Errors and half truths (incomplete):
The risk associated with a radioisotope is a function of activity level which in turn is a function of both decay rate and quantity of radioisotope. It is erroneous to represent it as a function of half-life alone. Under this reasoning water would be dangerous forever because it has an infinite half-life.
This analogy is misleading. First, it implies that both absolute population and population growth rates are potentially disasterous, which is not established apart from issues of poverty. Second, it does a poor job of conflating these characteristics. A very large motionless truck poses little threat, but Miller would apparently claim that a very large population is a problem even with no population growth.
This listing fails to acknowledge the widely varying significance of these factors. Legalization of abortion, for example, came almost at the end of the fertility decline from 1955 to 1975. "Social acceptance of childless couples" has been increasing probably since early in the century in developed nations.
No where in this discussion is the absolute size of this supply indicated. The world's water supply is 1.4x1021 liters, and the easily accessible supply is sufficient to cover the Earth's land area to a depth of 1.3 meters, or to supply 33,000,000 liters to each person on Earth.
Depicted mantle convection cells do not match described crustal features: "collision between two continents" is placed over convection that would produce separation of continents by a rift zone.
Two near-simultaneous explosions occurred at Chernobyl. "Huge radioactive cloud" is misleading; the far-reaching cloud comprised invisible vapor and particulates, producing radiation exposures below background levels over most of the planet (outside the areas listed). Radiation from Chernobyl may have been greater than residual radiation from Hiroshima, but residual radiation at Hiroshima was negligible compared to prompt radiation, which far exceeded those at Chernobyl. The largest radiation dose to an individual at Chernobyl was 1600 rem; individuals at ground zero at the Hiroshima blast would have received 80,000 rem.
All of the 28 people who died of acute radiation exposure at Chernobyl were on the plant site, either plant workers (22) or firefighters (6); no one "near" the site, civilian or otherwise, so died. The exact death toll from long-term effects is unknowable not because of poor recordkeeping but because of the stochastic nature of cancer, whether radiation-induced or not. While there may be areas for improvement, recordkeeping in conjunction with Chernobyl victims is not "poor"; this population has been monitored and studied for 20 years, both by the governments of the USSR/Russia/Ukraine/Belarus and by international groups. Resulting studies show that apart from childhood thyroid cancer, the population at large does not show cancer incidence rates statistically distinguishable from populations which were not exposed. While thousands have died of cancer, the evidence does not link these cancers (in general) to Chernobyl; thousands have died of cancer that were never exposed to Chernobyl radiation. The estimates of thousands of premature deaths are generally based on faulty assumptions, not on observations of the population.
The Chernobyl RBMK-1000 reactor did not have a primary containment shell, either, at least in the sense of Western design standards. In Western reactors, both the primary and secondary containment shells are airtight and robust against rupture. The Chernobyl reactor was surrounded by a radiation shield and covered by a radiation cover removable for reactor servicing; this cover was thrown off by the first explosion. Firefighters heroically incurred lethal radiation doses fighting the fires in the hours after the explosion, but workers in the days after, as well as those that built the sarcophagus from May to November, were monitored for radiation safety and incurred non-lethal doses--in nearly all cases, doses insufficient to produce clinical effects.
Many of the details in this section apply to the most common reactors in the United States, but not to all reactors as implied by the text. For example, various commercial power reactors may use uranium enriched to anywhere from 1% to 5% U-235.
Reactors moderated by light water or heavy water also produce plutonium, but generally with lower efficiency. The heavy-water reactor currently being built at Khushab by Pakistan is capable of producing significant quantities of plutonium, for example.
In reactors which use water as a moderator, the reaction rates will drop if there is a loss of coolant because the reaction requires the presence of water. Consequently, it tends to be very difficult for a radiation release to result from loss of coolant. This is an example of inherent design safety, one of many not acknowledged by Miller.
The text fails to mention the reactor pressure vessel. The inner reactor pressure vessel is solid steel, typically about 20 cm thick; the outer containment structure, steel reinforced concrete is the second structure for containment and is typically 1.2 meters thick as described.
Spent fuel is not inherently at risk of overheating to the point of burning; this risk depends on the fission product inventory and the configuration of spent fuel in the storage area, and in most circumstances is quite low.
For reasonable choices of storage methods and definitions of "safe", the actual length of time to reach safe levels is far lower than stated here. Reprocessing and ceramic encasing of spend fuel, for example, renders a product less radioactive than natural uranium ore within a few hundred years. In the case of a decomissioned reactor, once the spent fuel is removed the remaining radioactive materials decay to safe levels within decades to centuries.
If regulation is inherently opposed to promotion, as stated here, then Miller should acknowledge that environmental regulation of commerce, say, is inherently opposed to commerce.
The figure of $2 trillion is questionable. Nuclear power opponents have claimed cumulative nuclear power expenditures of $0.5 trillion for the United States, but such figures probably include costs related to military applications apart from power production. In any case, the result of this investment has been the production worldwide of the energy equivalent of about 38 billion barrels of oil. Even using the inflated figure of $2 trillion this translates to $50 per barrel of oil equivalent, significantly below current oil prices, and with significantly less environmental impact.
From 1989 to 2004 total world nuclear energy production increased 42.1%, with the U.S. Dept. of Energy's Energy Information Agency predicting an additional 21% increase through 2030, not a decrease. The predicted decline applies primarily to Western Europe, but not to the world in general.
Currently, about 20 new plants are in the early stages of being ordered. The figure of 120 plant cancellations includes some plants both ordered and cancelled before 1973. The NRC counts three plants ordered as not cancelled (action was suspended but not formally cancelled).
The figure shows 104 operational reactors: Browns Ferry Unit 1 in Alabama was licensed but not operating (at the time of publication). The Yucca Mountain storage site is not yet operational due to opposition by environmental lobbies and delays by the NRC.
The Energy Information Agency projects a 9% increase in nuclear generating capacity from 2004 to 2019, with little change in capacity from 2019 to 2030; new plants are expected to offset decommissioning of existing plants, along with upgrades to existing plants and improved load factors.
This statement by one NRC commissioner was made in 1985 (21 years ago) and referred to a crude extrapolation of the estimated single reactor probability of a core meltdown; it is not clear that he was referring only to complete meltdowns. This does not reflect the significantly lower probability of an accident that has off-site impact, nor does it take into full account the significant improvements in plant safety implemented following the TMI accident. This statement does not appear to represent the position of the NRC in general, either then or now.
The Three Mile Island demonstrated that even with a partial meltdown, safety design for U.S. plants is sufficient to prevent any significant radiation release. The explosion risk associated with the RBMK reactor design of Chernobyl does not apply to Western reactor types.
Low-level wastes involve a wide range of activity levels; some such wastes need only be stored a few years to decay to safe levels. The definition of "safe" is again an issue here but is not defined.
The "cheapest" claim is incorrect, unless Miller is using an unusual set of unstated assumptions. In the United States, average retail price of regular gasoline was $1.56/gallon in 2003, $1.85/gallon in 2004, $2.27/gallon in 2005, and about $2.90/gallon in mid-2006. Average residential utility cost of water is about $0.002/gallon, average cost of filtered water about $0.13/gallon, and average cost of bottled water about $1.27/gallon. The comparison to bottled water is questionable, since most of the cost is the for the container (which is plastic, derived from petroleum) and retail expenses which are less efficient per gallon than for gasoline.
"Should Carbon Dioxide Be Classified as an Air Pollutant? Most Scientists Say Yes" (p. 437)Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a naturally occurring substance and an essential part of the environment. The assertion that "most scientists" agree with Miller's statement is unfounded.
These figures are poorly represented by the graphs, which uses various scales to depict a 10% increase and a 120% increase as similar upward slopes.
Not scientific evidence.
© 2006, 2008 by Wm. Robert Johnston.
Last modified 1 March 2008.
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