Saturday, April 10, 2010

Letter about the Caldicott Show

Yesterday, April 9, my local newspaper ran a letter to the editor under the heading A Voice Against Nuclear Power. Sighing, I settled in to read. I discovered it wasn't an anti-nuclear letter at all! The letter was a strong critique of Helen Caldicott's recent presentation at Dartmouth.

I quickly looked up the author in the phone book and asked if I could print his letter in my blog. He agreed and thoughtfully sent me a digital copy, including the "note" which was not printed in the paper. Dr. Trebitz is a chemist, now retired. I had never heard of him until I read his letter.

This incident illustrates some things which we should all remember. Depending on the poll, 30-40% (in Vermont) to 60% (nationwide) support nuclear power. Nuclear supporters are not a fringe group. We may be a minority or a majority, but we are mainstream.

Enjoy the letter, and don't forget the Caldicott Satire Contest!

The Editor, Valley News:

NOTE: In its Thursday 4/01 issue, Valley News provided a lengthy coverage of anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott’s visit to the Upper Valley. Unfortunately, the article contains very little information regarding the contents of Caldicott’s presentations. In my comments, below, I’m discussing some of the speaker’s statements.

When I went to Caldicott’s speech at Dartmouth I thought I’d get a balanced presentation on nuclear energy and its problems. I was disappointed.

Caldicott’s strategy in fighting nuclear power is based on raising fear. At one time she stated: “I would not live within a fifty miles radius of VT Yankee”. In her presentation she painted a frightening picture of nuclear Armageddon, always presenting her “facts” in a worst case scenario. As a physician, no doubt, she has an understanding of health effects related to radiation exposure, including cancer and birth defects. Yet, when she linked these to nuclear power generation, she ignored other (natural and manmade) causes, often carrying significantly higher risks.

A scientist is trained to observe cause and effects and place these into a meaningful relationship with the surrounding natural environment. Caldicott seems to have abandoned that process of realistic assessment a long time ago. Not surprisingly, she denies the possibility of solving the problem of nuclear waste. She deplores the fact that spent fuel is stored in vulnerable water tanks at VT Yankee (and other nuclear power plants), but offers no concept of how to deal with the submerged fuel rods when decommissioning the plant at the end of its lifetime. For her, re-processing the waste into a second generation of nuclear fuel is not a solution. And she dismisses Nevada's Yucca Mountain for underground storage as an unstable depository site riddled with geological faults.

In the end, the evening was just another rally against nuclear power generation and specifically Vermont Yankee. And, as the Valley News Staff Writer in his report on the event observed: “The crowd sounded nearly uniformly in agreement with her stances…”.

There were almost no Dartmouth students in the audience, a fact also noted by the speaker. If they had been interested in a meaningful scientific discourse, they did not miss very much.

Heinz Trebitz

Don't forget. I'm still running the Helen Caldicott Satire Contest. Why cars, toothpaste and paper (so far) are terribly dangerous. Get your entry in soon. Contest ends April 15. Enter early and often!

Fountain pen image from Wikimedia.


DV8 2XL said...

As a long-time Caldicott watcher, I have come to the conclusion even she doesn't believe her own rhetoric any more. She long ago became irrelevant in the nuclear debate because of her rigid doctrinaire stance, and now is squeezing the last few drops from her celebrity as a demagogue by showing up for things like this.

Her last Canadian tour was cancelled because of lack of interest, even in BC, the home of antinuclear feelings in this country, they couldn't sell enough tickets to pay for the hall. The fact that students didn't show up to see her at this event doesn't surprise me.

Meredith Angwin said...

Thank you for the comment.

Alas, somebody is paying her way to Vermont on a regular basis. She had a three-stop tour here just a week ago. Last year, she went to our legislature, presented a talk to the Natural Resources Committee, and signed books in the Statehouse! I saw it announced. I wasn't there, but Howard watched her signing books.

One of the anti-VY legislators keeps a copy of Caldicott's book in the meeting room that the Natural Resources Committee uses. I have seen the book there, on the windowsill.

I wish she were irrelevant to this state. I wish.

Joffan said...

Meredith, Luke Weston wrote a critique of Caldicott's book a couple of years ago. The link on his Physical Insights blog is dead now but if he visits he probably can tell you where to find it. There's some other articles he has there too,

david lewis said...

Caldicott is still accepted as gospel by some who say they want action on climate change. The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, for instance, has presented Caldicott at full blast in two of their podcasts this year.

It is hard to understand people who on the one hand say they want the rest of us to pay attention to what scientific research has discovered about the wastes of the use of fossil fuels, i.e. that civilization and life on Earth is threatened and something must be done, who on the other hand buy into this anti scientific gibberish Caldicott peddles.

By the way, do you have any reference or news about the Dartmouth "Second Annual Great Issues in Energy Symposium" held Friday night (Apr 9) featuring Moniz and Joe Romm? I'm looking for audio or a written transcript of the debate, especially Romm's remarks. Romm has piled on during the debate about VY, shovelling out anti nuke material on his blog while censoring the comments of some who try to reason with him.

Meredith Angwin said...

Hi David.

I was there at the Dartmouth nuclear talk Friday, with Romm and Montz and all.

Romm started out spending time and scary pictures about global warming (probably from his book "Hell and High Water") and spent only a few minutes knocking nuclear. However, one of his big pushes was for solar thermal power plants, his great hope for the future.

He also said that one of the bad things about nuclear plants is they use too much water. Montz pointed out that solar thermal ALSO uses water, the solar thermal plants are usually located in deserts, and a plant in CA recently got cancelled because of lack of water availability.

Romm didn't answer, but just slid right on to the next topic. Amazing.

Another thing...Romm had this square of land in Nevada on one slide, and said that just devoting this land to solar thermal would take care of American's energy needs. (It looked like it was about 100 miles by 100 miles, roughly). This was really amazing to me. You see, I was in geothermal, and one constant problem in the West is that the government (BLM) owns so much of the land. People feel very dis-enfranchised from land use decisions in the arid states. I can just imagine what they will think about some huge area being devoted to solar thermal! But Romm knows what is good for everyone, I guess.

About a video or transcript. I went to the Dartmouth web site, and it says you should contact the person below for "more information." on the symposium. I know they were DVD'ing the whole thing (two microphones, some fussing around about the sound being recorded), so maybe you can get a copy.

Here's the main website for the talk.

david lewis said...

thanks for the info. A square of land 100 miles on a side is 10,000 square miles, more land than is in the state of Vermont.

Romm touts solar thermal as the baseload solution. When I've tried to post analysis on his blog of what one of these things actually ended up costing, he has refused to allow the comment to appear.

The designer of Andasol 1 in Spain, a solar thermal station with 7 hrs of storage, stated for publication that the plant produces electricity for 27 EU cents, or 36 US cents kWh. And obviously, Romm says it is nuclear that is too expensive.

Tom Blees did some math on solar thermal and quoted other sources in Prescription for the Planet, around page 68. He states that Science magazine published "A Road Map to US Decarbonization" Sept 1 2006, which Blees says stated that to supply only 50% of present day US energy requirements 15,000 square miles of land would have to be covered with collectors. Romm wants us to pay attention to scientists and what Science publishes only on climate issues - steer well clear of these charlatans when it comes to assessing solar thermal.

Blees states that Scientific American published their solar dream plan January 2008 "A Solar Grand Plan" which Blees says called for meeting 69% of projected US energy needs by 2050 with 30,000 square miles of collectors, more than the entire area of Vermont and Connecticut. Running a grid with so much solar would require $1 trillion or more of upgrading, which solar thermal touts never include in their cost estimates of their so called baseload solution.