite is true: the risk is so small as to be essentially negligible. Yet you seem bound and determined to drive a proven harmless technology from these shores. That is the height of irrationality.

Anonymous said...

Cavan Stone said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cavan Stone said...

You can find the recordings of the TV show at the following times on PACTV on the Comcast cable channel 15 and the Verizon cable channel 47:

4/9/2012 at 12:00 PM
4/13/2012 at 5:31 PM
4/16/2012 at 12:00 PM
4/20/2012 at 5:31 PM
4/23/2012 at 12:00 PM
4/27/2012 at 5:31 PM
4/30/2012 at 12:00 PM

Cavan Stone said...

You can find the show's website schedule and streaming video link here: