Monday, October 29, 2018

"The New Fire" as Shown in Vermont

David Schumacher, director of The New Fire, with me
We are sitting in front of The New Fire poster at the Vermont International Film Festival
Showing The New Fire in Vermont
The movie The New Fire was shown Friday at the Vermont International  Film Festival in Burlington VT.  I attended the screening. I am tempted to write a click-bait heading about my experience.

"I saw The New Fire in Burlington Vermont. What I discovered will surprise you!" 

The showing surprised me, at least.  This is Vermont.  I expected the audience to be hostile to nuclear energy. I expected some boo-ing during the film, and aggressive questions to the director at the Q and A period after the film.  None of that happened.

The promise of The New Fire
The New Fire follows dedicated young people as they develop new types of reactors. The film shows competent, idealistic young engineers as they design an exciting new generation of reactors. Their work will make the world far less dependent on fossil fuels.  Their dedication and idealism shines through the film.  I felt inspired and energized as I watched.

The rest of the audience also appeared to be impressed. During the film, the audience was quiet and thoughtful. Afterward, they asked reasonable questions, not aggressive rants disguised as questions.  In the hallway later, the conversations were interested and even a bit hopeful.

The competence and sincerity of the young engineers had clearly made an impression on the people watching the film. 

As a nuclear advocate, I am grateful to director David Schumacher for making The New Fire.  I hope it will be shown widely.  (The DVD is also available on Amazon.)   This movie will inspire more people to understand the hope and the reality of the new generation of nuclear power.  Perhaps they may even begin to appreciate our current generation of nuclear plants.

The New Fire and me
I had seen the film at an earlier showing, and I had also watched the DVD with my husband.  So the movie was not new to me. What was new was that I was seeing it in Burlington, at a film festival.

The audience's reaction made  me feel better about Vermont. Trying to save Vermont Yankee left me with a deep seated (but rarely expressed) anger at the crowing of the plant opponents when the plant announced it would close. My anger often spread itself further than just those people I could easily identify as people who hated Vermont Yankee. It began to encompass many people in Vermont.

Watching this film made me happier about Vermont people and Vermont as a state.  Some Vermonters will consider nuclear power.  Some Vermonters recognize idealism when they see it.  Some Vermonters are willing to learn.

David Schumacher said that the positive audience reactions at this showing was typical of all the showings.  I was glad to hear this.  I saw The New Fire in Burlington Vermont. What I discovered surprised me!

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Nuclear Science Week Next Week, October 15-19

 Nuclear Science Week on a National Scale

Nuclear Science Week is a national week-long celebration of all aspects of nuclear science.  the Week is nationwide, and various areas plan local events. For example, Energy Northwest employees visited a middle school during Nuclear Science Week  in 2015:

“We always get a great response and a lot of interest from the students when we explain the science behind nuclear energy,” said Jamie Dunn, an engineer at Energy Northwest. (Quote from Energy Northwest blog post.)

The "Big Event" at Nuclear Science Week, Albuquerque

Each year, Nuclear Science Week plans one Big Event at a single location.  This year, the Big Event is in Albuquerque New Mexico.

Okay.  I admit I am being overly shy here.  I have not yet linked to the schedule for The Big Event in New Mexico. That is because I am the keynote speaker. 😊  On Monday morning, October 15, I will talk about the importance of pro-nuclear activism.  My talk will be at the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque.  (Here's a link to the venues for The Big Event.)

James R Polk Sub Sail
Heritage Park
National Museum of Nuclear Science and History
Many activities at the Big Event center around the National Museum Of Nuclear Science and History. At this Smithsonian-affiliated museum, the indoor area includes exhibits on energy, uranium, nuclear medicine and more. The Museum also contains a nine acre outdoor exhibit area, Heritage Park, with mostly military exhibits. I am happy to be visiting the museum.  And of course, I am happy to be keynote speaker.

I am not the only distinguished speaker  who will be at The Big Event. (Wow, I just called myself a "distinguished speaker." Maybe that keynote business is going to my head?) Other speakers include Jim Walther (executive director of the Museum) and Carol Browner, head of the EPA under Clinton, and now a leader in Nuclear Matters.
  • Browner, Walther and I  (among others) will be speaking on Monday October 15. 
  • On Wednesday, October 17, Michael Shellenberger will speak at a showing of Pandora's Promise.  
  • On Thursday, the Department of Energy and the Museum will host a Millennial Nuclear Caucus on the theme of "Nuclear Science in Pop Culture." 
Starting this year,  Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station is partnering with the Museum to be a major sponsor for The Big Event.

It is going to be a wonderful week in New Mexico (schedule).  I hope you can attend!

Nuclear Science Week in South Carolina and Georgia

Nuclear Science Week is nationwide, with events in schools all over the country. One area has Nuclear Science Week events that rival The Big Event in New Mexico. In South Carolina and Georgia (Savannah River Site area, )  has organized a full list of activities for Nuclear Science Week.  Many companies are participating.  The events include:
  • Plant Vogtle visits 
  • field trips to the Savannah River Site
  • a lecture by Dr. Jose Reyes, a founder of NuScale Power 
  • Science Education Enrichment Day
  • Nuclear workers visiting high school chemistry and physics classes
  • Tours of the Savannah River Site Museum
  • A costume ball (Yes. This is real.  I love to see nuclear supporters having fun!)
See the full list of Savannah River area Nuclear Science Week events at the SRSRCO web page about Nuclear Science Week. 

Nuclear Science Week for Everyone

Nuclear Science Week is not just for people who can attend a local event, spectacular as some of the events may be.  For example, the Nuclear Science Week website  has a tab Get Involved.   Everyone can find something interesting on this tab. There's a section on lesson plans for elementary school, middle school and high school.  The resources include games to learn physics, a "mock Senate" module to lead to discussions of energy choices, and more. The tab on Resources is also rich with links and ideas.  In short, the Nuclear Science Week website is a resource for all of us.

If you can't come to New Mexico, or Georgia, don't feel left out. I enjoy browsing the Nuclear Science Week website, and I think you will enjoy it also.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Low Dose Radiation: Keynotes, Initials and History

Alan Walter opens the conference.
October 1, Pasco WA
Rod Adams post:

Rod Adams and I are covering the Low Rad meeting.  I urge everyone to read his post (which he posted just a few minutes ago) and comment on it.

Would you evacuate your home in the middle of the night because of a radioactive release? This question was during at the meeting. Read the answer here: Making sense from radiation protection controversy

Nonstop Learning

I am now in the morning of the third day of the Low Dose Radiation conference, and it has been non-stop learning. In between the sessions and the poster sessions, it has been hard to post.   To give you an example of what I mean, on Monday morning there were eight presentations, not counting various welcoming remarks.  At lunch, Michael Shellenberger gave a stirring talk.  In the afternoon, there were two panel discussions and four presentations. The poster session is also extraordinarily interesting.  And I haven't even mentioned the handbell concert at breakfast.  When I say "nonstop," I mean nonstop.

I cannot possibly summarize this conference.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that since I can't possibly cover the whole thing, I will just hit some high points, and add plenty of commentary. Starting with Monday morning.

Goals and First Set of Keynotes

Goals: Mike Lawrence, former director of the Hanford site,  described the goals of the conference.  The conference attempts to pull together scientific data on the effects of low-dose radiation.  A major goal is to ensure that radiation protection through evacuation after an accident is done only on scientific grounds, not on primal fear of radiation.  The doses encountered at Fukushima would have led to no deaths or very few, but the evacuation killed over a thousand people. (Some estimates are only 800 people,  but you get the idea. The difference between no deaths and hundreds of deaths is a lot of deaths.)

Brenner talk: The first keynote was by David Brenner of Columbia University.  He supported LNT as the proper measure for low-dose radiation. The two arguments that he used to support the LNT theory really struck me, but not in a good way.  He used the idea that there is a cell, and it gets zapped with radiation.  We know quite a bit about high doses, but as we lower the dose, we can expect that each cell will only be zapped one time.  Then, as we lower the dose further, fewer cells will be zapped, but each cell which is zapped will be zapped pretty much the same way.  He admitted that repair mechanisms exist, but felt they were the same (or could be considered to be the same) if every cell was zapped once, or if only half the cells were zapped.  Therefore, he considers LNT to be correct.

My opinion: this was an overly-simplistic gedanken experiment. Later in the meeting, I heard many scientists describing the complex interactions of radiation, expression of genes, DNA repair, and so forth.

He also claimed that radiation damage to a fetus was another reason to support LNT, because fetuses do not have the confounding factors that adult humans have: no smokers, drinkers, etc. So damage to a fetus can stand in for damage for adults.  My opinion: "I'll drink to that. And while I am at it, I will have a thalidomide pill, if I can find one, in case I get a little nauseated."  In other words, many things that harm a fetus (alcohol, thalidomide) are not harmful to an adult, especially at low doses.  Many choices that would have been unwise for me to make while I was pregnant are no particular problem to me now. His fetus-centric argument strikes me as a thin reed to hold such an immense regulatory structure.

McClellan talk. The second keynote was by Roger McClellan, an internationally known expert in inhalation toxicology. He has worked in both radiation toxicology and chemical toxicology, and understands the difficulties of obtaining good data at low doses.  Brenner's conclusions about low dosages were clear (but wrong in my opinion), while McClellan was nuanced. McClellan said that all industries, de facto, use ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) for exposure, basically because no CEO wants to get sued.  He concluded that poverty is far more dangerous to human health than the low-dose issues of nuclear energy.  (I hope I am reporting this correctly.) I enjoyed his talk, and hope to read it in full at some time, to report on it more accurately.

The March of the Initials

The next part of the meeting was what I call the March of the Initials. At this point, I need to encourage people to go to the program tab of the Low Radiation Dose Conference website.

Website for Program:
Pdf of program:

The March of the Initials is the list of regulatory agencies, marching by in rapid fire, who presented their approaches to radiation protection. They had twenty minutes per agency.  These agencies included NRC, IAEA, UNSCEAR and others.  I was somewhat surprised (I am naive) about how different these agencies are in their approach.  David Pawel of EPA could have been giving Brenner's talk, while  Patricia Wieland of UNSCEAR acknowledged the limitations of understanding any possible levels of good or harm at low doses. She ended her talk by recommending that "regulators...use the old concept of ‘de minimis non curat prætor’ and exempt from regulations low-dose exposure situations that do not warrant control."  (Lots of us wanted to kiss Ms. Wieland, but we refrained.)

Note: Wieland was standing in for Abel Gonzalez, whose name is on the paper but could not attend the meeting.

As this point, I encourage people to go the website for the program, go to the program tab, and download the zip file of the Flash Drive for more information.

Micheal Shellenberger and History

Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, spoke at the luncheon, with a fascinating talk on "The Making of Radiation Panic."  History teaches us the way forward.  To some extent, the bomb-making scientists (such as Oppenheimer) found themselves displaced in the public esteem by the reactor-making leaders (such as Rickover). They did not necessarily like this fact. Also, many of the older scientists, including Einstein, had the Utopian idea that the bomb would lead to a world government, which would mostly supersede the nation-states.  This also did not happen. It's a complex story, and Shellenberger told it well.

It became a battle between the idea of promoting world peace through promoting fear of radiation, and promoting world prosperity through the use of nuclear power.  I believe Shellenberger is writing a book on this subject.  I will be eager to read it.

So Much More

There's so much more to say. But if I don't post now, I will be late to the meeting!