New Clear Facts

You already know we’re big fans of Dr. Dixie Lee Ray. We’re high on Matthew Shaffer, too. His March 22, 2011 column in National Review, “Another Three Mile Island”, should be published in every newspaper in the U.S., but it won’t be. So we’ll record some of it in this first Article of Volume XXVII.

“‘Nobody at Three Mile island was actually hurt or killed, or anything of that nature,’ remembers John McGaha, formerly a senior executive of Entergy, a Mississippi company that runs and operates nuclear facilities. ‘Versus if you look at some of the oil and chemical explosions we’ve had over the years …’

“McGaha and other experts tell NRO that Americans are unduly afraid of nuclear energy – in part because of the media’s disproportionate, distorted reporting on rare accidents like Three Mile island and the recent problems in Japan. McGaha says the most deadly consequence of Three Mile island might have been how it delayed the advancement of nuclear technology in the U.S. …

“One reason seems to be that the terminology related to nuclear power has taken on sinister connotations. Consider radiation. Think of the panic that the headline ‘Radiation levels increase by 100 percent’ could induce. But in reality, such radiation would be medically beneficial; it would promote ‘radiation hormesis’ – the exercise of the immune system. ‘We get one unit of radiation per day. When we double that – they’ve done tests with animals – they show better health. It’s like doing pushups,’ says Gilbert Brown, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. That doesn’t prove we shouldn’t worry about much higher levels of radiation – but it indicates how our emotional response does not correspond to reality.

“And how high are radiation levels in Japan right now? The International Atomic Energy Agency on Sunday said that radiation levels of 5.7 microsivierts per hour were detected at a 35-mile radius of Fukushima. This, Steve Kerekes of the Nuclear Energy Institute says, is ‘under what a nuclear-plant worker could be exposed to every day for his job’ under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s guidelines. And even that measure may overrate the risk. ‘They intentionally set the limits very, very low – at much smaller levels than are actually dangerous, to encourage people to be very safe with radiation,’ says Robert Henkin, professor emeritus of radiology at Loyola University in Chicago. Comparing Japan’s current levels with the data derived from the decades-long Atomic Bomb Project, which followed people exposed at various distances to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki explosions, Henkin concludes the following: ‘The dosage that people had to attain to achieve above-average incidence of cancer in a population is orders of magnitude above anything basically anybody (outside of the plants) in Japan is experiencing right now.’…

“That’s the science. But the more important question going forward is one of policy. All the nuclear-energy experts emphasize that good policy means thinking about tradeoffs – choosing among feasible alternatives, rather that striving for protection. So consider our options, and the consequences of several alternatives:

“First, shutting down the production of new facilities would mean more reliance on old nuclear facilities, which are less safe. Second, shutting down or phasing out all nuclear facilities would necessitate greater reliance on other energy technologies that have their own dangers. As Professor Brown says, in a refrain common to all the nuclear experts, ‘Think of the BP explosion. Or Exxon Valdez. Those were pretty hellacious. And every month there’s a coal mine disaster, and you read about pipelines exploding.’…

“The total death toll from Three Mile may have been zero … But in the 21th century, hydroelectric dams’ bursting, coal-mining disasters, and oil explosions have killed tens of thousands. And that includes just direct deaths from accidents, not indirect deaths from displacement, health problems caused by particulate matter, etc. Statistically speaking, nuclear experts claim uranium fission is the safest major energy source in the world. …

“John McGaha fears the worst for the United States. ‘Every time there’s an event of any kind, even if, when it’s all said and done, nobody was hurt – anything that can be symbolic of the risk of nuclear energy provides fodder for the anti-nuclear groups to get on their horse and campaign against the industry.’ And that will have international repercussions: ‘We’re still seen as the go-to country for any country that wants to build its own program. The United States’ policies and designs set the standard for the rest of the world.’

“There’s some reason for optimism, however. As Bill Miller, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the University of Missouri, says, ‘I noticed that the president and Secretary Chu have already stated that it’s tragic and we need to learn from it, but that doesn’t change the U.S. position on the need for nuclear power.'”-

Now here’s some irony. What is not being played up by the media is that President Obama has sent a floating nuclear plant into an abundantly active earthquake/tsunami zone of the Pacific to aid victims in an area where a nuclear power plant has just had a tsunami-induced accident. Yet not a single anti-nuke voice can be heard complaining – much less demanding that the floating nuclear power plant be withdrawn, or scrapped.

That floating nuclear power plant we speak of is the USS Ronald Reagan, one of our super-carriers. This enormous vessel, and another super-carrier, the USS Carl Vinson, are supplying more than 400,000 gallons of fresh water daily, and delivering large amounts of electrical power to an area where more than a million residents lack it.

These ships carry food and medical supplies, feed thousands from their mess facilities, and provide landing space for helicopters on logistical and rescue runs. They are functioning as hospital ships, and are supplying trained personnel for rescue work.

Those ships, in fact, are limited only by the imaginations of their expert, inventive crews and the requirements of the emergency confronting them.

More irony. Those splendid vessels – the largest, most sophisticated ships ever built – were not fashioned by Asians. They were built by American shipyard workers. Imagine that!