Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Whack-A-Mole on Anti-Nuclear Claims: Sometimes It's Necessary

I think of pro-nuclear advocacy as something better and finer than a game of Whack-a-Mole.

You know, the game. You whack down one ridiculous accusation, but two more pop up.  It isn't my favorite game.  I like to talk about the benefits of nuclear power. I don't try to answer everyone who claims it is horribly dangerous. Duty doesn't always call me.
"Duty Calls"
Famous XKCD cartoon

 But sometimes, it's whack-a-mole time.  "A charge unanswered is a charge believed" is a political truism.  Sometimes, we have to answer.

Scaremonger Week

Last week was Scaremonger Week in the media, with three separate articles with ridiculous accusations against nuclear energy.  I am pleased to see that nuclear advocates are answering.

Today's ANS Nuclear Cafe post is Scaremonger Week in the Mainstream Media. The post has links to the scary articles and links to the answers. Congratulations to Paul Bowersox for putting this post together, and for all the people (James Conca, Howard Shaffer, the Nuclear Energy Institute team, James Hansen, and others) who actually answered the accusations.

  1. The first article is about "nuclear plants vulnerability to terrorism." This was written by a student whose graduate work was partially funded by the Department of Defense.  The press release makes it sound like an official DoD study. Semi-amusingly, a comment on the ANS blog post calls it  Pentagon-commissioned study, despite the fact it is nothing of the kind.  Ah well. If that were the only problem with this "study."
  2. The second article was a "nuclear submariner" challenging the pro-nuclear film Pandora's Promise. This article appeared as New York Times opinion piece.  The Grey Lady didn't do a very good job on qualifying the writer, whose nuclear experience is more limited than it might appear. (Please see update below.)   Read the "editor's choice" and "reader's choice" rebuttals to this post.
  3. The third was in Russia Today.  In some ways, it is the most fun, because it is the most outrageously ridiculous.  Tokyo will be evacuated when Fukushima waters contaminate its groundwater? Billions will die?  Good grief!  Howard Shaffer answers this one. Yes, our own Howard Shaffer.  By the way, I had no idea that Russia Today is such a popular site. As Bowersox writes:  RT is the 2nd-most-watched foreign news channel in the United States, with 1 billion views on YouTube (more than Fox News). The article above [about Fukushima] has 23,000 Facebook ‘likes’.
Woman Playing Whac-a-Mole
Whack-a-Mole--Sometimes It Matters

I admit...no matter how many you whack, more of these articles arise. They say the same-old, same-old, sometimes with a new twist--Tokyo water! Pentagon-commissioned!  

People who know about the subject answer.  Links to the answers are in the ANS Nuclear Cafe article. Do the authoritative answers get the kind of play that Russia Today can provide?  Maybe not.  But thanks to the knowledgeable nuclear advocates, the answers are out there, the answers are available.  

The answers are available, and that is worth a lot.


In an earlier version of this post, I said that the "nuclear submariner" who wrote the New York Times article,  Dr. John Miller, Ph.D., had not served on an active boat.  Actually, Miller did serve on a boat at sea.  He was on a boat during operations for about a year, and then he was assigned to the same boat while it was in dry dock for about two years.  I apologize for the error.

I also said that Miller was not an engineering officer. Again, I apologize for the error.  However, my statement was wrong but the issue is more complicated.  As far as I can tell, Miller took engineering training but he was a supply officer while assigned to his boat. I do not know enough about the operations of the Navy to follow all this and be accurate in what I say about his background.  To me, it doesn't seem very strong to be a supply officer and yet claim to be an expert on nuclear operations. But I really don't know.  My husband was a tin can sailor (enlisted man who served on a destroyer). So I know little about submarine officers and their duties.

Those of you with Navy backgrounds or interest might want to follow the comment stream on Rod Adam's blog post about Arnie Gundersen: Was Arnie Gundersen a Licensed Reactor Operator and Senior VP Nuclear Licensee?  In the comment stream, Miller and other Navy Nukes discuss Miller's background. 


Howard Shaffer said...

Great post.

The evidence from Chernobyl and Fukushima and Three Mile Island is that MELTDOWNS STOP!! They stop by themselves. They stop faster if cooling is applied.

In a running reactor 94% of the heat comes from atom splitting. The rest comes from the radioactive decay of the atom splitting products -"decay heat".

After the chain reaction stops, the decay heat continues. It decreases continually with time.

As the accidents mentioned prove there is enough heat at first to melt metal and fuel. Because the heat produced decreases with time, a point is reached where the material can't stay melted, and it will turn back to a solid.

Steve Aplin said...

On the bright side, the wireless communication industry has been playing whack-a-mole with nutjobs since before cell phones became ubiquitous. One of my first consulting jobs was a review of literature on the health effects of RF radiation. That was in 1988, and was apropos of a proposal to install a radio antenna near a residential area. Public hearings on the proposal featured all the usual stuff about cancer and children and the apocalypse.

Well today is August 20 2013. I just finished texting my girlfriend on my... cell phone. I have one, she has one, everybody has one. There is a pension crisis because people are living longer. The wireless industry is still playing whack-a-mole with nutjobs.

Nuclear advocates will be playing whack-a-mole with nutjobs years from now, when studies come out linking normal deaths to Fukushima.

It is a necessary part of retaining sanity and sharpening critical thinking skills.

Eric Schmitz said...

Thank you, Howard, for that explanation. I need to learn more about what exactly happens during and after a meltdown. A few days ago, a friend suggested to me that the reactors at Fukushima had "gone China Syndrome." Hystrionic "pop culture" language aside, I was fairly certain that this bit of news was bogus, at the very least because there would have been something in at least one of the dispatches and digests I get every day in my inbox, or one of the several blogs I read daily (particularly the Fukushima Updates at Hiroshima Syndrome).

These "big scary" articles, of course, come against the backdrop of the ongoing ground-water situation at F. Dai'ichi, which is why the fact-based and level-headed coverage on that issue from outlets like Hiroshima Syndrome and Will Davis' blog have been so important and useful. I have "dropped reality" (to steal a phrase) into several discussions under alarming posts of articles about the "big red mass of nasty" creeping across the Pacific. Perhaps only a few will actually follow my references, but as Meredith so rightly puts it, "a charge unanswered is a charge believed, and sometimes we have to answer."

Atomikrabbit said...

Everyone needs a hobby, and I find whack-an-anti to be both intellectually and spiritually rewarding.

I was thinking about looking for a sponsor, but I don't want to jeaprodize my amateur status if there's news from the Olympic Committee.